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Insights into the year ahead

Features | January 13, 2020 | By:

Industry experts point to market need, collaboration and sustainability to drive textile markets this year. 

by Marie O’Mahony

The start of a new year is a time to consider what might lie ahead and what might be the trends, technologies and global events that could offer opportunity for the industry or conversely create a barrier to trade if overlooked. Themes have emerged over the past year; it is useful to consider where these might lead in 2020. Leading experts from divergent fields share their perspectives.

Human perspective in a digital world

In the enthusiasm for new technologies with their tremendous potential, it is time to hit “pause” and look at where there is human need. As Qaizar Hassonjee points out in his 2020 prediction. senior care is a place of identifiable human need as well as market opportunity. His point about the need for the technology to be passive is well taken, and as sensors extend their range and capabilities, the technology is certainly on track to deliver. 

There is also a requirement from other sectors for a more haptic quality to our interaction with the digital. This can be applied for many different reasons across markets, from products for dementia patients to more general smart products, where tactility can bring a more personalized interaction. 

Qaizar Hassonjee, president, Hass Tech Associates LLC

Senior care. Here is where I see a real market and an opportunity to make a difference, it’s one area that we at are focusing on at Hass Tech Assoc. Ideally, we are looking for smart materials that are ‘passive’ needing no action by the user so it could be incorporated into textiles (apparel, home textiles, etc.) or the built environment. Helping seniors live independently longer, or age-in-place, will provide a significant societal and financial benefit.

Sport and fitnessI see this as an oversaturated market with few newer opportunities likely this year.

Market drivenA shift from “technology forward” to “market back innovation,” and I see this as bringing more useful experiences in areas like elder care. If we start with the market need then we can work back to the best technologies at our disposal to make them happen. This needs collaboration with domain experts and technology providers and we look forward to working with partners.

The conscientious customer

The consumer is knowledgeable and demanding, both of products and of the companies that provide them. Fit for purpose is a given and there is increasing demand for textiles that can be shown to meet the criteria of a circular economy. In her predictions, Susanna Koelblin indicates the changing role of technology to help deliver on this, for instance, facilitating greater transparency along the supply chain. 

The fashion and sportswear industries have long been challenged by consumers to address these issues, but now customers are raising expectations in the more technical and industrial sectors. There was a great deal of interest in this issue at IFAI Expo 2019, and we are certain to see the discussion continue at IFAI Expo 2020 in Indianapolis.

Susanna Koelblin, business development leader textiles (Americas & EMEA), Eastman Chemical Co.

The life cycle of products will change.Circular economy principles will apply as a guide to reuse and repurposing products. Chemical recycling at the molecular level will have a breakthrough so that there is no deterioration of the textile quality, and recycled products can have an identical quality to those made with virgin materials.

Consumers will understand. Buying for quality and longevity is key, and buying second-hand, and reusing clothes, saves on emissions and water use. 

Emerging technologies will foster transparency. Blockchain and other technologies will help to support the cultivation of deeper connections between consumers and the products they buy, and they will combat suspicions of greenwashing, replacing it with credibility and trust. The Internet is the digital medium of information, and blockchain is the digital medium of value. 

Hybrid futures

One can observe the complexity of the industry from the processes involved in manufacturing a range of products as diverse as the wheel of a vehicle, or integrated electronics in textiles. Mark Majewski’s predictions relate to flexible hybrid electronics where two industries—textiles and electronics—are seeking ways of coming together.

The key challenge is that of scale, a necessity to maintain and achieve growth in the industry. Additive manufacturing has been quietly increasing its capability to create hybrid and functionally gradient materials, and this may well be the year that we start to see that achieve scale.

Mark Majewski, president and CEO, IntelliFLEX

Cross-sector collaboration. This will be more important than ever for flexible hybrid electronics, and I am already seeing an escalation in cooperation with many of our IntelliFLEX members. Myant, for example, is working with partners in the healthcare sector as well as with leading sportswear brands. 

Disruption in manufacturing. We will see new value chains emerge as textile and electronics are more fully integrated. Electronics, sensors, batteries—they are all becoming smaller and more flexible, so now we need manufacturing processes that can bring these together so that it is scalable. 

Sustainability. This is a big issue that goes way beyond the power supply. I see sustainability as a real opportunity for innovation, and I know there are some smart people out there working on this.

Custom engineering

Borrowing a term from the fine tailors of Saville Row, Jeff Dugan in his predictions sees the custom engineering of fibers as gaining momentum in 2020. We have seen a surge in these developments a decade ago from Japan, but they failed to attract the interest of global markets outside Asia at that time. 

Key to their success is engaging the interest and imagination of manufacturers, brands and consumers. The tailor of Saville Row, after all, only produces what the customer wants to their specification so that a dialogue is needed akin to partnerships and cooperation agreements. The time is ripe for a more proactive approach to encourage new ideas, perhaps more creative laboratories such as the AMANN Innovation Lab.

Jeff Dugan, vice president, research and co-founder, Fiber Innovation Technology (FIT)

Biodegradibility and durability. Once considered incompatible, we are now looking to see polyester that has strength and longevity, but it is also biodegradable after about ten years.

Custom engineered binder fiber. These are fibers where the surrounding fiber sheath melts during the manufacture of the nonwoven leaving the inner fibers to form the material. 

Microplastics. Microplastics are an issue for the whole fiber industry and one that we at FIT, and many others, are working on. I am optimistic that we will see some well- considered responses emerge by the end of the year.

That there is an appetite for advancing to the next stage in the industry is clear. What I find exhilarating in speaking with these experts and many others is the capacity for change, with the imagination, creativity and courage that goes with it. Here’s to 2020! Lets see what it brings and what we can make happen this year. 

Marie O’Mahony is an industry consultant, author and academic. She the author of several books on advanced and smart textiles published by Thames and Hudson and Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London. 

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