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Outdoor Retailer Brings Innovation, Performance, and Sustainability to the Fore

Visitors were warmly welcomed to last week’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show in Denver, Colo. with open arms, craft beer, innovation, and a strong message about the need to care for the planet while serving the consumers who want to enjoy it.

Spring/Summer 2019 product lines for the $887 billion outdoor industry covered categories ranging from hiking and cycling to fitness and hunting. Thousands of square feet of apparel, sporting goods, gear, accessories and other product innovations were featured, all developed to make outdoor pursuits more eco-friendly, enjoyable and safe for the consumers using them.

The Sourcing area of the show featured more than 200 companies from the U.S., China, Taiwan, Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Germany and Japan, among others.

Sustainability was a key and common thread among the fiber and fabric suppliers at the show. Invista announced new colors and deniers of its Cordura brand TrueLock solution-dyed nylon 6.6 products, which reduce energy and water use in processing. Eco-friendly fibers, like Unifi’s Repreve recycled polyester, DuPont’s Sorona, which is made with plant-based materials, and Sensil Ecocare recycled nylon from Nilit, were featured in many of the collections shown by fabric producers and apparel brands.

“There is a high degree of technical knowledge in our industry,” Kirsten K. Harris, Nilit’s director of marketing for North America, said. “Consumers are hungry for products sourced in a sustainable fashion that integrate a high level of cutting-edge technology. Nilit’s technical knowledge, along with a passion to tell consumers how the benefits of our Sensil premium nylon can change the way they experience fashion, will drive growth from value to premium brands across the industry.”

Fabric makers with a compelling story were also popular. Brands sought out knitted novelty technical fabrics made in California by Texollini, heritage-inspired woolens by Pendleton, and smart yarns from Südwolle.

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“The two key themes we heard over and over from brands we met with at the show were Made in America and sustainability,” said Sherry Wood, Texollini’s director of merchandising. “With the strong influence of social media right now, we are finding that brands are more transparent on how and where they source their fabrics and create their products. Fabrics made in the USA are not only appealing from a speed-to-market standpoint, but also for their storytelling value. There is a higher perceived value when it is being made right in Los Angeles. Brands also tend to incorporate our sustainability story into their own stories, and that gets their customers engaged in the conversation.”

Strong performance stories were also given greater attention at Formosa Taffeta, which showed its Permawarm system of thermal control clothing combining electronics and textiles. Hyosung promoted its new Creora Color+ dyeable spandex with deeper, darker colors and better compression for sports bras and activewear, along with a new lightweight cooling and moisture managing nylon yarn. FiberVisions demonstrated the versatility of its CoolVisions dyeable polypropylene, showing the lightweight, moisture-wicking fiber in its colorful glory, both in pure form and blended with cotton and merino wool for more natural aesthetics.

For Darlington Fabrics, quality, differentiation and sustainability were the focus of conversations.

“We see brands focusing on high-quality, innovative and differentiated fabrics, whether it be finer gauge, unique fibers, more surface interest—or a combination of all three,” Darlington Fabrics senior vice president Steve Perry said. “Brands are also laser focused on sustainability. Where fibers and fabrics come from and the amount of water and chemistry it takes to produce them, are serious considerations today, and squarely in Darlington’s wheelhouse. We have invested heavily not only in knitting machines that make fabrics that are finer and have more surface interest, but also in dye machines that require less dye solution, resulting in lower water and energy use.”

Although fabric and fiber companies predominated, trim and fastener companies also made a strong showing with new and innovative performance products in attention-getting designs and some recycled and biodegradable materials. Fabric finish brands like Microban, Teflon from Chemours, and Gore-Tex showed that topical treatments can be not only extremely effective, but environmentally responsible.

In addition to the performance apparel brands that descended on the sourcing area looking for new materials, a record number of fashion brands in the apparel, accessory and footwear sectors looked to check out performance and technical fabrics—further evidence that consumers seek performance features even in their ready-to-wear.

“Customers of major brands and disruptive startups alike are expecting more from their textiles as they become more educated about fabric technology,” Wood said. “Styles that effortlessly transition from the gym to everyday life—with performance throughout—are in high demand.”