It comes as no surprise that cozy is in — but shoppers were seeking comfort prior to the coronavirus pandemic, as a notable shift toward softer apparel and comfy stretch silhouettes had already taken place.

According to a recent report by NPD in collaboration with The LYCRA Company, the firm found that the trend toward comfort began prior to COVID-19, as spend for women’s and men’s dress pants declined in double-digits while “comfort” bottoms such as sweatpants, active pants and leggings, were on the rise over a period of 12 months, year-over-year, ending in December 2019.

As for denim, men’s jeans with stretch properties grew 40 percent, while women’s jeans with characteristics such as lifting or slimming properties grew double digits in 2019. And amazingly, only 45 percent of the men’s and women’s active bottoms purchased in 2019 were intended for athletic use.

The bottom line is that stretch is driving growth all around, for everyday casual looks and for work or special occasions.

During the coronavirus pandemic, 48 percent surveyed said they wore activewear or sweats all day while staying at home during a one-week period, which could become a longstanding trend for many as work-from-home gains traction as a new way of life.

So, stretch is having a moment. And as consumers seek stretch, especially in denim, materials as LYCRA® spandex offer solutions for a variety of wardrobe problems — particularly for fit.

Denise Sakuma, global director, Ready-To-Wear and Denim, The LYCRA Company, told WWD, “Fit is the number one purchase motivation for women’s jeans, and the challenge is to achieve fit without compromising comfort.”

The LYCRA Company’s “The Science of Fit™” initiative is a powerful blend of fiber selection, fabric selection, garment design and fit testing that creatively provides high-quality stretch fabrics with comfort and performance, Sakuma explained.  “It is a collection of fit technologies from the LYCRA® brand” she said.

Sakuma added that The Science of Fit™ concept uniquely takes gender, body type and lifestyle into consideration, allowing for a generous and diversified product selection. “For instance, consumers may want a different type of stretch from a garment, ranging from ‘easy,’ to ‘super stretch,’ depending on the occasion, inclusive of wearing jeans at work, home, leisure, or hanging out.”

Finding the Perfect Fit 

And while versatility is what differentiates The Science of Fit™ from its competition in the denim sector, it’s The LYCRA Company’s penchant for staying ahead of the curve that draws in global clientele. Its China-based client and denim manufacturer, Guangdong Advance Denim Co., said that denim solutions by LYCRA® brand are wholly unique, and that the firm’s offerings align well with its objectives to achieve a perfect fit, which is the biggest challenge for denim brands and consumers.

Amy Wang, general manager at Advance Denim, told WWD, “We have been committed to providing brands with the best-fit solutions. The application of LYCRA® FREEF!T® technology provides better-fit solutions for apparel. The fabric’s soft, easy stretch enables a wider fit window, allowing the gentle compression on the human body to fit comfortably, providing the foundation we need for us to collaborate with The LYCRA Company and work together in solving customer needs.”

Wang emphasized that its collaboration with The LYCRA Company is more of a “long-term, close, and strategic relationship” that has led to popular solutions with Advance Denim’s fabrics, such as LYCRA® dualFX®, LYCRA® EcoMade and LYCRA® XFIT technologies, in addition to climate solutions including COOLMAX® CORE and THERMOLITE® Natural Touch™ technologies, among many others.

Rebecca Li, Asia commercial director, Wovens, Seamless and Legwear, The LYCRA Company, told WWD, “To speed up our innovations to market, we always work together with industry leaders who have a strong reputation on innovation development and are able to bring differentiated product/service to downstream brands and consumers.”

“In denim, we have worked with Advance Denim in China for a long period of time and built a very strong business relationship. We appreciated their innovation and vision to be an industry leader, as well as a differentiator in denim.”

Li said that to continue The LYCRA Company’s mission of Planet Agenda, its platform focused on sustainability solutions, the firm is now supporting Advance Denim to upgrade its current offerings to reflect consumers’ desire for sustainable denim. “It has been a very successful collaboration that led to strong brand adoptions, and positive consumer feedback. Now, we are also working together to extend some technologies to new areas, such as circular knitted denim, and upgrade our current Fit solutions to sustainable solutions with COOLMAX® EcoMade, LYCRA® EcoMade and LYCRA® T400® EcoMade technologies.”

And a similar dynamic exists with The LYCRA Company and Texhong Investment Co., a China-based company that is the world’s largest supplier of cotton core-spun yarns and focused on niche industry solutions and R&D of various core-spun technologies. Texhong Textile has more than four million spindles distributed in China, Vietnam, Turkey, Mexico, Nicaragua, and other locations.

“We have over ten years of in-depth R&D cooperation with The LYCRA Company in innovative yarn-covering technology, especially in the development of differentiated and diversified stretch denim and casual wear fabrics, said Peter Guo, marketing director at Texhong. “Together we achieved great success in leading and promoting the trend of skinny jeans with LYCRA® fiber, 360° fit with LYCRA® XFIT technology, super stretch jeans with LYCRA® dualFX® technology, and the latest easy stretch jeans with LYCRA® FREEF!T® technology.”

Guo explained that as a yarn supplier in an unstable market, the firm holds a unique place in the supply chain. “We are a yarn supplier, but due to the current needs of the market, we must fully communicate with customers and at the same time, jointly develop new fashion elements to offer good stretch jeans and pioneer innovation that combines fashion and function.”

“Our application in spinning materials, such as the development of various new fiber yarns with The LYCRA Company, fully translate the essence of LYCRA® fiber innovations in fabrics, and finally, deliver the benefits to consumers.”

Strengthening the Value Chain

Its collaboration with The LYCRA Company has been quite valuable during turbulent times, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, as the global retail industry has had to readjust and recalibrate its operations.

“In times of uncertainty, our ability of maintaining value chain interactions and understanding of the changing market development trends is critical. The textile and fashion industry is an industry with rapid growth in production capacity. As long as we keep a close eye on trends, use the power of science and technology, and respect the planet, we can cooperate and win together,” Guo told WWD.

And Li explained that its 10-year collaboration with Texhong is rooted in a joint investment in R&D. “They share the same vision for driving innovations, R&D capability and global setup,” she said. “We both have in-depth collaboration in many areas, such as joint innovation, value-chain development, service and market promotions.”

“Texhong is the first China-based mill we worked with to launch many of our innovations to the China market and later to a global audience,” Li said. “One of our remarkable milestones is when our global denim technology expert made his first visit to Texhong for yarn development with LYCRA® dualFX® technology, in March 2011.  Two months later, the first batch of denim materials were successfully tested with acclaim from garment brands in China. By the end of 2014, yarn with LYCRA® dualFX® technology was being widely used in major export fabric factories by international garment brands.”

The LYCRA Company also emphasized the power of its well-known patents, explaining that its dual-core patent of LYCRA® dualFX® technology and its patent protection provides a unique and desirable value for its customers. Sakuma told WWD, “We hold a broad range of patents covering fabrics and garments made with bi-component and multi-core yarns and fabrics. Innovations such as LYCRA® dualFX® technology in denim provide a competitive advantage for our business, and for our licensed customers.”

“Our authorized value-chain can create value by commercializing innovative denim garments. By using LYCRA® dualFX® technology in denim, jeans will perform with the best super stretch, without the disappointing ‘bag-sag’ effect.”

“In essence, the garment keeps its original look-fit-shape-comfort wear after wear,” Sakuma explained, adding that its LYCRA® dualFX® technology is also the building block of other LYCRA® brand innovations, such as its LYCRA® FREEF!T® technology. Sakuma added that its patents also act as a shield of protection for its customers. “To be able to continue to provide value to our partners, The LYCRA Company not only continuously educates customers and the value chain about our IP, but also routinely tests both fabrics and garments to identify unauthorized products to defend our patents and our customers.”

The LYCRA Company’s customer-centric philosophy is perhaps its greatest strength in a weak market. Li told WWD, “With the current uncertainty in the market, we believe our global business relationships are more important than ever. Our strategic partnerships will help us to react quickly to market changes and bring speedy solutions and services to our value chain, customers and consumers.”

“Our win-win collaborations will continue to bring us unique competitive advantages, and finally, drive business growth.”