just-style management briefing: The unusual and unpredictable on just-style in 2011
From fabrics that moisturise and kill bacteria to bizarre weather and media scandals, the global style sector in 2011 certainly had its share of unusual news and unpredictable developments.
The year started off with the backlash of December's massive snowstorms disrupting post-Christmas shopping along the northern east coast in the US, causing an abrupt halt to a two-month spending spree which began at the beginning of November 2010. The UK also saw some of its worst weather in 20 years, with companies such as Marks & Spencer badly affected by this past winter - the retailer reckons it took a GBP50-55m hit on sales in December 2010, according to figures released early this year.
Bizarre weather in 2011 had an effect on clothing, textile and footwear stores in Britain in September, this time due to an unseasonably warm start to autumn - data from the UK's Office for National Statistics showed sales volumes fell 2.1% compared with the previous year.
Web whistleblower Wikileaks made its mark on the clothing and textiles industry back in February, when the cascade of US diplomatic cables cast a spotlight on the labour conditions of Egypt's apparel sector: Oussama Abboud, managing director of Egypt's Kazareen Textile Company, admitted holding onto the passports of his Bangladeshi migrant workers, to stop them from travelling to Europe.
Meanwhile another media exposé ended up embarrassing the media when June, it was found that a BBC documentary showing children making garments for Primark "more likely than not" used certain fake footage. The broadcaster's complaints panel said the claims, aired in June 2008, used footage of three boys testing the stitching of Primark garments in Bangalore, but has now been deemed unlikely to be authentic by the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee.
Garment manufacturing ethics were called into question again in August through social media, when Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana deleted comments made on its Facebook page by nearly 30,000 activists calling on the company to ban the process of sandblasting - which gives jeans a used look, but can cause workers health problems. Earlier in the year, Versace did the same, turning off its Facebook wall to new posts after it was swamped by protesters in Europe and US, demanding an end to sandblasting.
While some brands may be reluctant to give up controversial manufacturing practices, many are moving towards truly innovative ones, incorporating cutting-edge technologies.
In May, footwear firm Crocs revealed the Crocs Chameleons - a colour-changing shoe for children. It combines the manufacturers' proprietary close-cell resin Croslite material with photochromic technology to create colour-changing technology in moulded footwear - the shoe changes from a translucent base shade to a bright colour when exposed to sunlight, then turns back to the original colour when removed from UV light.
Another innovative use of colour changing technology was also unveiled this January by Spanish apparel firm Ramón Espí. Its baby body suit changes colour when the wearer's body temperature rises above 38°C. The garment is made of natural cotton fibre and has a red drawing etched to it made from intelligent materials that shine a stronger red if the baby has a fever.
The industry has come out with some useful innovations for adults, too: British men's wear retailer Burton unveiled a '24 Hour Suit' in June, claiming that new technology means it will retain its shape all day, along with being stain-repellent, crease-resistant; and in December, Old Navy revealed plans to extend its Techno World range, a line of clothing with built-in technology featuring touch-sensitive technology that allows customers to 'play their shirts' through mini handheld amplifiers which let the wearer strum or drum the 'Electronic Rock Guitar' and 'Electronic Drum Kit' T-shirts.
In September, speciality chemicals group Clariant unveiled a new cosmetotextiles line - Quiospheres - that it claims can moisturise and firm skin, through protein-based enzymes that react with the skin on contact, releasing hydrating and moisturising properties.
Another instance of functionality in textiles emerged in January, when US-based outdoor clothing company Woolrich announced it was introducing an odour eliminating technology called Agion Active involving silver ion-based antimicrobial technology halting the propagation of odour causing bacteria on fabric while an odour-trapping solution captures molecules from ambient odours.
Meanwhile, in September, researchers at the University of California announced they had developed a self-cleaning cotton fabric that can kill bacteria and break down toxic chemicals such as pesticide residues when exposed to light. The fabric has potential applications in biological and chemical protective clothing for professions such as the health care sector and the military.
And in July, America's University of Georgia also claimed to have developed anti- microbial technology which can make clothing and intimate apparel permanently germ-free, and can be applied either during manufacturing or at home.
While garments are being developed to keep toxins out, however, some global clothing brands such as Adidas, H&M and Abercrombie & Fitch this year were found to have hazardous substances in their supply chain: in August, tests on garments and fabric-based shoes from 14 global brands revealed the presence of nonylphenol ethoxylates, which can breakdown and have hormone-disrupting properties which are harmful to human health. They have since pledged to eliminate the problem.
Finally, as an important part of the style industry, marketing also had some unconventional approaches this year. Adidas introduced its adiVERSE virtual wall where shoppers can select shoes in-store using touch-screen and 3D technology, pulling products from the virtual shelf and looking at them from any angle. And a new brand of Chilean copper-fibre socks and male underwear, marketed by apparel firm Monarch, was endorsed by Mario Sepulveda, one of the miners trapped in Chile's Atacama desert last year.
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