The Woolmark Company, Swiss running specialists On and Italian skiwear brand Salewa have announced the prize winners and 12 innovative finalists’ concepts for the Woolmark Performance Challenge 2021/2022.
This year, the Woolmark Performance Challenge partnered with two brands for the first time. On Running challenged participating students to explore apparel innovations that respond to the highest demands of performance for modern outdoor runners, while maximizing fashion-forward wearability. Salewa asked entrants to innovate low environmental-impact fabric technologies to create thermoregulating apparel for mountain activities.
The Woolmark Performance Challenge is an incubation program for tertiary students. It encourages innovative thinking resulting in ground-breaking ideas while fostering the education and development of the next generation of game-changers. From more than 400 entries from across the globe, the 12 most promising ideas were hand-picked as finalists, before judges selected the winners for each category.
Caroline Schinle from Albstadt-Sigmaringen University was awarded an internship with On Running. In addition, the performance running brand created a new Research Opportunity award for Pearl Academy’s Harleen Kaur.
“While both ideas were very different to each other, each of the two contestants shine through their potential to challenge the status quo and be a true explorer, which is one of the key spirits we encourage here at On,” Louis de Vos, global head of talent acquisition at On Running, said. “We felt we wanted to develop that talent and nurture the thinking around helping the next generation of innovators by providing a platform and the tools to explore.”
Seeking sustainable alternatives, Schinle’s innovation creates a new filling technology for padded jackets to create a 100 percent biodegradable product, using a novel structure as support for a Merino wool and milkweed fiber filling.
Kaur’s submission identified a gap in the market to address the needs of pregnant and post-partum runners, creating activewear that works with, rather than against, the changing body. The idea supports both the mother and fetus in the correct areas, providing coolness when the body temperature rises, and monitoring the baby’s health using a fetal heart rate monitor.
“Caroline and Harleen both were able to take the initial brief and turn their work into a perfect hybrid of innovation, sustainability and consumer centricity while keeping the aesthetic in mind,” said James Thompson, head of materials at On Running. “Their ideas built on pre-existing processes but dared to push beyond the known, challenged industry perceptions and captured the zeitgeist of environmental problem solving and diversity and inclusion gaps in today’s textile industry.”
Dan Winegar from the University of Oregon was selected by skiwear experts Salewa for his idea that automatically adjusts insulation thickness to maintain comfort during and after exercise. The resultant 3D flexible fabrics can change from insulating to cooling modes depending on the levels of skier activity.
“Through his project, Dan encapsuled the idea of trapping air in a smart and innovative way,” said Salewa senior product director Thomas Moe. “By using one of the oldest fibers, Merino wool, with an intelligent smocking technique with stretch and insulation, supported by data, he open doors for new solutions that we are eager to support and explore with him.”
IED Milano student Francesco Matera was the 10,000 euros ($11,000) Woolmark Research Bursary recipient, envisioning a garment that acts like a second skin, adapting to the body in motion. His design uses strategically placed zones of high compression using elastane in seamless knitted garments to support and manipulate the wearer’s muscles and limbs during exercise.
“Francesco embraced this competition with maturity on many levels,” said the Woolmark Company’s general manager for processing innovation and education extension, Julie Davies. “Francesco displayed deep understanding of what is lacking in existing performance garments and what an athlete experiences under duress. He demonstrated extensive research for an innovative garment design and also demonstrated why the wearer would experience greater technical and physical benefits from the garment with it manufactured in wool.”
The Woolmark Performance Challenge is an open-source problem-solving platform designed to facilitate innovative, forward-thinking product solutions for the sports and performance market, all harnessing the unique natural properties of Australian Merino wool. Each of the 12 finalists received mentoring from industry experts as part of the Woolmark Performance Challenge Innovation Accelerator Program, designed to accelerate their concepts and elevate their design thinking.
The Woolmark Company is a subsidiary of Australian Wool Innovation, a not-for-profit enterprise that conducts research, development and marketing along the worldwide supply chain for Australian wool on behalf of about 60,000 wool growers that help fund the company.