Modal Fabric: Fashion’s Response to Rising Temperatures with Cooling Fabrics

Amid soaring global temperatures, fashion leaders like Macy’s and Columbia Sportswear are adopting cooling modal fabric to meet surging demand for heat-relief apparel, marking a transformative industry shift.

As global temperatures surge to unprecedented levels, the world of fashion is undergoing a transformative shift, with prominent retailers like Macy’s and Columbia Sportswear embracing the potential of innovative “breathable” and “cooling” fabrics, including the versatile modal fabric. This strategic pivot seeks to not only drive sales but also address the escalating demand for apparel that offers a reprieve from the blistering heatwaves sweeping across continents. Recognizing the significance of this trend, major players such as VF Corp (VFC.N) and Permira-owned Reformation are also championing warm-weather styles crafted from the extraordinary lyocell fiber, Tencel, which is renowned for its enhanced absorbency compared to conventional cotton.

In the face of climate-induced challenges and shifting consumer priorities, clothing retailers are seizing the moment to spotlight “cooling” garments. This movement has catalyzed a surge in the use of lightweight materials and high-performance fabrics that deliver unparalleled relief in contrast to traditional cotton and polyester knits. Beyond these advancements, cutting-edge textiles promise “active” cooling capabilities, a development that has quietly shaped the landscape, particularly within athletic wear from notable brands like Lululemon (LULU.O). As the planet’s climate trends towards milder winters, these textiles are extending their reach from seasonal pieces to year-round essentials.

Reshaping Fashion with Luxurious Comfort and Cooling Innovation

Macy’s (M.N) executives proudly present their latest collection, a testament to the incredible potential of these textiles. The lineup showcases a $150 trench coat exquisitely tailored from lyocell and $24.50 tee-shirts meticulously crafted from modal—a sumptuous fiber derived from wood pulp that is celebrated for its featherweight feel and exceptional breathability.

The modal fabric revolution is not confined to a single retailer; others are equally embracing its allure. Reformation, a prominent women’s brand, recently unveiled a line of skirts, bottoms, and dresses that incorporate modal fabric, which the company considers an indispensable foundation for its products.

Despite the absence of precise sales data for “cooling” clothing, the growing momentum in related fabric manufacturing is indisputable. Lenzing, the trailblazing producer of Tencel, has amplified its production through the establishment of a cutting-edge facility in Thailand, a strategic move attributed to the burgeoning demand from prestigious brands such as Patagonia and VF’s North Face. This expansion, while potentially incurring higher costs, underscores the unwavering appeal of these forward-looking textiles.

As the realm of climate-conscious fashion continues to flourish, cellulose-based fibers like lyocell, modal, and cupro have experienced remarkable growth. The nonprofit Textile Exchange reveals that global production of these fibers surged by over 10% to reach a staggering 7.2 million tons in 2022. This remarkable surge finds its reflection in the operations of PT Golden Tekstil, an esteemed Indonesian mill catering to renowned clients like Macy’s, PVH (PVH.N), and Ralph Lauren’s (RL.N) Polo brand. The company’s resolute commitment to cutting-edge textiles is evident in its impressive 20% to 30% boost in “performance” fabric production in recent years, as it diligently meets the escalating demand for these innovative materials.

The True Cooling Comfort of Modal Fabric

Yet, even as the industry embraces a new era of fabrics, lingering questions persist regarding the actual cooling efficacy of these textiles. While textile industry groups work diligently to devise tests that evaluate cooling performance by measuring moisture distribution and rapid drying, mandatory testing standards remain absent. Moreover, not all laboratory findings seamlessly translate to real-world comfort, highlighting the need for comprehensive research and development.

Beyond the realm of “passive cooling,” a new horizon known as “active cooling” is emerging, marked by the incorporation of materials engineered to trap and release heat. Leading this charge is Columbia Sportswear (COLM.O), unveiling its Omni-Freeze Zero Ice fabric—a revolutionary blend of “active” technology, moisture-wicking attributes, and sweat-absorbing prints. This shift towards active cooling technology signifies a compelling realm of possibilities that fashion is boldly venturing into.

In an age of climate unpredictability, innovation remains the compass guiding clothing companies as they navigate evolving consumer needs and environmental challenges. As temperatures continue to rise, the development of fabrics that seamlessly unite style, comfort, and functionality—such as the remarkable modal fabric—remains at the forefront of the fashion industry’s mission. In this transformative era, where technology meets style, fashion is reinventing itself to offer both aesthetics and respite from the heat.

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