Materials innovations are key to driving textile and apparel industry growth despite fragmented supply chains and economic headwinds, according to a new report.

Lux Research, a US-based research and data firm, says low-cost tolerance and fast product cycles make materials innovation a challenge, but both brands and consumers are demanding change and creating new opportunities for innovation.

The 'Emerging Materials Opportunities for the Apparel Industry' report highlights four trends driving the shift: sustainability, functionality and differentiation, minimizing supply chain risks, and the trend toward personalisation. 

"While these four megatrends are driving long-term industry change, companies need solutions right now to address policy changes and consumer demands," says Lux Research analyst and lead author of the report Cecilia Gee. Key textile innovations include advancements in fibres, sustainable processing techniques including water-free dyeing of fabrics, functional improvements including smart textiles and special material coatings, and end-of-life recycling options for polyester and cellulosic materials.

"Functional coatings and finishes provide near-term opportunities within the next one to two years, whereas fibre innovations, water-free dyeing, and smart textiles should be viewed as long-term opportunities," Gee states.

Functional coatings are well-suited to performance apparel, as well as sports and outdoor textiles.

"Drop-in additives that provide performance enhancement and differentiation are already market-ready, and chemical companies can benefit from providing less harmful and bio-based products that meet brand and consumer demand," says Gee.

End-of-life recycling opportunities for polyester and cellulosic materials both pose midterm opportunities for growth. While polyester recycling is close to scale, improved supply chain logistics and better-quality feedstock are needed to achieve a scalable solution. Chemical companies can benefit from this by providing polyester feedstock diversification. Cellulosic recycling of cotton-based materials is being driven by government regulation and corporate consortia, providing companies an opportunity to develop post-consumer recycling options that capitalize on future feedstock opportunities, especially in the EU, which is leading in textile waste separation infrastructure. 

"While fibre innovations are still a few years away, chemical companies can benefit by partnering with startups to help scale and validate novel fibre technologies," notes Gee. "Developing environmentally friendly alternative materials can help brands differentiate themselves through the ongoing sustainability trend."