While consumer awareness of smart fabric technology — from stain resistance and waterproofing to moisture wicking and UV protection — remains fairly low, there is interest in these specialty materials that spans generations.
A consumer survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted in March and released Thursday by The NPD Group showed an opportunity to educate shoppers that could drive future sales.
Awareness of smart fabrics, with some exceptions, was stronger among women and older age segments. However, slightly more men have actually purchased apparel with smart fabric benefits. Stretch fabrics are the only exception, with more than double the number of women purchasing apparel with this technology.
When asked what types of apparel with smart fabric benefits would interest them most, consumers put workout clothing/activewear at the top of the list, driven by consumers age 18 to 34. Jeans and underwear were next on the list, driven by consumers age 45 and older. One consistency among all age groups was the interest in cotton material offering smart-fabric benefits.
Fabric technologies that have been in the market the longest — stain resistance and waterproof — recorded the highest awareness and interest at 57 and 42 percent, and 56 and 33 percent, respectively.
Stretch fabric, also available for decades but with new advancements and fresh interest, notably in the denim market, was third in awareness at 43 percent of respondents. Of note for marketers was a 33 percent interest in cooling fabrics, although only 25 percent of those surveyed had awareness that such fabrics in apparel exist. Fabrics that keep people warm also had higher interest than awareness among respondents.
Other fabric characteristics surveyed were moisture wicking and UV protection.
The industry has embraced and invested in technologies that create so-called “value-added” characteristics in recent years, particularly as the activewear field has grown.
From dye and finish suppliers such as DuPont, Huntsman Textile Effects and Dow Chemical to fiber and fabric firms like Lycra, Lenzing, Polartec and Cone Mills through apparel brands including The North Face, Nike, Under Armour and Patagonia, specialized fabrics have been created and put into garments to aid consumers in all these categories.
But Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at Port Washington N.Y.-based NPD Group, said the survey shows more education and marketing is warranted.
“Smart fabrics are an important and innovative development for the fashion industry, but consumers don’t know enough about them to fully embrace them,” Cohen said. “The industry needs to educate the consumer, emphasizing the technology and performance behind smart fabrics, and touting the benefits for real-life use.”