The apparel industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by rise in e-commerce, convenience, and data analytics, and growing importance of technologies such as block chain, artificial intelligence, innovative manufacturing techniques and automation. In the last three years alone, there have been over 57,000 patents filed and granted in the apparel industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in apparel: breathable fabrics. Buy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

20+ innovations will shape the apparel industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the apparel industry using innovation intensity models built on over 36,000 patents, there are 20+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, insulated composite fabrics, and reflective fabrics are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. e-textiles, personalized lookbooks, and AR-assisted measurements are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are functional undergarments and breathable fabrics, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the apparel industry

Breathable fabrics are a key innovation area in apparel

Breathable fabrics are materials that allow air and moisture to pass through, making them comfortable and well-ventilated for the wearer. The fabrics are designed to reduce perspiration by regulating the body temperature. Breathable fabrics are commonly used in sportswear, outdoor apparel, and activewear to improve overall comfort and performance levels of the wearer.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 40 companies, spanning technology vendors, established apparel companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of breathable fabrics.

Key players in breathable fabrics – a disruptive innovation in the apparel industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to breathable fabrics

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
NIKE 330 Unlock Company Profile
Wacoal 52 Unlock Company Profile
FALKE 39 Unlock Company Profile
Under Armour 36 Unlock Company Profile
Artemis 32 Unlock Company Profile
adidas 30 Unlock Company Profile
Pentland Group 24 Unlock Company Profile
Amer Sports 23 Unlock Company Profile
ASICS 19 Unlock Company Profile
Hanesbrands 18 Unlock Company Profile
Eldridge Industries 17 Unlock Company Profile
Decathlon 16 Unlock Company Profile
Toray Industries 14 Unlock Company Profile
Mizuno 13 Unlock Company Profile
Sanko 11 Unlock Company Profile
Goldwin 11 Unlock Company Profile
New Balance 10 Unlock Company Profile
Shimano 10 Unlock Company Profile
Hengan International Group 9 Unlock Company Profile
ROKA Sports 9 Unlock Company Profile
Fox Head 9 Unlock Company Profile
Trere' Innovation 8 Unlock Company Profile
Asahi Kasei 7 Unlock Company Profile
Boardriders 7 Unlock Company Profile
W. L. Gore & Associates 6 Unlock Company Profile
Authentic Brands Group 6 Unlock Company Profile
Gymshark 6 Unlock Company Profile
Gunze 6 Unlock Company Profile
Koch Industries 6 Unlock Company Profile
Thuasne 5 Unlock Company Profile
United Sports Brands 4 Unlock Company Profile
PIP-FUJIMOTO 4 Unlock Company Profile
ASSOS of Switzerland 4 Unlock Company Profile
Rheon Labs 3 Unlock Company Profile
Cupid Foundations 3 Unlock Company Profile
Specialized Bicycle Components 3 Unlock Company Profile
FILA 3 Unlock Company Profile
Symphony 2 Unlock Company Profile
Performance Sports Group 2 Unlock Company Profile
Ballet Makers 2 Unlock Company Profile
ROAR Athletic Performance 2 Unlock Company Profile
Neil Pryde 2 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

NIKE is one of the leading patent filers in breathable fabrics. Nike’s Dri-FIT fabric is made using smart polyesters designed for breathability and moisture control. The microfiber supports the body’s natural cooling system, which wicks sweat away thereby helping the wearer stay dry and focused during intense physical activities. Some other key patent filers in the space include Wacoal and FALKE.

In terms of application diversity, Thuasne leads the pack, while Koch Industries and Gymshark are in the second and third positions, respectively.

By means of geographic reach, FALKE held the top position, followed by Hanesbrands and Sanko.

Breathable fabrics have a promising future as the research on advanced fabrics progresses. With demand for athleisure and sportswear on the rise, more apparel makers are expected to shift towards using breathable fabrics that will provide more comfort to the wearer.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the apparel industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Apparel.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.