Demand for specialist footwear fibres and fabrics is increasing rapidly, according to a new report, helped by a growing awareness of the health and safety benefits of wearing footwear designed for specific sports, activities and occupations.

The specialist footwear market may be divided into two categories says a new report, 'Fibres and Fabrics for Performance Footwear', published by Textiles Intelligence:
• footwear for sports and recreation; and
• footwear for safety at work.

In the case of sports footwear, one of the main market drivers is the ability of the shoe to improve the performance of the wearer.

In some sectors, such as football boots, this feature is regarded by companies such as Adidas and Nike as being more important than cost.

Fabric manufacturers are therefore being encouraged to develop high performance products which continually push the boundaries in terms of weight, moisture management properties and grip.

Safety regulations
In the case of footwear for work, by contrast, one of the main market drivers is the need to meet ever more stringent safety regulations governing the workplace. For this reason, the performance of the shoe remains of high importance.

Fabrics for footwear include those which are flame retardant, those which provide anti-static properties and those which regulate the temperature of the foot - and many footwear manufacturers are utilising a number of advances in performance fabrics to impart these characteristics.

One way of regulating the temperature of the foot, for example, is to incorporate phase-change materials - such as those contained in Thermocules produced by Outlast Technologies.

Universal performance
Some performance requirements are becoming universal - whether the footwear is designed for sports and recreation or for safety at work.

One of the most important requirements is the management of moisture, whereby perspiration is transferred from the skin of the foot to the outside of the shoe.

Noble Fiber Technologies, Transpor, and BHA Group are examples of some of the companies producing fibres and fabrics which provide this property with products such as X-static, Transpor dry yarns and eVent.

However, one of the main challenges in today's market is to produce technologically advanced fibres and fabrics which can also manage moisture, in addition to providing other specialist benefits.

Synthetic fibres
To accommodate this challenge, the market is moving away from natural products such as leather and canvas and towards fabrics made from synthetic fibres.

Manufacturers are also applying advanced coatings and topical finishes to provide additional benefits without impairing the original properties of the fabric. Examples include 3XDRY, Aegis Microbe Shield, Fosshield, Ion Mask, Microspike, Nikwax, and SmartSilver.

Companies which manufacture fibres and fabrics for performance footwear have risen to the challenge and the resulting fabrics - such as Crosstech and Gore-Tex XCR by WL Gore, Schoeller-Keprotec by Schoeller and Temptrol by Innovative Insulation - are a testament to the exciting developments which continue to emerge in this field

'Fibres and Fabrics for Performance Footwear' is published by Textiles Intelligence.