Innovation Fueling Fresh Fibers

Linen, cotton and nylon might have some competition ahead in a string of new fibers being developed for apparel and other uses.

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Linen, cotton and nylon might have some competition ahead in a string of new fibers being developed for apparel and other uses.

This story first appeared in the August 28, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

One of the most-talked-about developments is Crailar, a fiber similar to linen but, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is a new natural fiber made from flax and other bast fibers. The FTC ruled last month that “The Crailar process involves a manner of obtaining flax fibers that does not chemically alter them,” and that “the attributes of the fibers differ from those of linen.”

Jay Nalbach, chief marketing officer of Naturally Advanced Technologies Inc., which produces and markets Crailar, said, “Our process results in a pure flax product that feels and can be cared for like cotton, and we believe that articulating that at retail is an important part of the unique brand proposition for Crailar flax, to the merchandising opportunities of our partner brands and to the relationship we intend to build with consumers.”

In April, Crailar flax earned the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Certified Biobased product label verifying that the product’s amount of renewable biobased ingredients meets or exceeds prescribed USDA standards.

The company has begun supplying its Crailar flax to Hanesbrands Inc., Georgia-Pacific and Brilliant Global Knitwear for commercial use, and to such firms as Levi Strauss & Co. and PVH Corp. for evaluation and development. Crailar produces a soft natural flax-based fiber that can be blended with cotton, wool and other natural fibers, Nalbach explained.

In May, NAT and Lenzing Fibers entered a joint development agreement to evaluate the blending of Crailar flax fibers with Lenzing’s Tencel and modal cellulosic fibers. Last month, NAT commenced delivery of 100,000 pounds of fiber to Target Corp. It will be introduced in goods for spring retailing. The agreement calls for two years of exclusivity in the category and for Target’s evaluation of Crailar flax in a number of home goods.

NAT is in construction on its first full-scale production facility in Pamplico, S.C., and last week obtained private placement financing for production to begin in the second half of 2013. Currently, the fiber is being produced at a pilot facility in nearby Kingstree.

Another new natural fiber hitting the market is abaca, a type of hemp. Asia Textile Mills recently introduced an abaca and polyester blend that Matthew Lazaro, chief operating officer of the Philippines-based firm, said is an alternative to denim. The Philippines is the world’s largest producer of abaca, supplying 85 percent of the market. Also known as Manila hemp, abaca is often used for more utilitarian purposes, such as for rope and cordage. But until Lazaro and his team developed their abaca and polyester blend, abaca was not regarded as an apparel fabric.

“The first yarn I produced with the abaca fiber was actually thick enough to produce a jeans-type or denim-type fabric,” he said. “I don’t really want to call it denim because denim actually connotes cotton. I prefer to call it Asiatex abaca jeans.”

The fabric is 30 percent abaca, 40 percent stretch polyester “for added comfort” and 30 percent recycled polyester.

“Like cotton and linen, it’s a breathable fabric,” Lazaro added. “But abaca does not retain heat at all. The heat is emitted almost as quickly as it hits the fibers, which makes it very comfortable to wear.”

In March, Lazaro shipped the first order of 2,500 pairs of jeans to a Japanese client and is producing another 100,000 pairs. His Japanese partners have established a brand for the jeans called Maasa that retail in Japan for around $100 a pair. Lazaro exports the abaca fabric for about $9 a yard.

Innovations are also happening on the synthetic side.

NILIT, a nylon producer based in Migdal Ha’emek, Israel, in May began marketing its NILIT Breeze specialty yarn as a performance fiber for sportswear, footwear and innerwear. Available in specially textured and flat nylon 6.6 yarns, NILIT Breeze fabrics are said to have a cooling effect on wearers through a special cross-section, the insertion of an inorganic additive in the polymer and a special texturing process.

Polartec LLC, based in Lawrence, Mass., was recently selected as a winner at the 50th annual R&D 100 Awards, which recognize the most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year for its NeoShell breathable waterproof fabric. Polartec NeoShell, which is being used in high-performance outerwear and accessories, also received the Guides Choice Award from the American Alpine Institute this month.

“The development of Polartec NeoShell represented our largest investment in research and development ever when we brought it to market,” says Allon Cohne, Polartec global director of marketing.

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