The apparel industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by advanced materials, durability, and convenience, and growing importance of technologies such as novel fabrics, blended fibres, and automation. In the last three years alone, there have been over 32,000 patents filed and granted in the apparel industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in Apparel: Synthetic polycondensed composite fabrics.

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 stabilising 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 13,000 patents, there are 20+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, yarn chemical treatment, embossed protective clothing, and garment laser embossing are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Fire retardant garments, antistatic fabrics, and interlaced yarn fabrics are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are flat knitting machines and coated yarn fabrics, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the apparel industry

Synthetic polycondensed composite fabrics is a key innovation area in apparel

Synthetic fibres are artificially created fibres that are made from polymers that are not found in nature. These polymers are made from petroleum and other chemicals (monomers). Polymers consist of repeated structural units called monomers. The process of joining monomers to form polymers is called polymerisation. Thereafter, the blended polymers are spun into yarns.

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 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established apparel companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of synthetic polycondensed composite fabrics.

Key players in synthetic polycondensed composite fabrics – a disruptive innovation in the apparel industry

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

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

Patent volumes related to synthetic polycondensed composite fabrics

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
NIKE 54 Unlock company profile
DuPont de Nemours 30 Unlock company profile
Noveko Trading 2008 27 Unlock company profile
Berkshire Hathaway 26 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Gas Chemical 20 Unlock company profile
Asahi Kasei 17 Unlock company profile
Toray Opelontex 15 Unlock company profile
Kaneka 10 Unlock company profile
Mubadala Investment Co 9 Unlock company profile
Toray Industries 8 Unlock company profile
Mizuno 6 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

The leading players in terms of patents filed in the synthetic polycondensed composite fabrics space are NIKE, DuPont de Nemours, Noveko Trading, Berkshire Hathaway, and Mitsubishi Gas Chemical. In 2022, researchers have suggested developing recycling processes for polycondensation polymers that can use plastic waste as feedstock. Chemical recycling process could potentially be a valid solution.

The leading players in the synthetic polycondensed composite fabrics space in terms of application diversity are NIKE, Mizuno, Toray Industries, Asahi Kasei, and Mitsubishi Gas Chemical.

The top players in this space in terms of geographic reach are NIKE, Noveko Trading 2008, Berkshire Hathaway, Toray Industries, and Toray Opelontex.

Climate change and environmental concerns have forced researchers to create alternatives for conventional synthetic polymers. Engineers are extensively working on eco-friendly biodegradable and bio-based polyesters such as polylactic acid (Pla). Pla is a promising alternate to petroleum-based polymers.

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

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.