I am a total nerd when it comes to design - I need to understand every facet of something. I wanted to share with you some of the more interesting and relevant things I learned over the past two years. While I’ve picked up a lot through reading, researching and conversations, there are still huge gaps in my understanding of textiles and if you do have something to teach me - please get in contact! I’d love to chat with you.
If you were to go for a long ride or jog, or trek, you’ll probably wear some kind of hi-tech all-weather magic fabric engineered by a Swedish company. But more often than not, that fabric is the kind that makes you feel uncomfortable in public because it leaves nothing to the imagination, fits your body in an unflattering way or just doesn’t make you feel cool and relaxed. Then you’ve got the other end of the spectrum; the stunning, soft, flowing, or thick, rich, lustrous fabrics, that will probably stain easily, pill easily, need to be treated with care but make you feel like a total Lord. You might also be familiar with those affordable mass-produced fabrics designed for the lazy modern city-slicker, cheap, no-iron anti-crease polyester or rayon, fabric that reeks when you wear it all day and doesn’t let your body breathe.
Surely there’s a middle ground right? Dreamy fabrics that can do with a bit of action? For activity, you want a fabric that allow your body to breathe, wicks away sweat, won’t retain stink or bacteria, might insulate you in cold climates, allow for movement, and maybe even keep out some of those harsh sun rays. Cotton feels great on - but it absorbs and can hold on to about 25 times its own weight in water (hydrophilic) and takes an age to dry. While cotton is naturally a good sort; it’s soft, natural and breathable (not considering carbon footprint in creation or afterlife), it’s weak in an activewear context. Because of its ability to retain moisture, a cotton garment might result in chafing in hot weather, hyperthermia in cold weather, and is an ideal environment for bacteria to grow; a warm, moist environment close to the skin. And as I understand it, bacteria that occurs in clothing can be especially stinky!
So what else is there? So many things. Synthetic fabrics get a lot of flack - I’ve met a bunch of ‘fabric snobs’ who will only wear ‘naturals’. Naturals like bamboo, silk and merino are somewhat super fabrics. They are naturally antimicrobial and moisture-wicking. However, unlike synthetics, they’re not super tough. I researched blends - toughened naturals like engineered cotton, fabric that have treated yarn, and other naturals that are treated with chemicals post weaving/knitting. However, despite all the info I found on production of these, and my excitement to get my hands on them - the range of stock fabrics available in Australia (both imported and locally produced) is very limited.
I have created a personal library of fabrics. MOQs vary greatly, as do colour and finish options. I contacted Goretex and a few other companies known for hi-tech fabrics, however most were only interested in large business transactions. Big dogs - like Nike and Adidas have some brilliant fabrics. They’ve produced custom blends in their own labs and mills for their specific garments and it’s a real shame these kinds of gorgeous tech fabrics aren’t available more readily.
When you go about using fabrics to create garments, there’s obviously different objectives; to make something cool, to make something comfortable, to make something cheap and warm/accessible, to make something edgy and artistic etc. And while the function is at the forefront of the decision making, serious consideration must be paid to the full life cycle of the garment if the objective is true sustainability. Sure, the fabric was energy consumptive in its production - but maybe it lasts forever and makes you happy, keeps you warm and safe and allows you to have a reduced wardrobe. Or perhaps, a garment is made with minimal energy and water, from recycled components, and is only worn a handful of times but breaks down in compost. Whatever the case, with the variables of user, use, production, disposal, energy etc - its impossible to hold up a fabric next to another and say which is better. You can however, try to be more educated as a consumer or more transparent as a producer, so that what we chose to consume is valued and appropriate to our use, as opposed to disposed of.
/ means the fabrics inhibits the growth of microorganisms. Ie. bacteria, fungi, yeast and algae, that can cause odours and degradation of fabric.
This comes in two forms – either the fabric is inherently/naturally able to do this – in the case of Merino in the Track Pants, or is treated with a chemical that arms the fabric with this quality. It’s not ideal to add chemicals – but if it means you can wear a shirt on a bike to commute, not be publicly shunned for stinking, feel and smell good, and be encouraged to commute again, I think the chemical compromise is worth it. But we are eternally seeking to learn more and find more textiles so please get in touch if you have any concerns or suggestions!
/ can handle more wear and tear than standard fabrics.
The creation of polyester and the nature of the material makes it strong, quick-drying, wrinkle resistant, shrink resistant and mildew resistant. It’s extremely durable. Adding stretch to fabrics often aids in durability, because it moves with your body, and doesn’t restrict or feel strain from the movement. For instance, a nylon and spandex blended merino is more durable because of stretch, and because of the characteristics of nylon. I think of it kind like reo in concrete, providing a tough structure that offers something different to what its laid in. The Cordura (R) fabric I used is super durable - this brand is known for tough fabrics.
/ this fabric stands out and you can see it from a distance.
In this context, I use this term to describe the neon orange fabric. Damn it’s bright. Hi-vis fabrics come with certain connotations, but their visibility near roads is so valuable for a rider/skater, so I used them with subtle tailoring or in panels so that our preconceived notions of hi-vis might be challenged and hi-vis might be celebrated for its strengths.
/ this fabric keeps your warmth in, or reduces heat-loss for the wearer
When I was learning about fabrics, I became fairly confused due to the complexities of how it might behave. *to be continued
LOCALLY MILLED FABRIC
/ this refers to fabric that was made here - in Melbourne!
To be more specific - the mill is in Reservoir and dye house is in Sunshine. Cool, hey! There’s a fair few mills still in operation in Australia - I learnt about several merino-wool specialising producers and can’t wait to collaborate with them in the future.
/ this means the fabric ‘wicks’ sweat away from the garments.
You may be familiar with Nike’s Dri-fit? This is their custom trademarked version of a wicking fabric, which is becoming more and more common. This kind of fabric doesn't hold on to moisture - it essentially moves it to the outside of the garment so that it can be evaporated more readily.
/ this means the fabric can be dried relatively quickly!
You may have worn a quick-dry garment hiking or running. Conversely, you’re probably familiar with the way jeans or cotton tees hold on to moisture! Not ideal for a day at work after a sweaty ride!
/ this means there are some fibres that have been salvaged from waste and put into a new product rather than using all virgin fibres.
In this case - I have used a fabric from Vivify that employs 64% of fibres made from 100% post-consumer recycled waterbottles. After a phone call with Vivien, the director of Vivify, I also learned that in producing this partially recycled fabric, it consumes less energy than creating the fabric from virgin fibres. For more info on this - http://www.vivifytextiles.com/
/ aka reflective.
This means that a fabric appears to be glowing when viewed from the same angle as a light source. For instance, behind the wheel of a car, when you’re on your bike riding at night with a light on, or when your’e jogging in the arvo and the sun is low - this fabric is really good at making you visible! All tBab garments have this quality in varying degrees.
/ it’ll move with you!
Fabrics can have stretch or movement on the diagonal, have 2-way stretch, or 4-way stretch! Stretch fabrics have varying degrees of strength, and percentages of stretch. Essentially, I wanted fabrics that had small amounts of stretch, so that they would allow movement but not make the wearer feel completely naked. While it would have been ideal to make the Weekend Shorts out of a rigid drill so they were flattering and stiff, I needed to chose a fabric that allowed comfortable movement on a bike - such as the Vivify Snew63.
/ this means the garment offers more protection from UV rays that a ‘regular’ item of clothing - has a good UPF or ultraviolet protection factor.
This varies between garments. The Cordura in the Racing Dress has tested to provide the highest recordable rating of solar protection, while the polyamide/spandex Adventure Long Sleeve is being tested to determine its exact rating, however has a minimum UPF of 30, meaning it allows 1/30th of the sun’s UV radiation to meet your skin.
The permeability of fabric to solar radiation is dependant on colour, content, weight and construction of fabric. A thin white cotton t-shirt has a UPF rating of about 5, allowing 1/5th of the sun’s UV through, and even more when wet! According to skincancer.org, studies done in Australia show that lycra/elastane fabrics were the most likely to have UPFs of 50 or higher, followed by nylon and polyester.
/ this means not easily penetrated by water
Fabrics or fibres can be treated so that they do not absorb or repel water. When you flick or pour water over the Weekend Shorts, you can observe the water bead and run off. However, because its stretch, the surface isn’t able to be an impermeable shield to water.
Fabrics can also be water-proof, like the neon orange in the track pants, however, while this fabric is technically ‘breathable’ it feels heavy, and I have used the fabric sparingly where I felt these characteristics were most valuable.
I’m super excited about the future of textiles, and the future of design in incorporating these. We’re living at a time when it’s vital to be conscientious in our consuming and I love the challenge of innovation in a relatively new genre of fashion. Please get in touch if you have any comments or concerns. This section will be updated with more info and stories in the near future.