Sport Innovation/Skins Sportswear/Specific Innovation
Selective compression levels and customized suits to maximise the compression effect
SKINS Australia has taken the concept of compression garments in medicine and applied it to sporting context. In this regard, the innovation could be referred to as extension (expansion of an already existing product) or duplication (creative replication of an existing product). The main technology innovation is described as dynamic gradient compression and that is the major innovative feature that the organisation promotes. The technology means that the garments are designed to provide selective level of surface pressure to specific parts of one’s body. As a result, the oxygenated blood is distributed to muscles more quickly and the process of recovery is enhanced too.
In order to create such suits, SKINS had to conduct a biomechanical study of human body in motion and thereby, identify the correct compression levels required for specific muscle groups whilst static, in activity or in post-exercise mode. What is innovative behind the SKINS product is the way how the fabric is knitted. Apparently, SKINS utilizes a warp knit which does not have a natural stretch as opposed to a circular knit which is used by some other compression brands such as 2XU. The fabric then consists of parallel rows of loops which are interlocked in a zigzag pattern (Figure 1). This ensures the maintenance of the correct level of compression and high durability of the material.
Another innovative technology is a strategic placement of seams which is supposed to provide more support and stability for muscles. Consequently, this design decreases vibration of muscles and prevents soft tissues from damage, which is responsible for a well known delayed muscle soreness. This is one of the areas where SKINS seem to work very well because basically all studies are unanimous on the fact that SKINS, and compression garments in general, have a positive effect on the speed of recovery and perceived level of fatigue. Moreover, there have been positive reviews of SKINS in this respect which praise the placement of seams for controlling unwanted muscle oscillation. For example, the tops have seams placed around or across major muscle groups, so there is a curving seam across the top of the pectoral muscles. This helps reduce bounce in the muscles, which is particularly handy for people who carry some extra weight.
Apart from the dynamic gradient compression, the biomechanical research has allowed SKINS to design gender-specific garments and suit different body sizes and shapes. For this reason, SKINS employs a system based on body mass index and anthropometrical algorithm in order to maximise the compression effect.
SKINS lists a number of positive effects which arise from wearing the garments. However, not all of them are supported by scientific findings. For example, the accelerated removal of blood lactic acid was not confirmed by Duffield (2007).
The academic studies support all what the SKINS website claims about enhanced thermoregulation. However, the findings themselves do not give SKINS any major competitive advantage over other compression garment brands. Therefore, the company developed a whole new product called SKINS ICE which utilizes a Microencapsulation Technology. The technology allows SKINS to embed menthol microcapsules into the fabric which is particularly useful for races or sports practiced in extreme heat conditions. Interestingly, SKINS ICE does not physically cool down muscles but under the influence of heat and friction the microcapsules release the cooling substance which stimulates thermo-receptors in one’s skin. As a result, the brain receives the information to induce a cooling sensation even though the muscles are still kept warm.
With respect to thermoregulation, SKINS has also developed a special vest for cyclists with a build in semi permeable membrane which adapts to the level of temperature. Thus, the fabric pores remain rigid and closed when the temperature is low, thereby keeping a cyclist warm. On the other hand, when the temperature rises, the pores open up letting the heat escape and water evaporate. This technology is particularly relevant to cyclists because it will allow them to stay warm during long descents and help them cool down during ascents.
Another area of innovation is protection. SKINS employ a technology based on the protective element of silver. The reason for this is to develop stench-free garments because textiles worn next to the skin start to smell quickly when doing sports. The odour is produced by bacteria which transform perspiration into odorous substances. Transferring the silver-based technology into garments inhibits the bacteria growth. This hygiene product is used in other textiles by the German company Rudofl Group. For instance, it is build into carpets and mattresses to remove the “food resources” for mites.
The second protection technology of SKINS is a UV protection of 50+.
Marketing and leveraging the brand
SKINS has done a clever marketing in terms of focusing on the scientific and high-performance aspect by backing up its technology by several academic studies which are available on the website. The SKINS website has also quite a long list of professional athletes using SKINS products. Nevertheless, the biggest strength of the company is their brand because SKINS has pushed into a space that recreational athletes would normally associate with global giants such as Nike or Adidas. Apart from this scientific approach, SKINS also capitalizes on the previous non-sport usage of compression garments and adds travel and recovery products to its portfolio. As a result, as much as SKINS is focused on professional, semi-professional athletes and active people, by adding the “travel recovery category” to its product list, it can tap into other segments of customers.
Furthermore, SKINS is very active in the social networking area. Not only is it involved with Twitter, Facebook and Youtube as a means of communication with its customers, but it also uses applications such as Tweetdeck to track positive (or possibly negative) feedback from SKINS customers and divide them to specific segments, such as rugby players, triathletes or cyclists.
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