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How Performance and Compliance Demands Challenge Activewear R&D

Activewear companies often have heightened expectations regarding product performance thanks to consumers’ increasing technical needs. Layer compliance demands on top of that and it can become a challenging balancing act.

However, SgT Group finds those goals often work in conjunction with, rather than against, one another. SgT offers a range of quality management solutions for clothing and textile product manufacturers, particularly in the activewear space. According to a textile manufacturing expert at SgT, a market segment like activewear is still fairly niche, so brands tend to seek out factories that have specialized expertise in technical fabrics.

“There is a risk linked with the repeatability of development to bulk production, so it is important to find the right factory that has the right process for this type of garment,” said SgT’s expert. “As very few suppliers have a vertical set-up, subcontracting represents an additional risk factor. Every step of the production counts, so a more systematic approach is needed.”

These brands also have the added responsibility of making sure they actually provide the benefits listed on the hangtag of an activewear garment, such as UV protection, moisture management, or anti-bacterial properties.

Having a boots-on-the-ground approach is essential to ensuring performance and compliance, said SgT.

“Our teams are in fabric mills and related setups every week, engineering and supporting various processes and applications, allowing us to see first-hand any changes as well as new machinery,” the company spokesperson noted. “We not only participate in conferences, but also in major machinery and R&D events, where we have the opportunity to hold discussions with textile engineers.”

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The brand works closely with clients’ R&D departments, too, taking an active role in assessing risks and addressing them during the materials development and sourcing process. SgT’s expert explained the group provides upstream quality solutions, focusing specifically on raw materials, to identify and prevent issues before they reach the production lines, allowing brands to save time and money.

Performance fibers can be tricky to develop because there’s little room for sacrifice: the fiber’s physical characteristics, active performance and durability all need to be guaranteed, so from the initial weave to the final treatments, brands need to be consistent. While that looks like a challenge on the surface, the SgT team actually sees it as an opportunity.

“Because their consumers consistently expect improved performance, activewear brands generally have to be more innovative than their fashion counterparts,” SgT’s expert said. “This is why they are continuously investing in new technology not only to ensure the top performance of their products, but also to make them more sustainable.” Those heightened performance standards equate to a preparedness other apparel or textile companies might not have as well as larger R&D budgets to make sure they’re meeting customer needs.

Those brands also allow more time for laboratory tests, in order to back up performance claims that regular fabrics never have to make. For this, it helps to have labs and manufacturing centers in close proximity.

“We have laboratories close to the factories, and our teams have a wealth of experience working with many activewear brands, so they can tailor the testing to each company’s needs,” said the textile expert at SgT. “We can also provide fast lab testing and adapted onsite testing, helping with the right sampling frequency and optimization of tests.” Having the developmental teams near or onsite to manufacturing also helps brands stay up-to-date with continually evolving regulations and the minimum standards necessary to be compliant.

Rather than a hindrance, SGT said those strict rules challenge its team and partner clients to develop new performance tech to a degree of excellence right off the bat. “Credibility is one of the weapons a brand can use to bolster relationships and cooperation with suppliers,” said SgT’s expert.

“We use our ‘on the ground’ experience of the textile industry to help brands build and maintain credibility thanks to clear communication—overcoming the language barrier with local teams placed all over the world—and accompanying suppliers through ongoing development and improvement in terms of quality,” the expert said. In other words, SgT sees strict compliance standards as a chance to excel and exceed expectations, and build a reputation that outpaces activewear brands’ competitors.

SgT is also aiming its R&D resources at sustainability, one area it says that’s often left out of the conversation in activewear. SgT’s expert said that eco-safe materials, like wool and bamboo, are becoming a strong contender in other areas of fashion, but are only now being considered as viable in performance tech.

The company makes a point to encourage eco-focused product development in its partner brands.

“High-performing textiles is a vast area, and relating it to sustainability and nontoxicity is very complex and dependent on many factors,” said SgT’s expert. “However, as we have many sustainable and nontoxic alternatives, high-performing textiles can be manufactured by making wise choices of raw materials, chemicals, and production processes throughout the entire manufacturing phase.” SgT’s team hopes that as activewear continues to thrive, the market’s influx of cash will give textile developers the chance to come up with genius new eco-safe products that don’t compromise on the performance front.