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If recent trends are a marker of what is to come in fashion, activewear, with its high comfort and versatile offering, is becoming an extremely popular industry segment, reflecting a broader consumer shift in priorities and lifestyle, one that places health and wellness at the forefront.
To learn more about the current landscape of activewear, and the necessary importance of integrating sustainable solutions into the segment’s offerings, the TENCEL™ team recently sat down with Andreas Gürtler, Senior Manager Global Business Development Active Sportswear at Lenzing, for another edition of our “TENCEL™ Insights” Series.
Q: Activewear has fast become fashion’s most popular category, and just as the pandemic pushed our notion of loungewear beyond our own homes, activewear appears to have experienced a renaissance of its own kind. What are some recent trends you’ve seen for the segment?
Andreas: For me, the biggest pull of activewear – or athleisure as some would call it – has always been its unbeatable levels of comfort and versatility. While activewear garments are typically designed with movement or performance in mind, consumers have quickly found that a pair of leggings or yoga pants work just as well as clothing to run errands in, grab lunch with friends in or even conduct a video conference! The pandemic has also propelled activewear into spaces like the office, creating an opportune moment to enhance the segment’s offerings.
Aesthetically, lockdown has fashioned comfort into everyday apparel, while activewear dived trend-first into a sartorial overhaul. More and more, consumers are gravitating towards bolder statement pieces to match their busy and diverse lifestyles. Brands now carry pieces that are equal parts technical in their performance properties and functional ability as they are stylish by weaving in elements of elegance and off-duty glamour.
Q: What performance elements or properties do consumers expect from activewear these days?
Andreas: Whether worn for an intensive workout or simply to don the “athleisure look”, activewear is specific in that it is designed to optimize experience, making its fabric an all-important factor in determining how functional an overall garment is. Good activewear is designed for scalable use, meaning consumers expect pieces to withstand multiple washes over a duration of time, without any diminishment to quality. Increasingly, consumers want garments that are climate-controlled and thermal regulated, in order to maintain comfortable body temperature. For performance purposes, properties such as moisture-management and breathability are also important attributes that help to ensure dryness and a constant flow of air, which is crucial in preventing bacterial growth. This is what we focus on incorporating in our TENCEL™ branded fibers designed for activewear.
Consumers have also grown increasingly more concerned with the sustainability of clothes. For many, high-quality yet ethically made garments are now the minimum requirement and no longer simply “nice to have”. This underscores the industry need for climate-neutral fibers that are nature-based and eco-responsible, as well as high-performing.
Q: Fabric properties such as moisture-wicking typically necessitate certain chemicals and synthetics, especially in the activewear segment. What eco-alternatives can the TENCEL™ brand provide to consumers?
Andreas: There hasn’t been a straightforward solution to sustainable activewear, the reason being that the industry relies on synthetic fibers, such as nylon or polyester, to achieve certain functional properties. However, consumers are demanding more sustainable options, which has driven the industry to seek out alternative fiber choices, particularly ones that are derived from natural sources.
The TENCEL™ brand’s family of lyocell and modal fibers are perfect examples to support this eco-movement. Unlike synthetics, TENCEL™ branded cellulose fibers are derived from wood pulp and are certified compostable and biodegradable while maintaining a roster of performance elements such as thermal regulation through their natural hydrophilic qualities. We also now offer carbon-zero TENCEL™ fibers for sportswear brands which are looking to launch products that reduce their carbon footprint.
Q: With these innovations in mind, can you share with us some examples of recent and current collaborations or co-branding partnerships where these groundbreaking technologies are put to the test?
Andreas: With the burgeoning popularity of sustainable activewear, the TENCEL™ brand has maintained a strong co-branding presence in the segment space, partnering with global brands like Adidas, The North Face, Maier Sports, Fila and Lululemon.
In April 2022, the TENCEL™ brand teamed up with outdoor fabric innovators Marco Weichert and David Parkes to launch the Tree Climate fabric collection. The collection demonstrates TENCEL™’s exceptional versatility when applied to outdoor apparel and has spurred the creation of synthetic free and enhanced synthetic content layering solutions under several weather conditions. With the collection designed specifically for outdoor activities, it was important that the fabric materials were responsibly sourced and that the end-of-life environmental impact would be minimal. We are also proud to say the environmental impact of the fibers within this collection is amongst the lowest of all materials according to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index.
For TENCEL™, expanding our collaboration network with industry partners and brands plays a key role towards driving greater sustainability. We will continue to explore opportunities and create a positive impact across the activewear market. Our team have many exciting developments and partnerships in the pipeline, so please stay on the look-out for us!