Headwear is a favoured item of promotional and leisurewear companies. Not only is it easy to brand and embellish, it has functional and aesthetic value to the wearer. Whether simply worn as a fashion statement, to provide shade from the sun or to stave off the cold, baseball caps, beanies, bandanas and visors ooze potential. But as our leisure activities and work patterns change, the demand for more functional headwear is growing.
With the incessant shrinking of the unknown world, and the subsequent emergence of an adventure industry, the average traveller can now visit places only intrepid explorers once dared to go. Today, more people are scaling Mount Everest, navigating the Amazon River and trekking through the great deserts than ever before. But greater access to these remote places doesn’t make them any less dangerous and, as people’s leisure and sporting activities get more serious, so the need for functional clothing to protect them has increased.
One product that has found success in the outdoor and adrenalin sports markets is the Original Buff®. The very first multi-functional, seamless, tubular headgear was created by Original Buff SA (Spain) in 1992 and now its UK and Ireland distributor, Buffera Ltd is hoping to find similar success in workwear through a specially designed range, Buff® Protection.
Buffera is one of a number of headwear companies looking to take advantage of the growth of the global workwear market. While some have already started to add value to their promotional and leisure ranges through the use of breathable technologies and organic or recycled materials, others are becoming increasingly work-orientated. Sharon Lee, for example, added the Lucifer Visionary Cap to its promotional headwear range earlier this year. The baseball-style cap has two peak-mounted LED lights that provide 16,000 microcandela and a 22-hour life for a 10-metre beam over a 25-degree arc. In addition, its TuffCap complies with EN812 to combine the comfort and style of a baseball cap with the added protection of an ABS protective shell.
The Original Buff® combines a multi-functional design and a high performance fabric with cutting-edge styles. The accessory can be used in at least 12 different ways, some of the most popular being a headband, wristband, helmet liner, balaclava, scarf, pirate cap, beanie, bandana, and a neckerchief to stop drafts penetrating inside a jacket collar. It’s made from a high performance microfibre that is breathable, moisture wicking, wind resistant and seamlessly constructed for comfort. Suitable for all year round, it plays a valuable role in helping to balance the body’s temperature and reduce the likelihood of hypothermia and hyperthermia in extreme climes.
Commercially, Buff® headwear is equally fashionable, functional and fun to wear and is available in a wide range of prints and colours. As a result, it has a fan base with image-conscious outdoor enthusiasts from motorcyclists and athletes to hikers and gardeners. Fashion is also becoming increasingly important in the workwear market, but UK sales manager John Hughes says that it’s the multi-functionality of Buff® headwear that’s primarily attracting interest in this cost- and comfort-driven sphere. “I’ve had people who wear hard hats tell me that the big, thick, bulky balaclavas that they wear under them for protection against the elements are uncomfortable and that the hard hat subsequently doesn’t fit correctly,” he says. “The versatility and lightness of the Buff® Protection headwear means that, depending on the conditions, it can be worn as a helmet liner, balaclava or facemask – so it fits perfectly under any form of helmet without any seam to irritate, chafe or abrade.”
Ease of use, quality of manufacture and durability are also important considerations – which is why a machine washable, quick drying and pocket-sized Buff® is proving an attractive prospect for workwear. John says: “Fabrics that won’t stretch or lose their elasticity and colours that won’t fade are all part of the brand and are ‘built-in’ to our products from the word go.”
When it comes to performance, however, leisurewear products have had to step up a gear in order to become fit for purpose in working environments. Cue the Buff® Protection range, which was launched specifically with the corporate sector in mind in April 2008. John says: “The fibres and fabrics used are different to meet the different needs of the wearer – particularly those who are working outside all day long. Where the Original Buff® is an all-year round product for winter and summer use, the Buff® Protection range offers more specific products for particular times of year, activities and climatic conditions.”
One way that manufacturers are adding value to casual headwear is by using some of the best technologies available. The Buff® Protection range uses proven performance fabrics such as Coolmax®, Thermolite®, Polartec® and GORE-TEX® Windstopper® for maximum efficiency and protection from cold, wind or UV rays. John says: “UV protection is a secondary application that is becoming more and more important nowadays as a health and safety issue – people are taking sun protection a lot more seriously.”
The range comes in three basic colours – navy, black and hi-vis yellow or combinations of these – and four product lines – Dry-Cool Buff® (for 95% UV protection), Thermal Buff®, Polar Buff® and Windproof Buff®. All product lines are also available with ScotchliteTM if required.
Another way that Original Buff SA (Spain) has added value to its Buff® brand is through the introduction of Polygiene® in August – it’s a silver ion treatment that, when applied to fabric, has a long-lasting but natural anti-bacterial effect. This eliminates the main causes of odour and makes it more hygienic.
Outdoor headwear that can combine versatility with this more specialised high performance could have widespread applications in the workwear market. John says: “We have talked to a number of people from Scotland who work on the oil rigs, and they said that it doesn’t matter what time of year it is – summer or winter, it’s cold and they need balaclavas. Similarly, crime scene investigators who have to wear a disposable suit can be working in bitterly cold conditions, so something that goes under the hood and around the neck and over the head is perfect.”
With the popularity of the Original Buff® amongst motorcyclists, Buffera is also looking at how the new Windproof Buff® can help to protect policeman on bikes. In those situations, there is an ever present wind chill and those sitting on them are not exercising or generating body heat. “If you think of a cycle helmet, the whole thing is designed to ventilate so you’ve got lots of slits in the cycle helmet to allow air to flow through,” says John. “That’s great in the summer to cool you down but in winter that just freezes you.”
Further down the line, John believes there could be good military applications in the market for Buff®. “We already supply a number of units to military areas where people are going off to really cold conditions but the UV aspect for Afghanistan and Iraq is interesting – we’re not there yet but we’re working on it.”
When it comes to meeting EN standards and health and safety regulations, John believes that it’s possible to adapt a leisurewear product not just for workwear - but for PPE too. “Another interesting point that was drawn to our attention with the oil riggers was flame retardancy, which we are working on to see if we can use the right kind of material or coating,” he says. “These are all things that we are looking at to make Buff® Protection much more market specific in the relative sector that we’re going into.”
In the meantime, however, workwear looks to be a safe bet for Buffera Ltd. With the global workwear market predicted to grow by 8.1% by 2012, the demand for new and innovative products that can keep pace with our changing lifestyles will also increase. This should make headwear that is versatile, functional and wearable highly sought after.