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Protective, Restorative Materials Show Promise Post-Pandemic

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The feelings of uncertainty and fear stirred up from the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on the fabrics that consumers find value in wearing.

In a recent webinar, Fashion Snoops materials editor Nia Silva described how protective and comfortable fabrics that offer restorative properties to both people and planet will emerge from the pandemic as winners. From sustainable fabrics made from waste, to wearable technology intended to help the wearer unplug, here’s a closer look at three material stories for a post-pandemic world.

Wasted Earth

The coronavirus is forcing designers to think about how they can develop sustainable products in the age of a crisis. As a result, Silva said waste resources are emerging as “powerful antidotes to raw material scarcity, pollution and overconsumption.”

Room needs to be made for these unusual elements like bark, grown cultures and fungi, which Silva said is finally being utilized in more commercial products. And from a business perspective, these materials provide brands with unique storytelling opportunities that they can share with their customers.

The pandemic is leading many to look at how people and nature can recharge. Though the past decade saw some of the worst wildfires, storms and floods ever recorded, the coronavirus is a wake-up call to “treat ourselves, animals and natural systems” with care. “We believe everything that’s happening now is only going to strengthen the importance of sustainability in the future,” she said.

With more than two-thirds of a product’s sustainable impact happening at the raw materials stage, Silva said the future of design relies heavily on sustainable materials. That might mean more future materials coming derived from repurposing waste rather than via manufacturing.

Expect to see momentum behind fibers like Tencel, modal, jute and hemp, Silva said, as well as materials derived from plant and fruit matter, like pineapple or banana peels. Surfaces will be enhanced through brushing, boiling and felting, which offers a cloudy and dehydrated appearance.

“Moving forward, it’s not going to have to take us being pushed to extremes to realize there’s wealth in waste,” she said.

Multifaceted

From a business perspective, Silva said everything is changing, from the consumers’ needs and wants to what businesses can create and sell. “Right now the need for necessity-driven products and purposeful design is heightened, but in what ways can we pushed this forward and see this evolve?” she asked.

Here, Fashion Snoops explores how necessity can reinvent the aesthetic of the future with lasting functionality. This is showcased, Silva said, in a new generation of technical fabrics that offer multi-use properties like hyper visibility, featherweight durability and materials that prioritize protection. The pandemic, she added, will push this focus even further to include commercial products made with materials originally intended for first responders or military.

A sweeping feeling of uncertainty due to the pandemic is driving this trend. “We’re realizing we’re not as prepared as we might want to think we are,” Silva said. Materials that provide protection, practicality and preparedness have room to flourish. Consumers, she added, will align themselves with businesses that can provide solutions and help quell this feeling of the unknown.

“Designing materials out of need becomes a new luxury that can stand the test of time,” she added.

Hard-wearing materials like reinforced mesh that can filter pollution, canvas with a high tensile strength and Dyneema fibers that can be integrated into faux leathers or blended in canvas fabrics to add durability live here. These materials, Silva said, will become more prevalent as we look for materials that last.

Technical finishes will enhance materials. The key consideration, Silva said, is how can technical finishes augment materials to be more protective, durable and functional. Finishes that can enhance grip or cushioning add visibility or provide antimicrobial protection are essential. Surfaces that are less porous and easy to sanitize, or are finished with recycled silver, which has natural antimicrobial properties offer an extra layer of protection, too.

And though technology is required to push the possibilities of these materials, consumers are also looking for ways to disconnect from their tech devices. Expect to see digital shielding properties applied to garments. “Not only can this technology prevent against radiation which is super harmful, but it also shields devices from receiving notifications which can help aid consumers who wants to develop a healthier disconnection from tech in the future,” Silva said.

Hidden Connectivity

Where the first shift was focused on outward protection, Hidden Connectivity focuses on internal protection.

The trend looks at how wellness and home can offer comfort, meditation and peace of mind. With computer screens being the prime source for work, school and entertainment during the pandemic, “people will want to get into a new slowness after this crisis,” Silva said. Plush tactile textiles, weightless or lightweight fabrics and materials with restorative proprieties are essential here. Overall, there’s a softer approach to technology that puts the mind and soul first.

“The wellness sector is expected to grow into a $180 billion industry by 2022,” Silva said.

And in fashion, comfort-centric materials are the foundation for this growth. Though comfortable materials have been part of the loungewear and sleepwear category for some time, Silva said these fabrics will begin to permeate across categories. “Materials are soft, plush and deliver a higher level of comfort to the user, but they also fully functional,” she said.

Synthetic fibers that have cooling or restorative qualities embedded into their core as well as natural fibers like wool—which Silva said is probably one of the most tech-driven natural fibers in the world with temperature regulating and breathability qualities—will gain importance.

Following the pandemic, wellness-centric fabrics and healing-enabled materials will continue to grow, Silva said. These will make up an even larger segment and part of that will be powered by innovation in nanotechnology and micro encapsulation that enables manufacturers to boost fabric surfaces with a full range of active ingredients and minerals. UV blocking, cooling and warming effects, she added, are some of the finishes to watch.

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