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Masters of invention

Three garment technology firms explain how their innovations are helping brands and retailers to revolutionise their ranges and keep shoppers spending

GORE-TEX

This spring, footwear brand Clarks introduced Gore-Tex’s Surround technology, a fabric with a ‘breathable’ structure. The 360-degree Surround fabric works by drawing both heat and moisture away from the foot through a unique membrane to help cool the foot down.

How is Gore-Tex performing in the recession? In times like these, consumers trust strong, reliable brands that have been proven to provide added value. Gore-Tex is in a very good position because of this as we are the market leaders in climate comfortable, durable, waterproof footwear. Our diverse portfolio of partnerships with premium brands across all sectors from casual lifestyle to running, outdoor and kids’ footwear, is helping to balance out the various market challenges for us.

What is Surround technology? Gore-Tex is offering climate comfort breathability and is waterproof 360 degrees around the foot. The innovative part is the large open surface on the unique sole combined with a fully waterproof and breathable upper. The technology is also visible to the consumer, which helps them to see the benefits in the shoes from the shop shelf.

Why is the invention so important? We intend to unlock the door to a completely new market segment around breathability and waterproof footwear. Consumer demand for innovative footwear, especially in the casual footwear market, is growing.

What sort of brands are you hoping to attract? We will start with selected premium partners from the casual and kids’ footwear segments. In the UK our initial launch partner was Clarks, the biggest casual footwear brand worldwide. We will work with more brands in upcoming seasons.

What will it mean for Gore-Tex and its partners? The Surround technology will broaden our offer to include year-round styles and will further improve our brand profile and help us grow in emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe. We expect to significantly increase our business in the coming years.

Is it important to innovate in the current economic climate? Innovation that is really relevant to consumers is critical when you are trying to shape retailer and brand buying decisions - especially when available budgets are getting tighter. But innovative technology must be proven and it must also have a genuine purpose regardless of the economic climate. Gore-Tex has more than 150 patents, which are still valid today. Within the casual footwear market, three out of four of the larger brands work with Gore-Tex and our various technologies.

What else do you have under development? There are some promising innovations in the offing, but we always take time to develop them thoroughly and also develop how innovations will be implemented in the end product. We always stay true to our promise to our customers that Gore-Tex products will keep
them dry.

  • Christian Langer Global footwear leader

INVISTA

Polymers and fibres producer Invista has unveiled Lycra lastingFIT for the denim market. The fabric enables garments to hold their shape after repeated wear by reducing bagging, sagging and shrinkage. Its clients range from high street retailers such as Next to denim brand Lee.

What is Lycra lastingFIT? It’s a new standard in denim technology that uses the T400 fibre. The elasticity is not so high, so the fabric stretches less and has enough recovery power to return
to its normal shape, without compromising on comfort. The idea is that it offers a fit that lasts for the lifetime of the garment. It can shrink only by a maximum of 2% and only grow by a maximum of 3%.

What effects will it have on the denim industry? This innovation was driven by consumer demand. Three years ago customers were just looking for stretch fabrics; now they want the fit to last for the entire lifespan of the product. We expect at least 75% of global denim brands which already have the T400 fibre to have at least one Lycra lastingFIT style in their collections by next February. We’re targeting the mid to premium end of the market.

Are you working on projects for other sectors of the industry? We have innovations in the pipeline focusing on womenswear with a new product that will be revolutionary, but I can’t say more than that at the moment.

Which sector are you seeing most demand from? Denim. As with all sectors, it’s struggling in the economic downturn. But our research shows that consumers are spending more on denim than other products because it’s becoming more of a lifestyle, rather than niche product. We are also seeing good demand from shirting and corporate clothing, such as providing uniforms for the likes of airline EasyJet. Protective clothing, like uniforms for firemen, is also doing well.

How is the business coping during the recession? Retail sales fell back in the first quarter of 2009 in Europe, but garment makers have suffered more because retailers are cutting back on their number of SKUs. Invista has suffered less than its competitors because it continues to innovate.

Are brands continuing to invest in technology? The premium end of the market is, because the brands have more money and better cash flow, but the price-conscious market isn’t.

  • Marco Lucietti Europe ready-to-wear segment manager

LORO PIANA

Loro Piana, a family-run Italian mill, has worked with farmers from around the world including the Peruvian Andes and New Zealand to develop high-quality yarns and fibres. In the 1980s it launched its first ready-to-wear range, which led to the founding of its luxury goods division.

What textiles has Loro Piana pioneered? Thanks to recent technologies we are able to twist together different filaments of cashmeres, wools, linens and silks for different products. An example is the The Wave, a fabric made of highly twisted three-ply yarn in which two threads of extra-fine merino Super 130 wool are combined with a filament of 600 silk, the thinnest there is. One kilogram of this yarn unwinds to more than 570km. The fabric is softer, more elastic, stable and breathable.

What is the process behind finding new sources for fibres? We nurture direct relationships with the breeders of the fibres we source from around the world - wool from Australia and New Zealand, cashmere and baby cashmere from Mongolia and China, and vicuna from Peru.

What is special about the coatings you use? Windmate is an exclusive material that Loro Piana has created by combining an extremely fine and highly beaten microfibre with the finest knitted worsted cashmere. It is waterproof and wind resistant and characterised by a soft and silky hand.

How important is it for Loro Piana to innovate? Coupled with our commitment to quality we also strive to push the boundaries of technology, constantly innovating and experimenting with new fibres, mixes and techniques.

Pier Luigi Owner

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