Olympic Uniforms made of 'smart' textiles

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Olympic Games are underway and athletes are suiting up to get ready for competition. An athlete's uniform serves a purpose greater than signifying what country they represent.

According to UW Madison Assistant Professor of Textile and Apparel Design Marianne Fairbanks, many athlete's uniforms are 'smart' textiles- meaning the uniform is actually a piece of technology that can aid the athlete in competition.

"Pay attention to their uniforms and what they're wearing. Because we look at textiles as clothing as identifiers and, we'll see all those USA athletes, and athletes from around the world, come out with their amazing costumes and uniforms, especially at the opening event. We see those as signifiers, but beyond the signifiers of color or texture, pay attention because that could be the next thing that's helping them be an amazing performance athlete," said Fairbanks.

'Smart' textiles can benefit the athlete by wicking away water, strategically compressing muscles, or even helping the athlete recover faster.

"We look at animals that are really fast and wonder if we can mimic some of those capabilities in the way we design our textiles. Whether its water beading off, or air around a speed skater...But also we're thinking about muscle compression and things like that, that could tighten around the core of an athlete to give them more strength."

A 'smart' textile does not have to be a complicated piece of technology, though, to provide a competitive athletic advantage to an athlete.

"It could be as simple as the socks a snowboarder wears."

Nearly every sport uses some kind of e-textile to aid in athletic performance, whether that be in training, performing, or recovering.

"Muscle-healing textiles are textiles that can help your muscles sort of recover faster. In a way, that's about performance, but it is about healing quicker post-performance so you're ready for that next work out. I thought that was really interesting. That it is not about the moment of the action or the sport, but how can we recover faster and a lot of textiles focus on whether its heat and vibration..subtle vibrations that can go into your skin and sort of massage your muscles. So, I think there is a lot on the forefront of recovery. Compression, vibration, heat...a lot of sensory responsive textiles," Fairbanks said.