Lululemon stops the stink using silver-infused yarn
Stopping the stink that comes from your sweaty workout clothes requires silver. Yes, actual silver. So Lululemon decided to use fabric woven with silver to keep its performance gear free of those uninviting smells.
“One of the things that cracks me up,” Felix Del Toro, Lululemon senior vice president of men’s design, tells Edge, “is when guys tell me they do the smell test and that they can work out in (Lululemon’s Silverescent line) multiple times and it is never going to smell. The number of guys who told me that across the country and in Europe is pretty astounding.”
While Del Toro gets a chuckle from guys telling the story of reusing workout gear, he says the practicality of it—whether traveling or otherwise—has its merits.
The Silverescent line represents a new way to manufacture silver-infused garments based on an exclusive partnership between Lululemon and Noble Biomaterials Inc. for the apparel maker to use Pennsylvania-based Noble’s silver X-STATIC yarn.
The X-STATIC yarn contains 99.9 percent pure silver fiber, which kills the bacteria that causes odor, permanently bonded onto the surface of flexible polymers to create a yarn that makes up, on average, about 7 percent of all threads in a Silverescent product. The rest of the garment contains a blend of nylon and spandex, the perfect combination to accentuate the silver, Del Toro says.
Because the silver gets woven into the garment, it lasts for the lifetime of the garment and can’t get washed away over time.
Lululemon evenly distributes the silver, letting it work in a defined radius. “It is throughout the fabric to kill the smell everywhere,” Del Toro says. “It probably works overtime in the armpits, but it has to be throughout the garment. If we used less silver, it wouldn’t necessarily kill the bacteria. It has to be in a certain configuration to do that.”
When Lululemon researched adding silver to its products, the Vancouver-based company looked at a number of solutions, including a range of washes. But since a wash doesn’t infuse in the fabric, the thread doesn’t take the silver properties, meaning that over time the threads themselves start to smell. Plus, a wash covering a garment means it eventually wears away. Having the silver as part of the thread builds the bacteria-killing power from the inside out and allows the technology to work better the hotter and wetter it gets.
Lululemon started its Silverescent in technical shirts for men and women and, more recently, men’s socks, which sold out after getting introduced in August. Del Toro says the popularity of the line has grown so much they expect the anti-stink fabric to become exclusive for all Lululemon men’s socks and they are already exploring moving the material beyond technical gear and into casual and lifestyle lines.
One of the biggest challenges working with silver involves finding the exact right combination of fabrics and materials to maximize silver’s effectiveness. “It is friendlier with some fibers than others,” Del Toro says. “That is part of our partnership with Noble, coming up with a secret recipe of how we get it into other fibers and still deliver the same effectiveness.”
As Lululemon continues to explore that secret recipe, just know that they're doing everything possible to make guys stink less.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.