Climate change is unquestionably altering what you wear, whether you realize it or not. As climate change intensifies heat waves, the next frontier in climate resilience is uniform clothing, with innovations promising to cool and dry the hot and sweaty masses.
They make life easier for construction workers, farmers, soldiers, and others whose job demands them to stay on the field irrespective of the days or nights getting warmer.
While scientists study how our clothing affects the climate, trend watchers are more interested in the opposite: how climate change is altering our clothing.
‘Clothing designed for heat is moving from a niche product into the mainstream,’ said Lorna Hall, director of fashion intelligence for WGSN.
What is changing more?
A label can tell you a particular uniform is made of polyester fabric, but many consumers don’t know polyester is made from oil.
A label can tell you the medical scrub is 100 percent USDA organic cotton, but that claim does not tell the whole story: What about the dyes and finishes used in the scrub?
Labeling will change, as consumers demand to know more about the history of their uniforms and workwear. There will be a rise in the popularity of fabrics that helps uniform wearers combat extreme weather conditions.
Dressing a warming world
Designers all over the world have recently attempted to use technology to solve the heat problem. That being said, clothing must be dense enough to protect against UV rays. It must also be tough enough to withstand multiple washings.
LifeLabs, a company that grew out of a Stanford University research lab, created one shirt that had a noticeable cooling effect. It’s a Tee made from polyethylene, which is the same polymer used in plastic bags. It gives a cool feeling, similar to walking barefoot on a tile floor.
Kontoor Brands, which owns Wrangler and Lee, has announced that it will begin selling “Insta-Cool” shirts in the United States next year, using an updated version of a technology known as phase-change material, which was first developed by NASA to keep astronauts cool.
In the future Smart clothing that monitors and adjusts to body temperature may help reduce the need for air conditioning and heating. Body-scanning technology that guarantees a custom fit for suits and medical gowns will also gain popularity.
Natural fibers are also being reconsidered by designers.
According to Fokke de Jong, founder and CEO of Suitsupply, a men’s wear company, suit makers are shifting away from pure wool and toward blends of lighter fabrics such as linen, silk, and cashmere.
New uniforms emerging to tackle climate change
The Army’s Soldier Protection Directorate, which is part of the Combat Capabilities Development Command, began developing a new uniform for soldiers to wear in hot weather in 2014. Soldiers tested uniforms made of nine different materials at the Jungle Operations Training Center in Hawaii.
As a result, the “improved hot weather combat uniform” was created. The fabric, which is 57% nylon and 43% cotton, is lighter and more breathable than a standard uniform. It has been in operation since 2019.
There are some disadvantages. According to Melynda Perry, a textile chemist who worked on the uniform, the lighter fabric makes soldiers more vulnerable to insects. “You don’t get as much protection from mosquito bites,” Ms. Perry explained.
Despite this, the response from soldiers who had a choice between the hot weather uniforms and the standard type has been positive, according to Al Adams, who leads the directorate’s soldier clothing team. “It literally flew off the shelves,” he said.
Cotton aprons that absorb carbon dioxide from the air are being tested in a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel invented the chemical process (HKRITA). It is an amine-containing solution used to treat cotton fiber, yarn, or fabric, causing the material to attract and capture carbon dioxide. This then stabilizes and stores it on the surface of the textile.
‘It will be the next step, changing the climate, and we will be able to take care of our own carbon and release it back to the plants, where it belongs,’ says the restaurant’s employees.
Hong Kong researchers tested 32 fabrics for air and water vapor permeability, thermal conductivity, and UV protection to find the best outfit for the city’s construction workers, then ran computer simulations to determine the most promising combinations. Twelve volunteers wore the prototypes on treadmills in a hot and steamy room in 2011.
The skin and core temperatures of volunteers wearing the new uniforms were lower than those wearing standard construction uniforms. According to a paper published in the journal Ergonomics in 2015, they also sweated less, and sweat evaporated more efficiently.