2016 is a big year for sport. With the European Football Championship taking place just across the Channel in France, and the Olympics returning to South America to provide Brazil with its second major sporting event in three years, some of the world’s finest athletes are once again set to grace our screens in what will be the culmination of four years of hard work, determination, and more than a few drops of sweat.
Part of the reciprocal relationship between professional sportspeople and the brands that provide them with their apparel rests on the understanding that the former will push their bodies and minds to the limit in pursuit of success, while the latter will strive to develop fabrics and processes that enable them to perform to the very best of their ability. The intense secrecy that underpins and defines the research and development laboratories of global players such as Nike, adidas and Under Armour is well-known, and is reflective of an industry in which finishing first or second hinges on the finest of margins. It’s unsurprising, then, that both Under Armour and Uniqlo – which has significantly expanded its sportswear profile with high-profile sponsorships of tennis players Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori, as well as Australian golfer Adam Scott – have been described in recent months not as traditional leisurewear manufacturers, but as tech companies, owing to their emphasis on user data and fabric innovation respectively. Infinergy, the primary material in the manufacture of adidas’ revolutionary Boost sole, began life as a project in the corridors of BASF, the German chemicals giant, before discussions between the two companies yielded a potential use in the construction of sports shoes.
The design of high-performance sportswear is as much about science as it is aesthetics, a marriage of form and function that, at its best, can give athletes the edge over their competitors. Much of this technology has focused on regulating body and muscle temperature, keeping athletes either cool or warm according to the external environment; adidas’ Climachill, Nike’s Dri-Fit and Under Armour’s HeatGear are the best-known examples of technical fabrics that claim to wick sweat from the surface of the skin and have been widely incorporated in both sports- and leisurewear since their introduction to the marketplace.
However, when an interdisciplinary research group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) unveils a product with the potential to exert a profound influence on the design of sports apparel, it’s clear just how serious this science really is. BioLogic is the fruit of two years of research and development by Japanese professor Hiroshi Ishii, in collaboration with New Balance and London’s Royal College of Art; an anisotropic material that changes its shape according to humidity and thus has the potential to aid the sweat-wicking process in brand new ways. A form of noninfectious bacillus bacteria is printed, using a custom machine, onto both sides of a piece of latex, before being incorporated into the larger garment. It is this bacteria which produces the shape-shifting effect, contracting or expanding by up to 15 per cent as changes occur in the surrounding environment.
According to the student team that have spent the last two years assisting Ishii, bioLogic is currently undergoing further testing to enhance its durability and thus viability in a more commercial arena. Nevertheless, they are hoping that it may be ready to make its debut at the next summer Olympics, in Tokyo in 2020.