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A dynamic reaction with Rheon

Enabling the creation of new garments that provide support exactly where and when needed.

20th November 2023

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Munich, Germany


As a naturally soft and flexible material that when subject to force exhibits instant stiffness, Rheon is a reactive superpolymer with a number of potentially game-changing applications.

In its construction, the thermoplastic elastomer composite is a chemical colloidal suspension bringing together two very different ingredients to create new properties, explained Simon Hunstman, commercial director at Rheon Labs.

Speaking at the recent Performance Days functional fabrics fair held at Messe Munich in Germany, he likened the effect to sand and water, in the way that when walked on, a wet beach is very soft, but when running on it, it becomes glass-hard.

As such, Rheon enables the creation of new garments that can react dynamically to the body’s movement, to provide support exactly where and when needed, and the faster the body moves, the more the technology engages.

Soft tissue support

Rheon Labs, a 2017 spin-out from Imperial College London dedicated to developing the cleanest new engineered products,  envisages three key uses for the new material – in applications for muscle support – simply to enable athletes to run faster – in garments designed for injury prevention, and as soft tissue support in a new generation of sports bras.

Historically, the support provided by bras has been associated with high compression, but also discomfort.

Bras reinforced with Rheon work in a fundamentally different way to provide support and comfort by dramatically reducing the breast tissue displacement that occurs during movement. On a systems level, Rheon can absorb four times more energy than standard thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs).

Elite sports

Rheon also promises to enhance elite sports performance, where the difference between winning and losing can be down to a matter of seconds, or even less.

Hunstman observed that at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, the difference between first and fourth place in the Women’s Marathon was just 78 seconds and the Men’s 5,000 Metres was claimed with a time difference of just a fraction of a second.

Rheon Labs has been working with the University of Wisconsin on the concept of ‘muscle shearing’, aimed at reducing wasted energy to boost performance. This work has involved wrapping straps of Rheon around the essential muscle groups – primarily the quads and hamstrings – and analysing the micro-movements of a runner going through the gait cycle in order to create a dynamic support system.

The idea is to turbocharge properties through a data-driven system based on the collection of muscle movement data in combination with that relating to soft tissue density and bone structure.

This concept has now been taken up Adidas, with Rheon support structures now to be found in two of the brand’s releases during 2023– Adizero Control sleeves and shorts for running and Techfit Control long-sleeved tops and pants for training.

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