Maria ThiryJuly 26, 2021 AATCC Newsletter

Innovative Breathable and Sustainable Fabrics

by Dr. Thanaseelen Rajasakran

 

woman in the mountains

Global warming has spawned global “heated” conversations and debates. The threat of climate change and the issue of sustainability affecting lives and livelihoods still does matter. Result: there is immense pressure on a variety of industries in terms of environmental sustainability—escalated by the influence of environmental groups like Extinction Rebellion.

 

One industry particularly affected by the shifting patterns of generally warmer climates is the sportswear industry. In either hot or cold temperatures, exercise is an essential part of one’s normal wellbeing and existence. Dressing in the right comfortable attire matters as well. However, the Harvard Business Review points out, about 30% of all textile consumption are susceptible to climate change.

 

The reality check for sportswear manufacturers is that they need to have a re-think when it comes to innovative solutions—as espoused by the Textile Exchange—in creating new materials of comfort for people who exercise. Not only must the solution function excellently, but it must also adhere to sustainability goals.

 

Breathable Innovation

 

Courtesy of Brrr°

Researchers have upped the ante with the discovery of new breathable materials. Biomimicry takes innovative concepts from nature, such as the pinecone (with its microporous scale structure),

that opens and closes according to outside temperature. Researchers have been working on several innovative technologies, from cellulose-based fibers coated with a thin layer of carbon nanotubes, to wine bottle corks. Granulated cork works on the premise quite like a vehicle radiator that chokes-out excess heat, with the promise to maintain a cooler human body.

Essentially, it means when prevalent environmental conditions are warm and moist on the outside, the fabric essentially allows heat to pass through, and vice versa when the environment is cool and dry, making it easier for individuals when exercising as heat is released in the form of perspiration.

 

Blue and gray fabrics

Courtesy of Brrr°

Some fabrics even contain environmentally friendly minerals, which act as “heat scavengers” pulling heat away from the skin surface to provide a cool-to-touch sensation, notes Courtney Cruzan, Vice President of Sourcing and Product Development at Brrr°.

Testing and measurement undertaken by Intertek Testing Services in Taiwan, has indicated Brrr°’s nylon and polyester fabrics outperform comparable products in lab tests, as per Qmax (cool to the touch) standards, wicking (which draws moisture away from the body), and dry time.

 

Sustainability Concerns

Still, the question remains if these new fashionable sporting materials support the United Nations Sustainable Development 2030 Goals? Another constant environmental challenge and responsibility that sportswear designers and product developers face today concerns wastewater management, particularly plastic fiber fragments (often called “microfibers”). These are usually smaller than five millimeters and are solid insoluble synthetic polymers, almost invisible to the naked eye. Greenpeace notes there is hardly any global body of water, including lakes, rivers, seas, and the deep ocean that is impervious to plastic.

 

According to Cruzan, Brrr° materials have a proprietary blend of minerals, which are not on the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s Restricted Substance List. Its fabric partners also adhere to strict environmental standards as required by Okeo-Tex and Bluesign certification. Cruzan points out that Brrr° materials have sustainability in mind and are “ahead of the SDG2030 goals.”

 

plaid blue fabrics

Courtesy of Brrr°

With meaningful steps to address sustainability issues concerning breathable sportwear, the outlook for sportswear is looking chic and cool. “The future looks bright with more stakeholders jumping on the breathable sportswear sustainability bandwagon,” says Cruzan.

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Dr. Thanaseelen Rajasakran is an Assistant Professor at a Malaysian university, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. He is passionate about all things concerning environmental sustainability.

 

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