Still Physical – Your Success Story of 2020
2020 will go down in history as a year of unparalleled global disruption. Life, as we knew it, was brought to a standstill. This also applied to various sectors of the economy, including the textile and clothing industry: orders and sales slumped to unprecedented lows, goods already produced and supplied quickly lost their value, demand for non-essential products and services fell dramatically. The cause for such disastrous upheavals: a virus – one that posed no threat to the computer world, but to our very existence as humans. Covid-19 continues to demonstrate in a dramatic way how fragile and vulnerable human life still is.
Humans and Technology
Since the middle of the 20th century, the permanent rapid acceleration in the technical advancement of our world has alienated us humans more and more from our environment and from nature. The framework and structures of our lives are in constant change due to increasing digitalisation. Experiencing life mainly via screen seems to be completely natural. The physical aspects of human existence, on the other hand, have been fading into the background over the past two decades. Number-based thinking, outstanding scientific developments and the impressive technical benefits thereof have lulled us into a false sense of security that we humans, with the support of the proper technology, have everything under control.
A highly infectious organic structure – SARS-CoV-2 – is now teaching us otherwise.
The pandemic has forced us into new, primarily digital forms of living and working. Everyday life is characterised by working from home, home schooling and ZOOM meetings. The opportunities of digital technology helps us get through the challenges of the current time, to do our work, to stay in touch with family and friends. Via Streaming, we participate in events. The number of podcasts on offer has increased exponentially. On the other hand, we feel drained, suffering from “ZOOM fatigue” (a coinage from last year) and are simply overburdened. Even before the pandemic, we were faced with time pressure issues, feeling stressed as a result of the multitude of media demanding our attention and timely responses.
What we are missing during the pandemic is a balance, a counterbalance in fact to the digital world - we experience time and place in a completely unfamiliar form, being physically more or less bound to one specific place – our home. We feel restricted and isolated.
We have become aware of how much our physical and mental wellbeing depends on physical activity outdoors, in nature, in the fresh air, and the unfiltered interaction with fellow humans. Being outside, in particular in nature, and the physical closeness to other people can neither be replaced nor simulated in their comprehensive immediacy. Our hunger for real, physically perceptible experiences has grown incessantly over the course of the last year.
A wandering spirit
Life is set on pause. The corona virus has left us with a sense of time standing still, of being caught in a time loop. The human body is made for motion. Historically, we are all runners. In the history of mankind, the evolution of the upright, bipedal gait is considered the Homo sapiens’ most striking feature. This capability made it possible to explore the environment extensively, to cover longer distances searching and hunting for food. Until the recent past, our ancestors covered all distances primarily on foot.
“The benefits of walking aren’t solely confined to our evolutionary history – walking is hugely beneficial for our minds, our bodies and our communities.”
Prof. Shane O’Mara (“In Praise of Walking”, 2019)
Walking. Strolling. Running. Sprinting. Striding. Moving. Hiking. Marching.
This is just a small selection of the terms we use to describe our main mode of locomotion in all its various forms. With the onset of the pandemic, walking was rediscovered – across all age groups and cultures, with a simple walk lending a sense of freedom amidst the lockdowns with their restrictions
Even today, many of us may leave home only with a radius of one kilometre, some run marathons on their balconies, and others acquire a dog in order to be permitted to venture outside several times a day. Physical exercise in the fresh air helps us to persevere in these challenging times.
This craving for movement has also helped the sports industry (apparel/equipment) get through the crisis in better shape than other sectors. Running, Nordic Walking, hiking and cycling are booming, with waiting lists for bikes and e-bikes. Many people have discovered these sports for themselves over the past year, made them part of their daily routine, and have stuck with them.
TRANSFORMATION | Technology First?
For decades, technology companies have taken the lead in defining what progress is and what people want. Terms such as “innovative” and “human-centred” are omnipresent when fascinating futuristic scenarios with self-driving cars, communicative fridges and gentle robots are built. Critical scrutiny in light of all these technology-centred approaches for more measurable efficiency and optimal comfort in our lifestyles is indicated. In the coming years, it will be important to establish a human-centred orientation in the use of technology. We have to prioritize questions concerning the social impact of technological developments.
Futuristic visions also include the technological upgrading of the human body itself. Long before the pandemic, the trend towards self-monitoring and control of important bodily functions developed. The sports industry developed fitness trackers, which were initially intended to aid sports enthusiasts in measuring and optimising their performance as well as monitoring important bodily functions. The possibilities for proactively enhancing one’s own performance quickly spread to greater numbers of the population. Nowadays, self-design, body shaping and health promotion are self-evident tasks for each individual. Staying healthy and fit is a social “must” in modern times – in our performance-oriented society; the objective is to overcome the decrepitude of the human body.
Consequently, the idea of “human enhancement” aims for limitless expansion of human possibilities and the increase in performance by means of scientific and technical progress. A familiar example of such manipulation is the transformation of humans into cyborgs, the merging of humans and technology.
WE ARE | Part of Nature
We now live in the Anthropocene, the age in which extensive human intervention in the environment and nature’s ecosystems is becoming increasingly visible. We have prompted profound climate and environmental changes that are now irreversible. It is high time to comprehend that we are part of nature, she created us and enables us to live. We cannot survive without clean air and fresh water. Nature, on the other hand, can continue to exist without us …
WE ARE | Physical
Do we really want a constantly speeded-up world full of contactless transactions, non-physical encounters and automatic voice recognition systems? Humans are physical and social beings. If we take the term “human-centred” seriously, we need to take a look at people in all their complex unpredictability and emotional intricacy. We have to cope with their subjective values and physicality. We do not define ourselves just by consumption patterns and our efficiency. We do not think and make decisions on the basis of binary codes. We also like to let our thoughts wander around aimlessly, to dream or come up with unusual ideas. Pure rationality is not enough to understand people and to design meaningful products and services for them.
“What speaks to the soul, escapes our measurements.”
Alexander von Humboldt, (1800)
We are seeing that younger generations value experiences over owning things. Such experiences obviously include fascinating excursions into virtual spaces, but likewise involve travel to interesting countries and vibrant cities, as shown by pre-Corona tourism industry figures. Extraordinary physical experiences are also in demand – whether by means of VR glasses and augmented reality or in real life. In particular on platforms such as Instagram, it has become clearly visible in recent months what happens when exciting real-life experiences in interesting locations are no longer possible. What remains to be shown then during lockdown?
One of the few positive experiences of this period for many people is the deceleration of daily life. We like speed, but living in a mode of constant digital acceleration literally overwhelms us. Our evolutionary rhythm is based on the beat of our steps.
TOUCH & FEEL | Reclaiming the Analogue
We are being submerged in floods of information and images displayed to us on screens. Screens may be a window to the world, yet how many of the often very fleeting impressions (as we constantly swiping and scrolling in order not to miss out on anything) do in fact genuinely touch us? And what do we remember before we go to bed?
BEING “LIVE”. Excited and exhilarated, being totally present - neither streaming nor near-perfect computer games nor simulation can replace the tangibility and perceptiveness of reality. What and when something is of particular importance to us defies any form of programming.
Most people have above all missed hugs and caresses over the last year – in the here and now, or in specific moments in time. Likewise, we need places – places we can associate with experiences, memories and dreams. We may find a nomadic lifestyle exciting and cool, but we also need places to retreat to – places where we can relax and rewind and which lend us strength.
CLOTHING | A Multisensory Experience
Already the first coverings with which humans covered their nakedness served to protect the body from harmful environmental effects and from danger. Clothing is often referred to as a second skin and is a close bodily companion almost 24/7. So it comes as no wonder that our modern society places high demands and expectations on it. Our daily lives in the pre-Corona era were typified by being constantly on the move to various destinations, to different places. Conventional fashion often restricted our scope of movement and proved to be less than practical. From a historical point of view, society has become more "sporty" since the end of the 19th century, whether as spectators at sporting events or as active sportsmen and women.
Sportswear slowly but surely made its way into the daily lives of a multitude of people – and life today without it is unimaginable. The growing acceptance and popularity of sportswear as an everyday companion is not just down to the look which it literally reflects – one of being sporty, agile und fit – but also due to the wearing comfort of such apparel that is specifically designed for the body in motion. Easiness of care and extensive protection from the elements are further conveniences sportswear provides in coping with the demands of everyday life.
The pandemic has revealed further application opportunities in particular for the textile and sportswear industry with its specific expertise and knowhow in terms of material developments, processing methods and model design. Rethinking functionality in an innovative, future-oriented and holistic manner is a challenge we face in view of climate change, the increasing number of environmental catastrophes and the pandemic itself. We are going to need even more performance in our daily lives: adaptable, modular clothing that protects people when they venture outdoors, that offers comfort and convenience when indoors – clothing that provides us with a sense of security in our physical existence.
Thinking holistically about functionality also includes responsible entrepreneurship and sustainable management and production models. We in the sports industry should feel particularly addressed in terms of the points mentioned, because
- the intimacy of our products with the human body and the aspiration to provide the body with covering, to support it in its functions and provide protection, go hand in hand with the obligation not to employ harmful materials.
- Sport is the foundation of our business. This is deeply rooted in nature. We cannot credibly offer products for sporting activities outdoors in nature while, at the same time, contributing greatly to the devastation of nature with our production methods. Who wishes to swim or surf in a great plastic garbage patch? Who would wish to go hiking in burned down or withered forests? What would then become of our business?
NEW HORIZONS | Where are we going to?
The future is not as predictable and foreseeable as we would like. What we do know:
We cannot continue to act as we have done up until now. We recognise that nature is neither indestructible nor has inexhaustible resources at our disposal. Like our early ancestors, we must now embark on new paths.
“We cannot solve our problems
with the same thinking we used
when we created them.”
THE NEW STARTS WITH A NO. No to the old ways, no to the return to the before. The precise path to the future might be unclear, but the goal is not. The pandemic has made us vigorously aware of the threats posed by rapidly accelerating climate change and ecocide. It has shown us the significant weak points of our global interconnectedness and must be an incentive to work together worldwide with intent for the benefit of the planet and its people. We need to develop and rapidly implement new scenarios for responsible economic activity within planetary boundaries.
The technical feasibility must not be our sole benchmark; the focus must be on people and society. Life during the pandemic has shown us in a type of “reality lab“ where our priorities lie in the years ahead: finding better social solutions for living, for working and communicating with one another and interacting with nature responsibly.
WE TAKE ACTION!
How will we shape and adapt the post-pandemic textile and apparel industry?
Numerous sports brands and manufacturers of materials for the sports industry already started to focus on sustainability and the cautious use of the planet’s resources some time ago. Innovations in the areas of materials and in processing methods have been the driving forces of the development towards more sustainability. However, we need to realign all processes and structures in our supply and production chains and adapt them to the needs of a resource-conserving, responsible industry.
A pioneering example of such alignment was the decision of PERFORMANCE DAYS to only present sustainable materials at the Trend Forum from the November 2019 trade fair event onwards. Additionally, the setting-up of the new digital sourcing platform “THE LOOP” shows how technology can be implemented aside from material and processing innovations in such a way that our procedures and structures can be adapted to difficult conditions and our industry becomes more resilient.
User-oriented deployment of technology, relevant innovation and creative adaptation are the parameters that must drive the “great transformation“ of our industry forward. This is reflected, as always, in the materials submitted to the PERFORMANCE FORUM:
Sustainable function with a fashionable touch and wellbeing character
In general, we can define six groups: From natural capsules, anti-odour and wellbeing fabrics, to fabrics with thermo-regulating properties and to bio-nylons, bio-based finishings as well as sustainable dyeing processes and fabric innovations that redefine function.
The range extends from plant fibers such as hemp, SeaCell (oyster shell) or bamboo to natural fibers such as wool. The addition of natural substances such as Argan oil, castor oil, algae, cinnamon or sunflower seeds are ideal in keeping with the desire for natural skin care. Coconut, flaxseed or metal-free Environ offer anti-odour benefits. These natural additives support blood circulation, boost the immune system and regulate body temperature without the use of any chemical additives. Bio-based finishes – such as, for example, by means of a finishing with MiDori Biowick – provide for good moisture transport and quick drying. Body moisture is absorbed but not stored, and instead transported to the outside of the fabric where it evaporates quickly. This keeps the body pleasantly dry without cooling down, even during physical exertion. Metal or silver is no longer applied. On top of all this, manufacturers surprise with a wide selection of bio-nylons, some recycled, some even biodegradable. We see the application of micro-plastics being totally dispensed with, and the same with elastane, which hinders the recycling process. Natural dyeing processes and Dope Dye are increasingly becoming the focus of attention. Also noticeable is the desire for materials with a fashionable look & feel, but without sacrificing any function, an approach reflected by Trenchant Textiles, combining functional features with fashionable design.
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© 2021 Nora Kühner fashion design consulting
© 2021 Astrid Schlüchter, Independent Journalist
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