I read an "interesting" article on-line last week which discussed another alpine ski race suit manufacturers conviction that colour correlated to suit speed on the race course. White suits, suits with no colour, apparently are fastest.
Wait, what? How fast you go depends on the colour of your suit? Surely that must be a bit of corporate dis-information. Right? Or is it?
I caught up with One Studio's print guru, Greg Burgess, to get to the bottom of how the colour of the suit might affect the speed or if in fact, as the article stated, the colour the suit is printed would change the porosity of the fabric the suit is made from.
Submitted by Fred, One editor at large. Oct 2016
THE COLOUR OF SPEED
Now the porosity is a key factor for World Cup, Europa Cup, Olympic, World and National Championship racers in fact for any Alpine racer who wants to compete in a FIS race. They must be wearing an FIS conforming race suit. Because the International Ski Federation has a rule which requires that the suit must have a minimum porosity level to be able to be worn at certain levels of FIS sanctioned races. That rule insists that a suit must allow a minumum of 30 litres of air to pass through a square metre of suit fabric every second (30ltr/mtr2/sec). The old 30ltr rule. This rule has been around for a long time. The reasons for it are a long story and you will need to wait for another time for an explanation.
Today, dear reader, we want to know about the coloured inks that slow us down or speed us up.
Ask any racer or coach and he or she will tell you they want a "tight suit", not too porous, as close to the rule as possible. They don't want air rushing through the suit and slowing things down.
Before I went to see Greg I thought I'd do some quick research. He's a pretty serious guy and he's serious about getting the fabrics printed perfectly and has absolutely no time for dumb questions about slow suits which he doesn't make anyway. So I guessed starting my research at the top of the ski tree would be a good idea and I checked to see what the fastest World Cup speed specialists were wearing this season. Downhill crystal globe winner Peter Fill, black suit. Second overall, attacking viking Aksel Lund Svindal, dark red suit. 3rd overall Dominik Paris another Italian speedster in another black suit. The Super-G men; top three were all attacking vikings in dark red suits with some white trim. Okay, so the fastest men in the world seem to be happy with plenty of ink and colour in their suits.
How about the ladies colour choices? Downhill winner, undisputed speed queen Lindsey Vonn, wears mostly white with lots of bright colours, Second place Fabienne Suter in her Swiss team, white, blue and red suit. Third place was the independent Larisa Yurkiw wearing black, red and white. Lara Gut winner overall in the Super-G and 4th in Downhill wears the mostly white with blue and red, Swiss team suit. Tina Weirather has a black and white suit with tropical flowers on it. Right then, this wasn't really giving me much of an indication at all.
So off to the print department to ask someone who knows what he's talking about. Greg's been printing competition clothing and fabrics since the seventies and has a deep understanding of the science behind print processes. I find him in the middle of preparing fabric samples for sending off to the FIS technical operations guys in Switzerland for porosity testing. Excellent timing. "Hey Greg how much difference does the printing ink make to the porosity and speed of our suits?"
"Right well let's clarify the ink question first off. We don't use what you would typically call an "ink" we use dyes which are not what you might imagine printing inks to be like. They are not applied to the fabric as a liquid but are in a gaseous form when the printing process takes place and the fibres of the fabric absorb the dye or ink. The dye doesn't fill the spaces between the fabric fibres at all it actually colours the fabric yarn itself."
Does that mean a suit fabric that has printing on it still let's air through at the same rate as a non printed suit fabric? A white suit for instance. Actually do you print white onto a suit?
"Okay so there's a couple of things there. No, we don't actually print white as a colour onto the suit athough we do print shades of very light colours for silver and blends etc. All our fabric is bright white when we get it from Switzerland. But all the suits go through the print process, even a suit that is nearly all white will have some colour for the sponsor logos and team branding in places. Even the new FIS conformity labels are now printed directly into each suit.
The print process can definitely change the suits porosity but it has nothing to do with the colour dye we put into the fabric. A deep, dark black suit, which has as much dye intensity as any colour we use, will have the same porosity as a white suit if it is put through our process here at the same specifications and settings as the white suit. There is negligible difference between colours, it's not worth consideration."
So all ski race suits are the same porosity?
" No way, that's different from the colour question. We can adjust the fabrics porosity as we run through the print process by managing our equipment settings and finishing procedures. We can adjust the porosity to suit the athletes requirements, obviously we don't make a suit too "tight". It is crucial that we always meet FIS porosity levels, the fabric arrives here compliant and each One Studio suit leaves here compliant. That's why we work with the FIS guys to continually test fabrics and manage our processes here to deliver constant results."
Right so how do you manage the porosity of each suit?
"Dude I can't give you that information I'd get fired."
Hmmm. As I walked back to my desk I realised that I'd found out what the colour of speed was:
At One Studio it's any colour you want it to be.
FIS spec fabric printed by Greg and cut ready to be sewn into a bespoke race suit.