The apparel market has long been the envy of the nonwovens industry. Being able to tailor nonwovens to the needs of clothiers, not in interlinings but for the actual garments, would create huge market potential for nonwovens. For years a number of companies have tried to make a product with widespread appeal to fashion houses. In fact, some would say that PGI's bankruptcy troubles a few years back can be directly linked to the company's overinvestment in Apex technology, which was originally targeted at clothing applications but has since achieved some success in the filtration and wipes markets, among others. Freudenberg's Evolon continuous filament spunlace product was launched on the market in 2000 with great fanfare but has since shied away from the spotlight. However, executives insist the material is constantly being upgraded to lower basis weights and is finding interesting applications across a number of segments, including apparel.
This month, Nonwovens Industry has published a report on some University of Delaware fashion students' exposure with nonwovens (page 50). Students were challenged to make a garment out of a monolithic polyester elastomeric fabric donated by TANDEC in a voluntary, non-graded activity. They created a number of interesting fashion designs by overcoming several challenges posed by the nature of nonwovens including thinness, delicacy, puckering, dyeability and lack of strength. Despite its challenges, one student called the competition extremely rewarding because it proved that anything can work if you take the time to think through a problem.
That's really the challenge for the nonwovens industry. We must find innovative young designers who are willing to take the time to figure out how nonwovens can make the leap into fashion. Once this riddle is solved, it will mean big things for nonwovens.