Fashion Week in New York City just wrapped up. Models strutted the runway in over 70 fashion shows and over 125,000 visitors flocked to the events, pumping approximately $900 million into the local economy. Fashion has a big impact on our economy. But where do nonwoven fabrics and fashion intersect? We are all familiar with nonwovens in wipes, filtration and hygiene applications. But can nonwoven fabrics be practical and, perhaps, even preferable in apparel?
About 1% of all nonwoven applications worldwide are estimated to be in the apparel industry. But, with the global demand for nonwoven fabrics increasing and continual technology improvements, there is certainly room for growth…even in fashion.
Current widespread applications in apparel include interlinings, clothing and glove insulation, bra and shoulder padding, handbag components and shoe components. As technology improves, nonwoven fabrics are being developed with characteristics that are conducive to clothing design and production, including better drape, comfort, stretch and recovery.
There are a few benefits to consider in developing nonwoven fabrics specifically for apparel end-use.
- Cost. The nonwoven process is faster and up to 30% less expensive than traditional fabric production. This is because the process can be done with fewer steps and on the same production line under one roof.
- Strength. The tear strength of nonwoven fabrics is about twice that of traditional fabrics. This can be important in clothing applications like sportswear or workwear.
- Air permeability. The more open structure of nonwoven fabrics over traditional fabrics provide more air flow and, potentially, more comfort in warmer climates.
- Design factors. Nonwoven fabrics don’t ravel and so don’t require surged seams. They also are relatively easy to cut.
It appears that nonwoven fabrics are a good fit for apparel design; however, the main reason that apparel is not a larger portion of the nonwovens end-use markets is due to the lack of product development. We have the potential to produce nonwoven fabrics that can not only mimic the performance of traditional woven fabrics but also have properties that can make them better performers overall in certain clothing applications.
So what is the future of nonwoven fabrics in apparel? Consumers drive the market with their tastes for style, color, pattern, fit, brand and store. Traditional textile sectors can work with nonwoven manufacturers to develop enhanced nonwoven fabrics to perform the way consumers like clothing to perform. The future of apparel almost certainly includes more and more nonwoven fabrics.
And maybe next year, models will be working that runway during Fashion Week in high-performance clothing made entirely of nonwoven fabrics.
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