August 10, 2018
Emily's Notebook

Functional Fabric Fair NYC Review:
Top Takeaways

Functional Fabric Fair Powered by Performance Days was held July 22-23 at the River Pavilion at Javits Center in New York.
Presentations proved popular with attendees eager to learn the latest trends & tech.
1. Textiles Take Manhattan: Where Function Meets Fashion
When execs from American Eagle-Aerie, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Lilly Pulitzer, Ralph Lauren and Target take an early morning Uber to Javitz Center to check out the latest temperature-regulating midlayer materials and linger over conversations on the technical merits of merino, you know that functional textiles have arrived in the land of fashion. Such was the case last month when the Functional Fabric Fair made its New York City debut and 7th Avenue companies seeking a bigger piece of the active lifestyle space showed up with enthusiasm and intention to learn the latest material developments and category trends. These brands are realizing that performance textiles help differentiate product in a competitive, price-sensitive market and offer the type of value-add features today’s consumers want (and are willing to pay for) in their “tech casual” wardrobes. High-tech fabrics engineered to enhance comfort – be that via moisture management, lightweight weather protection and/or easy care – were top of mind, but interestingly sustainability and smart textiles garnered notable attention, too. Indeed, there was talk among suppliers that perhaps this urban fashion crowd – with its savvy marketing skills, substantial promotional budgets and roster of celeb endorsements -- could make the most impact in the years ahead in terms of getting mainstream consumers on board with eco/recycled products as well as wearable garments. In the meantime, 7th Ave street brands seem poised to pick outdoor industry’s performance pocket with innovative apparel looks featuring functional fabrications.
Seventy suppliers lined the Pavilion with innovative textiles & accessories.
2. Performance Please: Laser-focused Approach Appeals
The Functional Fabric Fair is “powered by Performance Days,” a leading textile trade event for lifestyle and active/outdoor markets held twice a year in Munich, Germany. Organizers did a nice job replicating the European ambiance and targeted approach of the Munich events and it paid off: attendees and exhibitors alike commented on the high-quality offerings and the laser-focused attention to materials with advanced properties. According to organizers (Reed Expositions) the Fair drew 1000+ attendees over the two-day event. A PERFORMANCE FORUM greeted attendees at the entry of the venue – a terrific light-filled space with views of the New York City skyline and Hudson River. Even long-time Javitz exhibitors and industry folk never knew this Pavilion existed let alone that it was a perfect fit for an intimate setting for textile shopping. The FORUM displayed professionally curated trend boards showcasing an extensive selection of high-tech materials ranging from next-to-skin qualities to outerwear offerings in addition to accessories such as yarns, tapes, prints, buttons and zippers. In her presentation Active Sports Design’s Alexa Dehmel highlighted the latest trends in her presentation, stating, “Function is very fashionable and fashion is becoming more functional.” She noted the natural feel, yet high performance properties of today’s materials along with modern interpretations in texture and aesthetics, particularly in waterproof/breathable constructions. In the category of shirts and pants, Dehmel mentioned fashion knits for leggings and shirting with plaids that are more sophisticated and less “outdoor” traditional. Overall, developments for the season ahead offer creative approach to performance textiles with lightweight functionality enhanced with distinctive visuals and a soft hand.
3. Talking Tech: Functionality Explained & Explored

Seventy textile manufacturers, suppliers and service providers exhibited at the FFF with good representation from Taiwan, in addition to European and U.S. companies. Fabric vendors from South America, Vietnam and China also showed. New relationships formed: vendors tapped buyers outside the performance-wear arena, while buyers and designers explored new territory of ingredient tech. New York has been a white space for this kind of experience; other textile shows have stretched to reach a broader audience with an added eco-emphasis and technical fabric displays, but at the moment the Functional Fabric Fair appears to hit on something new and different. Here’s what some exhibitors had to say:

“The sport/outdoor crowd understands functional fabrics, so this is good opportunity to talk with fashion people who want to learn about performance textiles,” said Angela Domsitz a representative with The WoolMark Company. “It’s a good mixed crowd. We’ve met new people as well as seen our partners, and re-connected with others.” She added, that “recycled” is big on the fashion front and a direction being explored.

“We’ve seen people from Everlane, J.Crew, PVH, Free Country and Untuckit among others,” commented Jen Miller of Concept III Textiles, a sales and marketing firm representing several performance lines including AMBT wool from Australia. “They see merino as a trend and want to get their customers onboard. They are looking to incorporate merino, and recognize that merino blends work, but are asking how do we make our garment different from Smartwool, for example.”

“Brands are looking for down alternatives,” said Joe DiGiroLamo of Thermore, who met with execs from American Eagle, Ralph Lauren and Reebok. “They are talking about sustainability and concerned about animal welfare issues related to down.” Thermore showcased its EcoDown synthetic insulation along with a stretch insulation product.

“Tech that adds an extra element of comfort is on a growth path,” said Christy Raedeke, of Cocona/37.5. Recent developments for the ingredient brand have come in men’s suiting and footwear. The company partners with Banana Republic as well as Carhartt in denim.

“Reflective has a role in design and fashion trends, but also trends in functionality,” said Chuck Gruber, president, Safe Reflections. To his point, a stylishly contemporary dress displayed in the company’s booth showed how reflective can be incorporated in a fashion garment, proving that the material has evolved far from its safety origins.

From left to right: Alexa Dehmel, head of PERFORMANCE FORUM, Stefanie Sacherow PERFORMANCE DAYS, Charles Ross Orator @ Functional Fabric Fair in New York.
4. Timing is Everything: Where Urban Outdoor is Going
The July dates of the inaugural Functional Fabric Fair coordinated with New York’s Market Week and as such the Fair co-located with a handful of other trade events ongoing at Javitz the week of July 23rd, including TexWorld. Additional shows featuring athleisure attire, street looks, and footwear collections were held at other venues around the City the same week. The only wrinkle from a performance standpoint of being in NYC was that Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was happening simultaneously in Denver. What’s a performance fabric supplier to do? Polartec went all in at FFF, serving as a show sponsor, taking a large booth and having CEO Gary Smith as a speaker. Other firms split staff and resources and attended both OR & FFF. Either way it seemed to work out fine for all involved. Next year there’s no conflict, as ORSM will be held in June. It will be interesting to see if more of the outdoor textile tribe comes east for summer in the City to attend FFF. With functional fabric suppliers in flux over OR’s new three-show schedule, perhaps FFF will surface as an alternative. Steve McCullough of Reed Exhibitions is already looking forward to next year. “Our goal was to provide a premium, curated marketplace of performance fabrics and accessories that would benefit leading lifestyle brands,” said McCullough. “We are excited with the results and look forward to enhancing the event even further in 2019.”