Textile manufacturers have increased their development efforts to bring more innovative products to the market in recent years. However, a new UL white paper, “Performance Textiles and Fabrics: Assessing and Verifying Product Performance Claims,” stresses that in many cases independent technical standards and testing methods are not yet available to objectively assess some of the promised performance characteristics.
Performance textiles and fabrics are generally defined as materials that have been expressly designed and produced to include or to enhance specific performance characteristics, such as increased warmth, durability or moisture resistance. These new or enhanced performance characteristics are typically achieved through the selection of specialized fibers, or the inclusion of such fibers along with natural or synthetic materials during the spinning, weaving or knitting process, or by the addition of coatings or other finishes to the finished fabric, according to the study.
The study noted that performance fabrics on the market offer a wide range of characteristics and capabilities. A few examples include “memory” textiles and fabrics that retain their shape regardless of use, are less prone to wrinkling, and can be laundered and worn without pressing, and fabrics used in specialized athletic wear or occupational safety garments that help protect a wearer from falls, abrasions or other anticipated dangers.
Also prevalent are materials fabrics that help to maintain suitable body temperatures and those used in outerwear that provide integrated protection against ultraviolet light or insects, or that help protect against other environmental hazards.
There are also performance textiles that incorporate nanotechnology for stain or odor-resistance, and “smart materials” that provide performance capabilities through the integration of microelectronic systems, components and sensors for communications or tracking components that enable garments to transmit performance data to smartphones and tablet computers.
The UL paper said, “Even when relevant methodologies exist, manufacturers sometimes stop short of offering objective support for their claims, since failing to do so usually carries no regulatory consequences. As a result, manufacturers often make claims regarding the characteristics of their advanced performance textiles that might not hold up to independent scrutiny.”
It noted that examples of unsubstantiated material performance claims include ones that point to performance characteristics that are apparent and need no support, such as waterproof performance fabrics that “keep the body drier,” or vague or misleading claims that tout potential benefits that can be seen as “subject to different interpretations” or that give buyers a false impression, like “antimicrobial,” “reduces odors,” “fast drying” or “dynamic cooling.”
Additional examples are claims that have no valid method of measurement, such as “feels like cotton” or “leather-like,” while unverified claims that can be verified or qualified by independent methodology, like “provides UV protection” without citing the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).
“Unfortunately, the use of these and other types of unsubstantiated claims in connection with the marketing and promotion of performance textiles and fabrics poses a number of potential consequences for manufacturers, as well as for apparel product companies, retailers and consumers,” the study said. “Perhaps the most obvious consequence is the risk of confusing or disappointing buyers regarding the purported qualities of the performance textile or fabric products they purchase. At a minimum, disappointed buyers can be expected to reconsider future purchase decisions or may choose to share their concerns with other buyers and manufacturers. In either case, the damage to a company’s brand is likely to have unfortunate economic consequences as buyers seek more reliable vendors.”
UL noted that additional consequences that could result from the use of unsubstantiated claims are challenges from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is responsible for the enforcement of federal consumer protection laws that prevent fraud, deception and unfair business practices, and it can take enforcement action against companies that use deceptive claims in the labeling, marketing or promotion of their products.
Similarly, manufacturers that knowingly market advanced performance textiles and fabrics that pose potential health or safety concerns might find themselves subject to legal action, including criminal sanctions and civil law suits. The paper said, “In addition to the cost and resources needed to mount a legal defense, the adverse publicity resulting from criminal actions or civil litigation can result in a quick and precipitous loss of market share, as buyers switch allegiances to other competing materials. Such losses can almost immediately reverse long-term efforts to build a manufacturer’s hard-won reputation.”
UL said a growing number of performance textile and fabric producers are seeking independent verification of marketing claims linked with key performance characteristics of their materials to avoid risk and as a better way to market their products.
Verification of material performance claims by independent third party also offers the companies a thorough and unbiased assessment. UL said, “Materials whose performance claims have been independently verified by a recognized third party are more likely to be favorably viewed by buyers than materials bearing self-declared claims.”
In addition, verifying material performance claims through an independent third party, “showcases a manufacturer’s commitment to transparency,” which has become a key for brand image today.
UL said its verification services for performance textiles and fabrics supports efforts by manufacturers to independently verify marketing claims related to the performance of their materials. This is especially beneficial for manufacturers of innovative materials looking to verify significant performance advantages in their products.
UL noted that its verification process is designed to assess the validity of specific advertising or promotional statements made about a product and can be applied to any marketing claim that communicates a specific attribute or feature and is conducted in a scientific manner and complies with all relevant laws and regulations.
Products and materials whose marketing claims have been verified are eligible to display the UL Verified mark. Each mark includes a unique identifier that facilitates access to additional claims information at UL Verify, UL’s publicly accessible online claims platform.
“The increased availability of advanced performance textiles and fabrics are helping to lead important innovations in the apparel and footwear markets,” the paper concluded. “At the same time, unverified claims regarding the performance characteristics of these materials can lead to confusion and, ultimately, disappointment among buyers. Independently verified performance claims can help to increase buyer confidence in associated products, and provide manufacturers of performance textiles and fabrics with an important advantage in an increasingly competitive market.”