Apparel retailers leverage TENCEL and high-tech fibers for cooling fabrics amid rising global temperatures and recovering from sales declines.
Apparel retailers like Macy’s and Columbia Sportswear are seizing the opportunity to expand their offerings of “breathable” and “cooling” fabrics, with TENCEL taking center stage, as soaring global temperatures fuel a demand for clothing that can provide relief from the heat. Major companies, including VF Corp (VFC.N) and Permira-owned Reformation, are also promoting warm-weather styles made with TENCEL, a lyocell fiber known for its superior absorbency compared to cotton.
This strategic push by clothing retailers comes as they seek to recover from a period of sales decline, influenced by inflation concerns causing consumers to prioritize essential purchases over discretionary spending. With heatwaves affecting multiple continents, apparel manufacturers and sellers are pinning their hopes on lightweight materials and performance fabrics, such as TENCEL, designed to offer enhanced cooling effects beyond traditional cotton and polyester knits. Moreover, they are tapping into the potential of high-tech fibers that promise “active” cooling benefits.
TENCEL’s Evolution from Athletic Wear to Year-round Fashion Staple
Industry experts, such as Jess Ramirez, an analyst for Jane Hali & Associates, highlight that TENCEL and similar textiles have long been utilized in athletic wear from brands like Lululemon (LULU.O). However, the rise in temperatures has prompted more retailers to promote them for hot weather and expand into year-round styles as winters become milder.
For instance, Macy’s has unveiled a new line that includes a $150 trench coat made with TENCEL and $24.50 tee-shirts made with modal, two lightweight, and breathable fibers derived from wood pulp. Macy’s Senior Vice President of Private Brand Strategy, Emily Erusha-Hilleque, emphasized that the department store chain conducts quality tests to back these “breathable” and “cooling” claims.
Similarly, Reformation, a women’s brand, has recently introduced skirts, bottoms, and dresses made with TENCEL, which they consider a foundational material for their products.
Although specific sales data on “cooling” clothes is not widely tracked, the manufacturing of TENCEL and related fabrics have been on the rise.
Challenges and Innovations in the Cooling Fabric Market
TENCEL-maker Lenzing has expanded its production capacity, attributing it to growing demand from brands such as Patagonia and VF’s North Face. However, there are cost implications, with TENCEL fibers being priced at up to $0.10 more per pound than other materials.
Moreover, it remains uncertain whether fabrics marketed as cooling can genuinely lower body temperature or merely provide a more comfortable sensation. Textile industry groups have developed tests to assess cooling abilities, mainly by measuring a fabric’s moisture distribution and quick-drying properties. However, no specific tests are mandated before companies can make cooling claims, and not all laboratory findings necessarily translate to real-world use.
Companies are also venturing into producing garments with performance fabrics, such as Lycra’s COOLMAX, a polyester yarn designed to wick sweat away for faster evaporation. Uniqlo, a brand under Fast Retailing, has expanded its AIRism line utilizing super-fine, smooth fibers made from polyester and cupro, which quickly dry and offer a cooling sensation, including items made with TENCEL.
Advancing Active Cooling Technology
The pursuit of “active cooling” fiber technology is another avenue of innovation, wherein materials are engineered to trap and release heat, surpassing the passive cooling provided by most conventional fabrics. Columbia Sportswear, for instance, has launched a new sweatshirt featuring Omni-Freeze Zero Ice fabric, which combines “active” technology with sweat-wicking properties and an absorbent print.
Similarly, other retailers are turning to fabrics from Atlanta-based textile manufacturer brrr, which embeds cooling minerals. The brand’s collaboration with Adidas, launching golf polo shirts using their material, has seen significant success. Interestingly, the demand for modified base layers and cold-weather clothing has also surged as more shoppers experience unseasonably warm winters.
With changing weather patterns and a growing emphasis on comfort, the textile industry is placing increased focus on TENCEL and other “cooling” fabrics, driven by both technological advancements and evolving consumer preferences. As temperatures continue to rise, clothing that keeps wearers cool will likely become a key driver of sales and innovation for clothiers worldwide.