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Fabric Innovation Helps Outerwear Weather the Retail Storm

There’s no other area of the apparel and textile industry that relies on fabric innovation and product development more than outerwear. Call it the fashion industry’s research and development center.

Properties such as thermo-regulation, water repellency, durability and strength have reached new extremes in recent years, often in collaborations between brands and textile companies, and in an answer to consumer needs in extreme sports and weather.

Many materials are also developed with sustainability in mind, from the use of recycled fibers to safer dyes and finishes.

Living on the edge

The Dyneema Project commissioned technical apparel designer Conroy Nachtigall to develop what it calls the “alpine jacket of tomorrow” using Dyneema Composite Fabric.

Calling it the “strongest and lightest ever made,” Dyneema has also created a short documentary titled “Sending It,” covering the response when the jacket was tried by well-known experts living in Canadian extreme sports capital Squamish.

“Dyneema Composite Fabrics is a precise high-tech material, yet still looks unfinished and raw due to its signature crinkly look,” Swiss snowboarder Romain de Marchi said in the documentary. “It’s a fabric, but isn’t a fabric—bonded instead of woven, super lightweight yet super tough. Dyneema shifts perceptions and that’s what I try to do with apparel: to have the wearer shift their idea of what they can do based on what they’re wearing.”

Also on the cutting edge is Hydro_Bot, a new technology for moisture management co-developed by five textile companies.

Hydro_Bot is aimed at solving one of the biggest challenges in sports, work and protective clothing: to transport moisture to match human sweat rates in various climates, conditions and activity levels.

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Swiss textile manufacturer Schoeller Textil AG is the production partner for the Hydro_Bot panels, while premium sportswear brand Kjus is the primary product development partner and will be the first brand to take Hydro_Bot to market in selected skiwear products planned for the 2018-19 season.

“The consumer is the central focus of our developments. We want to support people in their work, leisure and sporting activities with intelligent textile products,” said Siegfried Winkelbeiner, chief executive officer of Schoeller Textil.

R&D Leads the Brands

Haskell Beckham, senior director of materials innovation at Columbia Sportswear, said Columbia’s Performance Innovation Team develops product for the brand from concept to final product testing.

For example, Columbia Sportswear’s newest innovation, “Outdry Extreme,” is the first waterproof and breathable rainwear with a tough waterproof membrane outside and soft, wicking fabric inside. It features external seam taping to seal out water, internal wicking to absorb moisture and Seamless Light Rail zippers that resist water.

Columbia was able to test that product over two years of development right outside its back door at the Portland, Oregon, headquarters. The company is an hour from the coast and an hour from Mount Hood, where ski gear can be tried and tested.

Rather than sewing straight through both layers of fabric, the jacket is welded together through wavelike baffles offset by layers, eliminating the heat loss through stitch lines, Beckham explained.

Columbia is sponsoring the U.S. and Russian freestyle ski teams at the next Winter Olympics, where athletes will be wearing Outdry Extreme four-way stretch materials. This construction avoids “wet out,” where insulation materials gets saturated, and is comfortable for high impact sports.

Columbia’s Turbodown Performance collection features Omni-Heat Thermal insulation combined with down and lined with Omni-Heat Reflective.

“Turbodown combines the best attributes of down and synthetic insulating or fill materials,” Beckham added.

[Read more on recycled fibers: Post-Consumer Textile Recycling Gains Momentum in Apparel Sector]

Similarly, DuPont’s new Apexa fiber, a biodegradable polyester that decomposes through industrial composting, is getting play in the environmentally conscious outerwear sector, noted Renee Henze, global marketing manager for Dupont Biomaterials.

In addition to minimizing textile waste, Apexa also blends with natural fibers such as wool, cotton or cellulose to enhance their attributes, making them stronger, softer and more durable.

DuPont’s sustainable polymer Sorona is also being used as a fiberfill in outerwear thanks to its performance benefits, including durability, stretch and recovery, breathability and moisture wicking, Henze said. It also has a sustainability story, since its contains 37 percent renewable plant-based ingredients, using less energy and emitting fewer greenhouse gases during production as compared to other petroleum-based products.

Polartec is set to introduce Polartec Power Fill, a fill insulation that rounds out the company’s range of temperature-regulating performance fabrics.

Polartec Power Fill is a soft and pliable matrix of spun polyester yarns engineered with a proprietary hollow fiber construction that’s soft and durable, forming thousands of air pockets that capture and contain body heat, while maintaining a resilient, equalized thermal layer between colder air on the outside and warmer temperatures on the inside.

The polyester fiber’s inherent hydrophobic properties also work to ensure that Polartec Power Fill resists moisture absorption and dries quickly, while maintaining a high warmth to weight ratio. Made with 80 percent post-consumer recycled content, Power Fill insulation technology provides greater warmth retention in colder conditions, without added weight or bulk, according to Polartec.

Another innovative group are new versions of NeoShell fabric packages with knit face and back fabrics that rival the durability of wovens, while allowing the membrane to stretch to more of its capability. Polartec creates versions of NeoShell with different fabrics on either side of the membrane, all of which can be engineered to achieve different performance characteristics.

Eric Wallis, product line manager for snow and mountain bike at Patagonia, said, “It’s important to invest in product development in outerwear, only when you think you can improve upon a design. For our snow outerwear, that means making it more streamlined, durable and functional. It’s also important to work with industry vendors and help them introduce new more sustainable material options without any sacrifice performance or quality. That’s why we’re are proud to work with Gore to introduce…100 percent recycled face fabric in a Gore Pro shell.”

Wallis said sustainability is one of the top company goals. He said, “In anything new we design or develop, we try to find the most sustainable materials and construction beginning with design. This creates challenges when you are also working as an innovative and a premium technical leader. We continue to land on durability, longevity and reparability as the cornerstone of our outerwear because if we can keep our outerwear in the field longer, that is the most sustainable strategy we can implore.”

South Korea’s leading outdoor brand, Black Yak, and leading fiber producer, Hyosung, have collaborated on new technology to offer innovative apparel to support Black Yak’s global growth strategies in activewear.

“Our first initiative in this partnership was to create new Cool & Fresh garments made with Askin polyester and Creora Fresh spandex as our consumer is going from mountaineering to other, more leisure activities,” Woon Suk Jung, president of Black Yak, said.

Askin polyester is a cross-section fiber for cooling, moisture management and UV protection that is built into the yarn. Creora Fresh spandex is odor neutralizing with higher power for compression performance and freshness.