Schoeller Technologies water repellent NanoSphere

Schoeller Technologies' water repellent NanoSphere

Sportswear innovators are focusing on growing demand for environmentally-friendly fibres and fabrics and lightweight materials that can keep sport consumers comfortable while optimising performance.

This has driven the development of features such as lightweight waterproofing, the wicking of water and perspiration, and protection from the elements.

Many sportswear producers have moved towards more environmentally-friendly materials, notes Shannon Walton, spokesperson for Schoeller Textil USA. For instance, in Europe, Schoeller’s ‘Ecorepel’ fabric is a more popular choice for waterproofing water sports apparel than its ‘NanoSphere’ line.

Ecorepel is made from long paraffin chains wrapped around individual fibres, producing filaments or yarns in a very fine film, repelling mud and water. Meanwhile, NanoSphere is a nanotechnology that mimics the finely structured surface of certain plant leaves, to which dirt cannot adhere.

“[NanoSphere] is most popular in the US. There’s a big push in Europe to do away with all CFC [chlorofluorocarbon] products [which includes NanoSphere],” says Walton.

But globally, she is not concerned. “Watersports is definitely something that’s growing,” she adds, stressing NanoSphere is key innovation for this segment, as “water sheds easily and shorts and shirts don’t stick to the body; therefore, the wearer can concentrate on the activity without being distracted by clothing stuck to the body.”

Milk-based fibre

Meanwhile, Germany-based Qmilch and its milk-sourced fibre Qmilk entered the market in August 2015, Anke Domaske, the company’s spokesperson, told just-style. She confirms the company has orders from the sportswear industry in Germany for Qmilk, which is sourced from the proteins in milk that do not meet food standards and cannot be consumed.

The first products to be produced are expected to be clothing for yoga, T-shirts, and underwear.

The company has also created a bioplastic out of milk waste, which Domaskse says could be used in future to create full Qmilk outfits. “We already have the bioplastic from the same material…you could create buttons, buckles, membranes – so you can create a 100% Qmilk product,” she says.

“This gets a lot of attention from the sports industry because it’s sustainable,” Domaske notes. The biodegradable Qmilk fibre is naturally antibacterial, protects against ultra-violet (UV) radiation, has strong water and dye absorption, and retains heat well.

Qmilk is also lightweight at 1.17g per cubic centimetre, which could benefit sportsmen and women looking to perform with minimal additional weight.

Innovative breathability

Likewise, Equip Outdoor Technologies UK Ltd’s Rab brand this year launched its Flashpoint Jacket for alpine conditions at around 4,000 or 5,000 metres altitude, using its lightweight waterproofing technology, says Tim Jasper, head of design at Rab. The product involves three layers – woven nylon or polyamide, a waterproofing polyeurathane membrane only 7 microns thick, and knitted nylon.

While the jacket is a solid barrier against external water such as rain, water can move through it away from the body at a molecular level, driven by heat from the body, says Jasper. This innovative breathability feature also adjusts for the humidity inside the clothing, letting out heat faster if the wearer is hot than if the wearer is cool.

“It replaces, in the clothing system for athletes in these environments, a windshell. Because a windshell would block the wind but isn’t waterproof, but the weight [of the Flashpoint Jacket] is comparable now and this is fully waterproof,” says Jasper.

The jacket weighs only about 180g, which is particularly important for climbers as they need to be as lightweight as possible to move quickly. Often climbers will not take a waterproof garment because it adds too much weight, adds Jasper.

Rab is also working on a more effective way of making garments waterproof and insulated without stitching insulation through the outer fabric, Jasper told just-style. 

Sports textile focus

Meanwhile, Spain-based Nylstar presented its latest sports textile innovations at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2015 exhibition in Salt Lake City in the US, this August, including its Meryl Sport Technologies lines: Meryl ThermoFleece (geared towards mountaineers), Meryl Move-Tech (for runners) and Meryl Pure-Fit (for yoga). 

Meryl ThermoFleece is based on Meryl hollow fibres that allow for lightweight insulation, allowing mountaineers to stay warm without compromising performance.

Meryl Move-Tech is “designed to improve the running experience…and is an engineered complex fabric that combines different yarns to provide ultimate wicking and evaporation properties,” says a company spokesperson. The inner-facing part of the fabric can absorb water, transports it to the quick-drying microfibres on the outer-facing side of the fabric for evaporation, drying in seconds.

Meanwhile, Meryl Pure-Fit consists of 100% Meryl Hydrogen yarn – a premium, wicking, comfortable microfibre – which allows for elasticity and freedom of movement without the use of elastane. “With an incredibly soft touch and superb fit, Meryl Pure-Fit makes comfort its number one priority,” adds the spokesperson.

Wool in insulation

US-based Polartec is developing wool products in insulation, which could be used in sportswear, Karen Beattie, Polartec’s product marketing manager, told just-style.

She notes that the coil-like structure of wool fibre gives it a naturally resilient property and helps it efficiently trap warm air. It is also able to stay warm when wet because the fibre structure prevents it from becoming matted down. “There are some potential performance advantages to be realised by using wool in insulation constructions,” Beattie adds.

Meanwhile, US-based Huntsman says it had developed a new textile system for athletes to reduce skin friction caused by perspiration and therefore improve performance.

According to a note, its EverGlide wicks perspiration away from the skin and dries quickly to prevent blisters and skin irritation from forming. EverGlide could be applicable to sportswear such as “endurance sportswear, cycle shorts, base layer mountain-hiking wear, equestrian trousers, sports underwear and training/gym wear,” the company says.