SUSTAINABILITY TRENDS FOR SPORTS & OUTDOOR
Focus on lowering environmental impact and driving circularity
Following our previous article on sustainable innovation trends for sports and outdoor and having recently returned from Performance Days functional fabric fair in Munich, which highlighted our industry’s growing commitment to sustainable fabrics and technologies, the LTP team asked Anne Prahl to take a closer look at the key trends leading into 2020.
Design for Recycling
As seen at ISPO, Outdoor by ISPO and Performance Days, designers are increasingly demanding recycled fabrics from their suppliers, who have responded by growing their offer significantly across recycled synthetic and natural fabrics. However, the bigger challenge for the industry is to design and manufacture products so that they can be disassembled at end-of-life to recover fabrics, trims and other components to be recycled into new materials.
While this approach is still in the early innovation phase, brands are working on ways to disassemble discarded products in order to utilise parts to redesign them into new desirable products. Patagonia’s ReCrafted range is a great example of how this can work at a commercially viable level, as any returned garments that can’t be resold, repaired or recycled, are deconstructed to be given another life.
A great example of designing products with recycling in mind at the conception stage adidas by Stella McCartney’s 100% recyclable Infinite hoodie, which is made from 60% NuCycl? and 40% organic cotton. While this concept is still at prototype stage and only a limited number of pieces were released to adidas VIPs and influencers, it is a first step in making recyclable sportswear a reality.
Designing for recycling is also an important focus for Sympatex, who showcased the wear2wear functional jacket at Performance Days. This concept piece was developed by the Design2Recycle team as part of the wear2wear European industry partnership, which was started by five expert partners in 2017 and is dedicated to the testing and development of technologies and systems to accelerate closed-loop design and manufacture. The jacket demonstrates realistic opportunities to create functional garments from one type of raw material, so that recycling at end-of-life can be done without a costly separation process.
A handful of outdoor brands have recently brought fully recyclable jackets to the market, these include Halti, who introduced their ‘Born to be recycled’ collection at OutDoor by ISPO and Napapijri, who launched their Skidoo Infinity jacket, which can be easily recycled at end-of-life thanks to the use of trims and filling made from 100% nylon 6 and fabric made from ECONYL? Regenerated Nylon. The company have also developed a digital take-back programme, which allows customers to register online, before returning their jacket after a minimum of two years, in order to be processed into new yarns, materials and products.
Engineered performance wool
There has been much innovation around wool-based blends with synthetic fibres for performance baselayers, as well as weaving and construction technologies that combine technical membranes with wool backing to provide ultimate comfort and functionality for technical soft and hardshells. However, while these material hybrids are exciting from a performance perspective, they are far more difficult to recycle at end-of-life.
As demonstrated by the jackets created by Halti, Napapijri and wear2wear, we are seeing a growing interest in the concept of mono-material design, which sticks to one type of raw material only, including fabrics, trims and any other components. This approach has also led to interesting developments in the wool sector, where brands are re-engineering wool fibres, yarns and fabrics to offer less conventional end-uses.
Lifestyle brand Outerknown collaborated with The Woolmark Company to develop a unique 100% Australian Merino wool boardshort. Thanks to the Optim spinning technique, which pre-stretches and spins yarn before being woven, the resulting fabric is perfect for surfing and beach conditions, as it is quick-drying, naturally breathable and resistant to odour and provides softness, UV protection and freedom of movement.
Another innovative example of engineering wool for performance use is the collaboration between Woolmark, Santoni und Südwolle, which produced a 12-piece yoga collection, showcased at Performance Days. The collection features superfine 15.5 micron Merino wool, which was knitted on circular seamless knitting machines to produce bras, tank tops, t-shirts and leggings featuring intricate patterns and 3D structures.
Lower impact packaging
As demonstrated by initiatives and guidelines by the European Outdoor Group and the Outdoor Industry Association in the US, the industry has woken up to the urgent need for reducing wasteful and harmful packaging. Following the motto of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, many brands and retailers are working on alternative materials and packaging concepts to lead innovation in this area.
Reducing the use, as well as the impact of conventional plastic packaging, there are many examples of how to eliminate single-use plastic, while still protecting the product, so that it reaches its destination in perfect condition to avoid damage and returns. US yoga brand prAna eliminated all its polybags as early as 2011 and simply rolls up items, which are then tied up with compostable raffia, so they can be packed in boxes lined to prevent any damage caused by moisture during shipping.
UK surf and outdoor brand Finisterre have recently made a commitment to eradicate single-use, non-degradable plastic and have worked with Aquapak to produce a water soluble, recyclable and biodegradable type of bag, made from a specially formulated polymer that can break down quickly and harmlessly both in a sea and soil environment. Garment accessory manufacturer The Rudholm Group offer plastic packaging that utilises the BDP? patented technology provided by Breakdown Plastic Inc., which is based on an enzymatic process and speeds up biodegradation in anaerobic landfill environments significantly.
Another concept is that of packaging reuse, first pioneered in 2009 by Columbia Sportswear with their ‘A Box Life’ system, which enabled the reuse of cardboard boxes through a QR code. A decade down the line, there are various new types of reusable solutions coming to the market, including Toad & Co’s reusable ‘shipper’, which is supported by the LimeLoop app to track shipping and environmental impact.
As part of the Single Use Plastics Project initiative, which brings together over 30 brands and retailers from the outdoor industry, the European Outdoor Group are focussing on developing a circular system for plastic packaging, where plastic bags are kept out of landfill and the environment and are collected and recycled into new plastic bags or other products.
LTP is a Danish owned garment manufacturer for +60 premium brands within active sportswear, outdoor, athleisure and sustainable fashion. LTP was established in 1991 and is probably the biggest functional garment manufacturer in Europe with BlueSign? setups in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Vietnam.
LTP consists of two divisions; LTP Garment and LTP Contract Furniture producing in ten fully-owned factories.