These aren’t James Dean’s jeans — or mom’s spandex denims, for that matter.
This story first appeared in the April 20, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Fiber and fabric firms, working with brands and informed by consumer trends, have developed jeans that are meant for a more active lifestyle, with new blends and properties that haven’t been seen in the jeans field before — among them advanced flexibility and recovery, thermoregulation, moisture control and antiabrasion.
Jean Hegedus, global segment director for denim at Invista, said performance denim is “a lifestyle trend we’re seeing, in which consumers are embracing comfort and expecting more from their apparel — they’re expecting their clothing to be multifunctional.”
At Invista, several technologies and brands are serving that market.
In its Lycra brand, Invista has launched a technology called Lycra Hybrid: a knit denim made on a circular knitting machine with Indigo yarns. The result is denim that looks like woven fabric, such as twill, but has 360-degree stretch and strong recovery. The Hybrid fabric has also led to another iteration of legging-style jeans, not as thin and tight, but more flexible and body-shaping than regular jeans.
“We’ve had a good reaction to that, working with a number of brands and retailers in sampling and building up the mill base,” Hegedus said. “We’re at the early stages because it’s a whole new technology, but the interest is very high.”
In the area of shaping denim, last year the company introduced Lycra Beauty, which Hegedus said borrowed from Lycra’s intimate-apparel shaping initiatives.
Hegedus said Lycra is also seeing growth in men’s denim brands, where it is being used in 30 to 60 percent of some lines. Lycra Dual Effect fiber is in American Eagle’s active flex and extreme flex jeans, which have seen strong sales and consumer response.
Other Invista brands are making inroads into active denim beyond stretch and recovery.
Its Cool Max brand is developing cooling and warming technologies to create summer and winter jeans by adjusting the fiber mix in the fabric. The company’s Thermolite line has introduced a specialty yarn that uses infrared technology to absorb the heat from a light source and take on insulating properties, making it able to improve the insulation of a denim fabric by 25 percent.
Tricia Carey, director of business development for apparel and denim at Lenzing Fibers, said, “Tencel is the core fiber for Lenzing in the denim sector for its strength, wet or dry.”
She noted that Tencel can withstand repeated washings and wear and tear, which is why it blends well with cotton in the basic sector and with polyester in more active styles.
A study Lenzing conducted with Invista a couple of years ago showed that when Tencel is blended with Lycra Dual Effect stretch fiber, the fabric has better stretch and recovery. “But we also realized the activewear influences and the interest in differentiated fabrics, so we introduced modal and MicroModal in denim,” Carey said.
This includes modal black, which is important for black denim, and a tan modal that is woven into the weft for a tinted look.
She said Tencel and modal bring softness and comfort to denim, which is important because “everybody wants that broken-in feeling.”
Marco Lucietti, global marketing director of the Isko division of Sanko Textile, said, “In order to be more active wearing denim, you need new features — flexibility, elasticity, thermo-regulation properties — all things not found in normal five-pocket denim jeans. We have been developing new fabrics to be able to answer such needs.”
He said working with fiber companies such as Invista and its Cordura line, Isko has been able to incorporate properties into its jeans, including its year-old Arquas collection, that include moisture management, thermo-regulation and antiabrasion in blends of cotton and nylon.
He said, “We’re really still at the beginning, despite great reaction to the first two collections of Arquas. The next level is to integrate more high-performance standards with fabrics that maintain the right feeling.”
Categories being researched include fitness, biking, outerwear and what he called “weekend denim” with water repellency.
According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor, 76 percent of Millennials say jeans are their first pick for casualwear and 86 percent believe “jeans are part of their future.” As for where they would wear their denim, the Monitor research shows 86 percent of Millennials would wear it to go shopping, followed by dinner out, school, to go dancing and to work.
Orta’s latest contribution to the field is Symbiosis with Emana technology. Symbiosis absorbs body heat and returns it in the form of long infrared rays. Symbiosis is constructed with Emana’s polyamide 6.6-based smart yarn with infrared technology using bioactive crystals embedded in the “smart” yarn. The process results in thermo-regulation properties and improved micro-circulation.
Orta’s Cognitive stretch products allow for 360-degree comfort and freedom of movement.
Kara Nicholas, vice president of product development and marketing at Cone Denim, said the company is committed to meeting comfort needs for an active lifestyle, “whether it’s offering the best performance stretch to advanced technologies in technical performance.”
The company created the Cone 3-D team in 2014 to further its innovative initiatives. Nicholas said, “Cone 3-D uses our own expertise and collaborations with outside technologies to push the envelope and bring new performance and innovation to denim.”
The stretch trend continues to resonate with consumers at retail in the women’s and men’s markets, she noted, with innovation in stretch denim technology a key focus for Cone Denim. Since the original S Gene stretch products, Cone Denim took it a step further with Level II S Gene power stretch for enhanced contouring and slimming effect and ConeFlex four-way stretch with added movement and control.
“Comfort is a key factor that resonates with the active consumer,” Nicholas said. “Over the past few years, we have also focused on supporting denim designs for the true active market, providing denim for outdoor activities.”
These key performance characteristics include strength, moisture management, cooling technologies, water repellency and antimicrobial properties, all combined with stretch.
“We don’t see consumers working out in their jeans, but we do see denim as supporting an active lifestyle and being the go-to garment of choice,” she said. “The more active consumer is looking for apparel that’s comfortable and versatile with a sense of style. Going forward, we will see the evolution of comfort in new forms. Stretch will continue to be part of the story, but performance technologies will become increasingly more important and appealing to consumers.”
Hamit Yenici, managing director of Calik Denim, said “active denim” at the Istanbul-based manufacturer means a combination of “performance and aesthetics, with add-on features that are also friendly to the skin for everyday use.”
The company uses high-tech fibers and special weaving technologies “to offer multidimensional denim” that maintains a soft hand. Yenici said key features are focused mainly on thermo-regulative benefits that “gives the wearer seasonless comfort regardless of the climate and the daily routine.”