Naia™ yarns have a soft, silky feel that lends itself to use in clothes that come into contact with the skin. (Photo courtesy of Eastman Chemical Co.)
"Everything old is new again," or so goes the idiom. The folks at Eastman Chemical Co. apparently agree, as they have dipped back into the firm's 80-year-old portfolio of cellulose ester materials technology to come up with a "new" fiber that's now finding use in a range of intimate apparel and other trendy clothing.
The Kingsport, Tenn.-based specialty chemicals company has been supplying filament yarns to the textile industry since the 1930s, but officially launched its newly reformulated Naia™-brand cellulosic yarn in January 2017.
Made from wood pulp derived exclusively from sustainably managed and certified forests, Eastman Naia™ cellulosic yarn is positioned to benefit from consumers' increased environmental concerns and interest in renewable sourcing. But the yarn must deliver on performance and desirable properties, or no amount of enviro-speak will make the resulting fabrics a commercial success.
Made from cellulose esters of renewable wood pulp, Naia™ yarn can be knitted or woven into various types of fabrics. Haeser calls this "Crafted Stripes." (Photo courtesy of Ellen Haeser)
To further its efforts, the firm has engaged with a couple of the world's leading fabric designers and trend-spotters who have lent expertise and credibility to the roll-out of Naia™ -brand fabrics. The company has partnered with both Jos Berry, Paris-based founder and CEO of Concepts Paris and the creative force behind the intimate-apparel fair Interfilière General Forum, and Dutch designer Ellen Haeser, founder of Studio Haeser.
Eastman, for its part, calls Naia™ "a new reflection of a long-standing fiber that enables luxurious, comfortable and easy-to-care-for fabrics and garments."
Haeser concurs. In a telephone interview, she describes Naia™ -based fabrics as feeling "very, very soft, and empathetic and cozy. You have all kinds of ways to knit and weave it. But, if it's done right, you can really come to a very silky, smooth, soft, gentle [feel]. It's also lightweight," she said. A further, big plus for Naia™ , she noted, is that it is washable.
Eastman closely surveyed the fabrics sector a couple years ago and set about looking for gaps in the market they could exploit. "We set up testing protocols and created fabrics from our materials," explained Glenda Eilo, Eastman's director of strategic marketing and innovation, "so we could compare and contrast with other, competitive materials in the market space. What we found is that our materials were quite advantaged over the traditional materials …"
She said that, as a result, Eastman understands its own material—as well as market needs—much better, as this allows the firm to verify performance claims for fabrics containing its yarns.
"We are committed to working both with mills to manufacture fabrics, and also pulling through the brands to have our materials in their new collections," she said, calling it a push-pull market activation strategy.
To get lighter-weight, breathable fabrics, you need higher-filament-count, lower-denier yarn, Eilo noted. So, in the past year Eastman has introduced and commercialized four new yarns that it says have enabled an even broader diversity of fabrics to be manufactured.
Naia™ can be knit or woven and, to tailor specific performance properties, can be blended with polyester, viscose, nylon, with elastane or Spandex to get a stretchy fabric. "You can dye our materials to get really deep, rich fabrics," Eilo said, "or you can get really light fabrics—both in color and composition. And then you also can print it digitally, or rotary or via sublimation printing."
This fabric pattern by Ellen Haeser, dubbed "Wonder Woman," demonstrates the intricate patterns and colors possible with Naia™. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Haeser)
Heather Quigley, a Ph.D. chemical engineer who is an advanced scientist in Eastman's Fibers Technology Division, said the company tested Naia™ extensively for properties related to luxury, comfort, and ease of care. This encompassed performance factors in such areas as liquid moisture management, moving air dry time, breathability, and cool to touch.
The biggest surprise, Quigley said, was that "We thought we would have a good dry rate, but we didn't realize it would be so much faster than the other fibers." Naia™ also exhibited better-than-expected soil release properties compared to other fibers, she said.
"In 2018 in the intimate apparel market," Eilo predicted, "prints are going to be very big. So, at Interfilière Paris last July, we worked with Ellen Haeser to develop 14 prints, in two themes (garden theme and nomadic theme), for fall/winter 2018 intimate apparel. We used multiple kinds of printing." The garments that Eastman had constructed out of those Naia™ fabrics showed the yarn's versatility, she said.
Naia™ 's soft, silky properties make it ideal for intimate wear.
Another major trend in intimate apparel, according to Eilo, is toward so-called "athleisure" clothing – with casualwear/nightwear/loungewear moving into streetwear.
Again, Haeser agreed, noting how consumers define their own needs and preferences. For years, Haeser said, there was much interest in such apparel as push-up bras, which Victoria's Secret and other such retailers exploited. "But now," she said, "today's women are very busy, and they want an outfit that is from desk to dinner"—able to be easily converted from workwear to eveningwear. This blurring of styles is creating the need for diverse fabrics, as well as different tops, shapes, colors, etc., that blend better with their outerwear.
Haeser calls this print simply "Embroidered Flower." (Photo courtesy of Ellen Haeser)
Noting that big-brand fashion retailers often are slow to react to such trends, Haeser credited the sports-apparel giant Nike with helping to drive this change. Nike in 2015 opened a new style of showroom and fitness studio in New York City's SoHo district, in a discreet location that was formerly a metalworking shop. Called 45 Grand (for its street address), the venue "looks like a cool bar, but it's an exercise facility and store," Haeser said—"a totally different environment."
"With Naia™ ," said Eilo, "we started with intimate apparel, but we'll be moving into men's and women's casual and business wear."
Eastman, meanwhile, in 2017 began commercial-scale production of Naia™ -brand cellulose yarn at its Kingsport headquarters, and is selling it to fabric mills that knit or weave it. The firm has at least 10 varieties and grades of the product available, but those materials differ in how they're manufactured, have different entanglements, or denier-filament counts, etc., Eilo explained.
The partnership between the Rotterdam-based Haeser and Eastman continues, with the designer creating more prints for her client to showcase at the 2018 Interfilière Paris show in mid-January. Eastman and its partners continue to work on improving aspects of Naia™ , including its color fastness, Haeser noted. But she says that when she first encountered fabrics made from the yarn, "it looked almost silky, and it feels very soft. I immediately felt the potential."
"We bring very different properties to the table that you can't get with existing materials," Eilo claims. "With existing materials, you typically can get two of the three main benefits—luxury, ease of care, and comfort. Naia™ can deliver on all three of those value buckets without having to make a trade-off."
I'm a communicator, connector and creator, with a manufacturing-and business-focused journalistic background but with an affinity for design and a desire to get these groups to collaborate more closely and effectively.