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Garments, Fashion & Retail
  Prospects of nonwovens in apparel industry

Nonwoven fabrics are easy to cut and offer a wider range of design than woven fabrics and nonwovens provide more "sewing" options than woven fabrics, assert Rajanna L Gotipamul, P M Katkar and S S Borikar.

Nonwovens are in fact products in their own right with their own characteristics and performances, but also weaknesses. They are around us and one uses them everyday, often without knowing it. Indeed they are frequently hidden from view.

Nonwovens can be made absorbent, breathable, drapeable, flame resistant, heat sealable, light, lint-free, mouldable, soft, stable, stiff, tear resistant and water repellent, if needed. Obviously though, not all the properties mentioned can be combined in a single nonwoven, particularly those that are contradictory.

Overview of nonwovens

Official ISO and CEN definition of nonwovens

Nonwovens are defined by ISO standard 9092 and CEN EN 29092. These two documents, identical in their content, are the only internationally acknowledged definition of Nonwovens. As industry, trade and technology have evolved since their publication in 1988; these standards are being updated by ISO experts to better reflect what the present understanding of Nonwovens is. The following text has recently been proposed to the International Standardization Organization by EDANA and INDA

EDANA Definition: "A nonwoven is a sheet of fibres, continuous filaments or chopped yarns of any nature or origin, that have been formed into a web by any means, and bonded together by any means, with the exception of weaving or knitting. Felts obtained by wet milling are not nonwovens.

INDA Definition: Nonwoven fabrics are broadly defined as sheet or web structures bonded together by entangling fibre or filaments (and by perforating films) mechanically, thermally or chemically. They are flat, porous sheets that are made directly from separate fibres or from molten plastic or plastic film. They are not made by weaving or knitting and do not require converting the fibres to yarn.

Nonwoven fabrics are engineered fabrics that may be a limited life, single-use fabric or a very durable fabric. Nonwoven fabrics provide specific functions such as absorbency, liquid repellency, resilience, stretch, softness, strength, flame retardancy, washability, cushioning, filtering, bacterial barrier and sterility. These properties are often combined to create fabrics suited for specific jobs, while achieving a good balance between product use-life and cost. They can mimic the appearance, texture and strength of a woven fabric and can be as bulky as the thickest paddings. In combination with other materials they provide a spectrum of products with diverse properties, and are used alone or as components of apparel, home furnishings, health care, engineering, industrial and consumer goods.

Global market for nonwovens

The global market for nonwovens is around USD 18.2 billion and is growing at a CAGR of 7%. Nonwovens are generally measured in terms of tonnage, where the market is around 5.1 million tons per annum.

Indian market for nonwovens

Indian consumption of nonwovens in 2007 was around US$ 214 million (47,000 tons) as compared to the worldwide consumption of around US$ 19 billion. It is estimated that the consumption will increase at a CAGR of approximately 13% to US$ 390 million

Feasibility of nonwovens in apparel sector

The nonwoven fabrics with good flexibility, suitable for making everyday wear shirt and coat, both personal comfort, good mechanical strength and beauty in one, is the ideal garment material. The properties of nonwoven varies from crisp to fluid, soft to harsh, strong to extremely weak. Nonwovens have now started to find its application into the apparel industry also. Nonwovens are used extensively in the apparel industry for interlinings, clothing and glove insulation, bra and shoulder padding, handbag components and shoe components.

Nonwoven fabrics presents many advantages over conventional fabrics, the clearest benefit is cost savings. In recent couple of years the nonwoven industry has emerged at a rapid speed, offering a huge range of products to several diversified fields. Nonwovens are also entering into some astonishing fields, with making its mark in fashion apparel also. Recently many patterns of fashion garment are developed by using these newly developed nonwoven fabrics.

Conversely, nonwoven fabrics hold some natural characteristics, which led them to be counted for non-usable in certain applications. At present, many research and development has been conducted on enhancing the characteristics of nonwoven fabrics that needs be converted into usable, customised garment for the high tech applications like Medical, intelligent textiles, smart textiles etc.

According to durability, clothing are classified as durable and non-durable. Currently, nonwoven fabrics focus on non-durable clothing. Applications of durable clothing are rarely reported. Non-durable nonwoven clothing is popular in applications, such as spun lace medical protective clothing, PP spun bond disposable protective clothing and SMS Medical Protective clothing.

Currently, new product development in this area includes two aspects: First, applications of existing materials in the clothing of the new development; Second, new nonwoven fabric development. In the new fibre development, water-soluble nonwoven is an environmental protection product; its use is gradually expanding. Using water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol fibre production spun lace nonwoven is the production of radiation protection, pollution prevention, a good material for clothing. Nonwoven clothing with addition of super-absorbent fibre (SAF) with regular fibres provides a special soft feel and good water absorption, as when we wear underwear, it can rapidly absorb sweat, to increase comfort. In the new composite nonwoven materials research, a new type of composite nonwoven with cotton and polypropylene fibres is developed. The product feels like cotton knitted fabric and has good strength and elongation, water absorption and retention, wicking speed, the advantages of small pilling performance, after finishing, 50% elongation of the moment when the elastic recovery rate can reach 83% to 93%, suitable for making medical apparels.

However, nonwoven fabrics with a casual edge and not easy to slip can be directly involved in the design side of the cloth; do not need to sew clothes for ironing and the lock side edge features, which is different from woven and knitted fabrics. nonwoven garment sewing process is simple and being optimistic about the advantages, many researchers and companies have the courage to face the risks of product development. In recent years, research focused on how to improve the nonwoven drape, abrasion resistance, flexibility and elastic recovery capacity and other properties to suit the requirements of durable fabric.

BBAfibreweb and DowChemical developed a new joint venture company. With spun-bonded nonwoven, elastic, skin-core fibre-based two-component fibres, an elastic core layer, the cortex is a good extension of the polymer, by adjusting the skin-core different proportions of two components, so that the spun-bonded nonwoven fabrics is obtained with very good elasticity, low modulus and high strength and dimensional stability. Durability of this garment to make spunbond provides a possibility.

Kuraray in Japan and domestic companies have jointly developed microfibre spunbond nonwoven, using Ex Juan cevaltm soluble resin and PP or PE, PA, etc, composite spinning, a group was divided into PP (or PE, PA), the other a combination is the Excevaltm. Exce Juan valtm soluble in water, biodegradable and can absorb moisture and is hydrophilic, and the PP (or PE, PA) combined with the heat after the adhesion, very easy to form a network processing. The spunbond nonwoven spun-bonded fabric water absorption is much better than the average, although its surface density is small, but still with the traditional strength spunbond fabric rather, is the durability of the good selection of clothing.

Practical applications of nonwoven in apparels

Primarily nonwoven fabrics were utilised only in protective clothing and shelters (tents), but since last few years nonwoven industry has grown abruptly. Due to the vast variation in fabrics properties it has application in geo-textiles, nappies, filters, bags, etc. Nonwovens have now started to find its application into the apparel industry also. As per the latest statistics provided by RIETER shown in Table 1, out of total nonwoven fabrics only 1% is utilised for apparel application.

Unlike woven and knit fabrics, nonwovens do not ravel; therefore, seams do not need to be surged, making it easy to incorporate shaped hemlines into the garment design. Seams within the garment also do not require finishing. Nonwoven fabrics are easy to cut and offer a wider range of design than woven fabrics. Nonwovens provide more "sewing" options than woven fabrics. Apart from the normal manufacturing of nonwovens, there are various methods to produce nonwovens fabrics with value addition specifically for apparel purpose. Some of the nonwoven fabrics developed with various fibres and value addition are as follows:

  • Cotton-polyester blended nonwoven fabric.
  • Polyester nonwoven fabric.
  • Silk nonwoven fabric.
  • Wool nonwoven fabric.
  • Polyester durable nonwoven fabric.

For the last three years the nonwoven team at Canesis Network Ltd, founded by the Wool Research Organization of New Zealand has concentrated on developing lightweight apparel fabrics with greater stretch and recovery. Researchers have recently designed a special collection of beautiful 100% wool and wool rich nonwoven fabrics. Fabrics with special finishes in classic colourations were used to produce a collection of very hip, yet elegant, garment. Some fabrics undergo additional processes to create a three dimensional patterning effect. There appears to be a wonderful unique opportunity in the area of nonwoven fashion apparel. Current research, concentrated on improving the physical characteristics of nonwoven fabrics, along with creative people unwilling to settle with tradition, might succeed in making a pipe dream a reality.

Nonwovens for medical apparel

For the production of nonwovens for the Surgical Clothing Gowns Caps, Masks mainly Cotton, Polyester, Polypropylene, Viscose, Polyester film, glass fibres are used. Medical drapes and gowns are considered medical devices in the United States and Europe because they are designed to perform a function, ie, prevent infection. Medical drapes and gowns are considered as a Class I medical device, since they are non-invasive medical products. There are four levels of medical devices with the first class being the least invasive device and four being the most invasive device.

Medical drapes and gowns are used in operating rooms and anywhere else where a surgical procedure may be performed (some procedures are performed in doctors' offices and clinics). Single Use Nonwoven medical drapes and gowns are the first choice of healthcare professionals (over 85% of hospitals use single-use gowns and over 90% use medical single-use drapes). Professionals choose single-use because they feel they are superior to reusables. They have confidence that they will be protected from infection.

Medical gowns are made of functional fabrics designed to protect healthcare professionals and patients from the transfer of microorganisms, bodily fluids and particulate matter. Medical drapes are also functional fabrics designed to isolate a site of surgical incision from microbial or other contamination. Medical drapes and gowns can be disposable (intended for one time usage only) or reusable. There are many factors involved when choosing medical fabrics and gowns.

Those factors are:

  1. Barrier to liquid penetration: This helps protect the healthcare professionals from patient blood, bodily fluids and liquids used in irrigation during surgery.
  2. Barrier to penetration by bacteria laden aerosol or dry particles containing spores: This means that when healthcare professionals lean up against the operating room table their gowns can create a bellows effect, which forces air through the gown. This air transports skin cells and bacteria into the surgical field. It can also protect the healthcare professional when they are using saws or drills those instruments can generate air flow causing skin cells and bacteria to be released into the surgical field.
  3. Abrasion resistance: When you wear any apparel there is abrasion against the fabric. Think of leaning your arm on a table when you're sitting down. The fabric is rubbing against the table, which can cause degradation of the material. This abrading can also create lint, which can be released into wounds.
  4. Strength: Medical drapes and gowns need to be strong to stand up to stresses in wet and dry conditions, ie, withstand rupturing, tearing and puncturing.
  5. Lint and particulate generation: Fabrics can generate lint or other particles that could carry microorganisms. These microorganisms can be from the healthcare professional or someplace in the operating room. This could interfere with the patient's autoimmune system heightening the possibility for infection. Plus, you could get adhesions and granulomas (inflammation of tissue) from the particles themselves.
  6. Flammability: Healthcare professionals use surgical lasers, sparking tools, endoscopic fibreoptics, electrosurgical units and high-speed drills or saws. All of these could ignite and cause fires, since operating rooms are oxygen rich environments. Having fire retardant drapes and gowns protect the healthcare professional and the patient.
  7. Electrostatic properties: The United States has banned the usage of flammable anesthesia, which helps curb the possibility of fires in the operating room. But using oxygen rich ventilation and alcohol based surgical hand scrubs and patient skin prep products increases the risk of fires in the Operating room (OR) Fabrics should be able to dissipate the electrostatic charge, so that the charge won't build up and produce a spark.
  8. Comfort: Healthcare professionals need to be comfortable when they are in the OR. They can be in the OR for hours; and if they are distracted by irritating fabric or confining fabric, then that discomfort will divert their attention from the patient and prevent full concentration on the task at hand.
  9. Reusable gowns: Reusable drapes and gowns must still be able to perform after multiple launderings. Disposable drapes and gowns are the first choice of the majority of healthcare professionals in the USA because they are only worn once and do not have the disadvantage of having to be collected and recycled.


The authors are thankful to the management of DKTE, Principal Dr P V Kadole and HOD Textiles, Dr U J Patil for their encouragement and kind support to publish this paper.


  1. Satyajeet Chaudhari, Aadhar Mandot, Patel Milin & Matharu Karansingh: A Review On Nonwoven Fabrics Used In Apparel, www.fibre2fashion.com.
  2. www.inda.org.
  3. www.edana.org.
  4. www.textileschool.com/School/Fabrics/NonWovenFabrics.aspx.
  5. www.indiantextilejournal.com/articles.
  6. Richard A Scott, Handbook of Technical Textiles
  7. M F Haisman: 'Physiological Aspects of Protective Clothing and Military Personnel, Handbook of Clothing, 2nd Edition.

Rajanna L Gotipamul
D K T E Society's Textile & Engineering Institute,
P Box No. 130, Rajwada,
Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur district,
Maharashtra 416 115.
Email: rajanna.textile@gmail.com.

P M Katkar
D K T E Society's Textile & Engineering Institute,
P Box No. 130, Rajwada,
Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur district,
Maharashtra 416 115.

S S Borikar
D K T E Society's Textile & Engineering Institute,
P Box No. 130, Rajwada,
Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur district,
Maharashtra 416 115.

published December , 2012
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