Merino experts SmartWool made us fall in love with their socks. Then they had us stripping down to our base layers. Now the company is taking on the running world.
“We’ve noticed consumers and retailers and people have been starting to ask us to make a merino wool running apparel,” said Sara Yoder, SmartWool’s product line manager for women’s performance apparel and accessories.
At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, SmartWool will unveil its PhD running apparel line, also marking the company’s first foray into sports bras. SNEWS recently visited the Boulder SmartWool office to check out the goods, which include running shorts, a running skort (photo, right), performance shirts and a new line of sports bras, all featuring the company’s merino wool next to skin.
Breaking into running apparel was a logical step, given the sport's tremendous, ever-growing popularity.
“We all have less time than we ever had,” Yoder said. “Running is the best bang for your buck. A lot of other sports, when you only have 30 minutes, you might not even bother. Even if people don’t love running, they’re doing it for exercise because they’re so busy.”
Run more, stink less
We’ve all heard the benefits of merino wool in apparel: It regulates body temperature, it’s comfortable next to skin and it’s naturally antimicrobial. That’s why SmartWool figured it would be the perfect material to use for running wear. More and more companies are seeing these benefits and using the material, Yoder said.
“I think people are just realizing that wool is absolutely the miracle fiber, even though it’s expensive,” Yoder said, reiterating all the benefits of the material. “It’s real, not just smoke and mirrors. It’s proven.”
As a result of the merino wool, the apparel is at a slightly higher price point than most running wear on the market.
“When you put a wool product out there it’s going to cost more than the majority of the competition,” Yoder said. “You might as well just go with the highest quality and tell a quality story.”
Its new PhD running line, which is an extension of the company’s PhD line of performance socks, is a colorful, snazzy-looking line whose products have a myriad of features that make the items comfortable for runners.
But the most important things may be the antimicrobial and moisture-wicking capabilities of the apparel — especially for runners who are used to synthetic material that holds onto stench as tightly as some people hold onto grudges.
“All of the synthetic stuff stinks after you sweat in it,” said Zack Taylor, product line manager for men’s performance apparel and accessories. While the PhD running line does have a synthetic outer (recycled polyester), the fabric that touches skin is mostly merino wool (a fine 19.5 micron), including the liners of the shorts and the bras. The other two materials in the liners are nylon and elastine.
“The knitting is such that it keeps the merino wool next to your skin,” Yoder said.
Comfort and security
The apparel definitely has some, “Why didn’t somebody do that sooner?” type of features.
The liner on the shorts, for example, comes up above over the elastic waistband, leaving no part of the band to scratch or irritate the skin. This is on all the running bottoms: the PhD Run for men (MSRP $75), the PhD Long Run Short for men (MSRP $80), and the PhD Run Skort (MSRP $80).
Plus, the seamless liners in the running bottoms (shorts and the skort) all have the company’s 4-Degree Fit System, which ensures the liners will stay in place and offer support, particularly important for men, Taylor said.
The performance tops (women's PhD Run SS Crew pictured left) are seamlessly stitched except where the sleeve is attached to the shirt, but even this seam is designed not to irritate because rather than being right in the underarm, it’s in front of the arm to prevent chafing.
“That comfort angle for us is so important,” Taylor said, adding that the company hopes to attract those first-time runners jumping into the sport. “There are more first-time runners out there right now than there have been since the '70s. Those people are looking to be legitimate. They also need to be comfortable and that’s really our angle.”
Merino wool all around
SmartWool long has been an advocate of merino wool from the base layer to the outer layer, but Yoder said that technically the company hasn’t ever been able to do that for women – until now.
“We have a couple of really great stories of real women saying, ‘I just love wearing merino wool next to my skin so much I wear my base layer t-shirt and my bra over it,’ ” Yoder said. “That’s not the most comfortable or best solution so we decided we needed to step it up and make merino wool bras.”
For its introductory bra line, SmartWool offers two types: The PhD Racerback Bra (MSRP $70), the PhD High Support Bra (MSRP $80), Seamless Racerback bra (MSRP $60) and Seamless Strappy bra (MSRP $60)
Like the underwear liners on the running shorts, the sports bras feature the company’s 4-Degree Fit system to ensure a high level of support.
“Now,” Yoder said, “you really can dress head to toe in SmartWool.”