So why don't major brands making high visibility reflective running apparel use more reflectivity? The simple answer is, most companies are responding to an influencing consumer trend and less about designing with high visibility protection in mind.
It’s true, high visibility is a growing trend and utilizing reflective material is an important feature in running clothes. Any enhanced visibility is a step in the right direction for safety. However, when you see high visibility running clothes, it’s mostly limited to small areas, like logos and trims. Why is that?
Probably the biggest reason more reflective material isn’t used – it's really expensive. Inch for inch, reflective material is the most expensive component cost of any high visibility protection–by a large margin. Interestingly enough, not all reflectivity is created equal. Just because you can snap a pic of some running clothes in a store and see it "pop" when the flash hits it, doesn’t mean you are getting your money's worth. Since the cost of reflective is high, then as a manufacturer, wouldn’t it make sense to get the most affordable reflective? Of course it does, there lies the overall problem, minimal reflective and quality of reflective.
Quality reflective material can be seen from great distances when your running, biking or walking at night. So how does reflective on running apparel work? Microscopic glass beads make silver tape reflect light. Better yet, when it’s true retroreflectivity it directs that reflection directly back to it’s light source. The drivers who need to see you while running at night. Overtime, these glass beads erode off of the tape's surface. Good reflective material bonds the glass beads much more effectively, withstanding the abrasive effect of normal wear, and especially the impact of laundering sweaty running gear.
The most effective reflective material is 3M® Scotchlite®. It’s not the only reflective material out there, but it's the gold standard when it comes to safety. A meter of generic reflective material may cost less than $.30 whereas a meter of 3M® Scotchlite® segmented tape can cost over $1.50. However, the effectiveness and durability pay for itself.
Let’s look at a scenario based around the workers, who make the same roads, you run, bike and walk on.
There is a lot of perfectly adequate and legitimately rated generic tape used for high-visibility in the contractor markets. The primary reason contractors use generic reflective is because of the conditions they work in. The garments don't last long enough to challenge the durability factor of the reflective tape. They are often torn up before they are ever washed. However, a bit of a contradiction, the largest consumer of HiViz t-shirts in any market is typically the state Department of Transportation (DOT). Of all the DOTs who provide t-shirts for HiViz protective work wear, 70-80% of these DOTs use 3M® Scotchlite® tape. If the tape is so expensive why are the largest users paying for it? They did the math.
The use of well made reflective material results in garments lasting 3-4 times longer and provides more reflective benefit after 25 washes than many generic options can. In the end, organizations employing the most workers exposed to vehicle hazards find, that more expensive protection is actually the most cost effective. And we are only considering the tangible cost factors. The risk that an organization with several thousand employees working around moving vehicles every day is astronomical. Unfortunately on average, those struck by a vehicle accident is not a "lost time injury", it's too often a "loss of life" injury.
When it comes to high visibility reflective running apparel, the same risks apply that the DOTs face with their workers. Whether it’s running at night, walking or cycling at night the risk is high. However it maybe greater, because those training at night, don’t benefit from the all the added protections surrounding a crew of DOT workers. Fluorescent pylons placed a substantial distance away, flagman, warning signs. It’s just you and the driver who may not see you for any number of reasons. Phone calls, managing kids in the car, facebook, texting and whatever.
So when evaluating high visibility active apparel, ask yourself what went into it? Is it enough to create awareness from substantial distances? Is the quality of material good? Can you be seen from all directions? Because in the end, not all material is created equally.