A role for the black sheep

© Ortovox
© Ortovox
© A. Wilson

Complex combinations of performance fabrics make up the outfits for those who practise Winter sports. Skiers, mountaineers and other outdoor enthusiasts will often be swaddled in outfits comprising a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer-layer – in addition to gloves, hat, goggles – that can be taken on and off as the activity levels and varying temperatures require.

Sports jackets themselves these days generally consist of three layers – a performance fabric, a functional plastic outer laminate and an insulating lining. Increasingly, all layers are held together with ultrasonically-welded or heat-bonded lightweight seaming, rather than the sewn stitching used in the past.

It is in the insulating layers that nonwovens play a crucial role in outdoor apparel, and key manufacturers include INDEX exhibitors including 3M, with its Thinsulate brand, Freudenberg with a range of advanced performance nonwovens aimed at this market and Invista, which bases its Thermolite products on special hollow core fibres.
Nowadays there is even a role for the black sheep of Switzerland.

Ortovox is a multiple award-winning outdoor apparel brand based in Taufkirchen, Germany which, since 1988, has been combining wool insulation with other performance fabrics to provide the best combinations of wear-comfort and functionality.

In 2011 it introduced wool-based nonwovens to its ranges based upon the ‘Swisswool’ initiative.
The harsh mountainous landscape of the Swiss Alps provides an ideal habitat and rich, natural food sources for over 400,000 black mountain sheep. From the Grisons to the Valais, the animals spend all summer on the alpine pastures and are shorn by hand in spring and Autumn. They spend the cold winter months in the protection of spacious sheds, fed on nutritious dried grass.

Not many years ago, small businesses in Switzerland earned very little or no money from sheep’s wool, since Swiss second-shearing wool – despite being ideal as a high quality and natural insulation material – cannot be woven directly, and wasn’t attaining a competitive price on the global market. When federal subsidies for raising sheep were reduced or completely eliminated, many farmers were nearly driven out of business.

This led to the foundation of Swisswool, with the aim of stimulating the regional economy by arranging local collection of wool and purchased at a fair price for farmers, with alliances with various companies to process the material into a variety of products.

The Swiss wool employed in the Ortovox outdoor ranges is processed in Belgium and converted into nonwoven layers at Baur Vliesstoffe in Germany.

Ortovox also employs Tasmanian Merino wool from five farms which company auditors visit and audit regularly.


In an interesting development in the sports insulation sector, Italian specialist Thermore has recently introduced a unique nonwoven insulation material called ‘Thermal Booster’, which has been scientifically-proven to become 20% warmer as the temperature drops.

It is based on the company’s proprietary fibre migration system that activates in crucial zones of the material within a jacket construction, and as such, is not reliant on battery-driven heating or phase-change materials, and can be machine washed without affecting performance. Thermore has also just introduced a version of Thermal Booster insulation with four-way stretch.

A further innovation is Celliant, manufactured by Imbotex, also based in Italy, and a second user of Swiss wool. Celliant is based on a combination of specially-formulated proprietary ingredients and minerals blended with polyester fibres in nonwovens.

It has been proven in clinical tests to increase oxygen levels and help balance body temperature. Added benefits are said to include faster healing, increased performance and improved overall wellness – all of which can help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis and peripheral vascular disease often associated with diabetes.

The key to Celliant is said to lie in its ability to absorb and store the electromagnetic energy emissions from the human body and release them, whereupon they are reabsorbed into the skin and deep muscle tissue. In deep muscle tissue they act as catalysts for natural, biological processes, resulting in enhanced oxygen levels and a more balanced body temperature during sleep, rest or physical activity.

The body is constantly giving off electromagnetic energy as can be seen through infrared goggles. The minerals in Celliant were specifically chosen because of their natural ability to absorb and reflect this energy back to the wearer.

While the outdoor brands have their own trade shows, INDEX  – the world’s leading nonwovens exhibition which next takes place from 4th -7th April 2017 at Palexpo – is the place for the latest in nonwoven fabric innovations, whatever their final end-use.


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