OPTIMjam Merino wool fabrics are treated to enhance the fibre’s elasticity

OPTIMjam Merino wool fabrics are treated to enhance the fibre’s elasticity

Apparel and textile companies worldwide are increasingly demanding lightweight wool for outdoor wear that can perform a variety of functions.

For instance, US-based Polartec introduced its Polartec Power Wool to brands in 2014 that has fabric with merino wool on one side and synthetic fibres – nylon or polyester – on the other.

Karen Beattie, the company’s product marketing manager, says despite having two different sides, the material is one piece: “It’s a single knit but we have the ability to attach the two yarns to each other and deploy one on one side and one on the other.”

She stresses the hybrid takes advantage of wool’s benefits – naturally odour resistant; antimicrobial; and moves body moisture through the fabric, helping the wearer stay warm as well as dry.

“For instance, the synthetic [side] helps wool release moisture and wick it away so it can dry more quickly; gives it stability to help the textile resist shrinkage; and makes it have integrity over the long run so your lightweight garments aren’t popping holes a season down the line,” Beattie says.

Nylon is particularly good for improving durability and can be paired with the heavier fibre for outerwear. Meanwhile, polyester helps wick water and keep the fabric dry, which is useful for next-to-skin applications, she notes. The product is lightweight, ranging from 110g to 250g per square metre, and can be applied to outdoor apparel year-round.

ActiveYarn products

Meanwhile, Italy-based Safil, a worsted spinning company, has been innovating in wool for outdoor wear. In July 2015, the company showcased its new ActiveYarn products at the OutDoor Friedrichshafen exhibition, staged in Germany.

Specifically designed for active, outdoor wear, the products are anti-static, protect against UV rays, wick water to keep the wearer dry, and do not develop odours “even after intensive exercise,” according to Alberto Gaia, product and sales manager knitting division. Products in this line are available as 100% merino wool, as well as wool blended with materials such as Coolmax (by Invista) and polypropylene.

“You can have normal sportswear, or sweaters for winter such as for skiing [among other uses],” says Gaia.

Safil is also working on a new product composed of merino wool (90%) blended with Corebrid-B (10%), an expensive, acrylic fibre from Japan’s Mitsubishi Rayon Co Ltd. This innovative product, in the light such as in the sun, can actually generate heat, keeping the wearer warm. 

Multiple climates

Producers are also increasingly looking for wool that performs well outdoors but can also easily adapt to indoor wear, according to James Fisher, VP of product for US-based Ibex Outdoor Clothing.

“Our customers expect performance first and foremost; they demand fabrics that adapt to multiple climates,” he says. “Wool is a winner when it comes to travel because you could wear it on a weekend backpacking trip or on a 30 hour plane ride and still look and feel fresh.”

Ibex’s new Lightweight Sweaters collection, launched this spring, features fine gauge knits that are easy to care for, as they are machine washable despite being 100% wool, says Fisher.

He noted the W2 (for ‘weightless wool’) continues to be one of Ibex’s “best innovations” as the company’s lightest weight Merino knit. Featuring a weight of 145g per square metre and a nylon core in the fibre, it offers wearers a lightweight, comfortable, 100% wool ‘next-to-skin’ but durable fabric in which they can be active outdoors.

Merino wool in sportswear

At the ISPO Munich sports business trade show in February this year, more than 50 brands were promoting performance wear made with Merino wool, a tenfold increase from a just a few years ago, according to the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO).

This will no doubt be a gratifying outcome for Australian research and investment body, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), which has been actively promoting the profile of Merino wool in sportswear over the last five years through a Sports and Outdoor Programme and its trademarked MerinoPerform programme. 

Lars Ulvesund, global category manager sports/outdoor for AWI, says he thought the most innovative technology was being deployed in yarn construction with sportswear in mind.

“We started in the outdoor sector but wool has moved into cycling, tennis, running and we are seeing it now in yoga and fitness wear. There is an enormous amount of product development going on right now…The number of end users is increasing significantly,” he says.

One of the latest innovations to be commercialised is OPTIMjam - a variation on the engineered wool OPTIM fabric pioneered some years ago by the Woolmark Company and Australia’s premier scientific research body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

OPTIM technology relies on stretching wool fibres and releasing them during finishing, leading to extreme tightening and blocking of the interstices in the fabric, giving great wind and water resistance. OPTIMjam fabrics, launched in January, are additionally treated to increase elasticity of the Merino fibre.

This follows closely on the heels of products such as Hydro-duct, a new water repellent technology for wool that transfers liquid sweat to the outer layer of the garment for rapid evaporation, developed by Jiaxing, China-based Diyang Merino Textile Ltd in partnership with AWI; and Lavalan, an 85% Merino wool wadding for sports jackets now being commercialised by German manufacturer Baur Vliesstoffe.

Engineered Merino wool sportswear has also found a natural home with producers close to the source in Australia and New Zealand.

Brisbane-based outdoor wear company Mountain Designs launched another 100% Merino wool tops and pants range this year, while Auckland-based Icebreaker expanded its trademarked Bodyfit range this year with BodyfitZone, incorporating features such as ergonomic ventilation panels together with a 96% Merino, 4% Lycra fabric to give greater garment multi-sport flexibility.

With additional reporting by Lee Adendorff.