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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Under Armour’s Breakthrough Fiber-Shed Test Method Now Available to Industry

The brand is sharing its solution with the apparel industry and suppliers, and developing a reduced-shed version of its largest fleece offering.

Following years of research in its innovation lab, earlier this year sportswear brand Under Armour announced a breakthrough fiber-shed test method to help address the invisible, but daunting sustainability threat microfibers and microplastics pose to society and the planet. Now, the brand has teamed up with leading precision-testing solutions supplier James Heal to bring its award-winning test method to life.

Over the past eight months, the partners have developed and optimized fiber-shed test kits for industry use that employ Under Armour’s simplified, repeatable method. The resulting test kits are now available for purchase from James Heal. As part of the partnership, the companies are receiving continued support and technical guidance from testing service provider Hohenstein — an internationally recognized and acclaimed testing, research and certification leader with roots in the textile sector.

As both synthetic and natural fabrics are produced, worn and cleaned, they shed fibers at varying rates — but while microfibers from natural fabrics will eventually degrade, synthetic microfibers from fabrics such as polyester persist in the environment. The WWF estimates that PET — the material used to produce polyester — takes up to 450 years to decompose. In the US, 85 percent of all clothes are landfilled or burned, resulting in hundreds of years of plastic pollution.

Laundering synthetic fabrics — which releases about 2.2 million tons of microplastics into waterways each year — is the largest source of microplastic pollution. Over a third of marine microplastic pollution comes from textiles alone, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles — microplastics can now be found in the air, rainwater, soil, the ocean, and even in the human bloodstream. And while new innovations are emerging that could help prevent further microplastic pollution, more holistic solutions are years away from achieving the necessary scale.

By increasing access to their simplified fiber-shed testing method, Under Armour and James Heal hope to make it easier for industry players to understand their own contribution to the microfiber issue.

“Until now, integrating fiber-shed testing into industry research and development activities has required a significant time and cost investment,” said Kyle Blakely, SVP of Innovation for Under Armour. “At Under Armour, we believe intervening early to mitigate shedding is critical — which is why our test method is designed to specifically address these time and cost barriers to entry. Thanks to our partners at James Heal, we are excited to make our innovative test method widely available as we address our own environmental impact.”

In addition to making the test method publicly available, Under Armour has provided complimentary test kits to high-volume textile mills in its global supply chain to encourage early intervention within its indirect scope.

“Sustainability is a team sport, and we are thrilled to make this innovative measurement alternative widely available to the industry as we leverage it across our own brand,” said Michael Levine, VP & Chief Sustainability Officer for Under Armour. “Under Armour’s sustainability ambitions reflect our belief that what lies under our products matters. As we progress toward our goal for 75 percent of products to be made of low-shed materials by 2030, we will continue to pursue opportunities to magnify Under Armour’s impact in the collective fight against shedding.”

Synthetic fabrics such as fleece are a main contributor to microplastic pollution | Image credit: Under Armour

Through a new pilot program, Under Armour is developing a reduced-shed version of its largest fleece offering that is expected to launch in Fall/Winter 2024. As the company continues to support the redevelopment of fabrics to shed less, UA aspires to improve product durability and performance to support athletes.

“Fiber-shedding in the textile industry is an extremely prevalent topic, and we are as keen as any to support ways to reduce this,” said Sam Tissington, Commercial Director at James Heal. “We are proud to support Under Armour in their attempts to further reduce the shedding of fiber throughout the manufacturing process of textiles, and to show that support we are providing global access to the Under Armour test method with the purchase of the Under Armour-compiled Fiber-Shedding kits.”

To purchase a testing kit from James Heal, click here. For more information on Hohenstein’s fiber-shed testing services, click here.