Innovation in natural fabrics over the last 15 years
There have been a range of innovations over the past 15 years that are either suitable for application to natural fabrics, or have been designed specifically for natural fabrics. These include innovation in nanotechnology, where the fiber structure is transformed to produce a range of benefits including protection from stains and wrinkles, but there has also been innovation in finishes for natural fabrics. In terms of specific types of material, cottons have seen the most research completed and resulting innovations available on the market.
All natural fabrics
Nanotex provide nanotechology-based solutions for fabrics that span a range of challenges including stain repllency/resistance, wrinkles, moisture, static and odor. These have been applied to a range of natural fabrics and include Resists Spills & Releases Stains, which resists spills and helps wash out stains more easily (as seen used on this cotton work jacket); Wrinkle Defense, which protects against wrinkling while preserving the natural feel of the fabric (adopted for men's suits by Macy's in 2015); Dry Inside, created in partnership with Cotton Incorporated, which enables the transfer of moisture away from the skin; and Nanotex Neutralizer, which isolates and eliminates odor, utilized by Maidenform in 2011.
Nanotex technologies are suitable for use on any fabric and are applied at the fiber level.
Four key innovations specific to cotton have reached the market courtesy of Cotton Incorporated, the research organization of US cotton producers - TransDRY, Storm Cotton, Storm Denim and Wicking Windows:
TransDRY Technology is a cotton treatment that transfers moisture and dries faster than untreated cotton. The treatment starts at the yarn stage, coating the fibers to make them water-repellent. The end result is cotton products that dry around twice as fast as untreated cotton, a rate comparable to that of synthetic fabrics. It also remains around two degrees cooler than untreated cotton. This makes TransDRY-treated cotton a suitable option for activewear. A product utilizing this technology is Solara's TransDRY ankle socks, which combines the treatment with Peruvian Pima Cotton.
The term TransDRY was first used in commerce in 2009, becoming a registered trademark in 2011.
Storm Cotton is water-repellent finish for cotton designed to protect the wearer from rain and snow while remaining breathable. Like TransDRY, it offers a faster drying time than untreated cotton, although it dries slightly slower, at a rate of 40% faster, compared to 50% faster.
Storm Cotton was first used in commerce in 2006 and was registered as a trademark in 2010.
Storm Denim offers the same protection for denim cotton products, with the finished garment either dipped or sprayed to apply the protective layer. In 2008, this technology was used by designer Alexander Wang in his high-end denim jeans and Canadian manufacturer MWG Apparel applied the finish in a collection of premium jeans.
Wicking Windows is a technology applied through a print process to the skin-side of fabric. It enables the transfer of water from saturated areas to the outside of the fabric, allowing it to evaporate and providing a more comfortable experience for the wearer.
Most recently, Cotton Incorporated partnered with PurThread Technologies in 2017 to introduce an anti-odor technology to cotton fabric. This microbial innovation embeds EPA-registered silver salts into the yarn, protecting the finished fabric from bacteria, mold and fungus.
Wool, cashmere AND SILK
While the 1990s saw innovation in wool (including Total Easy Care and Solospun), there have been fewer leaps forward in the past 15 years.
One notable exception is current research being carried out into self-cleaning cashmere. Scientists have found that when cashmere is coated with a layer of a photo-catalyst - anatase titanium dioxide - that the fabric is able to break down stains after being placed under light for 24 hours. This exposure to light creates a chemical reaction which breaks down contaminants. The successful completion of this research was published in December 2017 but as yet there is no evidence that this innovation is market-ready. The same technology has previously been successfully used with wool and silk and does not impact the feel of the material.
There has been a range of innovations in natural fabrics in the past 15 years, although most specific research has been focused on cottons. The innovations covered above contribute to a variety of solutions for natural fabrics, making them more resistant to damage and improving the wearer's experience. Recent innovations that have not yet come to market illustrate that there is still room for development in this field.