The apparel industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by rise in e-commerce, demand for convenience, data analytics, and supply chain management and growing importance of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, 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: functional undergarments. 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

Functional undergarments are a key innovation area in apparel

Functional undergarments are designed to help wick away moisture and regulate body temperature. The most common types of functional undergarments are sports bra, undershirts, and long johns.

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 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established apparel companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of functional undergarments.

Key players in functional undergarments – 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 functional undergarments

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Hanesbrands 86 Unlock Company Profile
Wacoal 43 Unlock Company Profile
Clover Mystique 35 Unlock Company Profile
NIKE 27 Unlock Company Profile
Fast Retailing 14 Unlock Company Profile
Regina Miracle International (Group) 14 Unlock Company Profile
Top Form International 13 Unlock Company Profile
Authentic Brands Group 8 Unlock Company Profile
Embry 8 Unlock Company Profile
Bath & Body Works 8 Unlock Company Profile
Tefron 6 Unlock Company Profile
Triumph Intertrade 6 Unlock Company Profile
Bazooka Jane 5 Unlock Company Profile
Cupid Foundations 5 Unlock Company Profile
Utax 5 Unlock Company Profile
Van de Velde 4 Unlock Company Profile
Marks and Spencer Group 3 Unlock Company Profile
Edizone 1 Unlock Company Profile
Torrid 1 Unlock Company Profile
Good People 1 Unlock Company Profile
Mitsubishi Electric 1 Unlock Company Profile
Victoria's Secret 1 Unlock Company Profile
Cowell Fashion 1 Unlock Company Profile
Unilever 1 Unlock Company Profile
Koch Industries 1 Unlock Company Profile
The E-LAND Group 1 Unlock Company Profile
SK Square 1 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Hanesbrands is one of the leading patent filers in functional undergarments. Some other key patent filers in the space include Wacoal and Clover Mystique and Nike.

Nike’s Dri-FIT Essential Cotton Stretch Boxer Briefs come with Nike's Dri-FIT technology that draws sweat away from the skin and quickly dries, which can help mitigate body odors and skin problems. Targeted at professional athletes, the Nike Dri-FIT boxers claim to enhance comfort and convenience when performing high-intensity activities for longer durations.

In terms of application diversity, Utax leads the pack, while Cupid Foundations and Authentic Brands Group stood in the second and third positions, respectively.

By means of geographic reach, Clover Mystique held the top position, followed by Fast Retailing, and Nike.

Innovations in functional undergarments are concentrated around the use of innovative materials, fabric construction, and design principles, focusing on ergonomics, antimicrobial properties and thermal regulation.

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.