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Work-And-Play Fabric, Translucent Concrete

by Daniella Jaeger
July 13, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 28

Bike-wear everywhere:
Credit: Tyler Clemens
High-tech fabrics add function to stylish designs.
Credit: Tyler Clemens
High-tech fabrics add function to stylish designs.

Say it's raining on the day of a board meeting, but you still want to bike to work—and afterward ride to that new restaurant that opened downtown—without changing your clothes. Now you can.

Outlier, a fresh face in New York City's garment scene, pairs high-tech fabrics with stylish cuts to make what it dubs "tailored PERFORMANCE CLOTHING for cycling in the city." Take their 4Season OG and Climbers pants. They look neat and professional for wear in the office. But they can double for your bike-riding ways, even if that includes an off-road stretch or two. Made of a nylon-polyester-Spandex fiber blend, these slacks feature stretchy crotch seams, high-cut backs to prevent inadvertent flashes of rear-end cleavage, and a NanoSphere fabric treatment from Schoeller Textiles of Switzerland, which makes the pants durable and even self-cleaning.

"NanoSphere creates a super-high-level resistance to oil, water, and dirt," Schoeller spokeswoman Shannon Walton says. Designed with the microstructure of a lotus leaf in mind, the fabric is coated with nanoscopic spikes that prevent grease and other staining influences from binding to the fabric; water droplets form beads on the surface and roll off. In a heavy downpour, you'll likely get some water seepage, Outlier acknowledges, noting that the pants won't cling and will dry in 10–20 minutes.

Schoeller's high-tech fabrics are "used in anything from high-fashion to fire fighting to office furniture," Walton says. And to top it off, the company adheres to a strict Swiss environmental standard called bluesign, which shuns toxic chemicals and ensures that textiles are woven and dyed in ways that minimize waste and emissions.

Last month, Outlier released summer-weight versions of its pants, which are designed for the sweaty season with Schoeller's 3XDRY treatment. 3XDRY creates a single-layered textile with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties: The inside absorbs perspiration quickly, distributing moisture over a large area to accelerate evaporation, whereas the outside repels liquids.

Outlier founders Tyler Clemens and Abe Burmeister each bike about 7 miles per day to test products made with various material and treatment combinations. The results have been good with nylon-polyester blends, for example, but Clemens' test of a 3XDRY-treated cotton shirt didn't work out so well. "We found that the material gets a little bit dusty," he says, and "as you produce more sweat, the sweat stains just get bigger and bigger." So much for looking presentable at that board meeting.

I see you:
Credit: Voile
Concrete shows off shapely figures.
Credit: Voile
Concrete shows off shapely figures.

It will take more testing, Clemens says, but Outlier intends to expand its clothing line. But if you're not willing to roll with the sleek look, fret not. There are other ways to have fun with fibers.

See-through concrete, for one. At this spring's Tokyo Fiber '09 Senseware exhibition, which showcases innovative technologies designed with highly developed artificial fibers, architect Kengo Kuma presented a pavilion constructed with TRANSLUCENT CONCRETE made by the Austrian-based company Luccon. The concrete is embedded with plastic optical fibers that rely on the light-transmission properties of acrylic resins. Kuma stacked cake-slice blocks of the concrete so that shadowy images of people or objects on one side appear on the other. Potential concerns about privacy-breaching aside, Kuma paves the way for new expression in architecture.

Other featured fiber innovations included soft, airy children's blocks made of highly elastic monofilament fibers and an ultra-water-repellent sign that spelled the exhibition name out of suspended water droplets, made by Exhibition Director Kenya Hara himself.

"The future opens up," Hara writes about the event, "where technology, ability, and passion intersect to give rise to creation."

Daniella Jaeger wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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