As in many other applications, however, they’re virtually all invisible.
Nonwoven insulation has come to largely replace feather-based down in providing the warmth and comfort inside a range of products for outdoor activities—from ski jackets and boots to sleeping bags. It is generally based on polyester fibers which are increasingly recycled and the materials are usually either needlepunched or thermally bonded.
Fibers and Insulation is one of 10 categories included in the annual ISPO Textrends guide to the exhibition’s most innovative products and this year’s edition, published to coincide with ISPO 2020, which took place in Munich from January 26-29, featured no less than 450 separate products, largely focused on fabric constructions, including 28 separate new insulation materials.
“Insulation for sportswear and gear is one of the most fascinating areas for me, because there’s a lot of product development taking place, but it can get overlooked because it doesn’t make that visual impact,” says ISPO Textile Trends consultant Louisa Smith.
Well-known brands supplying such insulation include 3M, with its Thinsulate grades that are specially tailored to this market, and Primaloft, whose latest innovation, Primaloft P.U.R.E. (for Produced Using Reduced Emissions) is based on a proprietary manufacturing technique that is said to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
“Traditional insulation manufacturing requires fibers to be thermally bonded by moving through a slow, high-heat oven,” says Primaloft president and CEO Mike Joyce. “We determined that removing the need for thermal ovens would drastically reduce carbon emissions and our engineers have developed and perfected a manufacturing technology that uses air, instead of heat, to cure and stabilize the insulation. It’s a brilliant shift in our process that will make a significant impact for the environment.”
Patagonia will be the first outdoor brand partner to incorporate Primaloft P.U.R.E. later in 2020.
Meanwhile, there are initiatives by certain insulation manufacturers to move beyond recycled polyester to even more sustainable fibers. Ziran Nonwoven, for example, based in Jinjiang, China, is this year introducing its Fellex Bio-WPH, based on 100% PLA.
Ziran came into existence to service the explosion of Chinese sportswear brands based in Fujian on the country’s mainland opposite Taiwan in the mid-1990s, such as 361 Degrees, Anta Sports, Peak Sports and Xtep. When it was initially founded back in 1999, Ziran had just a single insulation converting line imported from Taiwan and delivered its materials by bicycle and cart. Expansion quickly followed, however, and since 2011 the company has been manufacturing its own nonwoven fabrics on multiple lines and is now one of the largest insulation manufacturers in China. Ziran’s materials are frequently highlighted in the ISPO Textrends guides.
Also prominent in the Textrends guides is Italy’s Imbotex, this year with its new Cameluxe and Hemp & Silk insulation brands.
Imbotex works closely with the high-end fashion brands of northern Italy and Cameluxe, for example, is made from the waste camelhair collected from, among other sources, the luxury women’s coat manufacturer Max Mara. It consists of 52% recycled camelhair, 28% recycled PET and 20% recycled low-melt PET and is manufactured in a patented process via which the company is able to achieve a highly resilient product with enhanced tensile strength and consistent insulation performance.
“The process for Cameluxe also has less impact on the environment than conventional manufacturing, in terms of energy consumption, waste generation, water usage and CO2 emissions,” says sales manager Francesca Fincati. “We already use a wide range of recycled fibers in our insulations which are Global Recycling Standard certified, but in 2019 we formed a spin-off company called Imbotex Lab to focus specifically on discarded luxury fibers, from which high-quality products with added value can be created.”
Hemp & Silk insulation meanwhile consists of 40% hemp, 40% silk and 20% low melt PLA fibers.
“Hemp cultivation requires no pesticides, crowds out weeds without herbicides, controls the erosion of topsoil and produces oxygen, so it really is one of the most eco-friendly fibers there is,” Fincati says. “The silk allows air exchange, to provide breathability and comfort, and its low conductivity keeps warm air close to the skin during cold weather.”
Freudenberg launched its new comfortemp Lyocell padding as the first 100% biodegradable insulation at a special press conference held during ISPO.
“Around 90% of all of the PET we use is recycled, but it’s not something we promote too much,” says Freudenberg’s general manager of the Global Apparel Division Ulrich Scherbel. “However, the issue of microfiber shedding shook us up and prompted us to explore alternatives for this market, without compromising on quality or performance.”
Mauro Davanzo, Freudenberg’s head of global R&D for the company’s Global Apparel Division, explains that the new insulation is a spray bonded product with a special hydrophobic finish developed by Lenzing, creating a special micro-climate with the water absorbing Lyocell fibers.
“We employ very fine grades of Lyocell that absorb lots of moisture,” he adds. “Comfortemp Lyocell is the result of intensive research and close cooperation between Freudenberg and Lyocell and more products will follow.”
“It should be stressed that Lenzing’s Lyocell is truly biodegradable in nature and has been proven to degrade in soil in 57 days, exactly like cotton,” says Lenzing’s director of commercial textiles Andreas Dorner. “It has allowed Freudenberg to create a very voluminous product for thermal insulation.”
“Although the consumer usually rarely sees or even thinks about insulation, it makes a decisive contribution,” Scherbel concludes.
Finally, insulation brand Thermore is attempting to change the invisible nature of insulation with its latest Ecodown Marble fabrics.
“Progress in fabric technology now allows fabrics to be very resistant and so light that you can actually see through them,” the Italian company says. “This means that there’s an opportunity for the insulation to finally influence the overall look of the garment and we are now making Ecodown Marble available in bespoke designs to brands, in order to achieve this.
“We feel the outdoor apparel world is ready for the next challenge—using insulation to give garments unique visual interest.”
Some 2,850 exhibitors took part in ISPO 2020 and around 80,000 people from 120 countries visited the show. The next ISPO in Munich will be held from January 28 to 31, 2021.