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Innovative yarns: 5 trends you should know

Textiles are only ever as good as the yarn they are knitted from. Innovative yarns therefore form the basis for the fabrics of the future. And please don't just think about clothing. To ensure you don't lose the thread, this blog post informs you about the five most important trends in yarns – including some surprising examples.

Innovative yarns form the basis for the fabrics of the future.

The use of innovative yarns holds immense potential for innovation, and not just for the textile industry. Researchers take natural phenomena as an exemplar (bionics) and create yarns with new functionalities. Yarns made from alternative natural fibers and recycled materials open up new possibilities for sustainable clothing. Smart yarns form the basis for functional fabrics. Find out more about the potential of advanced yarns and sustainable materials for the textile industry in this blog article.

1.    Bionic yarns: spiders as an exemplar

Bionics is the science that attempts to transfer phenomena from nature to the world of technology and thus make them reproducible. A simple example is the Velcro fastener. Its inventor copied it from burdock. When it comes to yarns, nature also has a lot that technology could copy and the economy could use.

Let's take cobwebs as an example. The fibers from which they are spun are the strongest currently available on earth. The thread is more elastic than rubber, many times more load-bearing than steel, and thinner than a human hair. In addition, cobwebs inhibit inflammation, are antibacterial, and do not cause allergies. They are biodegradable anyway.

With these properties, such a yarn is extremely beneficial for several fields. The problem is – how can such a yarn be produced industrially? After all, manufacturing the product on spider farms has turned out to be uneconomical.


The Munich-based company Amsilk has found a solution to this problem. It calls its product "Biosteel". To date, the industrially produced cobwebs have become marketable in cosmetics. The microparticles used here are easier to produce than more complex threads. The spider silk ensures optimum moisture regulation and silky, soft skin. Yet Amsilk is already working on other applications: for instance, covers for implants that are made from artificial spider silk. North Face has teamed up with Japanese biotech start-up Spiber to produce a parka made from synthetic spider silk.

Spider silk could also be used for military purposes, in aviation, or in automobile construction.  For example, Airbus is working with Amsilk on the use of spider silk in aircraft construction. This is because spider silk is not only lightweight, but also more elastic than steel, more tear-resistant than nylon and can absorb three times as much energy as Kevlar.

The video about spider silk on this page provides an entertaining example of the possibilities offered by fabrics made from these special yarns and where they are already in use today.

2. Natural fiber: a substitute for resource-intensive cotton

Cotton may well be a natural fiber, but its production involves a lot of resources, and so it is anything but sustainable. There are a number of natural alternatives. Lenzing AG has developed one of these. The fiber is obtained from wood and can be produced in a highly environmentally friendly way.

According to Lenzing AG, Tencel® – the registered brand name of the material – is more absorbent than cotton, softer than silk, and cooler than linen. Yarns made from this fiber are used to make mattresses, bed linen, home textiles, but also wet wipes, baby diapers, and sportswear. The Austrian sports apparel manufacturer Löffler uses Tencel®, for example, to produce sustainably produced functional sportswear.

LOVR is made from hemp waste and is sustainable, plastic-free, and 100% plant-based. Thanks to unique technology, the textile can be fully recycled and is biodegradable.

The start-up Re-Fresh offers circular solutions for numerous areas of application (cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, furniture, and packaging). New raw materials are obtained for this from shredded old clothing. Re-Nano, a patented, microfibrillated cellulose, gives the products the necessary flexibility and stability.

3. Recycled material: the raw material that floats on the sea

What we sometimes carelessly throw away as garbage is often a valuable raw material for something new. New yarns can be obtained directly from old clothes. This option has been in use for several years and the fashion giant H&M has also jumped on the bandwagon with great publicity.

Adidas now wants to use a different kind of waste mountain as a supplier of raw materials: the plastic waste that floats in our oceans and is increasingly becoming a problem. Together with the nonprofit organization Parley for the Oceans, the sporting goods manufacturer has developed sports shoes whose uppers are made from 100 percent plastic waste from the sea. The raw materials for this are yarns and fibers that are obtained from recycled and processed waste and (illegal) deep-sea nets.

Ecoalf  operates at a different point in the cycle. The Spanish company uses fishing nets, which are pulled from the sea in cooperation with the fishing industry, to produce garments. "Upcycling the Ocean" is the vision.

4. Smart yarns: the interface between man and machine

Sportswear counts the steps of runners, bed linen provides information about the condition of a patient in need of care, and undershirts provide doctors with a long-term ECG monitoring of the wearer. Thanks to intelligent yarns, we won't have to wait for such textiles for too long. Some of these products are already available. Last year, the Japanese telephone provider NTT DoCoMo and the Japanese chemical company Toray Industries presented a smart T-shirt called Hitoe that measures the wearer's heart rate.

A company based between the Bavarian Allgäu and Lake Constance has been offering a possible basis for further developments in "wearables" for some time. With Novonic®, Zimmermann AG has developed a conductive, elastic yarn that can be integrated into textile fabrics or even individual threads. The yarn can transmit data and is also capable of conducting heat and shielding radiation.

The clever fabric is used, for example, in the Handic@pp cell phone case. This blocks the radio waves from cell phones with the help of the Novonic® fabric. However, only on the wearer's body side, so that mobile phone reception is guaranteed. There are thousands of other possible applications for Novonic®. So far, however, there has been little interest from industry. This may soon change in the dawning age of wearables.

Examples of smart clothing: 

  1. The Newborn Edition of Mary by Sticklett enables the monitoring of body temperature and respiration in newborns via smartphone integration.
  2. The Heatable Capsule Collection, developed by Deutsche Telekom together with the fashion label AlphaTauri and the textile company Schoeller, can heat or cool individual zones of jackets.
  3. Conductive Jacquard™ threads allow the Levis trucker jacket to be connected to a mobile device. This means that music can be controlled, phone calls made, or directions accessed by swiping.
  4. Smart clothing is also trending among yogis. Smart yoga pants. Nadi X yoga pants use vibrations to indicate when the pose is not optimal.

5. Using new materials: smart bacteria in the fabric

Researchers are always looking for new materials – or rediscovering old ones – for the production of innovative yarns. However, developers at MIT Media Lab are using a very unusual material to produce functional fabric. The researchers use bio-3D printers to apply bacillus subtilis bacteria to the fabric. These bacteria detect when heat and moisture develop on the skin. They contract in response to this. The developers have taken advantage of this reaction. The garment has holes that open and close depending on whether the bacteria contract or not. So, as soon as the wearer of this smart sportswear starts to sweat, the bacteria ensure improved aeration.

Conclusion: innovative yarns and which trends are driving the industry

Innovative yarns can be used to connect completely different fields. This gives rise to an incredible range of new possibilities. Wearables, for example, whose development is probably only just beginning. Using waste as a raw material for new fibers, yarns, and textiles is another area of application that still has a lot of development potential. New ideas for yarns and threads also offer the European textile industry new economic prospects. Because clever minds can always prevail against cheap competition with all its negative consequences for society and the environment.

Paulinde Schmidt

Pauline has a holistic view of the future. With her qualifications in psychology and sustainable design, the researcher draws a clear picture of technologies, trends and markets. She converts the input from the experts into the next steps for your innovation project, both creatively and analytically at the same time.

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