Italian brand Napapijri has turned to digital knitting to make clothes with warmth, flexibility and waterproofing woven directly into the fabric

Italian casual-wear brand Napapijri is using digital knitting – which transforms 3D digital designs into knitting patterns – to create clothes with high-performance properties while reducing material wastage.

Launching on September 15, the company’s Ze-Knit collection comprises 19 matte-black items for men and women, including jackets, sweatshirts, trousers and jumpsuits. Each piece is constructed from a single yarn and has special properties, such as areas of increased warmth or flexibility, woven directly into the fabric of the garment.

Bhavesh Naik, Napapijri’s senior director of product, innovation and sourcing, says his team originally set out to make the collection using a warp-woven manufacturing technique (where yarns run lengthwise through the fabric), but this limited their ability to alter the fabric and resulted in material waste. “We then started investigating the idea of knitting the garments, which put us on the path to digital knitting,” he says.

To make the clothes, designers create 3D models of each item using CAD software. These are then sent to an industrial knitting machine, where an encoder translates the model into a pattern and directs the needle’s movements accordingly. “The human body is obviously a 3D shape, but the traditional cut-and-sewn manufacturing technique takes 2D fabric and then moulds and stitches it into a 3D form,” explains Naik. With digital knitting, the clothes are created in 3D from the start, making it easier to align the fabric with the human form.

The technology also allows Napapijri’s designers to alter the pattern or yarn as they go. When knitting a sleeve, for example, they could adjust the fabric to make it looser around the elbow joint, so the muscles can move more freely. “You could do this with the cut-and-sewn technique, but the zoning would not be accurate, and the wastage in material would be excessive given the number of fabrics that would be needed to provide this functionality,” says Naik.

To develop clothes with different technical properties, the company identified various characteristics relating to how the body moves, perspires and handles temperature changes. From their research, they found that there were differences in the way that men’s and women’s bodies respond to changes in temperature. “Women have a greater sensitivity to the cold across the chest and abdomen compared to men, so we enhanced the thickness of boiled wool – a great natural insulator – within those areas on our female outerwear garments,” says Naik. Other examples include using odour-neutralising yarn in the underarm area.

The next step for Ze-Knit, says Naik, is to allow people to customise their clothing themselves: “In principle, each item could be as individual as the wearer.”