Focus on Technical Textile Expertise, Sustainability at Outdoor Retailer

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Focus on Technical Textile Expertise, Sustainability at Outdoor Retailer

By John McCurry - 09/04/2019

The 2019 Summer Market Outdoor Retailer Show, held at the Denver Convention Center, drew more than 23,500 attendees. On display were an array of new developments targeting the apparel supply chain. Following is a look at some highlights.

The Hohenstein Institute had one of the smaller stands at the Denver show, but it was by no means an indication of its outdoor-related services. The Germany-based organization, which has its U.S. headquarters in Ligonier, Ind., came to Outdoor Retailer with multiple objectives, including spreading the word about its recently launched Hohenstein Academy. Hohenstein’s message to outdoor brands: we have the expertise in textile development to help you succeed.

“We view the Outdoor Retailer Show as a great opportunity to connect with the outdoor brands,” said John Frazier, senior technical director for the Hohenstein Institute of America. “A lot of them have sustainability and chemistry programs. There is concern about chemicals and how they show up in products.”

Jan Beringer, a scientific expert with Hohenstein, says the organization helps fill an educational void in the textile-apparel supply chain.

“It’s all about sustainability, recycling, working with materials that can be recycled,” Beringer says. “Also, the knowledge in the textile industry is getting less and less and there is a need for expertise and knowledge and training people. This is something we try to address.”

Frazier says the prevalent contract manufacturing business model is complicating the whole issue.

“Because a lot of brands don’t own their supply chain anymore,  they assume someone else knows how to do all of these things,” Frazier says. Their supply chains keep getting bigger and the technical expertise of the brands keeps getting smaller. So, I think there is a real need for technical expertise and the ability to communicate that to suppliers and brands.”

Hohenstein’s academy seeks to address that need. It offers instruction in a variety of areas, including basic textile knowledge, clothing technology and safety and sustainability.

Hohenstein maintains a local presence to serve its brand customers on both U.S. coasts. Frazier said the organization has grown substantially in recent years and is penetrating the U.S. market, with most of the testing continuing to be performed in Germany.

“Microfibers are a big issue right now,” Frazier said. “The discharge of hazardous chemicals is a big deal. People want to know what kinds of chemicals are being used on their products. It’s really a time of focus on the entire supply chain in apparel and footwear.”

Cordura, which had one of the larger stands at that the show, touted new product areas for its durable fabric.

“We are showing Cordura’s softer side,” said Cindy McNaull, global brand and marketing director. “Cordura has traditionally been well-known in bags, packs and luggage. But in recent years, we have come out with a really extensive collection of blends with natural fibers. We have a wide range of knits and knits that are blended with cotton. We have a really strong portfolio of not only mills, but fabrics from those mills that focus on the softer side of durability.”

McNaull says sustainability begins with products that last.

Jay Hertwig, Unifi’s global sales and marketing manager, said Outdoor Retailer is the primary trade show that Unifi participates in in North America.

“Sustainability has been driven by the outdoor market and it’s been where we have built our brands,” he said. “Outdoor Retailer has been a great platform for us to launch new products.”

Hertwig said Unifi’s primary focus during OR is extending its products under the Repreve brand, which makes performance yarns out of recycled plastic bottles. Unifi expects to have recycled 20 billion bottles by 2020.

“We are also promoting our Repreve Our Ocean program, which is a product made of post-consumer bottles that are likely destined for the ocean,” Hertwig said. This version of Repreve uses bottles collected from coastal areas around the world that do not have recycling infrastructure or recycling programs. These are areas that pose high risks for bottles winding up in the ocean.

Unifi joined with DuPont Biomaterials and Youngone to showcase a new collection of insulation products that offer soft, dimensionally stable and sustainable options for cold-weather garments and bedding materials. Youngone, a manufacturer of outdoor and athletic apparel, is using DuPont’s Sorona and Unifi’s Repreve fibers in the new products.

Gehring-Tricot Corp., a familiar Outdoor Retailer presence known for its high-performance knit and woven fabrics, touts the company’s diverse capabilities to develop custom fabrics, rather than a specific product. The company’s Tweave Division is by far the company’s most familiar brand at the show, said Bill Christmann, Gehring-Tricot’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“Tweave’s line of stretch wovens has a lot of osmosis throughout this entire industry,” Christmann said.

Most of Gehring-Tricot’s appointments at OR were with companies in search of lighter weight fabrics and multi-performing textiles, Christmann said.

Performance sock companies have proliferated at the show in recent years, using it as a venue to unveil innovations. Wigwam, the 114-year-old Wisconsin sock manufacturer, featured its new SynchroKnit sock, available to the public in January 2020, as being the “next generation” in performance sock construction. Wigwam says it has reduced bulk and excess yarn to achieve more support and a more comfortable sock.

Paige Boucher, who handles public relations for Wigwam, says the new sock has the company’s third patent in its history. She says the sock has been in development for about four years and describes it as a breakthrough development that differentiates the company in a crowded sock field.

John McCurry is an Apparel contributing writer based in Georgia. He has been writing about the apparel and textile industry for more than two decades.