Hot Topics:
The 2024 Edition
Helly Hansen ambassador and Arctic Scientist and Glaciologist Heidi Sevestre worked together with designers to develop and test the Arctic Patrol Modular Parka 2.0.
Talking points for this year include: The ups and downs of temperature regulation, the proliferation of certifications and the challenges of making packaging more sustainable.

Innovations in performance, lifestyle and eco define 2024. While out at the trade shows, we’re seeing enthusiasm and advancements, along with a positive outlook for the year. Sustainability is still a big deal. Every firm is seeking the next great tech. In the webinars, seminars and side conversations we’ve had, there seem to be three buzzy themes: temperature, certification and packaging. We’ve asked execs to help us delve in deeper to what is driving conversation for each topic.

A Bode Miller NATYON 3.0 baselayer from UYN Sports.

Heat Rises

There is genuine interest in the temperature topic for athletes, as well as everyday consumers. “This reflects a convergence of technological innovation, consumer preference for comfort and performance, plus a growing awareness of environmental and health concerns,” explained Elia Redini, Jr. Executive Manager of Unleash Your Nature (UYN) Sports - Trerè Innovation. NATYON 3.0 is the latest iteration of the Italian firm’s technical underwear tested by top national ski teams worldwide, as well as U.S. skier Bode Miller. The underwear creates an ideal microclimate with HEATMEMORY, which is a technology involving insulation cells that help preserve body temperature in despite of environmental conditions.

When compared to prior iterations, NATYON 3.0 is 34% lighter thanks to the use of bio-based yarn NATEX, which is derived from castor beans and dries faster than conventional nylon. The company is also working on UYN BIO-MORPHOLOGY, a new way of designing and producing functional garments. A 3D structure mimics and shape and functions of bones, muscles, veins, nerves and lymphatic vessels for use in the creation of socks, shoes, underwear and outerwear.

TMC Ltd. (Nuyarn owner) CEO Andy Wynne attributed increased demand for apparel and footwear that can adapt to different environments to a rise in active lifestyles and participation in outdoor activities. “Consumers seek products that provide temperature control not only to enhance their overall experience and performance, but to protect them against the dangers of over-heating or hyperthermia,” the exec commented. Nuyarn is revolutionary for its spinning method where natural fibers (such as wool) are drafted (instead of twisted), resulting in enhanced performance and durability.

Nuyarn performs best when next to skin or in high impact situations due to both its durability and moisture management at vapor state. A few recent projects include Allbirds M0.0NSHOT (the shoe upper is Nuyarn), seamless trail running apparel in collaboration with Odlo, and rowing apparel for 776BC, in collaboration with the Hollywood film “The Boys in the Boat.”

LimeLoop reusable packaging can replace cardboard.

Let’s be real. “All insulations work the same way: to prevent heat transfer from one side of the insulation to the other,” explained Michael Markesbery, co-founder and CEO of Solarcore. The difference is, “Solarcore does a significantly better job at preventing the heat transfer, and as a bonus, it does so in a thinner profile.” While Solarcore works across markets (such as insulating batteries and outfitting tactical shelters for the U.S. Department of Defense), one of its recent partnerships in footwear is the Helly Hansen Bifrost Workboot, designed for workers in the Arctic.

While the boot is not currently available in the U.S. market, Helly Hansen’s Arctic Patrol Collection is. For the gear, the Norwegian-based brand partnered with Arctic-based Glaciologist Heidi Sevestre. The scientist works in very cold conditions and her tasks can vary greatly from day-to-day, whether it be standing still for hours or engaging in high intensity activities. “She needs to rely on her gear to work for days and weeks at a time without the ability to wash, dry or change to clean/dry gear, which puts high demand on what gear she brings on expeditions,” noted Kristoffer Ulriksen, VP, lifestyle and collaborations for Helly Hansen. The Arctic Patrol Modular Parka (MSRP $2,000) consists of four different jackets/layers that can be combined in different ways, based on the conditions. “Her apparel is her office, and the apparel needs to meet all her needs to perform her work,” added the exec.

The biggest change that Ullriksen has witnessed in working with Arctic professionals is unpredictable weather conditions. While cold and snow used to be the norm in certain areas and types of year, suddenly rain and wind are now also factors, so parkas must be both insulated and waterproof.

GOTS-certifed manufacturing in India.

Setting Standards

Bluesign is an OG in the world of certification. Founded in 2000, the firm has 22,000 approved chemicals in its repertoire, assesses facilities on 600 different environmental management points and has clients with names like Everlane, Patagonia and Eileen Fisher. While Kutay Saritosun, director of brand services and partnerships for bluesign, is a proponent of what his firm has accomplished (as a diagnostic of fabric content), he admitted that when it comes to other certifications, “it’s a jungle out there, larger than the Amazon.” While bluesign “is not competing with most other certifications,” he said, there is a lot of vying for brand dollars.  

To appeal to smaller firms or those without the purse strings to fund full system partnership, bluesign offers tiered services that enable brands to monitor their supply chain through bluesign-verified impact data. In an attempt to recruit denim partners, bluesign had a booth at Kingpins New York. While there are bluesign approved denim fabrics available, to label a full garment as bluesign-certified, the mill partner and laundry also need to be on board. Madewell is a system partner, meaning that its fabric and garment production steps meet bluesign criteria.

Certifications were prominently featured at several Kingpins booths. Turkish mill Orta Anadolu featured a regenerative Regenagri cotton pant (not to be confused with ROC/Regenerative Organic Certified). The denim was made with All Good Earth Cotton embedded with FibreTrace, allowing the ability to be digitally and physically traced from grower to garment. When it comes to certifications, “we don’t rely solely upon the papers they give us,” said Oktay Okuroglu, sales and marketing director for Orta Anadolu. “We look at everything. We go a step further, especially when things are new,” he added.

Heidi Sevestre is outfitted in the Arctic Patrol Modular Parka 2.0.

Traceability has become increasingly important considering emerging issues over the last five years (i.e. fraudulent organic cotton in India), so certifications take on a larger role. Standard holders are strengthening both enforcement and requirements from seed to sale. As the climate crisis grows, textile firms have also been called out for their participation. Third party certifications can serve as an example of efforts being made to combat these issues. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) 7.0 goes into effect on March 1, 2024 and includes due diligence in line with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OEDC) guidelines. The guidelines include obligations to mitigate child labor, pollution, deforestation and other issues. “The way to show that you put your money where your values are is with third party certifications,” said Elizabeth Tigan, fiber and textile specialist at Oregon Tilth; chair of the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) Fiber Council.

Consumers are savvy about greenwashing. Certifications can show where brand dollars are being spent. Consumers want companies to adopt standards, but “then they hold your feet to the fire” to enforce them, according to Tigan. The exec has witnessed problems occur when brands buy into certifications and then don’t understand the obligations. “They don’t read the actual standard or the emails from the certifier and they expect that if they pay the money, things will just come together,” she said. A good consultant can help build a program based upon a brand’s needs, once said brand narrows in on a goal.

Selina Ho is founder of Recloseted, a one-stop consultancy for sustainable fashion brands. Ho consistently tells clients “that there is no truly sustainable fashion brand so instead of trying to be perfectly sustainable and obtaining as many certifications as possible, establish your brand’s sustainability priorities.” Priorities may be using better materials or decreasing textile waste. Smaller brands should choose one-to-two priorities and larger brands two-to-three to focus on. Once they are established, and if there is money for certifications, research the necessary improvements in business activities, data collection requirements and standards that align with those values, said the exec.

Ultimately, “Americans primarily purchase their pieces because products are superior and the prices are reasonable,” Ho explained, adding, “Sustainability elements and certifications are generally viewed as the cherry on top.” For example, A GOTS certification may reinforce the decision to buy an organic cotton sweater, but if that sweater isn’t GOTS certified, “most folks would still buy it – except for a handful of informed consumers that really care about sustainability,” she concluded.  

Selina Ho and team at Recloseted, a consulting agency for sustainable fashion brands.

Beyond the Box

Cutting-edge sustainable fiber and materials alternatives were shown at the Winter 2024 edition of Texworld New York City at the show’s first Next-Gen Innovation Hub. One displayed on a lab-like table adorned with beakers was Ecovative, a mycelium technology company that designs and grows sustainable materials. The company works with the root structure of mushrooms to develop materials requiring less water and energy. While the firm works with brands and leather tanneries to produce leather-like materials for apparel and footwear, it also creates compostable packaging from hemp hurd and mycelium as an eco-friendly alternative to Styrofoam. Mushroom Packaging protects products, while also being compostable. Ikea is a company that has bought in to the concept.

Over the last five years, sustainable packaging options have evolved, and in fun ways. More brands are adopting new ideas, but there are also obstacles. According to the 2023 McKinsey & Company study “Sustainability in Packaging,” U.S. consumers are most concerned about packaging when it comes to hygiene, food safety and shelf life. Ocean litter is a huge concern to many Americans, yet most consumers lack clarity on which packaging options are the most sustainable. About half of U.S. consumers are willing to pay 1-3% more for sustainable packaging (far less are willing to pay over 3% more).

While a slew of brands attempt to go eco-friendlier, “many find there aren’t enough options that will mimic their current packaging while keeping costs low,” Ashley Etling, CEO of LimeLoop, commented. While some brands have turned to recyclable corrugated cardboard boxes or poly mailers, the exec said that “only 9% of recyclable materials are being actually processed for reuse, meaning at the end of the day, these brands are still throwing away resources and money with every shipment.”

LimeLoop offers reusable packaging for clothing and apparel clients including Toad&Co, Topo Designs and UpChoose – an organic baby clothing subscription service. LimeLoop’s durable and water resistant upcycled billboard vinyl packaging options range from extra small to large and are and lined with recycled fabric. Each is able to be used up to 200 times. Packages are tracked with smart technology to minimize theft and lost items.

Fueled by partnerships with organizations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (which strives for a circular economy), some brands have tried going ‘plastic-free.’ While admirable, it can be overly expensive and also demanding when it comes to transparency, literally, meaning hard to achieve good visible clarity, noted Andrew Dent, EVP of material research at Material ConneXion. Innovations include glassine and vellum, which can be noisy, but are recyclable. Significant recycled content in plastic bags has reduced virgin fossil-fuel use, as has using paper and mushroom-based fillers. Some other cool innovation can be found in an often-overlooked packaging element: inks and coatings. Hemp, used tires and other renewable sources are being used as a base in offerings like Living Ink, Black Bear Carbon and Hemp Black.

While a lot of tinkering is being done, “the big hurdles that remain include transparent plastic dust bags, as well as the amount of plastic used in security, pricing and securely positioning garments (i.e.. Swiftach tags),” said Dent, adding, “Extended Producer Responsibility laws will provide more money for clean-up, but it’s important to have brands think twice before ‘over-packaging’ and promote greater education about the negative effects of discarding packaging waste indiscriminately.”