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Textiles Special 2016: Innovations

The latest textile innovations and technologies are bringing futuristic qualities to garments

Calik Denim

Calik Denim

Denim: Stretching Targets 

Athleisure has proved disruptive to the denim industry as many women are swapping skinny jeans for yoga pants and leggings. “We’ve seen new fabrics trying to emulate a true denim quality with the characteristics of activewear fabrics,” says Cotton Incorporated senior director of supply chain marketing David Earley. “Many woven-denim mills have capitalised on this trend with interesting weaving techniques that combine the clever use of stretch yarns to create a false French terry knit construction.”

Stretch in denim will continue to be important during 2016, particularly for men, predicts Hamit Yenici, managing director of Turkish denim producer Calik Denim. Demand is growing for men’s jeans that are comfortable for walking, bending and cycling, but also hug the legs.

“A high proportion of stretch elastane content helps to ease closeness,” Yenici explains. Cotton Incorporated forecasts more denim fabrics and refined looks for menswear, in pinstripes and chevron patterns. In womenswear both Calik and Cotton Incorporated expect slim-fitting styles to remain popular but relaxed-fit jeans in heavier, washed fabrics with less stretch will return, and more fully rigid woven denim and 1980s-style washes will enter the market.

Nylstar production

Nylstar production

Yarns: Go Proactive 

Developments in polymer technology have been perhaps the most important change in synthetic yarns, says Lucia Montoro, marketing manager at Spanish nylon yarn specialist Nylstar (left): “The combination of fashion and technology has created new yarns with hydrophobic [water repellent] and odour-control qualities that improve the functionality of activewear, while still being fashionable.”

Continued demand for athleisure clothing is likely to drive developments in 2016. Nylstar, for example, is developing ultra-­fine polyamide ­fibre yarns with super-moisture wicking and thermal properties that adapt to body temperature. There has also been an increase in demand for synthetic microf­ilaments that are textured during processing to create softer, more luxurious-feeling yarn.

“We have seen an increase in microf­ibre use throughout the fashion industry, as it makes garments more appealing to touch and is very comfortable to wear,” Montoro says.

Cotton Incorporated reports an increase in interest for performance blends that combine natural ­fibres, especially as a global surplus has led cotton prices to fall.

“Our customers are looking to develop or source cotton blends for activewear with performance attributes, as a shift away from all-synthetic products,” explains Cotton Incorporated’s David Earley.

Unmade knitted jumper

Unmade knitted jumper

One to Watch: Unmade

Innovative London-based knitwear brand Unmade is meeting the current trend for sustainability and customisation with technology that allows 1980s knitting machines to be used like 3D printers.

The company was launched by Royal College of Art graduates Hal Watts, Kirsty Emery and Ben Alun-Jones in 2013 after the trio hit upon the idea of creating the technology, which removes the need for an expert programmer.

In June 2015 the company raised £2m in seed funding through investors including Farfetch chief executive José Neves and Edoardo Zegna, head of omnichannel at designer brand Ermenegildo Zegna.

The Unmade platform allows users to create knitwear on-demand through its website. Customers simply select a merino wool or cashmere jumper (£200- £250) or scarf (£60-£140) and then create a unique pattern by dragging the mouse over pre-set style guides, some of which have been developed through collaborations with designers such as Christopher Raeburn. The item is then “printed” by Unmade and shipped to customers.

A potentially game-changing innovation to production, the garments are made to order only and Unmade holds no physical inventory that could lead to end-of-season discounting or clothes ending up in landf­ill.

Insley & Nash printing studio, London

Insley & Nash printing studio, London

Printing: Colouring by Numbers

Offering low minimums and the flexibility of quick turnarounds, digital printing continues to grow in popularity among smaller designers and high street retailers alike. Widely regarded as the environmentally friendly alternative to screenprinting thanks to its reduced use of water and ink, digital printing is finding favour with the likes of Topman and Lululemon.

An increase in the range of digital colours was the key innovation of 2015, believes Doug Davies, managing director of Worcestershire-based digital printing specialist The Silk Bureau, which boasts seven on-site digital printing machines.

“The colour gamut has been quite restricted by standard inksets of up to eight colours,” he explains. “However, fluorescents are now being introduced that offer more exotic colours for fashion, dance and sportswear.”

This year Davies expects to see pigment printing gain in popularity pigment inks amid improvements in ink formulation and printhead technology entering the market with new nozzles that are less prone to being clogged by the dense

Meanwhile, Mika Nash, co-founder of London-based fabric printing studio Insley & Nash, notes growing interest from apparel designers for discharge inks. These allow designers to print on dark colours by bleaching out the background colour to reveal the lighter shade, thereby reducing the need for white ink or pre-treatment fluids. The technique has proved popular for giving T-shirts a soft, vintage feel.

Cotton Incorporated activewear fabric product development

Cotton Incorporated activewear fabric product development

Activewear: Fabrics Going Green 

With core performance attributes still big news in activewear, 2015 brought a greater focus on green credentials across the market. The onus is on fabric manufacturers and their mills to move to more responsible processes that cut out f­luoro-chemical based products, while retaining a high level of moisture-wicking performance.

The focus this year is expected to be on thermal-regulating fabrics that help keep the wearer cooler or warmer, as required. Nike launched thermal-regulation sub-brand AeroReact in October and the technology is expected to spill over into casualwear.

Cotton Incorporated’s David Earley notes continued innovation in activewear fabric construction, in particular spacer knits, which comprise a 3D structure of two knitted surface layers connected by a monof­ilament to give insulation, without the need for added f­leece.

Meanwhile, Cotton Incorporated product trend analyst Jenna Caccavo predicts 2016 will also see more cloths that look like fashion fabrics, but act like performance fabrics for women’s athleisure.

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