NEWARK, Del. — It can be said that Invista’s Applied Research Center provides the innovative juice that fuels the global fiber and fabric company’s mission of providing products that offer value-added qualities to brands and the market.
“The way the Advanced Research Facility benefits the brand is that it allows us to explore new innovation beyond just fiber, into the fabric and garment,” said Bob Kirkwood, vice president of technology at Invista. “It allows us and our scientists to work with customers either at the mill level or the brand and retail level to discover new ways to bring innovation to the consumer in the apparel space, making clothes that are more comfortable, fit better, last longer, help you perform better. So this allows us to not just talk about those ideas, but actually turn fibers into fabric and garments that, ultimately, people can wear.”
In a tour of the eight-year-old, 60,000-square-foot facility that offers integrated research and development support for Invista’s Apparel, Intermediates and Performance Surfaces & Materials businesses, Kirkwood explained and demonstrated the many methods and techniques the center utilizes to create new fibers and enhance existing ones. The ARC, which houses advanced textile technology, state-of-the-art chemistry labs and research capabilities, allows Invista to work with brands on developing new ways of constructing fabrics using the fibers to fit the end results of their products.
The ARC has several circular knitting machines in which new yarns are tested and developed, including a yarn being tested during the tour for a client swimwear company for durability and compatibility for blending with another yarn material.
There are also denim-weaving machines, since Lycra-infused denim has become a major growth market for Lycra. At the moment, a Lycra yarn was being woven into the weft of a denim fabric to be tested for various characteristics. It is part of the Lycra dual-effect yarns developed at the facility that has strong stretch performance.
In a laboratory setting in another room in the building, a scientific test was being conducted on pieces of swimwear fabrics. The swatches were in a fish tank filled with chlorine water to simulate a swimming pool, connected to a repetitive motion machine and run for 120 hours to determine the stretch and recovery lifespan of the fabric. Several pieces were holding up well, while a couple had lost their elasticity and run their course.
Kirkwood, who oversees five global research labs and a team of more than 180 scientists and support staff, said other Invista brands also utilize the facility, including the Coolmax brand for cool comfort and the Thermolite brand.
Kirkwood noted that the facility is also where Invista conducts its certification work for various standards and regulations it maintains. Invista holds more than 2,000 trademarks and pending applications worldwide for its global brands that include Lycra and Tactel fibers, and Coolmax, Supplex, Thermolite and Cordura fabrics. These feature value-added characteristics such as moisture management, body sculpting, UV protection, muscle support, durability and enhanced stretch and recovery.
Another area of the ARC was dedicated to 3-D body scanning, which combines the findings of fit models with computer programs that measure comfort, shaping and fit for lingerie, shapewear and athletic wear.
“The new Lycra brand really started with consumer research and understanding what does the brand mean,” said Kirkwood, who holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts. “The core benefits of the Lycra brand — comfort, fit, freedom and resilience — that’s what we do in garment engineering, trying to make clothes that do that. The technology and the brands are very connected. In developing the subbrands for this Lycra brand strategy and campaign, we had a lot of options as to how to develop the brand architecture.”
“We did a fair amount of consumer research and found that what resonates the most with the consumer is using our subbrands to define the functional benefits,” he continued. “So Lycra Beauty is all about control and shaping and that ties into some of the work we do here in how you design fabrics and test fabrics to find out which ones strike that balance between both doing a shaping and control job, but also being comfortable. Basically the people in this lab line up into these subbrands and do research to come up with innovative products that help support those subbrands. Lycra Sport is about performance in the context of athletic performance. Lycra Energize is for well-being, so you can design something like hosiery and socks with something like graduated compression, which can help with blood circulation. Lycra Xtra Life, which is really around durability, adds extra longevity to garments.”
Kirkwood said without the ARC facility, Invista wouldn’t have the breadth of products that can deliver on the promise of those subbrands. He also noted that Invista’s approach to the global fiber business — having it driven by innovation — also fits with the times.
“Everyone today wants to be more specific, more differentiated, so trying to figure out in the context in that consumer brand’s image with what are they trying to develop, what are they trying and how can we help them do that, that’s the magic of being an ingredient brand,” he said. “You’re working with people who see themselves being competitors, so we spend a lot of time trying to figure out for brand A how can we help them make their garments do something unique, and brand B, how can we help them do something unique so that’s their little edge, their little story.
“In apparel, fashion is always going to be number one, but certainly in the last five years you’ve seen a lot more performance aspects,” he added. “You see it in the ath-leisure trend, in yogawear, for example. We’re not the fashion experts, but we are the comfort experts. What we’ve tried to do is take that simple word of comfort and break it down into a lot of different parts; is it comfort while it’s shaping, is it comfort while you’re running, is it comfortable when it’s compression shorts for athletic wear; is it comfort in managing body temperature in the other brands we offer? That’s what we’re about.”
Kirkwood said the easiest question he gets is, ‘Why should I pay any more for you?” His response: “Come visit one of our five global labs and this is what you get.
“One of the things we enjoy the most is to work throughout the value chain,” he said. “We work with brands to find out what they want, but then we’ll work with their mills or their garment vendors to make sure that’s something they’re excited about — what are all the specifics of making that a commercially viable fabric, how do you cut it into a garment that’s going to work. Being a global supplier is what also makes us a little unique.”