Will It Ever Happen? Nonwovens—The Fabrics Of Our Lives.

By Karen Bitz McIntyre, Editor | December 8, 2009

The other day, my four-year-old and I were playing with dolls when she asked me to make some new clothes for her princesses—she wanted to create some sort of uniform for them.

I tried to explain to her that we had no extra clothes, or fabric or a sewing machine, to craft these uniforms, but—as four-year-olds are apt to do—she would not take no for an answer and suggested we use construction paper to make her dolls—not paper dolls—new clothes.

At first I was hesitant. Paper clothes? Then I thought back to a NONWOVENS INDUSTRY cover, designed long before I was editor, with a picture of IDEA attendees wearing nonwoven, or paper, clothes. Miss America was actually at that show, held sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, wearing a nonwoven gown. Back then, there was a lot of excitement and optimism over nonwovens’ potential for garments. Producers around the world were looking to engineer the right material that combined the drape, feel and aesthetics necessary for fashion and comfort with the durability and cost effectiveness necessary to make them a more attractive option than wovens or knits.

Over the years, there have been some significant efforts. PGI’s Miratec fabric was used in Levis jeans for a while, but overinvestment in the Apex technology that created this material was largely blamed for PGI’s finanical troubles earlier this decade. In recent years, the company has instead focused on tried-andtrue nonwovens markets like hygiene and wipes. Freudenberg’s Evolon technology also touted launderability, drapability and other benefits attractive to the apparel market when it was first introduced in 1999 but has not really made much publicized headway into clothing as of yet.

Every year or so at NONWOVENS INDUSTRY we report on what’s happening with nonwovens in the apparel world and each time we are surprised to find the answer is not much. While nonwovens continue to be strong in apparel interlinings—a market that has largely migrated to Asia—waist bands and embroidery backings, beyond protective apparel or some high performance applications, when it comes to the garments themselves nonwovens have not made much progress.

It seems there are a number of reasons for this failure. Some say, the apparel industry’s movement to Asia has limited Western nonwovens producers’ exposure to the market in recent years; others will say that nonwovens are simply not up to snuff, from either a durability or aesthetics standpoint, for apparel and still others question nonwovens’ ability to be laundered. And, at least one observer blames the nonwovens producers themselves, saying that most companies are too narrowly focused when looking at application areas, choosing to engineer fabrics for markets they know will be successful rather than taking a chance on ones that need new market development.

Regardless of the reason, it seems that the apparel industry, once considered the Holy Grail for the nonwovens industry, has been more or less abandoned by nonwovens producers. Let’s hope they rekindle their interest in this important market soon; whoever creates the right combination of comfort, durability and fashion will have a blockbuster product on their hands, one that is certainly needed by the nonwovens industry.

Karen McIntyre

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