Technological innovations through textile and material product development are being felt in all areas of the fashion world, but none more keenly than activewear and outerwear.
Value-added advancements are highlighted in waterproof, moisture control and ultrawarm materials that tend to be lightweight to fit the comfort quotient. Performance characteristics are also important in areas such as antiabrasion and friction reduction, while health benefits and ways to track them are all in constant development.
Here’s a range of innovations in front of consumers:
· Columbia Sportswear’s new OutDry Extreme required more than two-and-a-half years of research. Designed with durable exterior layers and microporous interior ones, the garments are waterproof and breathable for extreme elements, according to Woody Blackford, vice president of design and innovation.
“Our goal is to use these properties everywhere we can,” Blackford said.
OutDry Extreme outerwear in the 18-piece collection has an interior membrane to help wick perspiration, he said. Retailing from $100 to $500, OutDry Extreme technology is being used for a $200 women’s trenchcoat with external seam tape and bonded hem and cuffs.
· Nike continues to invest heavily in research and development and communication, as evidenced by the brand’s Innovation for Everybody event, an Olympic-size marketing extravaganza in advance of this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
One highlight was Nike Vapor track-and-field uniforms that feature AeroBlades, a bladelike accent designed to reduce drag and create lift for runners. Hundreds filed through Moynihan Station’s 11 product station/installations, with another highlight being the HyperAdapt 1.0, a sneaker that laces itself via a sensor that tells the sneaker to tighten on its own.
· Adidas is also very much about advancing athletes’ performances with technology. In advance of the German national team’s 2014 World Cup win, players used the MiCoach Elite Team System to monitor their physiological performance. Players used a small Player Cell device in a TechFit elite under layer with heart-rate sensors in the fabric. By doing so, they were able to track speed, distance, acceleration, heart rate and exertion levels for further analysis.
· The Fairfax, Va.-based start-up Qore Performance specializes in products that help keep athletes hydrated to try to bolster physical exertion and reduce recovery time. Using heat-absorbing inserts in athletic apparel that target six pulse points on the body, the company claims that wearers’ hydration levels were 40 percent stronger. The $52 hydration sleeves, for example, are designed with the brachial artery in mind. Made of a material that has a melting point of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, Qore products are meant to off-load heat efficiently without blood vessels constricting.
The company developed an “Ice Plate,” a body-armor-shaped device meant to be worn beneath a shirt. In addition to keeping the wearer cool, the Ice Plate will inevitably melt, creating water that endurance athletes, U.S. soldiers and others can drink. Qore’s director of sales and business development, Doug Burr, said the concept has been pitched to the U.S. Army.
· Asics, Adidas, Under Armour, Billabong, Rossignol, Salomon Group and Carhartt are among the brands using Cocona’s 37.5 technology in fabrics that has patented active particles embedded in fibers to capture and release moisture. The process was developed by Cocona founder Gregory Haggquist, whose research found that activated carbon, the same substance that water treatment companies use to filter drinking water, had beneficial properties beyond odor control. After a lot of lab time, he determined that activated carbon from coconut shells was well suited to quick-dry fabrics and help keep athletes cool.
· Through a deal with Aspen Alpine Guides, Adidas Outdoor suits up hiking, skiing, climbing and mountain-biking guides with its Outdoor Terrex line. As a sign of its commitment to outdoor enthusiasts, Adidas Outdoor will sponsor the Aspen Backcountry Marathon for the first time in August.
With an expansive research and development facility in its headquarters in Germany and another in the U.S., Adidas tests fabrics to try to ensure they hold up under extreme climate conditions.
“Our fabrics are extremely technical. They need to hold up in extreme climate situations, whether you are summiting Everest or hanging 300 feet from the side of a cliff,” said Loren Gwartney-Gibbs, key account manager. “Certain technical fabrics we will share across different business units.”
One of its newer proprietary fabrics is “climachill,” a double-knit polyester that is a meshlike fabric with aluminum-silver dots that conduct heat away from the wearer’s body. Available in a handful of styles, the T-shirt is popular with backcountry skiers, according to Gwartney-Gibbs, who said, “They need to make sure their core stays dry. If not, and they work up a sweat, when they stop, all of a sudden their body temperature is going to drop.”
Adidas Outdoor Terrex Stockhorn jacket has Formation technology to support the athlete’s muscular system and help maintain proper posture. Made of Pontetorto Technostretch, the body-hugging zip-front jacket is durable and insulated with wicking properties. The Terrex Agravic hooded ultralight rip-stop nylon jacket also fends off wind and rain with bonded seams and elastic bindings. Another near-featherweight option is the Terrex Swift Climaheat Agravic down jacket, which has heat guards at the neck, sleeve and waist that keep warm air from escaping.
· San Francisco-based Flex is designing and building connected products for Nike, Fitbit, Lumo Bodytech, OMSignal and Ralph Lauren. Flex president of consumer technologies group Michael Dennison cited the convergence in how tech integrates into clothing, from sensors and notification devices to more intelligent types of fabric.
The company has made headway. Technology in the waistband of running shorts, as with Lumo Bodytech, allows runners to measure how they’re running and the efficiency of their gait. With a detachable electronic device, the shorts can be washed up to 50 times.
· Earlier this year at the CES consumer technology trade show, OMSignal introduced a smart bra with a removable module that measures and analyzes fitness biometrics like breathing, heart rate and exertion, which are connected to an app. Flex’s subsidiary Multech PCB Technologies Co. Ltd. is creating bendable printed circuit boards to be interspersed with stretchable materials.
“We are right on the cusp of ‘silver-thread’ technology that allow us to make the actual fabric conductive,” Dennison said, meaning wearers can transmit information across the garment.
· Wearable Experiments collaborated with MAS Holdings for Nadi fitness tights equipped with conductive, motion-detecting wires that provide real-time haptic vibrations that “coach” the yoga-practicing wearer’s body positioning. Sri Lanka-based MAS Holdings added waved wires into fabrics that are stretchable, washable and durable. The prototypes were created with yoga in mind, and work with an app that registers movements and illustrates guidance on form.
Experts predict expansion beyond fitness tracking in wearable tech. Dennison is seeing interest from outdoor companies for safety-improving apparel and accessories such as a transponder that could be woven into the sleeve of a mountaineer’s jacket.