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Schoeller: The Quiet Swiss Textile Maker Behind Key Tech Innovations

More than ever, innovation is at the core of the active and outdoor markets, as brands try to meet the needs of discerning and demanding consumers, and give themselves an edge in the competitive field.

Venerable Swiss textile company Schoeller—which has been manufacturing specialized fabric and material for more than 150 years at its mill in Switzerland—is a key driver of much of the textile technology that makes wearers feel warmer, drier, lighter and nimbler.

The company has created performance dress shirts and pants for the likes of Bonobos, Theory, Kit + Ace and Manual Outfitters, and has developed materials for extreme moisture management in Kjus’s 7Sphere Jacket and Red Bull’s Taurex, and natural cork insulation as seen in Holden’s Summit Corkshell Collection.

“We’re involved with innovation all the time and it’s always a question of are we ready to commercialize this,” Stephen Kerns, president of Schoeller North America, said. “We always want to make sure that when we come out with something it’s really been well proven, well researched and we’re ready to go.”

Schoeller doesn’t design to a price point or a particular market, but rather, Kerns said, uses the best materials combined with proprietary weaves and creates product that also fits the aesthetic standards of the company and its brand partners. Ninety-five percent of Schoeller textiles are manufactured in Switzerland, in addition to joint ventures in Turkey for cotton-blend fabrics, and Taiwan’s Formosa Taffeta Co.

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“As the economy keeps on changing globally, with people buying direct from brands, they can spend more money on textiles,” he said. “Having product that lasts longer is getting more important. We basically have a textile for whatever category someone wants to put that in.”

Schoeller & Sohne was founded by Rudolph Schoeller in Zurich as Switzerland’s first worsted yarn spinning mill in 1868. Schoeller gradually expanded its business and in 1954 purchased a textile mill in the St. Gallen Rhine Valley that now serves as the company’s headquarters. That mill would soon launch an elastic fabric for the ski industry under the name “skifans,” which is also considered to be the world’s first soft-shell fabric.

The company’s latest innovation is its new aerobrane technology, an e-spinning membrane that offers optimum protection against wind and weather, while maintaining high breathability. To produce an e-spinning membrane, a large number of ultra-light, microscopic fibers are placed closely on top of each other, forming a clustered but firmly connected structure.

Aerobrane’s structure consists of an ultra-fine, hydrophilic polyurethane fiber composite that offers a softer feel and fluid textile characteristics, Kerns explained. The fibrous structure of the membrane provides exceptional properties of the highest breathability, and at the same time allows for ventilation.

The structure also makes the textile waterproof, as water droplets on the outside of the upper material are larger than the spaces between the fibrous structures, preventing permeation (pouring water over the clothing shows it doesn’t absorb any moisture). The fibers also form a barrier against wind.

Schoeller’s recent introduction of ProEearth, a collection of biodegradable textiles, is a joint venture between Schoeller Textil AG and Formosa Taffeta. Part of its Schoeller FTC line, ProEarth is made from Bluesign-approved fabrics with biodegradable polyester.

The company is a founding developer of the Bluesign system and one of the first activewear and leisure wear manufacturers to receive Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification.

ProEarth reasserts Schoeller’s position on the cutting edge of sustainable practices, bringing one of the first collections of biodegradable synthetic fabrics to the market. The collection was created to help offset the more than 16 million tons of textile waste produced each year in the U.S. alone. It will launch with five fabrics designed for lifestyle, fashion and outdoor categories.

Made with virgin polyester that has been optimized for biodegradation and tested to biodegrade at faster and better rates than competitive offerings, the first styles available this fall include a jacket, pants and lining material qualities with various color options.

Each of the ProEarth fabrics can be enhanced with Schoeller’s eco-friendly production and finishing technologies, Kerns said. Its Ecodye technology saves up to 30 percent of the water, energy and process time used for dying polyester, while its Ecorepel Bio and 3XDry Bio technologies are PFC-free and based on renewable primary products, providing reliable water and aqueous dirt repellance.

“For us, it’s going to continue to be a situation of being rewarded for being authentic,” Kerns said. “For example, the pressures today for being transparent in the supply chain, we’ve already established that as part of what we are.”

Addressing the state of the global economy and volatile trade environment, Kerns said, “We do a lot of hedging of materials buying. Textiles is pretty complicated, with a lot of things that happen that affect [the] supply chain.”

Ninety percent of what the company produces in Switzerland is shipped to Asia for garment manufacturing. Schoeller also ships a fair amount to North America for manufacturing, and roughly 10 percent to neighbors in Europe.

As for what’s in the lab or on the drawing board, Kerns said it’s all about offering new levels of sustainability in yarns and fibers, and adding materials to the mix that are even stronger than what’s currently on the market.

“Temperature regulation is going to become a bigger topic, both cooling and heating, given what seems to be more extremes in temperature and the consumer desire to be able to deal with it,” he said.