Performance fabrics are pushing innovation in the textile industry. Just as sustainability is driving the fashion industry to evolve as climate change advances, performance fabrics now have a relevance that goes beyond sportswear, reaching our daily lives whether we are athletes or not. From the quick-drying properties of Tencel™ to biodegradable insulation and synthetic spider silk, smart materials are everywhere! Check out some of the few innovative fabric solutions.
Graphene: Carbon for Smart Textiles
Graphene is one of the latest, major discoveries in textile technology: a strong, thin, lightweight, and flexible material that can also add thermal and electronic conduction to its long list of properties. The material, composed of a single layer of carbon sliced into very thin portions (in fact, invisible to the human eye), is becoming ever more popular within the sportswear market since extra comfort and performance enhancement can result in improved competitivity for professional athletes.
However, the possibilities of graphene for the future of the textile industry seem endless, and the “wonder material” can help fashion to create inexpensive, durable, and mass-produced smart textiles. Professor Monica Craciun (from the University of Exeter Engineering department in the UK) led an international team of scientists that pioneered a graphene electronic fibre to be incorporated into the production of everyday clothing, a revolution of electronic devices for daily life. With graphene, fabrics can have truly wearable displays without the need for electrodes, wires or additional materials. Its uses could range from the medical industry (allowing health monitoring such as heartbeat rates and blood pressure, and medical diagnostics) to performance improvement and tracking.
“The incorporation of electronic devices on fabrics is something that scientists have tried to produce for a number of years, and is a truly game-changing advancement for modern technology", said Professor Saverio Russo, co-author of the study with Professor Monica Cracin, in an interview with The Engineer. Dr Ana Neves, another fellow researcher, explained more: “The key to this new technique is that the textile fibres are flexible, comfortable and light while being durable enough to cope with the demands of modern life.” We are sure graphene is already changing textile technology for the better.
Wearables: Technology for a Better Life
Textile technology and fashion tech have brought very innovative solutions to everyday life, and wearables are probably the first things that spring to mind when we think about it. From including the Internet of Things (IoT) into garments -- as seen during Fashinnovation with the Levi’s Commuter jacket in partnership with Jacquard by Google -- to Lunative's award-winning electric apparel that uses electroluminescence to shine a light (literally!) on safety and security for bikers and athletes at night, wearable technology aims to improve performance of fabrics beyond the expected. In the future, textile technology will even be able to measure the body’s lactic acid, hydration, muscle coordination, technique, balance and intensity -- with a little help of graphene, this might be sooner than we think.
Textile technology is making wearables more inclusive: Lunative, for example, is bringing luminescent jackets to be worn for safety whilst cycling or working at night - or simply just fun… Credit: Image courtesy of Lunative
Wool for Sportswear (and Sustainability)
The thought of using wool for sportswear might feel contradictory (unless we're talking about winter sports). But the development of ultra-fine merino fibres allows brands to create garments that are naturally breathable and temperature regulating -- a property that's inherent to the material, keeping you warm when it's cold and fresh when it's hot because the sweat can evaporate quickly.
That also means less washing: since the sweat evaporates faster, there's no time for smelly bacteria to develop. Not only for joggers, this textile technology also benefits frequent travellers or minimal wardrobe enthusiasts because the pieces stay fresh for longer -- including socks! A simple step towards sustainability since a quarter of a garment’s carbon footprint over the course of its life comes from cleaning it, according to Fast Company.
UV Protection Fabrics: Performance and Technology Under the Sun
With the environmental impacts of climate change -- and even before -- fabrics that offer UV protection might not be new, but are more relevant than ever. Whilst covering the body with fabrics naturally protects us from UV radiation that can be further improved with fashion technology. Present in swimwear, sportswear, and even casual and children's wear, UPF-enhanced fabrics help us defend against damaging sun exposure for longer periods of time, whether in the water, practising outdoor sports or activities, or even during our commute.
The innovation in UV protection now turns its focus to sustainability, and research is looking for organic and eco-friendly substances that can be added to the fabric to make them naturally UV resistant, like aloe vera, seaweed, marigold, and Chinese skullcap plant extracts. Not only do they improve the UV resistance of the fabrics, but they can also add antimicrobial or water-repellent properties, according to "Recent Advances in the Ultraviolet Protection Finishing of Textiles" study by Zala Mavrić, Brigita Tomšič, and Barbara Simončič from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Innovative studies are creating smart textiles that rely on plant extracts like aloe vera or marigold to create a natural (and sustainable) UV protection on fabrics. On top of that, they add antibacterial and water-repellent properties as well.
Infrared Fabrics for Warmth
Textiles upgraded with infrared technology are mainly used for outdoor activities and sports during low temperature. Once the fabric is exposed to the sun or artificial light, the garment's yarn absorbs the rays to raise its temperature, and combined to the insulation of the piece, it can also minimise heat loss. But their properties go far beyond that!
With different uses, infrared fabrics promote blood circulation and increase oxygen levels in the blood, generating extra energy -- which can even enhance performance and prevent fatigue in athletes, as well as improve tissue and muscle regeneration. This textile technology is not reserved only for sports lovers: it can help people with stiff muscles and injuries since it stimulates blood circulation, adding not only improvement to performance but to overall better quality of life. Especially good for office workers that spend too much time sitting!
GORE-TEX Shakedry™: Smart Materials Against Bad Weather
Whether you are running, cycling, golfing, hiking or just living your normal everyday life, performance fabrics can help you stay dry for longer with a textile technology that goes several steps further than just a simple waterproof layer.
Water alters the weight of the fabrics and might slow athletes down during some sports, a problem that has been solved by innovations such as GORE-TEX Shakedry™, which offers light-weight fabrics (a jacket might only weigh 275 grams) with a weatherproof membrane as the outer surface, making any drops just run off. With no wet fabric, there's no chilling effect and minimal weight gain. And all of that whilst keeping it breathable since the membrane is combined to a porous lining: good for athletes and commuters who don't want to give up their bicycles if they get caught in a drizzle.
Where fashion meets performance fabrics: the Adidas Y-3 jacket with GORE-TEX Shakedry™. Weighing less than 300 grams, the waterproof jacket is interesting for outdoor enthusiasts and fashionistas alike. Credit: Image courtesy of adidas
No Bacteria, No Smell: Odour-Resistant Technology
Sweat and smell are not necessarily related. Bacteria and smell, on the other hand, are. Textile technology already uses antimicrobial additives and treatments -- sometimes chemical, with metals like silver, zinc, and copper -- but that is not always the case. Life Material Technologies, for example, is a company that has managed to find an all-natural innovation: peppermint plant extracts added to the fibre, a strong, antibacterial substance. According to the brand, it should maintain its anti-odour properties for over 50 washes and can be used in garments or linen, like bed sheets and towels.
Odour-resistant technology can also be linked to sustainability: since fresh-smelling garments don't need to be washed as often, they help consumers save water, energy, time and money, and also increase the lifespan of a product.
Throughout history, we have seen how the Sportswear market pushes fabric innovations and experimentation forward. It was present at the Sport & Tech trends forum at Première Vision, and more innovative features and finishings are perfecting performance fabrics and making them smart for everyday life too. As a community of fashion designers and textile suppliers, how can we combine the increasing technology available to create new and exciting possibilities in performance? How can we adapt them to everyday life? Have your textile demands heard globally: sign up now.