Planet-Positive, Performance-Focused Fabrications Lead the Way Forward.
The upcoming Fall/Winter 2024/25 season is packed with possibilities. Innovation is rampant in today’s textile offerings achieving new levels of eco-performance as suppliers continue to create trendsetting solutions that feature functionality and maximum sustainability. Circular thinking is integral to new collections. More so than ever, material-wise companies lean into processes and systems that close the loop. Enthusiasm around recycled, regenerative and “re-everything” has the textile community more open to collaboration and investment in a collective effort to provide infrastructure for circularity. Many believe we’re experiencing a tipping point in textile inventiveness, a moment in time that looks to usher in durable, long-lasting environmentally-aware materials for uses that extend beyond apparel into shoes, bags and trims. In other words, cool ideas are becoming a reality.
“This is the most exciting era of material development in the last 30 years, there is so much interesting material development going at this point of time,” comments active/outdoor industry veteran and textile specialist Brian La Plante. In the three years La Plante has been with YKK, the company has created a non-toxic chemical finishing process for its product that is kinder to the environment, while taking a forward-thinking approach to innovation on garment recycling and the need for digital passports. According to La Plante, YKK is committed to a goal of being 100 percent sustainable textiles by 2030.
Alexa Dehmel, textile consultant and active/sports designer, also characterizes today’s textiles as exciting. She highlights three major developments to watch: Converting end-of-life tires into recycled nylon in a process called pyrosis has an amazing future, according to Dehmel, who sees more suppliers entering the market; Catching gas from factories for carbon capture technology; and a shift away from bottle recycling to a future of fiber recycling in circular systems. Dehmel states, “It is so beautiful what happens when exhibitors and mills really develop these concepts into yarn.”
To put this in context, of the 1000 fabric swatches submitted for consideration to be included in the Performance Forum at the Functional Fabric Fair, 316 fabrics were selected from 185 exhibitors along with 56 accessory items. Two award winning fabrications reflect what excites the textile community right now. Performance Award winner Long Advance introduced a monocomponent 2-layer fabric made from 45 percent polyester/ 55 percent recycled poly from recycled textiles, laminated with a PET membrane that serves as a great example of how fabrications will promote recyclable fabric based on circular design and construction. Pontetorto won the Eco Performance award with a midlayer fabric made with a blend of 23 percent hemp/69 percent recycled poly/9 percent recycled elastane. The takeaway here is that materials with low CO2 footprint during production and low release levels of microplastics into the environment are garnering attention. Additionally, the Pontetorto fabric offers 4-way stretch, fast drying and optimal breathability.
Another indicator of the direction the industry is headed is that at Functional Fabric Fair and Performance Days trade shows, fabric has to have 51 percent sustainable content to feature in the Forum area. To be included in the specific Focus Topic category, fabric has to feature a low carbon emissions and a HIGG measurement. A new Suede quality from AX Materials, for instance, was described on the fabric label this way: 60 percent polyamide, 40 percent PU and highlighted a carbon footprint of 11.1 kg Co2e/kg and a HIGG MSI of 10.6.
“The trend is net-zero,” surmises Dehmel. “Today, as much carbon as you create you need to manage and store away.” Currently, in Iceland, a project is underway that involves sequestering carbon and storing it in blocks underground. The intent is that in the future synthetic materials will be made with this stored sequestered carbon.
Consumption is increasingly included in conversations around carbon. “If we can increase the use of products by another seven months, we can reduce our carbon impact by 20 to 30 percent.” said La Plante. “Brands don’t have any responsibility for the product once it is sold and the challenge on the design side is a lack of cross-department collaboration with execs siloed and not working together on solutions.” He adds, “Also, right now there isn’t a playbook for designing with circularity.”
New & Better for the Planet, Too
Key themes for the upcoming season can be summed up in four main categories: Better Synthetics; Better Naturals; Better Processing and Better All Around. Fabrics that fall into these categories exist across the board from base layer to outer shells and from garments to trims.
Here’s a quick rundown on a few standout developments:
Global Merino extends its portfolio with innovative functional fabrications targeted for use in technical leggings, along with extraordinary lightweight technical Merino base layer fabrications that include mesh constructions and a collection tagged “New Jersey” that features a jersey structure with alternating patterns and great functionality.
Advanced Denim brings to market jeans made with recycled yarn waste and fabric from garment recycling. The company believes that recycling technology will continue to improve and expects to see a lot of growth in this area in the next five years.
British Millerain keeps heritage alive but with lighter, more versatile products. The company’s Ranger line offers a new super-dry waxed cotton that unlike traditional wax, does not need to be lined. It is also machine washable.
Brookwood introduces Reclaim, a line consisting of three qualities that blend recycled with performance synthetics. They include: Olympiad, made with 100 percent Repreve recycled polyester, piece dyed, Assault nylon in a 2-layer waterproof breathable DWR coating; Eco Lemur, a 100 percent recycled nylon, piece dyed, sanded, with DWR; and Eco Duck 100 percent recycled polyester piece dyed, PU coated, DWR.
Kingwhale is using scrap from suppliers, garment inventory from brands and take back programs to regenerate fabric for a new program called Revio. The closed loop textile and garment recycling system features technology out of Japan in a joint venture with Kingwhale, which is currently in the process of building a factory in Taiwan to grow the Revio product line, according to James Huang, president.
Polartec makes strides with its latest Polartec Power Shield innovation that features bio-based membrane chemistry while raising performance efficiency. This is Polartec’s first-ever waterproof fabric to test greater than 20,000 mm in the Hydrostatic Pressure Test for Waterproofness and 20,000 g/m2/24h Moisture Vapor Transmission Rating for Breathability. Thus making it in line with high-performance laminates while using a bio-based approach.
Rudholm Group is a producer of eco-responsible trims and accessories that is now making recyclable shipping bags out of a 20,000 square foot facility in Henderson, NV that opened in January 2022. Brands are on board, according to Dennis Lau, director, Rudholm Group USA, who states, “Everybody needs packaging.” And these days, brands want recyclable.
What Consumers Have to Say about Sustainability
While consumers are taking small, individual actions to help protect the environment, attention is increasingly directed toward corporations and consumer-facing brands, according to a recent Morning Consult report titled, “What Sustainability Means to Consumers.” To get better perspective on the situation, the firm surveyed 2,210 U.S. adults on attitudes, behaviors and expectations when it comes to sustainability.
The results of the survey revealed a handful of interesting takeaways particularly around the lack of understanding of sustainability on the part of the consumer. Claire Tassin, retail & e-commerce analyst at Morning Consult shared her insights from the research in a virtual presentation titled, “Navigating the Anti-Consumerist Tide in Sustainability.”
Overall, the research shows that shoppers are more concerned about the impact of manufacturing on the environment, than about their own individual purchasing decisions. Tassin clarifies, “Consumers don’t have a consistent definition of what sustainable shopping is,” and when asked, supplied vague responses such as: “don’t know” “don’t care” and “I try to do less.”
Asked about “Sustainable Actions” the number one response from survey participants was “buy durable products.” However, the reason for doing so is driven as much by economics — buying something that lasts is a “smart way to shop” — as environmental reasons. “Eco-friendly is considered a component not the end all,” Tassin notes.