The ultraviolet protection factor industry is projected to be worth $1.27 billion by 2030, according to Grand View Research Inc. Most UPF brands currently available target older consumers, outdoor enthusiasts or children, with products focused heavily on swimwear and rash guards. Now, brands are launching lifestyle apparel to get in on the UPF opportunity.
UPF clothing is more popular in Asia, where high temperatures and pale skin beauty standards mean that sun protection is a must year-round.
UPF brand Claudent was launched in June 2023 to address Gen Z and millennial consumers who want UPF protective athleisure pieces that are more fashion-focused. It was founded by Mia Zee, an alum of vintage denim brand Re/Done and beauty brand Versed, and Emma Gerber, also of Re/Done, as well as athleisure company Set Active and lifestyle brand Simon Miller.
The initial seven modular pieces in the collection come in a variety of shades, with prices starting at $65. The UPF ratings of each of the fabrics used in the collection have been independently verified by third-party labs to the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists TM183 test for UV efficacy. According to TM183 Standards, clothing must meet the highest protective standards of UPF50+.
Claudent CEO Zee was diagnosed with sun allergies in 2019 after a holiday. “Despite being under an umbrella and wearing SPF 50, I broke out in a crazy rash on my second day on vacation and went to the dermatologist as soon as I got home,” said Zee. “They told me that I had a polymorphic light eruption, also known as an allergy to the sun.”
UPF50+ is the highest possible rating on the UPF scale. The rating means that at least 98% of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays are not able to reach your skin, with the fabric acting as a barrier. The average white cotton T-shirt only provides a UPF rating of 5-7 when dry and about UPF 3 when wet. This allows about one out of three UVA/UVB rays to penetrate the skin and leaves you relatively unprotected against sun damage.
“The most important thing was the fabric. We really didn’t want it to feel like a rash guard,” said Gerber, Claudent’s co-founder and creative director. “We want to make clothes that you can wear to go hiking and play pickleball or tennis, but then that also feel polished enough that you could wear them with jeans to lunch.” The brand’s styles include a ribbed polo shirt selling for $285 on its own site.
On TikTok, the hashtag #sunrash has 1.1 million views. Sun rash is one of the most common sun allergies, although other symptoms like redness and scaling are also common. According to the National Institutes of Health, polymorphic light eruption, more commonly known as an allergy to the sun, impacts roughly 10-20% of the population. It mostly affects women in their 20s and 30s. Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. This year alone, over 5.4 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer and over 100,000 with the far more serious melanoma.
“UPF clothing has been specifically created, and tested, to protect skin from harmful UV rays and is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while being sun safe,” said Stephanie Kauffman, president of Melanoma Research Alliance. “Incorporating UPF fabrics and other sun protective designs into a fashion line helps consumers feel confident in their style and their sun safety.”
“Getting people to wear protective clothing in their everyday lives is a challenge if it looks like versions that previously existed in the market,” said CEO and co-founder Zee. “When we were doing our UPF market research, there were a lot of bright colors, a lot of prints. We wanted to create something more classic.”
Uniqlo launched its UV range in 2019. Each summer, it offers 4-6 items with a UPF rating of 40+ for men, women and children. Brands like Lululemon and & Other Stories have small UPF ranges, but most UPF items still skew heavily toward older demographics. As temperatures and UV rays become stronger due to climate change, UPF clothing provides a new opportunity for brands.
“We believe UPF developments mean fashion brands can tap into the trend of being prevention providers,” said Olivia Houghton, lead beauty analyst at strategic foresight company The Future Laboratory, which called out the budding UPF apparel category in its new wellness report, out on Tuesday. “Self-care is more than just a buzzword; it’s redefining preventative health. We are seeing consumers assert control over their bodies and eschew traditional healthcare systems.”
Currently, Claudent is focused on educational marketing on TikTok and Instagram to target the younger market. “There is an opportunity for storytelling and education in the UV space, as [UPF clothing] is a wearable beauty product, as well,” said Gerber. “There are many different demographics we can reach through niches like tennis or golf, in addition to skin-care or fashion enthusiasts.”