November 14, 2007 | By: Katie Pratt

Performance textiles have revolutionized the textile industry in recent years, and their popularity continues to grow as more consumers demand products that keep them warm, dry, resist stains and repel liquids.

Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles Professor Elizabeth Easter said performance textiles are capable of performing a basic function in addition to being aesthetically pleasing.

“Consumers want easy to care for clothes that can also protect them from the environment as well as keep them comfortable in hot or cold weather,” she said. “Performance textiles that can provide all of these functions are available in today’s retail markets.” 

Performance textiles are a 21st century concept. Originally developed for those in the athletic, medical and hospitality fields, the textiles became available to the average consumer during the past five years. Fabrics with performance technology can be found in clothing that includes everything from socks that help diabetics improve their circulation in their feet and legs to outdoor clothing that repels mosquitoes.

Performance textiles can repel stains, keep wrinkles from forming, block heat or cold, and resist odors. These textiles may perform one or many of these functions. Marjorie Baker, extension associate for clothing and textiles, said an example of a multifunctional performance textile would be sleepwear designed for people who experience night sweats. The fabric wicks moisture away from the body, repels odors and resists bacteria. 

Performance textiles are the results of textile technologies that alter the finish or manipulate the size of the textile fiber. An example would be the application of nanotechnology chemistries, which alter the fabric’s finish at the molecular level. Another way utilizes micro or ultrafine fibers in fabric constructions to produce an aesthetically pleasing feel or fabric surface that can also provide functional properties to the product. 

Not only have these fabrics made clothing more durable for the consumer, but they have also rejuvenated the textile industry in the United States, Easter said. Most of the performance products are produced in the United States rather than foreign markets, which produce the majority of American clothing.

Textile technology has led to the development of smart clothing. In contrast to performance textiles that are passive, smart clothing is made of materials that react to a stimulus. An example of smart clothing would be undergarments that measure a person’s heart rate during exercise by using sensory fibers that send information to a specially made watch.

Baker said clothing made with performance fabrics might cost more than regular clothing if you pay full price. She added that if consumers want a more affordable price, they can always look for performance fabrics during clearance sales. 

Most performance textiles are machine washable, but consumers should read and follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. Some garments don’t require the use of fabric softeners. Clothing that isn’t properly cared for may lose its performance qualities.


Elizabeth Easter, 859-257-7777, Marjorie Baker, 859-257-7772