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Riding the Sportswear Wave with Differentiation

“To rise above the competition in the challenging sportswear market, brands are seeking differentiation through new technologies, performance assurances, and a reliable and transparent supply chain,” Huntsman Textile Effects Global Marketing Manager Martin Weber said.

Two people doing yoga in a home

The sportswear segment is showing signs of healthy growth as interest in sports and fitness surges worldwide and consumers continue to embrace the ‘athleisure’ aesthetic where fashion and activewear meet. But success can be elusive in this highly competitive market.

Today’s winning brands understand their consumer and design specifically for them, offering the right performance, quality, and look. With a founder who played American football at university, Under Armour created the market for premium sports shirts before expanding into football boots. Other apparel brands that have changed the game in their niche include Lululemon in yoga, Rapha in cycling, Speedo in swimming and Picture in sustainable outdoor clothing.

We are now also increasingly seeing fashion and luxury brands seeking business opportunities with their own performance lines or through partnerships with well-regarded activewear brands. Notable collaborations, such as The North Face X Gucci and Prada X Adidas, continue to release new collections to intense customer demand.

What’s more, competition is heating up while trends like sustainability and e-commerce are accelerating.

“Sportswear brands can rise above this aggressive competition by standing out for innovation that improves garment performance while reinforcing their green credentials,” Weber said, who manages the Performance Apparel segment at Huntsman Textile Effects.

Sustainability and transparency
a grasslands with a digital overlay

Sustainability is an urgent priority for governments globally and consumers are increasingly favoring green brands. For sportswear companies, this means securing sustainable supply chains, adhering to recognized standards, and being transparent by releasing audit and supplier information. The segment is recognizing the efficiency gains and resource savings possible with a more sustainable operational approach, and also leading the apparel industry in exploring increasingly topical and important concepts, like circularity.

Partnering with trusted suppliers that have a strong track record in sustainability innovation helps brands and mills understand and meet the requirements of different markets and comply with global standards like bluesign® and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC).

Such partnerships can also provide access to brand assurance programs that promote transparency for brands and end-consumers. Huntsman Textile Effect’s industry-leading HIGH IQ® program, for example, delivers intelligent effects for textiles that offer enhanced comfort and performance along with exceptional protection from rain, sun, wind, and snow.

Innovation and technology

A new area of performance innovation focus for brands is around garments with antimicrobial and odor-control properties. Alliance partners Huntsman Textile Effects and Sciessent offer next-generation solutions based on Agion® Antimicrobial and Lava X2®. These two technologies can be combined to both fight odor-causing bacteria on the garment and capture odor generated by sweat on the skin, delivering unparalleled long-lasting freshness.

Huntsman and Sciessent add further value by working with brands to tailor these solutions, combine them with other finishes, and create innovative new products, providing expert on-site support at factories worldwide.

Speed and flexibility
An over the shoulder image of a person browsing their phone with a drink in hand.

With the increasingly popularity of digital commerce, many brands are shifting to integrated omnichannel retail models and growing their capabilities in online retail and direct-to-consumer sales. This puts even more pressure on their suppliers.

“As brands seek shorter lead times to better satisfy their end customers, a flexible and agile supply chain becomes even more valuable,” Martin explained. “Stronger supply-chain partnerships allow you to collaborate and leverage the strengths of your suppliers.”

When a major sportswear brand introduced more stringent fastness requirements in 2020, its production schedule gave its textile mill partners a very short lead time for recipe development. Huntsman Textile Effects worked with leading mills and marshalled the necessary technical knowhow and logistics expertise to rapidly formulate a solution that would provide improved fastness at optimal cost with reliable delivery.

The Huntsman team initially developed and lab tested more than ten dye recipes, which were subsequently finetuned with the mill customers during production trials. The ultimate solution was a four-dye recipe, based on a combination of NOVACRON® EC dyes, that successfully delivered more stringent light and perspiration light fastness performance without sacrificing cost and production benefits.

“Despite the complexity of supply chains in the apparel industry and the markets’ need for speed and flexibility, it is even more important today that brands are explicit about their sustainability targets and transparent about their partners. The right supplier partners can contribute a great deal to innovative new products and support fast development cycles with end-to-end supply chain traceability,” Martin said.

Anish Paliwal, Global Marketing Manager – CEL & DA, Huntsman Textile Effects

Kerim Oner, Global Marketing Manager – Finishing, Huntsman Textile Effects

Martin Weber, Global Marketing Manager – Washfast, Huntsman Textile Effects