The North Face stand at ISPO Münich (©Messe München GmbH)

The North Face stand at ISPO Münich (©Messe München GmbH)

New eco-friendly fibre and fabric concepts that not only offer more sustainable choices for sportswear and outdoor apparel, but in many cases give improved functionality too, were on show at this month’s ISPO Münich trade fair. The natural performance of wool, plant-based laminates, ultra lightweight insulation and advanced temperature regulation were among the highlights.

New 3-layer Gore-Tex products
Product durability is a key focus for WL Gore & Associates, which believes the longer a product lasts, the less impact it has on the environment. Its new 3-layer Gore-Tex fabric with Gore C-Knit backer technology offers the ruggedness of previous generation laminates but ensures the materials are also lighter, softer and more breathable. Specifically engineered for hikers, trekkers, and free-riders, the materials combine smooth and robust nylon outer fabrics with the Gore-Tex PU-coated ePTFE membrane and the new Gore C-Knit technology. The company guarantees that the new products will be durably waterproof, windproof and breathable for their entire lifetime. The garments manufactured by Gore's brand partners - who include Berghaus, Mammut, Patagonia, Quicksilver and The North Face - will be available at retail for autumn/winter 2015/2016.

“One-of-a-kind” solutions from Sympatex
The key message from Sympatex Technologies is ‘Individualize,’ with the company highlighting the numerous options across its portfolio of solvent-free windproof and waterproof laminates. Different treatments, backings and tapes combine to create one-of-a-kind garments. New product categories include Allround for “all-round function in all weather”; and Performance Plus for “extraordinary physical exertion in most extreme weather conditions.”

Other highlights in the company’s range include Sympatex Phaseable, a 2.5-layer laminate with a three-dimensional half-layer on the inside whose foam points touch the skin intermittently. During the athlete’s recovery phase, an insulating air layer is created between the skin and the laminate. When physical activity is increased, moisture is produced, which swells the compact hydrophilic Sympatex membrane making the foam points disappear and moving the laminate closer to the skin. This improves moisture transport and breathability.

More recent developments also include new laminates made of 100% recycled polyester and certified organic cotton; as well as products treated with Polygiene Odor Control Technology.

Toray focuses on lightweight performance
One of the highlights from Toray is what the innovative Japanese fabric specialist claims is the “world’s first” plant-based high performance laminate, which combines its Dermizax membrane with a nylon outer fabric, made with up to 30% and 60% from plant-based raw materials respectively. A new 3D structure on the inner surface of the laminate joins the two layers and also channels moisture away from the wearer, Toray says, with the resulting Ecodear product both “ultralight and soft”. Properties include water resistance and breathability, and it can even be worn next to the skin.

Toray has also focused on “featherlight” performance in its Airtastic fabrics with new Miramatte fibre technology, which offer an alternative to traditional down insulation. The fabrics combine a 20-denier yarn with high filament density to give breathability and water resistance with 50+ UV protection. The company has overcome the challenge of making a lightweight material completely opaque by incorporating inorganic particles of titanium oxide in both the inner and outer layers. 

Patented new knitting technology is at the heart of its new Karuishi fleece, which offers “half the weight for the same thermal efficiency,” Toray says. At just 125g/m², its 3-D structure gives a high loft and breathability. It can be customised to individual requirements, including the use of recycled or plant based fibres, and an added wicking finish for more rapid moisture transport.

Polartec Power Wool
Fabric specialist Polartec has tackled some of the problems inherent in pure wool garments by developing a single fabric that combines wool with synthetic fibres in patented constructions. The new Polartec Power Wool fabrics are designed to be worn next to the skin to keep the wearer dry and comfortable. The fabrics team naturally wicking, odour resistant, temperature-regulating merino wool with hydrophobic synthetic fibres for shape retention, durability and improved dry-times.

Constructed as a bi-component knit with a polyester exterior and an itch-free merino wool interior, Polartec Power Wool helps keep the skin dry in three ways: higher breathability via wool’s movement of moisture in a vapor state, designed touch points on the interior to draw sweat away, and a broad surface area on the exterior for rapid drying.

HDWool Thermal Comfort garment insulation
Global wool supplier H Dawson Wool has launched a new, biodegradable, natural wool-based insulation for outdoor apparel that is both biodegradable and traceable. Developed by the company’s innovation arm, HDWool Thermal Comfort features wool from a specially-selected breed of sheep, which is combined with a biodegradable corn-starch based polymer to help maintain structure and create a warm yet light filling that traps air and absorbs moisture. The resulting insulation holds up to 33% of its own weight in water before it feels damp, the company says, giving it “superior” moisture-management capabilities compared with traditional garment insulation. It can also be machine washed.

Thermore Evodown targets active sports
Italian firm FiSi Fibre Sintetiche is targeting its synthetic down product, Thermore Evodown, at the active sportswear and outdoor market with enhanced performance for better recovery and loft retention. The company says Evodown is “inspired by the soft hand of the highest quality down feathers,” and consists of a "rolled free-fibre composite" with two external high-density layers surrounding free fibres in the middle. It is available in three weights, to suit end-uses from ultra-light jackets to high-puff parkas. Thermore Evodown is also Bluesign approved.

Safil performance wool blends
Italian spinner Safil has developed a range of high performance wool and technical fibre blends under the ActiveYarn label that can be used to produce outdoor fabrics with performance features such as moisture wicking and temperature regulation, breathability and UV protection. New developments include a mercerised wool and polypropylene blend that gives a low weight fibre that does not absorb moisture, and a range of wool-cotton and wool-silk blends suitable for lightweight clothing worn next to the skin. The company has also developed Cool-Wool (80% merino and 20% Coolmax) and Promax (80% Coolmax and 20% polypropylene) yarns with moisture wicking and temperature regulation properties.

Among a number of firsts for the company, Safil says it is the first worsted spinner to use X-Compact technology to give more even yarns with less pilling; and has also adopted the Wool ComfortMeter developed by the Australian Sheep CRC and AWTA Limited, which helps manufacturers develop next-to-skin wool garments with improved comfort. 

The Wool ComfortMeter analyses the surface of a fabric for “prickle.” This characteristic is calibrated against the findings of consumer wearer trials, and the lower the score the higher the consumer comfort. For active wear or extreme performance clothing, a lower score is required than for fashion wear, since skin becomes more sensitive when wet and at a raised temperature.

The tool allows retailers and manufacturers to specify a numerical value for comfort in their buying orders – enabling the supply chain to respond via wool sourcing, processing and fabric finishing techniques. Retailers can also monitor the consistency of the garment’s comfort quality between shipments. and even from one season to the next, by testing batch samples and comparing these against the Wool ComfortMeter score.

Naturally warm Schoeller Corkshell
For high thermal insulation coupled with breathability and comfort, Schoeller’s Corkshell is made from a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified cork granulate that is a by-product in the production of wine corks. This natural granulate is pulverised and combined with the fabric in a patented process. Options include a two-layer fabric construction with a cork coating on the inside of the fabric, and a three-layer fabric in which the cork coating is between a stretchy, water and wind repelling surface fabric and a breathable lining. Cork has natural stretch, which means Corkshell is also offered in both two-way and four-way stretch qualities.

Schoeller says the fabrics offer up to 50% higher thermal insulation than traditional soft-shells, are highly breathable, as well as soft and lightweight. They also aid in moisture and odour management, making them ideal for outdoor garments.

Advanced wicking from Sheico Group
Taiwanese knitted fabric specialist Sheico Group unveiled its new Channel Flow “next generation advanced wicking fabric” at ISPO. As part of the group’s Spanflex brand, the fabric has a special dual-layer moisture management channel structure between the two layers of material that are designed to transport moisture faster to keep athletes dry and to stop post-excise chill.

Temperature regulating particles from Cocona
Active particle technology from US-based Cocona Inc, which helps to maintain an ideal core body temperature, featured in seven fabrics selected for the ISPO Textrends forum. The technology, marketed under the brand name 37.5 (the body’s core temperature in degrees Celsius), permanently embeds active particles at the fibre level to capture and release moisture vapour. Not only do these particles provide 800% more surface area to the fibre, the company says but, by actively responding to body heat, they use infrared energy from the body to accelerate the vapour movement and speed up the conversion of liquid to vapour, significantly increasing drying rates. This means the hotter the user gets, the stronger the driving force removing moisture becomes – and the more comfortable the garment remains.

Not only is the 37.5 technology made with naturally derived materials, but fabrics are said to dry up to five times faster than similar fabrics; and the active particles are permanently embedded into yarn and will never wash out or degrade.