Performance and technical “second skin” fabrics are leading upcoming textile trends, replete with a sharpened focus on meeting consumers’ heightened expectations for sustainable, utilitarian apparel. And as performance apparel swiftly evolves into a viable fashion category, designers are challenged with the task of creating high fashion looks with no-frills function.
The performance apparel market saw an uptick of 5 percent from 2017, reaching $26.3 billion in 2018, with outdoor specialty apparel up 2 percent this year, totaling $2.5 billion. Brands in the category with sales up double digits in the last 12 months include Patagonia, Arcteryx, Obermeyer, Canada Goose, Kuhl and Descente, all according to a report by NPD.
Greg Thomsen, Adidas Outdoor U.S. managing director, told WWD, “Over the past five years, we have seen a strong interest from many in the fashion market to focus their attention to adopting the outdoor look into their design lines and to marketing the overall lifestyle to their consumers.” He continued, “The outdoor lifestyles look and image is being adopted overwhelmingly by a new generation of environmentally minded, adventure travel orientated, back to nature driven, great outdoors enthusiasts,” and simultaneously, “the authentic outdoor sports brands are adding a touch of fashion to their high performance products also, in order to expand their consumers from the mountains to the streets.”
And textile trends at this week’s Première Vision show in Paris will likely follow suit. At the show, Eurojersey, an Italian producer of warp-knit fabrics, said it will introduce its latest campaign “Free the Form,” which promotes its fall 2019 “Sensitive Fabrics” ready-to-wear collection. The line is “focused on style and technical performance,” according to the firm. Its Sensitive Fabrics “lend themselves to so many interpretations in the apparel market that their worth is boundless, from casual sporty outfits to more formal looks, for a wardrobe played out in multifunctional garments,” the company said. Materials in the collection are breathable, wrinkle-free and designed with “sculptural, contoured and fluid shapes” in mind, boasting chlorine resistance, moisture wicking, sun block, quick drying, sustainability and easy care, among other qualities. The line also touts a very soft hand and extra fine, thin fabrics that are 50 percent thinner than traditional warp-knit fabrics.
Guglielmo Olearo, international exhibitions director at Première Vision, told WWD, “We’re going to pay more attention to activewear, because it’s now a relevant sector [in] the fashion industry, across ath-leisure and performance.” Olearo also noted the rising consumer demand for sustainable apparel, adding that “[Sustainability] is not just a matter of save the world or save the planet, or saving electricity or water, but it’s also to show the world and the fashion industry how sustainability can be beautiful and creative as well.”
More than 65 percent of emerging market consumers actively seek sustainable fashion, compared to 32 percent or less in established markets, according to a McKinsey and Co. report. Albeit, many budding brands and retailers integrate natural, ethically sourced materials and streamline production and supply chains to cater to shoppers’ increased standards — but the transition isn’t limited to brands newly arriving at the fashion scene. Heritage yarn and fabric manufacturer Botto Giuseppe, founded in 1876, recently broadened its sustainability model for upcoming collections by enriching its existing products with a mulesing-free wool from New Zealand. Branded as “Aroha,” its mulesing-free wool has been integrated into products such as “Slowool,” a superfine wool and “Fairwool,” a superfine wool and cashmere. The firm’s yarns are manufactured in Friuli, Italy, a factory operated by hydroelectric dam-generated energy and solar energy from photovoltaic panels on its roof.
Silvio Botto Poala, chief executive officer at Botto Giuseppe, said, “Preserving our planet and protecting its inhabitants have been popular topics for several years, and we believe, now more than ever, that it is our duty to also apply these ideas to the fashion segment to transform it into a sector operating on sound principles of eco-sustainability and ethical fashion.” He noted that stringent policy plays a role sustainable apparel’s growth in Italy: “In fact, thanks to strict environment and work rules, Italy already enjoys a considerable advantage vis-à-vis other developing manufacturing countries, with lower production costs and where workers’ working conditions are very poor and environment protection is simply neglected. The sustainable fashion sector we aim for strives to generate a balanced relationship both with the environment and its inhabitants in a fully, thoroughly transparent system.”
On the sustainable performance fiber front, Asahi Kasei’s “Bemberg” — also known as cupro, a biodegradable regenerated cellulose fiber derived from cotton linter — is popular among athleticwear brands for its smooth and frictionless soft hand, as well as chemical-free technical properties such as breathability, moisture absorption and climate control. And the firm’s Roica — a sustainable premium stretch fiber — is popular among performance and outdoor wear brands: Its clients include Asics, Descente and Nike.
As one might expect, sustainability is touted tenaciously across wool and fur. And to help raise awareness about wool as a natural technical fiber, The Woolmark Co. recently launched its “Live and Breathe” campaign, which aims to reignite younger generations’ desire for merino wool, due to its innately sustainable characteristics, including moisture management, odor control and breathability. Its campaign was directed specifically toward the athletic and outdoor clothing markets, eager to reclaim the material’s reputation as the “original” performance fiber, the firm said.
But fur’s “sustainability” remains in a state of flux, as both young and established brands are increasingly opting for synthetic alternatives. Granted, fur is a natural, sustainable and renewable material: It is wholly biodegradable and boasts a long lifespan, according to organizations that promote real fur. And while faux fur is undoubtedly a growing category, synthetics can actually cause more harm to the environment through taxing manufacturing processes that occur during the development of chemical-based faux furs. Céline Semaan, an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow and the founder of Slow Factory, a sustainable apparel and accessories company, told WWD, “The U.S. Sustainable Apparel Coalition ranked acrylic [as] 39 out of 48 on its list of fabrics with the worst effect on the environment. So when buying fake fur, you may be saving an animal’s life, but not for long, as the toxic aftermath of synthetic fur ends up causing more harm to our planet than buying, say, a vintage fur coat.”
And sustainability remains at the core of consumers’ desire for utilitarian functional apparel as well. Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer vice president and show director, told WWD, “We are seeing [the Outdoor category] permeate other apparel categories, such as fashion and surf. Trail running shoes and hiking boots are featured on runways, and surf brands are applying their technical expertise to gear that is great for multiple activities. The crossover demand will only help spur the further growth of outdoor.” Nicholson continued, “Sustainability remains a key focus for outdoor apparel. It’s part of the ethos of our industry and is driven by the conscious consumer. Brands continue to take action — they are going beyond nonprofit partnerships and evaluating the whole product lifecycle, considering the source, production, and future of the [apparel and] gear they create.”
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