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Textile Firms Innovate for Performance, Sustainability and Comfort in Activewear

While product development in fibers and fabrics continues to focus on innovations that make wearers of activewear faster, more resistant to weather extremes and have more endurance, the need to make the materials more sustainable is becoming table stakes.

At the same time, companies are taking further strides to advance their materials for greater casual attributes. Targeting athleisure apparel, makers are setting out to satisfy consumers’ need for comfort and flexibility in their wardrobes.

Combining active and sustainability

CoolVisions dyeable polypropylene filament and staple by Indorama Ventures Limited has introduced a range of performance fibers and fabrics that take these elements into account.

The dyeable filament with recycled polyester has ben added to the company’s offerings in innovative constructions that maximize moisture management and thermal performance. CoolVisions is also launching new fabrics featuring parent company Indorama Ventures Ltd.’s (IVL) IP intelligent performance range of specialty polyesters.

“Today there is a demand for more sophisticated functional fibers with appealing aesthetics, ease of handling and a sustainable profile,” Susan Lynn, global sales and marketing manager for CoolVisions dyeable polypropylene, and global brand manager for IVL, said. “CoolVisions dyeable filament brings these desirable qualities to the table, along with polypropylene’s inherent properties such as moisture management and low moisture regain, thermal regulation, durability, bleach-and-stain resistance, and improved coverage at a lower weight.”

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CoolVisions and Tencel branded fibers will unite in a fabric collection of knits and wovens for the lifestyle and performance apparel markets.

“The cool, silky hand and inherent performance attributes of CoolVisions dyeable polypropylene filament are proving the perfect complement to Tencel fibers,” Lynn said.

Also in the sustainable realm, IVL has developed Deja, a 100 percent rPET fiber brand, available in various forms, including recycled flake, pellet, fiber and filament for use in multiple applications. Deja rPET products are derived from recycling post-consumer plastic bottles and transforming them into innovative product ingredients.

“We’re providing closed-loop solutions for apparel and home applications,” Lynn said. “Sustainability is driving the choice of materials and that choice is expected to include performance. They really go hand in hand, but sustainability is a must.”

Turning to Tencel

Tencel producer Lenzing, has also collaborated with Solvay Group, a multi-specialty chemical company for an innovative two-faced fabric made of Tencel lyocell and Amni Soul Eco polyamide. The new fabric responds to each company’s efforts to pursue more responsible innovation while offering performance, durability and comfort.

The back of the new fabric consists of Tencel Active fibers made from renewable, responsibly managed wood sources. The fabric’s front is enhanced by Solvay’s Amni Soul Eco, a polyamide 6.6 fiber with improved biodegradability.

In a similar vein, Lenzing has teamed with Hyosung Corp. to launch a new sustainable active fabric collection that showcases the benefits of Tencel Modal and Creora elastane from Hyosung. The grouping, the companies noted, offers brands and retailers fresh levels of performance and innovation.

The collection offers Lenzing EcoVero with Creora eco-soft for a softer touch and more brilliant whites. EcoVero fibers are made from wood, a natural and renewable raw material that comes from sustainable forestry plantations, while Creora eco-soft is a low-heat settable spandex that offers reduced energy consumption.

Lycra advances

The Lycra Company has also taken sustainability to the next level, incorporating environmentally friendly alternatives and innovations to its fibers.

“As we look at the activewear market, we see three key trends that are driving a lot of our development work and products that we recently launched,” Robert Kirkwood, chief technology officer at Lycra, said. “One is around the core activewear market: fitness, high-impact impact sports–everything from leggings and yoga wear to compression pants and tops to sports bras.”

“The second area is around active lifestyle, what some people have called athleisure,” Kirkwood continued. “And the third areas is sustainability that is impacting everything in our world and everything in textiles, and especially in activewear, which is one area that we work in, that seems to be taking a lot of leadership.”

In the core market, there’s been quite a few adoptions of the Lycra Sport technology, from companies like Walmart, Costco, Fila, Athleta and Dick’s Sporting Goods. The fabric indexing system allows fabric and garment designers to select materials with the appropriate level of support or compressions.

A new technology connected to that, launched in the fall, is Lycra Fitsense which allows Lycra fiber technology to be screen-printed onto a fabric or garment for targeted support.

“We think it’s going to allow designers to create lighter weight, breathable, cooler fabrics, but then use the Lycra Fitsense technology to target where they want the compression and support,” Kirkwood said.

Fitsense has had two adoptions for leggings at retail this year, at Marks & Spencer and Adidas’ Stella McCartney line, each of which has sold well, according to Kirkwood. Also in development, is a fiber meant to deliver the next level of comfort, fit, support and compression, Kirkwood said.

For an active lifestyle, the consumer is looking for stretch and cooling properties, and the answer to that, according to Kirkwood, is Lycra Dual Comfort technology. It’s based on the firm’s T400 bi-component polyester fiber, which Under Armour and Nike initially adopted. Combining that with the desire for recycled and sustainable raw materials, Lycra recently launched Eco Made T400 derived from post-consumer recycled polyester.

Athleisure’s role

David Rosan, president of Laguna Fabrics, said for his company, the main focus—especially for women that work at home or at places like We Works—is comfort in an active aesthetic.

“They’re looking for elevated athleisure,” Roshan said. “They want to look good and be comfortable. Another big part of the equation we find is that they want to feel good about what they’re wearing from an environmental perspective. So we’re moving away from polyester and nylon and using more sustainable fibers.”

This includes Tencel lyocell and Micro Modal, as well as organic cotton. Laguna is producing varieties of Tencel fleece and rib knits, Tencel and organic cotton and French terry in tops, bottom and bodysuits. And another area of athleisure that’s seeing action, Roshan said, is coverups and overlays in soft sweater knits.

Andy Dreher, division president of narrow elastic manufacturer George C. Moore, said, “The marketplace requires us to offer more variety and greater complexity, present new features and timely competitive solutions.”

The key to developing new elastics, for one, is to combine designs, specialty yarns and technical finishes that create value-added attributes for the consumer, Dreher said.

For example, a combination of perforated web constructions, cooling yarns and finishes is used to create open air channels throughout a waistband for pants or shorts to improve moisture management and temperature release. By using various yarns and spandex sizes, George C. Moore offers customized stretch and power specifications, even creating multi-tension effects within the same elastic band.

The combining of two or more textures within the same waistband, either by designing a special weaved pattern or sewing two different web constructions, offers a fresh way to provide added comfort, fit and performance to waistbands, the company noted. Mesh constructions or three dimensional geometric patterns combined with soft and flat edges for added comfort, according to George C. Moore, “are a great way to achieve improved performance, as well as a distinctive fabric design for the activewear apparel end user.”