In The Market
Functional Fabric Fair

Springtime for Sustainability

Attendees got a first-hand, up close look at new fabrics.

With 2030 eco goals on the horizon and the industry facing a flurry of state and government legislation regarding recycling and chemical usage, the textile community is primed for action on all fronts. The recent Functional Fabric Fair, powered by Performance Days, served as a timely opportunity for exhibitors to showcase innovative circular solutions and for attendees to learn about the latest tech and trend developments as textile suppliers strive to create high performance materials with lower environmental impacts.

Gains in recycling nylon from used car tires, advances in textile-to-textile recycling, greater variety in eco-alternative feedstocks, and encouraging updates on carbon capture technologies were all key topics at the Portland show. Other efforts helping to expand the category of circular product innovation include monomaterial constructions with softer, lightweight attributes and appealing aesthetics, and directing a variety of regenerative resources to new channels of distribution. 

Also notable at the sold-out April Fair was heightened conversation about the need for the textile community to come together to meet common goals and rally around critical industry standards and sustainability reforms. It’s been three years of talk centered on the Focus Topic of “Journey to Carbon Neutrality,” and while progress has been made, it will take one unified approach, communicated throughout the supply chain to achieve a more sustainable future. “A key challenge for us and the mills is identifying solutions that the industry can coalesce around,” said Andrew Hicks, business manager, performance apparel at Burlington.  

Education is paramount for the industry and the consumer. The desire to better understand new laws and new eco criteria was obvious by the number of Functional Fabric Fair attendees flocking to expert talks on topics like “PFAS Issues and Industry Resources” and “Balancing the Duality between Sustainability and Functionality.”  

“You need to get knowledge, be informed and stay on top of what’s happening in this rapidly evolving issue,” said William Troutman ESG/CSR partner at the CA-based law firm Norton Rose Fulbright with expertise in product safety and compliance, market access. Troutman presented a comprehensive overview of the myriad rules and regulations regarding PFAS coming down the pike. Panelist Scott Echols, senior impact director of ZDHC, the popular Amsterdam-based NGO, emphasized working together to keep chemicals out of textile to begin with. “It can’t be individual companies with their own restricted lists,” he said. 

Dr. Kedena Henriques-Thompson from Celliant, advised the crowd to keep an open-mind and a willingness to learn. “Sustainability is a moving target,” said Henriques-Thompson. “Forming strategic partnerships with like-minded brands is important. The drivers of demand happening in today’s market are challenging.”  Jim Krueger, managing director for ProTecht, a Sustainability x Functionality panelist, added, “The consumer is the missing link to circularity. We have to be mindful of the user and the consumer.” 

The Show Itself

The event had an upbeat atmosphere and featured a significantly larger space within the Convention Center to make room for upwards of 200 exhibitors. Participants noted the quality of product shown and the textile savvy of attendees. People like the show’s framework, based on the Performance Days model,  with booths similar in size and style. Suppliers said they appreciate that FFF is more of a sourcing show about getting down to business than a marketing event about who has the biggest booth. “I’m always pleasantly surprised by what I see and learn at the Functional Fabric Fair,” said Darrell Kirk, managing director, N/A, Quickfeat. Similarly, Gary Lucier of HD Wool, stated “I had 27 appointments on the first day. People want to be educated on new product  and important issues.”