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Innovation and Textiles in Sports

“Modern performance textiles have changed the way people interact with the outdoors, enabling them to scale the tallest mountains, run long distances in all seasons and even circumnavigate the world on a bicycle.” Rebecca Tantillo for NCTO

As textiles are innovated, athletes’ sports achievements improve. For every sport, there is specific clothing or equipment used, and the quality of these directly affects how well an athlete performs. Be it in clothes or equipment, textiles are present in the sports world and play important roles in the improvement of athletes’ performances. Sports balls, tents, parachutes, skates, nets, shoes, jackets, bats, trampolines, and sails are only a few examples of equipment or gear where textiles are used.

The following are some examples of textiles being used in a variety of ways, for different sports:

BIONTEC’s Embroidered Bike Parts

BIONTEC is a composite technology manufacturing company located in Gallen, Switzerland, which “produce innovative molded parts using [their] unique stitching technology” (1). Inspired by 19th Century St.Gallen Embroidery, they began molding a brake lever for bikes, by using industrial embroidery machines to achieve a tailored fiber placement. The embroidered textile is then coated in resin and electronics, such as sensors, can be applied to it. The embroidery technique is very important in this production process because it allows the fibers to be accurately placed, producing a “final contour with no cut-offs” (2), and making it more cost-efficient and sustainable. This method of composition allows for the brakes to be tailor-made for individual bikers, while also being light, weather-resistant and durable.

Nadi X Vibration Leggings

Wearable X is a fashion tech company that created the Nadi X leggings, which vibrate in specific areas of the leg to correct yoga poses. The fabric has sensors on the hip, knee, and ankle areas that when connected to their corresponding smartphone app will vibrate in specific areas to provide postural corrections. Their aim is to help people improve their yoga practices from home as “gentle vibrations guide your form, flow, and focus” (3). This is an example of an e-textile, where sensors are added to the fabric itself and then connected to a device via Bluetooth.

Hypetex Kromaskin Field Hockey Stick

Adidas commissioned Hypetex – a design and engineering company ­­– to create a ground-breaking hockey stick. Using their “Hypetex Textreme material”(4), which is the same used in Formula 1 racing, they created a hockey stick that has a “game-changing hitting power and consistency” (5). The stick has a carbon fiber outer layer with spread tow technology, meaning that it is thinner than carbon fiber usually is. This is then woven tightly to maximize performance. Through the application of this fiber innovation to the equipment, the players have a stick with both a beautiful aesthetic and potential for accuracy and power when hitting.

E-Traces Ballet Pointe Shoes

Designed by Lesia Trubat, the E-Traces ballet pointe shoes make use of e-textiles to trace the dancer’s movements. Trubat added the sensor technology into the soles and on the point, which when connected to “lilypad arduino microcontroller board” (6), detects pressure and movements. As these are recorded, they can be visualized using an app, where the dancer can watch their movements in video or photo form. By adding this electronic textile to the pointe shoes, dancers are able to not only visualize their movements on a screen but also use that tool to improve their choreographies.

Ortovox Avabag Litric

The Avabag, designed by Ortovox, is a backpack equipped with an emergency avalanche airbag, which is extremely lightweight due to textile innovation. The material for the airbag was made for the first time “without sewing or additional sealing” (7), making it lighter and more reliable too. In testing, many skiers fail to open their airbags, which can be lethal during an avalanche, so this modernization of the textiles being used to produce it is of extreme importance. Apart from changing the textiles and the ways to join them, the positioning of zippers and pockets also helps the skier to have successful inflation of the airbag.

In every sport, textiles will be utilized and innovated according to athletes’ needs. From the above-mentioned examples, it becomes apparent how diverse and influential on achieving better results fabrics can be in sports. Next time you are practicing your favorite sport, don’t forget to think about how the textiles on the clothes and equipment you are using, help you reach your goals.

Footnotes and Links

Giovanna Pedrinola is an artist born in São Paulo, Brazil and currently living in New York City. Her most recent mixed media works explore connections between the physical body and the subconscious mind in an attempt to comprehend our existence. This combined with her fascination with ancient traditions, architecture, dance, music, textiles, rituals, and cosmology, generates continuous research currently archived as text and images.

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