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I innovate, therefore I am

“I think, therefore I am”, runs the famous principle of the philosopher René Descartes. “I innovate, therefore I am”, would fit better nowadays.

The last fashion-week and fabric fair season has shown a surprising outcome: the mood in the textile and fashion industry is good – even though, in the last seasons, the sector has been under pressure from various directions. Be it natural fibres, which increasingly see themselves exposed to competition for cultivation areas from foodstuffs; be it political uncertainties and compliance risks in production countries; be it the expenditure of private households, which is increasingly skewed towards basic costs of living and technical consumer gadgets and their consequential costs. That the industry is nevertheless looking to the future with happy expectation has perfectly decipherable reasons: multiform material and process innovations could be the new lever for the growth-led visions of the textile and fashion industry. Sustainability, transparency, digitalisation, automation and circularity are some of the key words which help to categorise these manifold innovations. For so many new products and product revolutions are currently flowing at once into the market that it is easy to lose the overview.       

In the beginning was the fibre
In fibre research, for instance, the H&M Foundation has recently reported an epoch-making breakthrough. After four years of research, in collaboration with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), the Foundation has succeeded in developing a recycling process for mixed polyester-cotton fabrics. The mixed fibres can be processed into new fibres through a hydrothermal process. Mistra Future Fashion is also engaged in textile-to-textile recycling. Similarly to the project at the H&M Foundation, it enables new viscose filaments to be produced from polycotton mixtures. “Blend Re:wind” is the name of the new process, which – after six years of development – the Swedish research consortium showcased last November. Lenzing’s contribution to closed-loop recycling is called “Refibra” - a fibre consisting of wool residue and wood. Refibra is the first cellulose fibre which, along with wood, uses recycling materials as its raw material.

The two last fibre innovations were presented at the FashionSustain Conference organised by Messe Frankfurt, which celebrated its premiere on 17 January 2018 during Berlin Fashion Week in the Kraftwerk. The new conference format combines subjects covering all aspects of responsible innovations and collaborations as drivers for the strategic use of sustainability and new technologies in the textile and fashion industry. With FashionSustain as an incubator platform and the Thinkaton as a collaboration model, Messe Frankfurt succeeded in bringing prominent keynote speakers and an interested trade audience together in a multidisciplinary dialogue about the future of the fashion industry.  

Achieving more together
Only if you innovate jointly will you innovate properly – that is how you could translate the new credo, unfamiliar though it may sound in the industry. In this way the old concept of synergetic value addition has been re-interpreted and enriched by everyone involved to produce a whole lot of mutual transparency and confidence. This could be seen during the panel discussions held in the course of the conference. Collaborative enterprises create a completely new dynamism. The results are highly respectable: the outdoor brand Pyua shared a keynote slot with Freudenberg and reported on the collaboration of the outdoor-clothing specialist with the international technology company. Freudenberg has developed for Pyua the new wadding “Fiberball Eco”, made of recycled PET bottles. And Vaude showcased in Berlin its Green Shape Core Collection, which has been designed in collaboration with pre-production companies Lenzing, Primaloft, Q-Milk and DSM and which two weeks later, at the ISPO, was the recipient of no less than five ISPO Awards.

Technology to inspire
FashionSustain – at one venue and in collaboration with the #Fashiontech Conference, organised by the Premium Group – is the expression of a broad movement. Applied innovation is the word of the hour: for more and more companies from all value-addition stages in the fashion and textile industry are in search of inspiration, in order either to think up their own new ideas or, in an individual interpretation, to employ the marketable processes already created by other companies.

Thus, for instance, Avantex – which specialises in technical innovations, digitalisation and interconnectivity along the value-added chain and presents them in a bundled form – was held for the sixth time in parallel with Texworld Paris from 11 to 14 February 2018. In March, at the same as Techtextil in Moscow, the Fashion Futurum Forum will be taking place – a showcase for fashion-tech start-ups, organised by the Fashion Council of Russia. In Russia, too, the players in the technical-innovation fields, be they start-ups or established market players, utilise their synergies intelligently on joint platforms. From 20 to 23 March 2018 Techtextil Russia in Moskau will cooperate with the forum Fashion Futurum – as content-partners they are organizing a panel discussion on the topic “usage of smart textiles in fashion”.

How innovations in digital technology, if used properly, can revolutionise the fashion industry and fashion retailing, is shown for instance by Adidas. High-speed, high-tech, localisation and individualisation merge here in the Speedfactory and the projects associated with it. Data-driven design, radically accelerated production, open-source creation and hyper-flexible local manufacture – that is the future, as the sports-product company from Herzogenaurach describes the process. Another pioneer in this field is Google: after a development period of several years under the project name Jaquard, last autumn, together with Levis, the company put a jeans jacket on the market whose sleeves function as a touchpad. But the classic smart-textile innovation driver is also constantly showing new concepts.    

New Craftsmanship
These ever more tech-assured developments are only one side of the multitude of innovations; the other comprises those whose intellectual origin is to be found instead in a concept of reduction. The icon of trend research, Li Edelkoort, has shown a fine sense of contemporary developments in announcing her intention to create a degree course which will unite the Silicon with the Hudson Valley. The approach is called New Craftsmanship, and a large number of young creatives are taking it. And particularly those among them who combine consideration of natural production techniques with a spirit of technical innovation are currently attracting much attention.     

Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven for example: this Dutch design studio sets its focus for product design on the value-added chain. On the tulip, say. Once tulips have wilted, the blooms have until now had no value any more. Tjeerd Veenhoven has developed a process by which the pigments in the petals can be used to make dye. Sustainable delivery chains and consideration are also top considerations with Martin Barmbley and Yolanda Leask, the founders of the British fabric agency Doppelhaus. With “Cloudwool” they have created innovative non-wovens which, through their hydrofelting process, are lighter and easier to drape than conventional fully non-woven fabrics. The wool is made from 100% European and British wool.      

During Heimtextil, the leading international trade fair for home and contract textiles at the start of the year in Frankfurt, applied innovations were doubly at home: in the two Trend Areas “Theme Park” and “Interior.Architecture.Hospitality Expo.” “Bahia Denim” from designer Sophie Rowley is a prize-winning material which is reminiscent of marble. As starting material Rowley uses denim waste, which is hardened with organic resin and thus has many-sided uses – for furniture, but equally for wall coverings. Tamara Orjola in turn uses pinewood and pine needle. Employing highly refined techniques, she manufactures her so-called “Forest Wool.” A new natural and environmentally aware fibre development for textiles, furniture, carpets and much more. Among those engaged in the deliberate use of plants is also the architectural practice Space Encounters. For Joolz, the luxury perambulator manufacturer located in Amsterdam with high ideological standards of responsible manufacture, the team of architects has created a new company headquarters. To counterbalance “natural deficits”, the 1,600 sq m office building is home to lushly planted greenhouses. Meetings of lunch breaks amid greenery are now part of the everyday office experience at Joolz.

Innovo ergo sum – thesis, theorem or theory?

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