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MAY / JUNE 2018
COVER STORY / Functionality For Life Wear

How Technical Meets Trend in Today’s Active Wardrobe

Call it co-mingling, or call it corroding barriers, but outdoor is affecting fashion and fashion is affecting outdoor like never before. “The way we live is changing what we mean by performance,” stated trend forecaster Haysun Hahn during an event held earlier this year. “Most consumer product must be multi-task, cross-seasonable and sustainability-conscious,” she said, adding, “There is no one sitting here that isn’t wearing at least two pieces that don’t come from an outdoor active sport genesis.”

Hahn’s observation rings true far beyond the garb worn by her Outdoor Retailer audience that winter afternoon; today’s modern wardrobe features functional fabrics in products developed and designed for an urban/outdoor lifestyle. “So, when we talk about an articulated sleeve in an outdoor jacket,” explains Hahn, “it applies to straphangers.” Meaning that the same kind of body movement needed to hang on as the #6 subway barrels downtown during rush hour in New York City is similar to the freedom of motion originally constructed to enhance climbers’ performance. “The urban-centric idea is a very important idea,” Hahn concludes.

The latest textile technologies reflect this critical concept. Rugged is out; comfort is in. Lightweight layers have replaced bulky outerwear. Once pooh-poohed, aesthetics are now prioritized. Drape, texture, print, and hand/feel follow in the footsteps of breathability, moisture management, stretch, odor-control and weather-protection. Sustainability completes this contemporary blend of sport and style as the eco factor now ranks with function and fashion as the trinity of textile development.

The rise of athleisure has played a role in this evolution. “While the industry still caters to technical outdoor there has been a shift,” observes David Parkes, founder, Concept III Textiles. “Performance shifted focus to athleisure because it was something new, and sparked consumer interest,” Parkes explains, noting that changing weather patterns, together with today’s price-driven market are also key factors driving current trends, and thus giving way to textiles that offer year-round versatility in the form of lightweight yet functional outerwear and stylish performance fleece. Blends that balance performance aesthetics are top of mind. For instance, Concept III is keen on wool blends from merino specialist AMBT. “Business is strong with Tencel/wool, poly/wool and nylon/wool blends,” says Parkes.  

It’s not surprising that fashion has been circling the active/outdoor market in recent years as 7th Avenue brands increasingly recognized the advantages of performance as a differentiator that played well with a growing athleisure trend. Parkes gives as an example that he will meet with execs from Target, at Performance Days in Germany.

Others report similar experiences. “There is a lot of interest from fashion – not high-fashion — but 7th Avenue fashion with athleisure collections,” says Colleen Nipkow, global marketing director, Polygiene. “They have been coming to OR for a little while looking for textile tech that stands out.” Banana Republic will feature Polygiene in a new line of men’s underwear.

Polygiene odor-control technology and messaging that promotes wearability with environmental responsibility connects with today’s consumers. The company has built a foundation of partnerships in the outdoor market with its “Wear More. Wash Less” functionality, based on natural silver salt made from 100 percent recycled silver; a product that fits the need to keep garments fresh, sustainably, while experiencing outdoor adventures. The athleisure market sees this level textile tech as appealing to mainstream active lifestyle end use.

For example, Microban enters the field with a new patent-pending technology called Scentry Revive that neutralizes odor and maintains freshness without the need for frequent laundering. According to the company, while the average shirt might be laundered 50 times per year (consuming upwards of 454 liters of water per shirt), the same garment with Scentry Revive technology built into the textile would require only 10 washings per year, consuming only 25 liters per year via laundry, and states the company, “freeing up time for the consumer to do the things they love.”

The Consumer Connection

There’s no one-size fits-all practice when it comes to social media, particularly within the ingredient suppliers’ arena. For many the whole “social media thing” is not familiar and thus considered “too expensive” and/or “too time consuming” to connect with consumers from the ingredient position in the supply chain. Others realize the relevance of being on Instagram and YouTube in today’s consumer-centric marketplace, yet continue to rely heavily on brand partners to lead the way in content and messaging. Some textile firms, however, are committing to digital, and reporting growth.

“We are definitely tagged more, and get more mentions,” explains Claire Smiley, who runs Polartec digital marketing, out of the company’s Andover, MA offices. “Our awareness by followers grew by 40 percent in 2017. It’s been good!” Smiley joined Polartec in August of 2016 and is the first employee to have a role dedicated to social media. Instagram has been especially successful, says Smiley, as has the ability to reach niche markets with passionate participants. “For Polartec, cycling is big. The company sponsors a continental team in Europe and that allows us to tap into a fanatical user group. Cycling has been a huge win,” states Smiley.

Judith Russell, global marketing strategist at Nilit America notes that “there’s a lot of innovative thinking happening at the brand and retail level, but not much back in the supply chain because any innovation that occurs there has a hard time getting through to the consumer.” She explains that sourcing people often act as the gatekeepers, prioritizing price; ingredient execs interested in social media should connect with marketing. “They are the consumer engagement people, that’s where it’s happening. You have to break down silos.”

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FOOTWEAR | aTHlEISURE

The Athleisure Equation

A Performance Package that Delivers Style & Comfort via Engineered Materials. By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry
The Jordan Standard has an elephant print midfoot strap and a “feathered leather” forefoot.
Five years after it burst into the popular consciousness, athleisure is still on fire, knocking off sales in other categories and dominating the conversation. But as the market has evolved, it’s become clear that the term is hardly just another way of saying “casual sneakers.” There’s a performance package that wearers have come to expect, even from styles they never intend to take to the gym: They want stylish shoes that read as on-trend, but deliver more. And the key elements? There are two that brands — and consumers — keep coming back to. One is ease: Slip-on or one-handed styles dominate, which means three-way stretch uppers, fabrics with soft hands like neoprene, and jersey-lined leathers and synthetics that allow barefoot wear. And the second is comfort. Brands looking to target the athleisure customer are upgrading their materials, shaping their sock liners and bringing their A-game to the marketplace; some are even bringing in the same technologies found in their premium athletic collections. Here, Textile Insight looks at the techy ways five brands are balancing their performance stories with the easy-wear look that’s moving the marketplace.

OluKai Miki Li  When Hawaii-inspired brand OluKai launched its first explicitly athleisure style for Spring ’18, the goal was creating a shoe that could work for a full Hawaiian day: water-friendly, hike-able and stylish. Aesthetically, the $130 Miki Li checks all the athleisure boxes: it has a low profile, streamlined look and an island-inspired pastel color palette, with the brand’s signature leather accents. But the technical element was critical: Grippy rubber and razor siping on the sole keep the wearer stable on wet surfaces, and the stretchy upper and drop-in heel make it easy-on, easy-off. And of course, comfort is key: a jersey lining makes it ready for barefoot wear, and a removable, washable anatomical footbed made of dual-density PU with a gel insert is designed to cradle the foot. The style will be carried over for Spring ’19 in new colorways — but expect more to come. Blaine Conrad, VP of product for the Irvine, CA-based brand, said plans to expand into more athleisure styles are in the works.

Brands looking to target the athleisure customer are upgrading their materials, shaping their sock liners and bringing their A-game to the marketplace.
Adidas Arkyn
Jordan Standard The Jordan brand made its name as the vanguard in performance basketball shoes, pushing the envelope in tech and in aesthetics. (Let us not forget that it was the Jordan 1’s bold, against-the-rules color scheme, not its tech specs, that made it a game-changer.) That attitude is manifestly in evidence with the brand’s latest release, the Tinker Hatfield-designed Standard. The $140 shoe, which released April 30, takes inspiration from the 2004 Nike Sock Dart running style. A tonal all-black or all-white color palette, the Jordan brand’s iconic elephant print on the midfoot strap and the instantly eye-catching “feathered leather” on the forefoot pay homage to sneaker culture. But the style honors its performance roots, too. Lightweight construction and supportive foam cushioning under the foot give the style the kind of ride a Jordan wearer expects, and the entire shoe was designed to as easy to take on and off as possible: Stretch materials in the uppers, a heel loop and a hole in the tongue make getting in and out of the shoe a snap. Which, per Hatfield, is the key attribute: In a Nike press release, the designer said, “The simplicity of getting in and out of the shoe was as much a design focus as the aesthetic.”

Adidas Arkyn The brand describes the $140 women’s-only Arkyn style as combing elements of “streetwear, sportswear and high fashion into a single, fluid design,” and at first glance, the style reads as a fashion-house take on the idea of running with color-blocked details and dramatically oversized midsole with toe and heel spring. A stretchy, sock-like fit and pull-on construction are par for the course, but Adidas goes purely technical underfoot, using a visible block of its pinnacle Boost cushioning. The foamed TPU material is known for its incredible rebound, and launched in the brand’s running category before being widely adopted across the performance division. In lifestyle, it brings its distinctive pebbled Styrofoam look to the midsole, but adds a bouncy, responsive ride that appeals to athletes as well as comfort-seekers.

View the full issue here.
STRATEGIES | Sustainability

Establishing a Wider Eco Lens

Firms Look to New Approaches to Ecologically Enrich their Businesses.
By Suzanne Blecher
Factory45 Founder Shannon Lohr
Companies are constantly looking to find new strategies to keep sustainability innovative. While some brands are just wading into the eco-universe, others are eyeing a holistic goal for their organizations. Here are a few notable approaches that Textile Insight is seeing in the marketplace.

In-House Initiatives
“We take a holistic, lifecycle approach to measuring and managing product-based sustainability performance,” including emphasis on using less raw materials and fewer components, along with less water and energy, according to Abel Navarrete, Columbia’s VP corporate responsibility. The firm’s Conspiracy III Titanium Outdry Extreme Eco trail shoe has waterproof breathable construction, superior cushioning and advanced traction; in an eco-conscious product using recycled materials, reduced water usage and no PFC’s (intentionally used). Textiles in the footwear use no water in the dying process, saving up to 15 liters of water per pair, said Navarrete. The upper is a combination 51 percent recycled synthetic textile and waterproof membrane. For the future, the exec and her team are eyeing ways to power the business and products with renewable energy, along with ways to make resources last longer through recycling.

Conscious Consultancies 
Factory45 is an online accelerator that takes sustainable apparel companies from brainstorm to launch. Founder Shannon Lohr has sent 155 through her program in which “entrepreneurs are presented options for creating mindful products and then choosing the supply chain that makes that most sense for their company’s values,” she said, which may be using only organic materials, waterless dyes or having a supply chain in a 20-mile radius. Whereas most consultancies in apparel manufacturing that do sourcing and supply chain set up require a retainer fee, Factory45 connects clients directly with vetted fabric suppliers, sample makers and production partners, thus eliminating the middleman. For entrepreneurs, Lohr places a big emphasis on marketing, setting up an online store and raising money for production. The brand that raised the most money after graduating Factory45 is womenswear firm Vetta, which Lohr helped establish manufacturing in NYC and source sustainable materials.

Association Input
Sustainable Apparel Coalition CEO Jason Kibbey is seeing “more focus on holistic management of sustainability impact in the marketplace.” Instead of following the latest sustainability trend, he’s finding that more firms are using tools like the Higg Index to identify, manage and improve their impact, especially in the outdoor products community. Outdoor Industry Association manager of sustainable business Innovation, Nikki Hodgson, agreed that having tools like Higg provide a “common method of assessment for measuring and communicating best practices.” And while consumers are interested in eco-impact, it’s still function that prevails. “If you need a water-resistant jacket, you might prefer one that is using green chemistries, but ultimately, you’re going to be more concerned that it performs to your expectations,” she said. Hodgson is also seeing a focus on ensuring animal welfare in supply chains (such as traceable down), innovation around chemistry and materials (such as PFOA free and biomaterials) and increased efforts around a circular economy for existing product care, repair and/or repurposing.

View the full issue here.
IN THE STUDIO | Technical Sleep

PerformanceZZZ

The Market Wakes Up to Products Made for a Better Night’s Sleep.
By Emily Walzer
Chill Angel is 100 percent merino. Above: Classic Jammie Top.
The National Sleep Foundation’s annual Sleep in America poll finds that among U.S. adults with excellent sleep health, nearly 90 percent say they feel very effective at getting things done each day, compared to only 46 percent of those with poor sleep health. Two companies charting new ground with performance sleep collections are featured here.

Discovering the Curative Powers of Performance Wool In active/outdoor, where innovative sleep product has largely been in snooze mode, Chill Angel is an eye-opener. The Colorado-based apparel brand has developed a line of performance PJs that tap the temperature regulating properties inherent to merino wool. The debut collection features fine denier New Zealand wool in a variety of styles and feminine silhouettes. There are classic pajama looks, a nightgown and tops and bottoms. Fall ’18 styles offer designs with added technical details like pocketing and flat lock stitching for next-to-skin comfort.  Betsy Seabert’s personal experience and professional background sparked the development of Chill Angel. “The issue was hot flashes and finding a solution for women dealing with sleep disruption,” says Seabert, brand founder with offices in Steamboat Springs. She battled body temperatures swings herself during treatment for breast cancer a few years ago. “I’ve been in textiles for all my career and learned how my body reacts to different fibers,” says Seabert, who explains, “the Modal styles were so cute, but my sleep still suffered.”

Hypersensitive to synthetics, Seabert knew that for her body, wool was the ticket.  And having held leadership positions at SmartWool and Point6, Seabert was well acquainted with the wonders of merino.

When thinking about performance textiles it makes sense to carry over the sweat solutions from fitness to sleep. Says Seabert, “The light bulb went off that there was a connection between sweating and merino. And sleepwear was the problem.” She recalls feeling goose bumps when she swapped her synthetic sleepwear for “some worn SmartWool,” and realized, “This is something that can really help.”

The line uses 18.5micron yarn at 200 grams per square meter for a smooth, light feel against skin and versatile, year-round wearability. Merino’s natural breathability and moisture management resulting in temperature-balancing properties is ideal for women dealing with sleep disruption for heat fluctuation. “The idea is to make your sleep as comfortable as your outdoor activity,” says Seabert.

Chill Angel garments are made in the USA from New Zealand sourced wool that is cut and sewn at a California bay area facility known for its wool expertise. Like Seabert, Chill Angel product line manager Becky Lamphier, is also well versed in wool. “Wool is a dynamic fiber. You have to know how it works to get the fit right,” says Seabert. A California-based patternmaker is also part of the Chill Angel team.  Initial consumer response has been great, according to Seabert. “When people at OR saw “temperature balancing sleepwear,” it stopped them in their tracks.” Chill Angel has also received positive feedback from individuals wearing the brand’s garments when sleeping in closed environments like sleeping bags and tents.  Delivering performance in a new way with technical sleepwear is central to Chill Angel’s identity, however, Seabert declares, “My mission is to help people sleep better.”

Fabrications for a Better Night’s Sleep

Bedgear pillow close up
Bedgear puts its own spin on today’s specialization trend in a line of sleep solutions that promotes personal fit and high-tech functionality. The company’s approach goes stride for stride with current thinking about how to optimize an active lifestyle – be it through diet, or exercise, or in Bedgear’s case, through sleep. “Our message is how to make the most of your time in bed,” explains Shana Rocheleau, VP of strategy. “Whether you’re shopping for a running shoe or buying a bra, you want what’s right for you. And with the popularity of sleep monitoring these days, you want the best gear you can get.”

Textiles are central to the firm’s mission. Proprietary technologies used throughout the collection focus on maximizing airflow for cooling and enhanced comfort. “Our real strength is being able to understand the role of performance textiles in today’s active lifestyle and make them softer and more flexible for bedding,” explains Rocheleau, whose background is in home furnishings. (She was a buyer for Levitz, a popular New York company no longer in business. The company’s slogan “You’ll love it at Levitz” is iconic.)

“Our message is how to get better sleep without spending more time in bed.”
SHANA ROCHElEAU, VP STRATEGY, BEDGEAR

Fit is also key to Bedgear’s design and development. Again, like today’s advances in individualized fit for footwear and clothing, Bedgear provides a fitting process based on sleep position and body type.  The Lightning 2.0 performance pillow is a good example. Ver-tex cool touch fabric deflects heat to help maintain temperature balance while Air-X ventilated panels keeps air flowing via a 3D structure that dispels heat, while keeping dust and dander from getting in. Dri-tec fabric pillowcase is a nylon/rayon blend that wicks moisture and is cool to the touch. The pillow is suggested for back sleepers or medium body types.

View the full issue here.