The main task of a winter jacket is to keep the wearer warm. Ideally it also needs to be light, soft and cozy without being too bulky. Today’s consumers are looking for active leisurewear and have high expectations. The garments they want must look great as well as being versatile and easy to care for. This latter point is where down, which is otherwise an ideal material for winter and outdoor clothing, can no longer meet the consumer’s demands. And if the buyer is also looking at issues such as allergens and animal protection, down is definitely out. Today’s trend is “down-free”.
Freudenberg sets new standards
With its comfortemp® fiberball padding, the Freudenberg Performance Materials has developed an innovative thermal insulation material that is THE alternative to down from the viewpoint of consumers and producers. It is the world’s first padding made from continuous fiber balls. It is soft, warm, breathable and 100% polyester. While down can trigger allergies and lump together in damp conditions, the new padding maintains its physical and functional properties at all times.
“Our padding combines the good properties of loose material and meter goods”, explained project manager Dr. Gunter Scharfenberger. Loose material is complex to handle during garment manufacture. For example, downs need to be filled into multiple pockets and sewn in. This allows loose materials to slip, causing cold bridges at the seams. For the industry, comfortemp® fiberball padding, which is offered in rolls by the meter, also means more design freedom with less processing time and lower costs. For Freudenberg, it represents a breakthrough innovation with which the company aims to conquer the sports market.
The big discovery was the process
Four years ago, Scharfenberger and his colleagues began working on this development in cooperation with the central research department. “My predecessors already had the idea for the material. The challenge was to find the technical solution”, Scharfenberger explained. A special carding technique is required to produce such light, soft and very bulky products. Scharfenberger noticed a machine that offered this technology, which was normally used to process other raw materials. It was tested and the team subsequently developed the complete carding process. “I remember the way we stood around the machine as the first attempt was made and worked right away. We were just delighted. I knew at once: We’re holding a truffle in our hands.”
50 to 80 percent
Higher thermal insulation provided by comfortemp® fiberball padding compared to conventional padding. The reason is the tiny air pockets between the small fiber balls, which guarantee excellent insulation.
Napapijri is now offering this truffle for sampling. In the role of pilot customer, the life-style brand has used comfortemp® fiberball padding into its new “Superlight Parka”. It will be launched under their own technology-name Thermo-Fibre® in the fall of 2017. Both companies worked closely together on the innovation. Bhavesh Naik is Senior Director Product, Innovation and Sourcing at Vf International SAGL, the group to which Napapijri belongs. He greatly appreciates Freudenberg’s inventive spirit:
“When it comes to new developments – in contrast to many competitors – there are engineers and scientists at work here who have the ability to take different perspectives and find new solutions.”
Of fibers used by Freudenberg Performance Materials Apparel are made from recycled polyester. This is a plus point for the sports and outdoor market because, in contrast to the fashion industry, the topic of sustainability plays an important role here.
Even though the patent application for both material and process is still ongoing, Scharfenberger and his team have continued to work on new materials using recycled fibers. ’Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips today. “It will be a game-changer in the clothing industry and is currently being driven by major companies”, explained Simone Visani, Sales Manager at Freudenberg Performance Materials. “Demand will soon come from consumers, who are becoming increasingly aware of what they really need and what impact their clothing choices have on the environment.”
“Feedback from customers has been great – and that is of course enormously important. As a developer, I find virtually everything exciting. However, a genuine innovation only becomes a development if it meets a demand and can be implemented.”