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COVID-19 May Have Stalled Production and Sales, but it Has Motivated Material Innovation

As the fashion industry adapts to living with COVID-19, it might have seen business stalled, but material innovation and creativity have forged ahead.

Just as climate change has led to different wardrobes being developed or the advent of electronic media has see the evolution of smart clothing, the coronavirus has changed the way people live and work, and therefore, what they wear, and will, in the future.

David Parkes, founder of Concept III, said the virus has stimulated product development for the outerwear and activewear fabric firm.

“We are very actively focused in several areas,” Parkes said. “Our engagement has increased as a result of this crisis. As the industry regains confidence and momentum, it will be very focused on looking for new textiles and performance fabrics. The consumer will be discretionary in their spending and will want something new and trending. That is what we are focused on.”

Concept III has a broad range of new woven textiles and laminates from Dry-Tex that it is presenting for Spring 2022. It is also developing new collections in knits for Fall 2022 that will launch this summer, including Tencel, wool and nylon fabric.

“Product development is the lifeblood of our industry and at Concept III it is central to our business plan,” Parkes said. “We are focused on introducing several very interesting concepts.”

The outdoor industry “is very much impacted by the crisis,” he added, “but is also ideally positioned for a positive consumer response as more outdoor activity will be adopted by the consumer it seems.”

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Sharon Graubard, creative director at MintModa, said for many years the main innovations in fashion have been in fabric, while clothing’s sewn construction hasn’t changed all that much.

“Like memory foam and space blankets, which were originally developed for NASA, I can imagine that many of the new developments for antiviral fabrics will become part of our everyday lives,” Graubard said. “We are suddenly aware of all the “high-touch surfaces” surrounding us and worried about the state of our clothing as we come in from outdoors. As businesses open up, the concern about what we touch will intensify.”

Sheltering-in-place has consumers living in loungewear, or mixing in lounge or active pieces, particularly as bottoms, Graubard said. Many of the fabric innovations already in play for true activewear, like comfort-driven moisture-wicking and quick-drying technologies, and anti-microbial properties will be integrated into fabric for ready-to-wear, and as consumers get back to “normal” there will be a blur between loungewear, streetwear and wear-it-to work apparel.

“I can imagine face masks will be integrated into clothing and accessories, as in a turtleneck that pulls up or panel on a hood that that pulls down,” Graubard said. “These will require fabrics or finishings that repel viruses, stay dry and allow for easy breathing. I believe the habit of wearing gloves will stay with us. It will be hard to touch a subway pole or a supermarket cart with bare hands ever again. Now that screen-touch technology is a given for gloves, it would seem that gloves offer myriad opportunities for textile experimentation, from anti-viral to moisture-wicking to warming or cooling properties. Anti-microbial touch-screen gloves could represent the perfect melding of fashion and function.”

COVID-19 Has Stalled Sales, but It Has Motivated Material Innovation
There will be a blur between loungewear, streetwear and wear-it-to-work apparel. Shutterstock

Tara St. James, owner and creative director of Study NY, said she saw things going in two different direction.

“One is the brands that are not really reared to innovate or pivot are going to be scrambling for sales once everybody resurfaces and will go back to business as usual,” St. James said. “I hope that’s not the case but that’s my concern because that’s their regular operating standard. However, I think the independent brands, the smaller ones that are more nimble, and that have adopted sustainability from the start, are going to dive even deeper and be even more transparent and more innovative in their solutions.”

St. James said her clients want more information on technology and what’s being applied at the fiber level in the area of sustainable innovations, which she finds important and encouraging. However, she is concerned that old habits such as fast fashion will come back and innovation and finding new ways to manufacture and source that are more environmentally sensitive could be pushed to the backburner.

Material innovations are key to driving textile and apparel industry growth, despite fragmented supply chains and economic headwinds, according to a new report from Lux Research.

The report, “Emerging Materials Opportunities for the Apparel Industry,” highlights four key megatrends that are driving this shift: the need for sustainability, functionality and differentiation, minimizing supply chain risks and the trend toward personalization.

“While these four megatrends are driving long-term industry change, companies need solutions right now to address policy changes and consumer demands,” Lux Research analyst and lead author of the report Cecilia Gee said. “Functional coatings and finishes provide near-term opportunities within the next one to two years, whereas fiber innovations, water-free dyeing, and smart textiles should be viewed as long-term opportunities.”

Gee said additives that provide performance enhancement and differentiation are already market-ready, and chemical companies can benefit from providing less harmful and bio-based products that meet brand and consumer demand.