Material innovation is constantly evolving to keep pace with elite athletes’ needs and stay up to speed with cultural and lifestyle trends. Today’s textile developments reflect these changes, especially in the category of cold-weather running. While performance remains key, and trimming weight is still top of mind, fabric innovators are increasingly focused on leveling up comfort and emphasizing sustainability. The “lighter, faster” design principle remains rooted in running – who doesn’t want to fly across the finish line? However, what’s gaining momentum are materials that feel better on the body and better for the planet.
Thanks to advances in material science, suiting up for a run on a winter day no longer consists of bulky, sweat-inducing, movement-restricting layers. That’s because fabric specialists are cracking the code on two fundamental challenges: how to improve textile functionality without sacrificing wearability, and vice versa, how to incorporate tactile-friendly aesthetics and eco-friendly fabrics into high performance materials.
“The race to lightness is over,” states textile expert Alexa Dehmel, who specializes in active sports design, and believes lightness has been achieved in performance textiles. Talking about textile trends Dehmel points to super-light fabrications that pack a performance punch in garments ranging from base layers to insulated outerwear.
The same principles apply to footwear. Deneen Habarta, brand manager for footwear at Unifi Manufacturing, makers of Repreve recycled fiber, comments, “The run category is always focused on how to make footwear lighter and more durable from a performance standpoint. But now we’re seeing brands doing this with recycled materials.”
With 25 years of experience in the run business, Habarta says that these days more and more brands want to talk about the efforts they’re making in the sustainability space. “It’s exciting to see the footwear industry grow and expand use of sustainable materials. When I meet with my customers we discuss how we can design with circularity in mind. That’s a big change.” Repreve recycled polyester fiber is a branded global leader that is used by a wide range of major players in running footwear and run apparel.
Habarta adds, “The idea of material innovation has grabbed attention, as brands better understand what you can achieve through sustainability solutions.”
As executive VP research at Material ConneXion, Andrew Dent has a front row seat to textile innovation. He is privy to the newest, commercially available products, in addition to having the inside track on what’s coming next. In a recent webinar Dent noted, “It’s interesting what’s happening in insulations. The latest developments are featherweight and future-focused.” A good example is Monarch Fly’s Minsolite insulation that is super-soft, yet functionally robust. The product features milkweed, a wildflower best known as a pollinator for the monarch butterfly. The hollow milkweed fiber is ideal for trapping air, creating top-notch insulation and the waxy coating on each milkweed fiber is water repellent. According to the company, the combination of these attributes allows milkweed fibers to act like a straw to wick moisture away from the body faster than down and synthetics.
Also trending are new textile technologies, treatments and finishes that rely on eco-friendly ingredients rather than chemicals. For example, Noble Biomaterials recently launched Ionic+ Botanical, powered by plant-based technology with a citric-acid antimicrobial/anti-odor formula. Another good example is 37.5 technology that uses natural minerals permanently embedded in fabric to help the body naturally thermoregulate. Apparel that features 37.5 allows runners to quickly warm up on cold-weather workouts, and conversely, cool down when winter temps are unseasonably springlike.
Comfort gets a boost in a recent innovation from The LYCRA Company. Called FiT400, the fiber is uniquely engineered to optimize the performance and feel-good comfort of knit activewear, such as leggings. The fabric is made of a blend of recycled polyester and bio-derived resources and feels soft with stretch that moves naturally with the body. “We developed LYCRA FiT400 fiber to deliver in-demand performance benefits and an enhanced soft hand to the knit fabric category,” states Steve Stewart, chief brand and innovation officer at The LYCRA Company.
A new winter collection from men’s brand ASRV uses a performance textile ingredient that enhances activewear with more comfort stretch and fabric freshness. The technology, creora Aerosilver, features apparel in a range of styles and looks from hoodies, joggers and sweats to tees and shirts available in different fabrications: Tech-Terry, Nano-Mesh, and Silver-Lite.
From insulation to innerwear and from enhanced midsoles to recycled fabrics for footwear, these new material developments are giving shape to a modern running wardrobe functional-fit to bring comfort, and joy to runners when temperatures dip.