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Polartec Says ‘Tech Casual’ Textiles Speak to Today’s Consumer

The evolution of performance fabrics from activewear to athleisure has now reached the next step in the timeline—“tech casual”—as defined by Gary Smith, CEO of Polartec.

Speaking at the Functional Fabrics trade show in New York on Monday, Smith said changes brought about by consumer behavior, particularly among millennials, has caused innovative fabric manufacturers like Polartec to take a fresh approach to product development.

“That demographic has an incredible array of choice that effects how they live their lives,” Smith said at the inaugural edition of the fair, held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “They have an expectation for technology that no other generation has ever had. They grew ups with cars that are safe, music that is easy to access and computers that just work.”

To them, Smith said, fabrics should be made to withstand all types of temperatures and weather conditions. And the apparel they wear should be made accordingly.

“That’s why the concepts of comfort and performance have given way to tech casual,” Smith said. “People just expect that the clothes they buy for certain conditions will perform the way they need them to and be comfortable.”

He said this new generation of versatile fabrics are required to be more comfortable then before, easier to care for and have wide applications.

“We’re at an inflection point in technical fabrics,” Smith told the audience. “We need to build the technology that the consumer expects into the fabrics, just like a phone has technology built in beyond the basic use,” Smith told the audience. “At the same time, the fashion component has to be there–it’s expected. Today’s consumer wants performance apparel that doesn’t look like performance apparel.”

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He said Polartec is operating on the principal that the fabric “needs to be enabled” so that it performs up to expectations without any comfort or fashion sacrificed. He noted that examples of tech casual run from stretch denim to apparel with built-in technology like protection from extreme heat or cold, and water and odor resistance.

“The expectations are driven by demographics, social media and technology,” Smith said. “Casual tech fabrics and apparel needs to be made to fit into how everybody lives their lives, instead of solving a particular need.”

He added that this includes areas such as sustainability. Responding to an audience question, Smith said, “Its not a tradeoff. I believe fabrics have to be versatile and therefore sustainable,” in terms of allowing people to have smaller wardrobes and get more use out of their clothes because they are made well using the best materials.