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All weather clothing

By : Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Intelligent developments are undoubtedly going to feature strongly in the textile & fashion industries over the next decade and even become a part of our everyday life. The so-called intelligence arises from the incorporation of particular components into the fabric, which may be electronic devices, specially constructed polymers or even some type of colorant. Many intelligent textiles are designed to respond to adverse conditions in their environment and there by provide enhanced protection. They can also either alter their nature in response to external factors or confer additional benefits to their users. There has been extensive innovation, for example, in clothing fabrics that can provide extra insulation in hot as well as cold conditions. Such textiles are becoming increasingly important in the fashion industry.

The first question, which may be asked, is what exactly is all weather clothing? A more technical term will be temperature-regulated or thermo-regulated clothing. To consider thermo regulation only as staying warm would be incorrect, or only half correct. The term is broader than that and actually means maintaining the body temperature to the level that will maximize performance and comfort, while also protecting the user. Temperature regulation or thermo-regulation is best defined by its goal, which is to maintain both the core body temperature and the comfort of the wearer in diverse environments. The body itself regulates its temperature through a group of biological processes. Even at rest the human body is a mass of ongoing chemical reactions that regulates body heat within an optimum temperature range called the thermo-neutral zone (usually set at 37+1oC). When the body temperature extends beyond the limits of the thermo-neutral zone, bodily systems operate less efficiently, and when pushed to extremes can even result in death. Therefore, thermo-regulation is critical both from a safety and performance standpoint.

Typically, fabrics do not inherently provide thermo-regulation. Their thermo-regulation is affected by not inhibiting or rather supporting the thermo-regulation efforts of the body itself. The role of the fabric will be to allow air to circulate around the body and at the same time provide a cushion of insulation (either hot or cold) when the body needs it. The fabric must be able to adjust to the needs of the body over a wide range of external temperatures and activities.

Certain combinations of fabric construction, chemical finishes and garment construction can also keep the body warmer or cooler, depending on the environmental conditions. Usually fabrics are geared for one or the other. Cold weather garments must address both radiant and convective heat loss. On the other hand, warm-weather garments must aid evaporative heat loss by increasing moisture movement, and increasing the velocity of heat conduction through the material. Control of airspace in the microclimate between the skin and the garment, or between layers is of prime importance.

There are three main characteristics that have been observed in materials that provide thermo-regulation. First is breathability/moisture management. The absorption and retention of water must be as close to zero as possible and there should be a mechanism to ensure that the moisture is moved away from the skin. The second characteristic is insulation. The fabric must have a good insulation value to supplement the boundary layer or air gap on the surface of the skin. There can be a mechanism to vary the degree of insulation. Last of all, the fabric must be lightweight with good bulk to achieve maximum comfort.

Some of these characteristics and materials displaying them are discussed below:


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