Even in the midst of a pandemic, material innovation in the fashion industry has continued at full tilt. From sustainable alternatives such as recycled inputs and bio-based ingredients to performance upgrades, apparel and footwear is lowering its impact while raising the bar on benefits including durability and temperature control.
Sourcing Journal asked 10 industry executives to weigh in on the biggest breakthrough they’ve seen in the past year and what innovations to watch for in the rest of 2021 and beyond.
Mike Joyce, CEO, PrimaLoft
“In the broad textile industry, synthetics made from petroleum-based materials, like polyester or propylene, are one of the major building blocks for finished products. But we’re beginning to see some promising non-petroleum-based materials emerge that could become true replacements for existing synthetics. Moving towards non-petroleum-based, and even carbon-negative, solutions is an enormous undertaking that can begin to have a significant positive impact on the textile industry, and our planet, over the next several years.”
Amanda Parks, fashion scientist, chief innovation officer, Pangaia
“The biggest breakthrough of the last year is Kintra Fibers, for the development of a fully bio-based and biodegradable synthetic alternative. Designing for functionality and end of life, starting from molecular structure, is a wholly new way of thinking about materials for the fashion industry. Beyond further developments in bio-based synthetics, I will be watching for expansions in bio fabrication and greater attention to raw materials like regenerative agriculture systems and waste as a high-value commodity.”
Eddie Ingle, CEO, Unifi
“This year, circular products and solutions have taken center stage as the newest breakthrough in sustainability goals. Unifi’s textile take-back programs have created circular economy solutions that have helped us create a system for capturing and recycling textile waste back into first-quality goods that can be broken down and recycled again. We’re committed to taking these programs to the next level through reimagining the lifecycle of future textiles for the good of tomorrow.”
Achim Loeffler, business leader for consumer fabrics, W. L. Gore & Associates
“As a material company, we need to innovate to address market challenges; we innovate for sustainability and performance. Our commitment to lowering our footprint and pursuing new functionality requires that we constantly explore material advancements for our many businesses. This includes the exploration of new materials for our consumer fabrics portfolio that are free of PFCs of environmental concern, capable of providing trusted performance for the consumer with a low environmental footprint.”
Johan Graffner, CEO, Dedicated
“We have been following the developments in lyocells closely, as they are the fabrics with the lowest CO2 footprint. Now there are great developments in post-consumer cotton lyocells, and these are already available from companies such as Lenzing, Renewcell and Södra Skog. This is a great step in reaching further in circularity.
“There are a lot of novelty fabrics made out of food production waste products such as dairy products, coffee grounds, banana and orange shells, etc. Now we want to see these fabrics evolve in quality, function and especially price, so that they can be serious options for mass-market use.”
René Bethmann, innovation manager, Vaude
“Paving the way for a circular textile chain using biosynthetics and new molecular recycling technologies to lower our dependency on fossil resources and shifting to renewable carbon. Those will allow new functionalities, as seen in our bio-based nylon, without compromising in performance.
“Thanks to a newly implemented molecular recycling platform, we can uptake waste tires as a feedstock to create durable outdoor clothing—the allocation follows the mass balance principle—bringing us a step further on our circular economy journey.”
Cindy McNaull, business development director, Cordura
“The biggest material breakthrough we’ve seen so far this year involves our work with hemp, which has value in both our knit and denim apparel collections in particular. Hemp offers the benefits of enhanced abrasion resistance, tensile and tear strength—three qualities which align to the long-lasting performance platform of the Cordura brand.
“Looking ahead, I believe we’ll see the emergence of more and more ‘emotionally durable’ products that embed sustainability and encourage hand-me-down culture, re-wear, and promote circular design.”
Rob Falken, vice president of innovation, OrthoLite
“I’m excited to see more and more adoption of OrthoLite’s O-Therm technology, which is the world’s first and only aerogel-containing PU foam that delivers unmatched thermal insulation and provides all-day comfort, performance and unparalleled cold-weather protection underfoot. As for the rest of the year, the industry should keep an eye on an innovative new sustainable foam technology that OrthoLite will be introducing for footwear.”
Carlo Centonze, CEO and co-founder, HeiQ
“In recent months, our antiviral HeiQ Viroblock technology has demonstrated itself as an intrinsic offer within the fashion industry amidst the foreseen future growth of hygienics. A further innovative breakthrough is HeiQ XReflex, a radiant barrier technology for thinner, lighter, warmer materials that has been enthusiastically received by numerous brands who wish to make a strong sustainable impact.”
Jamie Bainbridge, vice president, product development, Bolt Threads
“The biggest material breakthrough is not a single material, but the understanding that we need to be creating and using renewable materials and lowering impacts as fashion moves towards a more sustainable future. The pull from the industry in seeking these materials is the real breakthrough this year, and the uptick in interest has been incredible.
“With all of the recent efforts on creating more sustainable materials, a lot of emphasis has been put on circularity. The innovation that the industry has to focus on now is how we begin to make good on the circularity promise to take these materials back and build the infrastructure to do so at scale.”
This article appeared in Sourcing Journals Material Innovations 2021 Report. To download the full report, click here.