How art gets generated.
Say “sun-protective clothing,” and the imagination drifts to outfits that look like hazmat suits, safari attire or possibly a burqa. But in the last few years, sun-shielding apparel has become more flattering and fashionable, reshaping the market and potentially improving public health.
Many of the new lines were conceived by sun- and style-conscious women. “For a long time, I felt there was a need for this,” said Alexandra Kotur, the alabaster-skinned creative director at Town & Country, who in 2011 helped found the Parasol brand of colorful and coordinated sun-protective clothing (a linen dress is $295). “I burn easily and had been dressing like a crazy person on the beach.”
Likewise Lisa Moore, a former investment banker who divides her time between Dallas and Carmel, Calif., began designing sun-protective clothing to satisfy a personal need. “I was getting these really ugly moles on my chest” from chasing after her three young children outdoors, she said. “There was just no clothing out there that was protective and pretty.” So in 2008, she helped start Cover, a line of simple sun-protective separates that was picked up by Neiman Marcus last year.
Both Parasol and Cover, as well as another newly established and stylish brand, Mott 50, offer clothes that are comfortably lightweight and have 50+ UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). That means the garments allow at most 2 percent of damaging ultraviolet sunlight to pass through to the skin. (A typical white T-shirt has a UPF of 5, meaning it allows penetration of 20 percent of ultraviolet light.) Synthetic fabrics like nylon, rayon and spandex tend to have a higher UPF than natural fibers, and the tighter the weave, the better. Some chemical treatments and dyes also boost UPF.
“UPF is to clothes what SPF is to lotion,” said Lewis Slaten, chemical engineer and owner of International UV Testing Laboratories in Auburn, Ala., which within the last three years has had a marked increase in companies submitting fabric samples for UPF testing. “It’s small companies wanting to make a go of it and larger companies expanding their lines.” Indeed, this year J. Crew began offering UPF-labeled apparel, and since 2008 Target has been increasing the number of UPF-rated items it carries, as have sportswear companies like Nike, Columbia and Patagonia.
“It’s taken awhile to educate people on what sun-protective clothing is and how it’s different from regular clothing,” said Anne Reilly, a founder of Mott 50, a line introduced in 2011. “But it’s been a labor of love because my mom had melanoma and I lost my aunt to melanoma.” While cancer is a concern of many of her customers, she said, vanity is what’s really driving sales, particularly among women in their 20s and 30s. “Once they start to see signs of aging — the wrinkling and spots — they really want to cover up,” Ms. Reilly said.
Sunscreen is not sufficient. “A lot of Americans use sunscreen and a lot of clinicians recommend sunscreen, but there’s good data that sun-protective clothing is a more effective way to protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun,” said Dr. Eleni Linos, a dermatologist and clinical researcher at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. “This is a critical issue as we’re seeing skyrocketing rates of skin cancer — some call it an epidemic — particularly among young people.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among women under 40 and 400 percent among men under 40 from 1970 to 2009. That means one person now dies of melanoma every hour. “Two years after starting the Cover line, my sister got melanoma,” Ms. Moore said. “She was only 23, and so we ended up having a health focus as well as a beauty focus.”
Still, it’s hard to see how Cover’s bandeau and hipster ensemble, or the skimpier items in the Mott 50 and Parasol lines, will help prevent skin cancer. “It’s just not realistic to expect people to be head-to-toe covered, so yes, sunscreen has to be part of what you’re doing,” Ms. Kotur said. “Our aesthetic is you can be covered without looking like you’ve lost your mind.”
By Kate Murphy, NY Times, 7/17/13
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