A lot of workout gear incorporates a busy medley of fabrics in the name of "breathability." But why does buying a shirt that won't get drenched in sweat have to involve tacky mesh that makes you look like an extra from A Night at the Roxbury? There's hope. Nike has upped its performance fabric game with Tech Knit, a line of athletic apparel composed of engineered knits that feel like a second skin and look seamless.
Nike's ambitions with Tech Knit center around designing clothes that look visually consistent but actually have different weave compositions in specific areas for performance reasons. So instead of having a patchwork of ugly vents where people typically sweat, bulkier fabric in areas where extra warmth is needed, and stretchier panels to allow for a greater range of motion, it reads as a single piece. Nike studied how athletes typically move and how their bodies naturally regulate temperature to inform the engineered materials and final design.
"Knitwear technology allows us to design seamless transitions within a garment that fits naturally to the body," Jess Lomax, a senior designer at Nike, says. "With Tech Knit, we can engineer a wide range of structures and textures, which enables us to be strategic in how we build the apparel."
Nike starts with a combination of 100% nylon and 100% cotton yarns and, using a computer-controlled knitting machine, weaves specific textures, like jersey knits or mesh. The company describes this approach as "zoned functionality."
"We can use double-knit constructions in areas where heat is lost, such as the chest panel on the Windrunner, and use zones of mesh stitches in areas that need more breathability, such as the center back," Lomax says.
After the knitting machines weave the engineered textile, each item is pieced together and finished by hand. In 2012, Nike debuted its line of Flyknit sneakers, which are woven from a single piece of material to be as comfortable and form-fitting as a pair of socks. Now that the brand has brought a similar approach head to toe thanks to its Tech Knit line, perhaps the next innovation will be a machine that can weave an entire garment as one piece a la the Flyknit's production.
The Tech Knit pants ($200), shirt ($110), and Windrunner jacket ($250) go on sale February 4.