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Fleece fabrics and garments: lightweight warmth for better performance
published in Issue 25, 2nd Quarter 2008
Fleece fabric has redefined the way people dress for cold weather. It enables wearers to spend hours in below-freezing temperatures without becoming uncomfortable, and yet it is light in weight and has relatively low bulk. The market for fleece fabrics has benefited greatly from a growing interest in outdoor sports, as well as recreational activities in general. It has also benefited from the rising popularity of cold winter sports, particularly alpine climbing and recreational skiing. By 2007 the market was worth an estimated US$4 bn worldwide.
The supply of fleece fabrics is dominated by Polartec, formerly Malden Mills, whose Polartec and Polarfleece brands have become household names. The fabric was introduced as polyester fleece under the brand name Polarfleece in 1981. Subsequently, fleece developed a somewhat dowdy image but this was changed dramatically with the launch of Polartec fabrics in 1991. Polartec fabrics satisfied customer demands because they dried quickly, they were warm, lightweight, and breathable, and they came in fashionable styles and colours. Polartec fabrics have been successful because they are warm, lightweight, and breathable, they dry quickly, and they come in fashionable styles and colours. Sales have been helped by the growing popularity of outdoor pursuits among baby boomers and their desire for garments which are warm, comfortable and easy to care for.
The key attributes of synthetic fleeceŚgood thermal insulation, softness, low weight and the ability to wick moisture away from the bodyŚwere embraced by outdoor enthusiasts and mainstream consumers alike. Fleece garments, or fleecewear, swept through the performance apparel market in the mid-1980s. Fleece overtook wool as the fabric of choice for a number of outdoor apparel applications and established itself firmly as an alternative to heavy pullovers and bulky overcoats. Today, its uses in outdoor apparel range from high-tech outerwear to hiking boots. Fleece garments have also crossed over from performance apparel into fashion and corporate wear. Fleece has even found its way into deep-sea diving, in the form of linings for diving suits.
For the future, fleece fabrics will find their way into many new applications. Growth will be driven by novel end uses for existing products, as well as by the introduction of innovative products.
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Performance apparel represents one of the fastest growing markets in the global textile and clothing industry--and market growth is being fuelled by an emergence of new fibres, fabrics and innovative materials. The market's growth prospects are also being spurred by increasing demand for performance properties in mainstream fashion.
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