TOKYO —?The Japanese textile industry faces many of the same challenges as its counterparts in the U.S. and Europe, mainly surging competition from producers in nations where operating costs are lower.
To overcome their cost disadvantages, Japanese yarn and fabric companies focus intensively on developing new products that offer unusual performance advantages, which their foreign competitors are currently unable to offer.
Among the Japanese industry’s latest developments are a nylon-based synthetic fiber that can actively manage temperature, clothes made from paper-based yarn and varieties of silk yarn with new performance characteristics.
Below, a look at some of the latest textile technologies out of Japan:
A WARM HEART
A pair of Japanese textile companies have developed a nylon conjugated with a wax core that they said offers unique temperature-regulating properties.
The hybrid yarn is called Thermo Support, and makers Kanebo Gosen Ltd. and Idemitsu Technofine Co. said it is the first of its kind. The fiber works by absorbing heat when the fabric’s temperature rises above body temperature and releases heat when the fabric’s temperature falls below body temperature.
In cross section, the yarn looks like a hard-boiled egg, with the petroleum-based wax forming the yolk and the nylon the white. When the fabric’s temperature rises, the wax melts and absorbs heat; when the temperature drops, it solidifies and releases heat.
In principle, the effect is similar to that created by dropping an ice cube into a glass of room-temperature water.
The yarn is being marketed for use in innerwear, sportswear and casualwear, and will be available in time for the fall 2004 retail season. In addition to the yarn, finished fabrics incorporating the yarn are available, the companies said.
Idemitsu Technofine, a subsidiary of Idemitsu Oil Co., is the same company that produces temperature-regulating protein powder from silk. The protein material is used in mixture with plastics to make such products as leather for automotive upholstery and other products needing temperature control.
A cooperative of Japanese textile, apparel and design companies in the Gifu prefecture have developed a technology to make clothing out of paper yarn, which they assert can be stronger than cotton and linen.
While some disposable garments have been made of paper or nonwoven materials with a similar texture for years, this technology does not rely on forming garments from full sheets of paper, which tend to be stiff and prone to tearing. Rather, the traditional “Mino” paper, a specialty product produced in Gifu for 13 centuries, is sliced into tapes and then spun into yarns.
“We are combining traditional technique and modern technology,” said a spokesman for Oribe Apparel Plaza, the group that developed the technology.
The paper is slit into tapes ranging from 2 millimeters to 5 millimeters in width, and the tapes are then spun into yarn by twisting and plying. The yarn can then be woven into fabrics that offer moisture absorbency and breathability.
Presently about 20 different kinds of paper yarn and 200 different items of women’s and men’s wear are available, the spokesman said. Jackets are priced in the range of $467, or 49,000 yen, to $657, or 69,000 yen, at current exchange rates. Bottoms run from $152, or 16,000 yen, to $267, or 28,000 yen.
The paper is made from ramie fibers, and companies are currently looking into ways to produce it from wood, the spokesman said.
“The paper fabric excels in heat retention and can be used for winter clothing,” he said. “It is friendly to the environment, as it is combustible and bio-decomposing in soil.”
Japanese textile producers have been working with silk fibers for centuries. But today’s silk industry is working to develop new varieties of silk yarn, which offer superior stretch and wrinkle-resistant properties.
Makers unveiled hybrid silk — a yarn combining the natural fiber with nylon filament — and stretch all-silk yarn at a recent Hybrid Silk Exhibition in Tokyo.
A total of 51 research organizations and silk companies, including Dainippon Silk Foundation, the Silk Science & Research Institute and Japan Kimono Culture Institute, participated in the annual show.
The hybrid silk is made by combining raw silk and nylon filament. When the hybrid yarn is scoured, the nylon filament shrinks, turning the hybrid into untwisted yarn of nylon filament covered by raw silk.
The stretch silk is made by combining twisted and untwisted silk yarns and putting them through a careful scouring process.
“From olden times silk has been closely related with man as a textile fiber of beauty, comfort and gentleness to skin,” manufacturers said in a joint statement.