Biomimetic activewear: How good ‘ol Ma Nature is improving our end game

Anything you can do, she can do better – Mother Nature that is. She is one smart cookie, and we have a lot of learning to do.  Although the concept of looking to nature for inspiration is as old as civilization, whether it is studying birds for human flight,  analyzing burrs (thorns) to develop Velcro, or termite dunes for skyscrapers.  It was not until 1997, the term “biomimicry’ was coined by Janine Benyus in the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.  Since then a field of design research has emerged as a ‘new’ way to apply nature’s best ideas to solve human problems. The technology rich activewear sector has embraced this ‘nature as a model’ and is looking more closely at the technologies of nature to enhance our athletic experiences.

  Photos courtesy of : Left top and bottom : www.speedo.com/aqualab_technologies    Right: www.inkfish.fieldofscience.com

Photos courtesy of : Left top and bottom : www.speedo.com/aqualab_technologies

Right: www.inkfish.fieldofscience.com

 Combined with compression, the biomimetic design of the Speedo Fastskin swimsuit created quite the debate when it was first introduced into the market. Controversy, this garment was one of the most popularized examples of Biomimicry used in apparel.  Its biomimetic knit structure if the fabric emulates the hydrodynamic efficiency of the dermal denticles of a shark's skin. The knit was engineered mirror the 2D and 3D shape of shark scales, which are hydrodynamic. However, Static knitted fabric, cannot yet mimic the dynamic movement and propulsion of actual shark skin. It is argued by apparel scientists (http://www.earthtimes.org/nature/shark-skin-boosts-swim-speed-cuts-drag/1818/) that the ‘look of the scales’ alone is enough to be dubbed biomimetic because it is an abstract representation and not a literal representation of shark skin. The critics can be critics because the swimsuit that was considered a ‘performance enhancing device’ and banned from many swimming events.

  Photos courtesy of: Top: VSKIN-international.com; Bottom Left:    www.footdoc.ca   ; Bottom Cener: kai Pfaffenback/Reuters; Bottom Right; CW-X.com.

Photos courtesy of: Top: VSKIN-international.com; Bottom Left: www.footdoc.ca; Bottom Cener: kai Pfaffenback/Reuters; Bottom Right; CW-X.com.

Additionally, it’s "super-stretch" characteristics of the fabric of the Speedo suit also improve shape retention and increase muscle compression to reduce vibration and retain muscle shape to reduce fatigue and power loss.  Compression apparel has long since made the claim that reduced muscle vibration reduces fatigue.  The market segment is developing new concepts like partially integrated compression. By mimicking the musculoskeletal system of the human body, garments incorporate localized compression to create a supportive ‘exoskeleton’ integrated into garments. Think kinesio-taping integrated (via seamless knitting methods) into garments. Performance brands such as CW-X and VSKIN (www.vskin-international.com) range are also making use of bonding and taping to place web or mesh panels around the lower abdomen or back to support posture, or at the knee joint for reinforcement.  These garments may eventually reduce the need for auxiliary supportive devices (e.g. knee braces) while running, but currently this technology cannot provide as much support as braces and wraps, so please don’t

  Photos courtesy of: Top: www.pumashop.in; Bottom Left: http://fixflatfeet.com;  Bottom Right: commons.wikimedia.org.

Photos courtesy of: Top: www.pumashop.in; Bottom Left: http://fixflatfeet.com;  Bottom Right: commons.wikimedia.org.

As a playoff  both the kinesiology of both puma’s  and human’s feet, biomimetic design have informed Puma’s new (2013) Mobium Running shoe. With two tendon-like attachments running through the sole of the shoe, the shoe ‘expands and contracts with your foot.’ The video at this link : http://www.puma.com/mobium/  shows the design process and  biomimetic sources of inspiration.

Although the concept of looking to nature for inspiration is as old as time, we have started looking at Mother Nature through a new lenses that is inspiring smart solutions to human problems through design. Because the activewear sector is so technology rich, design in this field has the capability to implement biomimetic solutions to enhance our active experiences.

For more information on biomimicry, a great website: http://www.ecouterre.com has provided a slideshow of more fashion oriented parallels, where they also address the Fastskin suit and other  activewear applicable concepts.