The challenge of the compression sportswear

There have already been compression garments on the sportswear market for some time, and many people wonder what their function is and whether they have any special benefits compared to ordinary workout clothes. Compression in the context of clothing means mechanical pressure that occurs with the help of taut material and a close fit. Compression garments aren’t constrictive, but rather stretch and conform to the body. The compression should be even and graduated.

Many people are already familiar with flight socks and compression stockings, which are also compression products. Medical compression products are also used after certain procedures, such as operations. Medical compression stockings, or support stockings, support the blood circulation of the legs and as such are suitable for vein and lymph disorders, such as varicose veins, phlebitis, and lymphedema. In addition, medical compression stockings reduce the risk of developing vein disease, such as blood clots.

Why have these kinds of products begun to be used in sports and what benefits do they have? Because the pressure of the compression stockings on the legs improves the circulation, their purpose in sports is to speed up recovery and prevent sports injuries. Because of the more efficient venous circulation, the oxygen intake of the muscles is improved. However, not all the compression products in athletic stores are medical. In long compression stockings and gaiters the compression is usually medium-strong. Light compression, on the other hand, is often more popular in pants, tops, and shirts. The compression pressure is often reported in mmHg, which means millimeters of mercury. Usually the unit of pressure measurement is not reported with light compression products.

The compression in light compression products is, as its name implies, light, and doesn’t improve the circulation with the same efficiency as compression stockings. This is partly a question of user comfort. The more powerful compression of compression stockings and flight stockings could be uncomfortable over the whole body. In addition, there isn’t as much of a benefit to compression in the upper body as there is in the lower limbs. The main point of user comfort in compression garments is mainly that it’s more comfortable to work out in a sport where you jump or shake a lot when the resting muscles aren’t jiggling. Even a light compression nicely diminishes the feeling of jiggling.

The taut but flexible material and fit of light compression products is meant to lightly stimulate the surface circulation and speed up muscle recovery. A garment optimized for comfort in sports use, covering a broader area, doesn’t need to have as powerful a compression as, e.g., compression stockings or gaiters. Stronger pressure is beneficial mainly in the leg and foot area, according to Vierumäki’s study. As mentioned in the article, ”cramps and swelling are almost always problems of the lower limbs.”

The study also addresses the problem of the varying shapes of individual bodies: ”We also all have very different bodies, so the division of compression shirts into S/M/L sizes won’t necessary suit everybody. It’s much easier to make stockings according to measurements,” explains Jarmo Kujanpää. In fact, there can also be problems with stockings when it comes to people’s differing proportions. Some may have a small foot but a wide calf, others may have a large foot but a narrow calf, and the length of the shin also varies widely.

But this problem also applies to almost all industrially manufactured clothes and accessories. There is a huge variety of different body sizes, types, and shapes in the world. Because of this, a serially-produced garment will fit best on the most common average body types. The testing of compression garments is in its infancy, so there is fairly little independent, scientific research available about the subject. Many manufacturers of fiber and fabric also have their own research results regarding compression products, but we’re still waiting for comprehensive, independent research on light compression garments.

The benefit of light compression is that it is more forgiving of the differences between body types than more powerful compression. What is lost in the power of the compression is regained in user comfort. In compression stockings or other stronger compression products, you often bump into fit problems caused by the individual proportions of people’s bodies. The best fit is achieved only by individually tailoring the product to each body, but this is challenging and expensive in mass production. Top athletes use individually tailored compression products.

Nike made a research about compression wear and the surprising result was that it doesn’t actually improve the sports performance. However it does reduce the vibration of the muscles and that is the main point to use compression wear.

We designers are carrying out continuous product development with compression products. For the consumer, the most essential advice for finding the best fitting product is to try it on. Within collections there are different fits for different body types, and there are even larger differences in fit between different brands. In this way, as many different types of people as possible can find a suitable product.

My client David Sportswear was the collection I did the most extensive product development with compression item’s. I also lecture about compression sportswear and other functional apparel at Aalto University.


What People Get Wrong About Trend Research

For many people working in the apparel industry, collecting trends and inspiration trips are familiar concepts. On idea trips, it’s usual to wander through big cities, taking note of street fashion, culture and phenomena and checking out what’s in stores. You usually end up buying idea samples too.

Many people in the industry (other than designers) believe that the purpose of these retail tours (or comp shopping) is to gather ideas for future collections. You get to see the styles and ideas of competitors and be inspired by them. This is one of the most persistent misunderstandings in the industry.

Whatever is in stores now is also already in the consumer’s closet, or soon will be. Why would a consumer want to have the same thing in their closet next year as they already have now? Future trends are often (not always) countertrends to what came before them. The majority of consumers get bored and want something new and different next. Only a distinct minority have their own signature style that they always use.

For this reason, I often tell students at Aalto University that the purpose of  comp shopping tours and brand analysis isn’t to scoop ideas from others, but rather to figure out exactly what NOT to design. The styles now available in stores are exactly what nobody will want in future seasons.

Copying just leads to lagging behind. The secret of a successful fashion brand is that it’s different from the others. Coco Chanel already knew this over 100 years ago when she said ”In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

In the previous millennium, stores in large cities might have had a selection that only reached Finnish market with a delay of several years. In this millennium, we can follow the selection of nearly every brand online in real time. If something new and groundbreaking goes on the market in Tokyo or New York, even Backwoods Bob can find out about it if he knows how to google.

At this point, you may be wondering why designers should fly around the world searching out trends at all, if it’s so easy to just find them online. The fact is that you can mostly find e-store selections online. You can get an idea of street styles through blogs, but the photos are always taken according to the interests and tastes of the blogger. I, as a designer, might spot completely different things on people than any blogger would.

Another reason to visit in person is the materials. A big part of designing is the feel of the quality, and you can’t get that through the internet. It is essential for the designer to be able to feel the texture for themselves. A third reason is the selection. Brands may have slightly different selections in different countries because cultures and tastes are different in different parts of the world. These differences can, of course, also be spotted through the internet, but then we come back to the same issue of the importance of being able to feel the material.

In addition to the retail selection, it is essential to take note of what people actually end up wearing. For example, when designing a sportswear collection, I may park myself with my camera by the most popular jogging tracks of Tokyo or New York, and pose as a “paparazzi” while taking snapshots of the passing people and their clothing.

You can form a comprehensive picture when you observe street fashion and what’s available in stores, and then on top of that when you go to fashion fairs you can spot what your competitors have lined up for the next season. But if you set out to copy any of these observations straight into your collection, you’re already behind, and if the collection you are designing is based on an original style rather than the changing trends, that’s when you’re really off. Researching trends or not, in any case the point is to seek that element of differentiation, that new perspective for your collection, which no one else has.

Even without monitoring trends, an original style can carry a brand for decades or even centuries. Many designers are inspired by things completely outside the sphere of fashion trends: art, architecture, nature, history, cultures or phenomena. Retail tours  / comp shopping are important tools for analyzing the markets, but they don’t work as a source for creating a unique style.

Photo: Thomas Broumand Style: Anna Rinta-Jyllilä, design from the David Sporswear 2010 collection

What I do?

Product Development

Developing the functionality of your product. Anything from wearable technology to everyday functional wear. Materials, technical solutions and construction. Illustrations, ideas, color tables, mood boards, sketches, materials, accessories, different qualities. Combining these to a commercially successful product.

Measurement and Technical Design

Measurement tables, grading, technical product instructions aka “techpacks”, garment fittings and measuring. Also commenting these to the factories.


Research can be done about anything: the target group, product group, materials, colors, techniques, trends etc.


Styling the product and brand image for your brands add campaigns, photo shoots, social media content, fashion shows, showrooms or a space for an event, fair etc.

Production Management

Organizing the whole production process from A to Z. The sampling procedure from the first protos, to salesman samples, pre-production samples, shipment samples and to the final product in you warehouse. Taking care of the testings, materials, color fastness, shrinkage, pilling etc.

Product Management

Finding for your product the right price and right place at the market. Finding the best places for production. Sourcing factories, making auditions, negotiating prices, creative problem solving and organizing. Taking care of the different certifications, labels, lab dips etc.

Design Management

You are the designer but you need guidance and an objective point of view about your creations. You have a lot of ideas but your collection needs clarifying and structure. Finding and emphasizing the best parts. You need someone with a lot of experience to reflect with you.

Brand Management an Development

Defining and clarifying the visual image of your brand, marketing and managing the brand image. Emphasizing the differentiating factor of your brand: what makes your brand better than your competitors. Social media marketing, traditional adds, influencer marketing etc.

Concept Management

Defining your concept, the main idea and the reason to be at the market. Your brand values, target group, the visual image, the structure of the collection and the product groups.


Counseling, consulting, coaching and giving advice about all of the things mentioned above. A very vast and versatile point of view of the whole textile, clothing and apparel business.

How I help textile businesses to grow?

I’ve been working for many different textile- and clothing companies since 2004, big companies and small. I always tailor my services to every company. To meet their needs, image and budgets.

One of my favorite challenges are small companies or start-ups with limited budgets; you really need to push your creativity when you know there isn’t a lot to spend.

With smaller start-up companies it can be more of teaching the company to do things by them selves than doing everything for them, depending on the case. Some might think is it a good business for me to make myself useless for my client but in a long run, I think it is.

When there isn’t much money, the worst thing I could do is to sell the start-up all kinds of services and charge as much as possible. The worst case scenario would be that the client company wouldn’t survive.

Since I’m more interested of a long term partnerships and long term profit, I make everything in my power for my client company to thrive. If I know they can learn to do something by them selves I teach them that. It’s like the old saying “Don’t just give them fish, teach them how to fish.”

When the client company thrives and grows, they will eventually need more of my expertise anyway. I just have to be patient and think things perseveringly.

Wearables and other

In 2015 I was working on a wearable electronics design for outdoor clothing for a Chinese-Finnish start-up brand SmåWe. The first prototype is a kids tracking vest with GPS and a solar charger.

The purpose of the product is for parents to fast locate their children  using a smart phone application. We are representing this prototype in Slush China Beijing in October 2015.





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