Material Movements: A Guide to Athleisure Fabrics

Comfort. Durability. Flexibility. Luxury. These four elements are the mantra of athleisure’s fabrics. As their final product needs to be able to integrate flawlessly into an active and social lifestyle, textiles used to execute athleisure need to support functional and design needs. Traditionally, sportswear was limited to polyester and its blends, which supported moisture wicking and had finishes that were anti-microbial or had a high-evaporation rate. However, innovation in fabric technology has widened the scope on what can be used in athleisure. That means patterns, quality and styling can be a priority too, in response to various consumer demands. These are just some of the fabrics -old and new – that are playing a part in helping athleisure achieve it’s attributes of Physical and psychological comfort as well as Transition-ability.



Cotton – Plain and simple, this fabric is terrible for sweat-related activities. Extremely hydrophilic, it also takes longer to dry. Only use if your apparel is strictly for the relaxation side of athleisure. Plus, if you’re trying to be a green brand, this crop has an impact on the environment (which we covered in-depth here).

Wool –It’s essentially perfect for regulating body heat, making it popular in hikers and outdoor apparel. It has the added advantage of breathability and moisture protection, keeping the wearer insulated.

Bamboo – Although some may consider this a synthetic fabric due to how it’s processed, it’s often used as an eco-alternative to synthetics. Not only does it protect the skin from UV rays, its breathable, lights and great at wicking away moisture. This soft, anti-microbial material keeps the wearer cool when hot and insulated when cold.



Nylon – Created as a substitute to silk, this light-weight yet strong material has low moisture absorbency, is resistant to dirt and dries quickly. It’s crease-free which is great, since this baby melts under high heat like ironing. Apart from breathability and wick-attributes, it’s long lasting and smooth fibres make it more durable than polyester.

Polyester – Traditionally, this is the go-to fabric for workout clothes since it’s crease-free, shrink-resistant, breathable, durable and non-absorbent. It takes colour much easier than nylon making it ideal for digital printing and saturated prints. However, this fabric clings to stink since it’s synthetic nature is perfect thriving ground for bacteria.

Lycra – You may know it as Spandex, Elastane or as that stretchy, smooth fabric with a matte finish. Sure, it offers the same breathable, dries quickly and wicks moisture package (BDW package), but it’s strength is the fact that it can expand to almost 600% of its size! If you do use this, you may want to throw on a care label that shows them how to keep the elasticity for longer. Too many drier or dry-cleaning sessions and it loses its star quality.

From Left: Nylon, Spandex and Polyester



As we mentioned in an earlier post, there’s quite a bit of investment in technology and research for improved fabrics. Caution needs to be taken with this category as you may need the implicit approval or permission of the creator to use or distribute these fabrics. From existing Sportwear brands to manufacturers, here are examples of what is already in the market:

Dri-Fit by Nike – it’s a wicking polyester with a pretty high evaporation rate. What makes it easily identifiable is its miniature, regular holes and it’s affords only a little stretch. Probably why it’s commonly utilised in merchandise for athletic events.

Dri-Fit Nike [Image: Nike]

Supplex by Invista – The scientists at Invista improved on traditional cotton by keeping its softness but making it breathable and quick-drying, while improving its ability to hold shape and retain colour.

PolarTec by Malden Mills – This manufacturer created this to have the advantages of wool without the bulkiness, itchiness, heaviness or care disadvantages. They currently have over 300 different fabrics that differ in texture, weight and intended activities, but still offer BDW package with colour-retention.

[Image: PolarTec]

Tasc by Tasc Performance – this is made from a blend of organic cotton, spandex, wool and chemical-free bamboo. The result is an insanely soft, odour repellent, temperature regulating fabric with UPF 50+.

X-Static by Noble Biomaterials – they weave in silver into fabric for its antimicrobial attributes. One strong advantage being that it prevents fungal and bacterial growth. What makes silver such a unique element is that it doesn’t stop working and never washes out. This kind of guarantee makes this a typical fabric in athleisure or athletic brands.

[Image: X-static]


To know what is new in the world of innovative athleisure materials, we turned to ISPO Textrends. ISPO is a company that provides transparency and orientation on what sports products and markets. Under their ISPO Textrends, they provide a platform for product managers and designers to find out what the latest innovative materials in performance textiles. They’ve published the five textiles trends for Spring/Summer 2018, namely suave, accelerate, vigor, lucid and freedom, on their website.  They’ve gone into great detail and we highly recommend that you read their full descriptions and how they can work in your upcoming collections.

Suave – This trend is marriage between natural and synthetic fabrics with an additional emphasis on optical appeal. So, it will have the benefits of moisture management, lightweight, anti-bacterial, cool touch and UV protection from hybrid blends that are far from plain in appearance.  it aims to be more flexible but reduce ecological waste as well. Fibres and finishes include BCI cotton, merino wool, Low heat settable spandex, alternative natural-based fibres including lyocell and spidersilk, as well as, Bio mimicry (fibres, fabrics and finishes that mimic nature). Apart from athleisure, Target markets include Ballet classes, yoga, tennis, golf and low impact cardio.

ispo-textrends SUAVE [Image: ISPO]

Accelerate – The focus of this trend is on enhanced performance that offers premium function and exceptional protection. For the brands that are leaning more the athletics of athleisure. This includes High compression fabrics that embrace the wearers’ muscular structure, reflective fabrics, chlorine and water resistant, UV protective and Impact protective to mention a few.

ispo-textrends Accelerate [Image: ISPO]

Vigor – this is the abstract and kooky trend of the bunch. Since it’s also geared to the fitness sector, synthetics are a major factor. It offers function with loads of colour and an element of surprise. Think High power spandex/elastane for core stability, Stretch metallic and luminous coatings, Glow in the dark yarns and finishes, Cool touch technology and Core power fabrics. Funky athleisure, as well as Cardio fusion classes and aqua-related fitness activities are the target market.

ispo-textrends Vigor [Image: ISPO]

Lucid – playing off opposites attract; this trend is about openwork versus compactness in the Nano structure detail. It’s all about geometric, uniformed and precise finishes. Fibres and fabrics include Polypropylene for super lightweight performance, Tri-lobal synthetics, Subtle metallic prints, Zoned compression, Soft functional polyester knits, Silicon protection, Opalescent finishes and High tenacity anti-abrasive wovens and knits.

ispo-textrends Lucid [Image: ISPO]

Freedom – Its emphasis is placed on sustainable processes throughout the textile chain. There’s a collision of natural and man-made fibres, with little effort on appearance. instead it chooses to take a more iconic direction. Fibres include BCI cotton, recycled polyester and nylon with added performance, UV protection and Eco-friendly chemical finishes. Fabrics featured in this trend are Performance and anti-abrasive denim, Flexible stretch fabrics, Lightweight jersey, Velour structures in matte rigid or stretch fabrics and Coordinated swimwear prints on UV fabrics to mention a few. It’s athleisure that wants to be outside and in nature.

ispo-textrends Freedom [Image: ISPO]

Clothing doesn’t just serve a basic function anymore. It needs to be physical and emotionally comforting to help the wearer through the stresses of life. Athleisure doesn’t just offer it through soft cosiness, but also through intelligent fabrics and innovation that respond to the wearers environment. It also thinks about how the clothes will be handled pre-and post-wear to make life even easier. So before selecting a fabric, think about the target audiences’ lifestyle in a 360-degree view and this should help you choose the best combinations to meet the four elements in style. The above is not a comprehensive list and we encourage you to share any fabrics or fibres we may have left out.


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