Color-Changing Workout Shirt: Weird Idea or the Real Deal?

Radiate Athletics raised nearly $600K on Kickstarter to bring this shirt to market

Radiate Athletics surpassed its Kickstarter funding goal of $30,000 in less than two days, eventually hauling in $579,599 in 34 days from 8,556 backers. What's everyone so excited about? The company is using the money to produce the Radiate shirt, which it claims, “visually informs you of your intensity of athletic performance by changing colors according to your body's thermo-output.” Translation—the shirt will change colors as you exercise to show what muscles you’re using.

Founder Kenneth Crockett says the company took NASA technology developed in the 1960s to create shirts made of thermochromic dyes that indicate temperature fluctuation throughout the body. This isn’t the first time thermochromic technology was modified for commercial use—it was first popularized by mood rings in the 1970s—but Crockett says they've taken the technology even further and invented the world’s first thermochromatic shirt.

But have they really?

In the early 90s, Hypercolor shirts were all the rage. You may remember them for their tie-dye, just-bleached appearance. Generra Sportswear Co. sold $150 million worth of thermochromatic shirts in 1990 before going bankrupt just two years later due to a sharp fall in demand. The design has made a few comebacks over the years, but nothing quite as ambitious as Radiate Athletics is proposing. According to the company:

“Athletic apparel has stayed the same for hundreds of years. Decades of research have gone into understanding fabric luminescence and the relationship it has with body temperature. In short, special atoms within the fabric will gain a carbon electron when valence electrons are accelerated through the application of heat, affecting the way that the atoms reflect light-waves. In other words, these products are the first of their kind.”

This fancy science jargon is better summarized on the company’s Kickstarter page where the shirt is said to, “reveal your inner hulk.” The company landed its most famous endorsement from Former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, who can be seen here rocking a Radiate shirt.

Arguably the company’s most enterprising product is a double-stitched, high performance shooting sleeve for basketball players. Radiate claims the sleeve will change color as your shot heats up. As a huge fan of "NBA JAM," my eyes lit up reading this.

Could I visibly catch fire at the local rec center? And will the sleeve let me know if I start missing?

With this reference to a cult-classic Super Nintendo game, Radiate may have tipped its hand. Did they simply repackage a 20-year-old fad, or are they breaking into the wide world of sports apparel with a game-changing product? Either way, Radiate Athletics put on a remarkable Kickstarter campaign that will reportedly be featured as one of the Wall Street Journal’s Top 25 Startups of 2013.

The products will be shipped to those who invested in the Kickstarter campaign first, then made available for the general public to order online sometime in July. To learn more, check out the Radiate website.