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Retail Learning

How to Sell: Sun-Protective Clothing

Teach your customers how to shield themselves from harmful rays by upgrading their apparel — their first line of defense — to UPF-rated sun-protective

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Teach your customers how to shield themselves from harmful rays by upgrading their apparel — their first line of defense — to UPF-rated sun-protective clothing. Read this SNEWS Retail College to learn about the technology behind UPF-rated clothing, and why your customers need it to stave off skin cancer.


A printed version of this digital flipbook (click to download, save and/or print the pdf) was mailed to more than 1,000 specialty retail shops in June and it is one in a series of special Retail College How To Sell chapters the SNEWS team produces.

Since your customers are outdoor enthusiasts it stands to reason that they rack up an awful lot of hours of sun exposure. They may not always be getting sunburned, but the very fact that their skin is absorbing UV rays over many cumulative hours is dangerous to their skin health and could lead to skin cancer one day.

Manufacturers of active apparel, such as ExOfficio, The North Face and Coolibar, are investing in new technology in the UPF-rated sun-protective clothing category. A simple T-shirt no longer suffices to protect customers from UV rays; rather, people need clothing with a little extra something to avoid putting their skin health at risk.

This SNEWS Retail College will teach you the difference between UVA and UVB rays, SPF and UPF, the importance of sun-protective clothing and which of your customers need it most.

What is sun-protective clothing?
Consumers might think that if they cover up with any old clothes, they’re protected from the sun’s UV rays. That’s simply not true. The average white T-shirt has a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating of only 15 (meaning only 1/15 of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays are going to be exposed to the skin).

They also might think that because they put on a few dabs of sunscreen in the morning before a long day of hiking, fly-fishing or trail running, they’re protected — that’s also incorrect.
While all clothing has some sort of sun protection factor, apparel with a UPF rating of 15 or higher — either because of its natural performance or an added chemical treatment — is the best defense against harmful rays.

Who needs sun-protective clothing?
While everybody needs to protect themselves from the sun, according to the experts at ExOfficio certain groups need to take extra precautions when it comes to sun exposure.

>>Fair-skinned people
>>Those with family histories of skin cancer
>>Anyone spending time at higher elevations, near the equator or around reflective surfaces (all locations that amplify the sun’s power)
>>Anyone who works outside or in environments where they’re exposed to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium
>>Anyone with multiple or unusual moles
Some sports and professions need increased protection from the sun:
>>Fly-fishing folks, fishing guides, stand-up paddleboarders or hikers. All are exposed to the sun for many hours, often near reflective surfaces. Certain products are geared toward this consumer, like ExOfficio’s Sol Cool Long Sleeve and Reef Runner shirts, which are used by fishing guides in Key West, or The North Face’s men’s Sunshirt, which has a higher collar to fold up and cover the neck.

Sun-protective clothing also has a convenience factor that sunscreen doesn’t — you can throw it on and go, rather than having to reapply every two hours.

UPF ratings explained
UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor. It indicates the fraction of the sun’s UV rays — both UVA and UVB — that can penetrate a fabric. The higher the rating, the less radiation reaches the skin. For example, a UPF rating of 50 means that 1/50, or 2 percent, of the sun’s rays can pass through the clothing.

UPF ratings are used only for garments.

UPF should not be confused with SPF, which stands for sun protection factor and is used to rate sunscreens. SPF indicates how much time it takes a person’s skin to redden while wearing the sunscreen. For example, SPF 15-rated sunscreen allows consumers to stay out 15 times longer without burning than if they had no protection.

Many of the big outdoor manufacturers, such as ExOfficio and The North Face, independently test their sun-protective garments with facilities that meet the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials.

The UPF rating system, which was invented in Australia in the mid-1990s and adopted by most sun-protective clothing manufacturers, has three levels of protection:

>>UPF 15-20: Considered “good”
>>UPF 25-35: Considered “very good”
>>UPF 40-50+: Considered “excellent”

According to the experts at ExOfficio, garments are tested with a radiation-measuring device to assess the amount of UV light that passes through dry, unstretched fabric.

UV rays are part of the light spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. Because their wavelengths are shorter than visible light, UV rays are invisible to the naked eye. UVA and UVB penetrate the atmosphere, and both play a role in premature skin aging, skin cancers and eye damage.


>>UVA: Has the ability to penetrate clouds and glass, cause aging of skin, wrinkles and weakening of the immune system. It also contributes to skin cancer and impacts skin any hour the sun is shining. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the earth’s surface.

>> UVB: Has the ability to penetrate clouds but not glass. These rays are less prevalent than UVA rays, but more intense. They cause sunburns, contribute to skin aging, skin cancer and weakening of the immune system, and impact skin most between hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Sun-protective clothing explaining points
Consumers have misconceptions about sun-protective clothing that your sales associates could help quash.

Here are some things to consider explaining when selling sun-protective clothing to consumers.

>> Weave or Knit of Fabric: The tighter the weave or knit of a garment, the fewer holes it has and the more UV rays it keeps out.
>> Thickness and Density: Lighter-weight materials let in more UV rays than heavier, denser fabrics.
>> Dyes: Darker-colored dyes block more UV radiation from penetrating the skin than lighter-color dyes.
>> Fabric Type: The molecular structures of certain materials, like polyester and nylon, are better at deflecting the sun. Many natural fibers need to be treated in order to perform the same way.
>> Fabric Treatments: Some products (such as those made from natural fibers) have added chemical finishes to increase UPF. Some of these treatments lose effectiveness over time.
>> End-use Environment: Your customers may be planning on hiking, or maybe they want to stand-up paddleboard. You have to consider whether their clothing is going to get wet, as wetness decreases a product’s UPF rating by 10 points. For example, a shirt with a UPF rating of 15 goes down to a UPF rating of 5 when wet.

Caring for fabrics
Generally there aren’t any special instructions when it comes to washing UPF-rated clothing. Experts wrote in the Textile Chemist and Colorist journal that repeated washings don’t seem to lessen the UPF protection.


Other things customers do to their clothing can decrease its UPF rating, such as stretching garments more than 10 percent beyond their normal weave or any type of fading, whether through washing or wearing. The lighter the color, the lower the UPF rating.

Opportunities for additional sales
Consumers often want to protect more than just their skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Since the Skin Cancer Foundation says UV rays play a role in eye damage from macular degeneration to cataracts, point your customers in the direction of your eyewear selection after you’ve outfitted them in UPF-rated sun-protective clothing.

For eyewear, recommend polarized products that cover as much of the eye and surrounding area as possible, such as Zeal Optics’ Penny Lane or Native Eyewear’s Solo.

People who get melanoma of the head or neck are nearly twice as likely to die of the disease than those with melanomas on other body parts. Though scary, this is a critical fact that could help boost your hat sales.

For headwear, recommend hats with brims that extend three inches or more around the face, neck, ears and top of shoulders. Tilley Endurables has a ton of options, including the women’s Organic Cotton/Hemp Hat and the men’s Mash-Up Hat.

Some customers may be partial to their regular clothing, and hesitate to invest in a new UPF-rated garment. Direct them to SunGuard, a laundry additive that makes ordinary clothing more protective against sun’s rays.

Much as permethrin sprays like Sawyer increase the insect repellency of your customer’s favorite garments and gear, SunGuard increases the UPF rating.

SunGuard contains the active ingredient Tinosorb, which has the ability to increase the UPF rating of a regular cotton T-shirt from 15 to 30.

Author: Ana Trujillo
Art Director: Jackie McCaffrey
>> More free education: All retail staff members can get an annual SNEWS subscription for free ($195 value). Yes, your education is that important to us. To receive a gift pass, email
If you would like your store’s name added to our mailing list to receive future training chapters, or if you are a manufacturer and would like to find out how you can work with SNEWS in producing a future “How To Sell” guide, contact our sales and marketing director, Elizabeth Averbeck at