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5 Key Material Performance Trends from Functional Fabric Fair

Portland’s Functional Fabric Fair this week brought together key players in the materials space, as well as newcomers looking to shake up the industry with their latest innovations.

Sustainability was on the minds of many, with fabric makers from across the globe speaking to the need for products made from recycled, renewable and circular materials. Efficiency was also a key focus, with makers looking to time- and energy-saving production processes that could serve to increase speed to market.

Sourcing Journal has rounded up the most talked-about trends in fabrics from this week’s show.

Biodegradability

Schoeller fabrics at this week's show.

Schoeller’s recycled and biodegradable fabrics.

After two years of research and development, Schoeller has launched its Pro Earth line of recycled and biodegradable polyester fabrics.

Made from post-consumer plastic bottle waste, Pro Earth fibers are imbued with a proprietary additive during the spinning process. When the garments eventually find their way into landfills at their end of life stage, microbes and anaerobic bacteria are drawn to the chemical accelerator in the yarn, catalyzing its breakdown. Once the material has decomposed, only the non-toxic byproducts of carbon dioxide, methane and biomass remain.

Testing has revealed that garments degrade at a rate of 25 percent over the course of 270 days, Schoeller executive Christine Huebner told Sourcing Journal.

In a variety of different weights, finishes and stretch formulations, the versatile range can be applied to anything from suiting to athleisure wear. “I’ve never seen such a big sampling—so many different brands asking for hangers within a short period of time,” Huebner said. “That shows that the interest is really there.”

Recycled and alternative downs

ReDown recycled down jackets.

Puffer jackets made with Re:Down recycled down.

Down filler has long been a staple in the outdoor and performance industries, but questions surrounding its procurement have earned the ire of animal rights activists.

Industry insiders have worked toward solutions that bring that same coveted feeling of warmth and softness to puffer jackets, vests and sleeping bags, without the ethical quandary that comes with plucking the soft substance from geese and ducks.

Insulation company Thermore launched its EcoDown fiber in 2018, and the recycled PET filler has quickly become a bestseller. Each jacket filled with Thermore filler pulls about 10 post-consumer plastic bottles out of circulation.

Meanwhile, French company Re:Down extracts feathers from post-consumer goods like comforters, sleeping bags and pillows.

These items, which are donated to charitable organizations across Europe, can’t be put back into circulation due to hygiene concerns. Re:Down steps in to break apart the items and sterilize and sort the down and feathers. The like-new fillers are sold to brands like H&M, Patagonia and Everlane.

What’s more, any fabric waste that comes from the donated consumer goods is pulverized and reconstituted to create industrial insulation, Tae Hwang, the company’s co-founder, told Sourcing Journal. Sharp feather quills that are undesirable for use in filling are also ground down, he said, explaining that the nitrogen-rich biomass is ideal for fertilizer.

Performance hemp

DriRelease Hemp fabrics.

DriRelease Hemp fabrics for performance and athleisure styles.

Moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties have been the hallmark of DriRelease’s business since its inception, and now the company is introducing a timely new addition to its repertoire: performance hemp.

“This is hot off the presses,” said Darlene Dumaran, the company’s West Coast development manager, adding that the company’s new DriRelease Hemp formulation has been popular with outdoor performance and athleisure brands.

“Hemp has been explored for textiles due to its extraordinarily tensile and durable fibers,” Dumaran told Sourcing Journal. The plant mimics cotton’s softness, and it’s easy to dye, she said. It also demonstrates a high resistance to shrinkage and pilling.

DriRelease Hemp fabrics pull moisture away from the surface of the skin and then dry quickly, so their wearer isn’t trapped in damp clothes after a strenuous hike or hot yoga session. The secret is the marriage of both hydrophilic, (water absorbing) and hydrophobic (water repelling) fibers. Hemp draws in moisture, while a recycled polyester yarn quickly repels it from the wearer’s skin.

While DriRelease Hemp is about 20 percent more expensive than traditional cotton-based fabrics, brands are flocking to the material because it’s more water efficient than cotton. Though DriRelease sources its hemp from China, the brand said that the burgeoning cannabis industry in the U.S. could present stateside sourcing opportunities in the future.

Mechanical stretch

Toray's Primeflex fabric technology.

Toray’s Primeflex technology with mechanical stretch.

Active performance apparel has historically relied heavily on Spandex for its stretch properties. But now, fabric manufacturers are exploring different fiber combinations and configurations to give active apparel the flexibility and resilience that wearers desire.

Japan-based Toray Industries recently launched its Primeflex stretch fabric, a lightweight non-Spandex option that can be made with nylon or polyester. Rather than integrating a stretch component into the yarn, Primeflex’s fibers are formed with a spiral, spring-like shape, allowing them to expand and contract with movement.

Toray’s executive vice president, Kentaro Hara, told Sourcing Journal that the “mechanical” movement provides superior stretch and recovery to traditional stretch fabrics.

Singtex’s S. Leisure fabric, made from coiled polyester fibers, was created with a similar philosophy in mind. Chris Chiang, the company’s sales director, said the fiber provided better colorfastness, tension and elongation, and fast-drying properties than other stretch fabrics on the market.

Cooling properties

Brrr relies on mineral cooling technology in its fabric formulations.

Brrr’s mineral cooling fabrics.

As its name might indicate, Brrr is in the business of keeping wearers cool, even during an exhaustive workout.

The Georgia-based textile company touts a Triple Chill Effect technology that makes its fabrics remarkably refreshing to touch.

Natural cooling minerals are integrated into the yarns during the spinning process for “immediate and continuous cooling,” the brand said in a statement. Because the technology is integrated directly into the fibers, it does not fade or wash away.

Brrr sells its patented technology in both fabrics and yarns, ranging from polyester to cotton, nylon, denim and rayon blends. The company’s fabrics are also designed to be moisture-wicking and quick-drying, with the added benefit of UV protection from the mineral element.

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