A Passion for Pants (and shirts, too)

By Nancy Jeffries, Contributing Editor | January 1, 2014

As fabrics become more complex, Procter & Gamble researchers look for new ways to care for them.

Procter & Gamble is exploring the future of fabric care, and it is clearly fashion forward. Last month, amidst the artistic environs of New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, P&G Fabric Care announced its new global and national collaborations, featuring high-profile fashion partners.

Procter & Gamble’s fabric care business—which includes the flagship brands of Tide, Downy, Gain and Bounce—has partnered with British designer Giles Deacon, fabric and textiles show and trend observer, Première Vision and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to explore the future of fabrics and the science behind the beauty and care of clothes. In doing so, P&G Fabric Care executives say they are gathering insights into transforming the division’s approach to product innovation and ultimately creating laundry products that optimize clothing in both beauty and performance.

In addition, Tide Pods has partnered with CFDA designer Tracy Reese, who will introduce machine-washable fashion in her Fall 2014 collection. The collaboration, which was created in conjunction with Tide Pods and CFDA Washable Fashion Initiative, grew in response to the continuing demand for washable garments and increased consumer appetite for designer fashions. Reese, who was introduced by Steven Kolb, CEO, Council of Fashion Designers of America, as a renowned designer, counts among her clients Michelle Obama. In additon, she is now the Tide Pods and CFDA’s Washable Fashion ambassador.

“Fashionable can be machine washable,” said Reese, noting that her journey from designing for “real women” to thinking about how women are caring for their clothes, and ultimately creating a washable collection, seemed like a natural partnership.

“As a designer, it is very important to me to create garments for real women, in fact, it’s something I take a lot of pride in; and real women do laundry. So, it only made sense for me to extend that consideration to how they care for my pieces. As I learned more about Tide Pods and the research and development that goes into ensuring their performance, I was inspired to rethink the whole idea of washable in my own designs. I believe that because a garment is made from washable fabrics doesn’t mean it has to sacrifice anything in terms of design.” Reese added, “The pride and the passion of the P&G team to make their products yield enhanced wear, has inspired me to create two new complete and machine-washable outfits for the Fall 2014 runway,” she said.

Crossroads of Fashion and Function
P&G leaders and a talented panel of fashion insiders provided context for a discussion of today’s fashion and fabric care environment. Alex Keith, VP-fabric care, North America and brand franchise leader, fabric enhancers, P&G, described the “latent passion-related link” between the importance of fashion and the care of garments, noting that fabric care is an important responsibility.

“People are invested not only economically, but emotionally in their clothes,” said Keith, and today, the prospect of laundry should not be daunting. “Tide and Downy can be enablers of fashion. This goes beyond clean to enhancing fabrics,” she said, noting that there is a compelling need to care for fashionable garments at home.

“Over 70% of CFDA members today would create more washable fabrics if the care was more convenient and protective of fabrics, making it easier to clean, maintain, and protect your garments,” said Keith, who had worked in men’s personal care, skin care and beauty brands, including Coty, prior to overseeing the fabric care business at P&G.

She noted that terms applied to skin care, for example, rejuvenation and protection; or to hair care, with products that repair and smooth, are metaphors for fabric care, since the fibers in garments must be protected and enhanced, just as skin is cleansed and protected.

“So, it is the exploration of the beauty and science of clothes that we are addressing today,” said Keith. “This new fashion-focused initiative will help us continue to bring to market innovative and accessible at-home laundering products that unlock the care-at-home aspect of fashion. Accessibility to fashion isn’t just about price, it’s about care, and there’s real power in that.”

Deacon, fashion designer and former head designer at Bottega Veneta and the Gucci Group, is the new global fashion consultant for P&G Fabric Care. He shared his insight into his new role noting the strong synergy between fashion and chemistry.

“You can’t have fashion without great fabrics,” said Deacon, adding that as fabrics have become more complex there is an increased need for people to know the proper way to care for them.

Sabine Le Chatelier, associate fashion director of Première Vision, who plays a key role in communicating trend information to buyers attending Première Vision’s international trade shows, said, “Fashion trends and fabric trends are bigger consequences of fashionable currents today.”

She explained how advanced technologies have had an impact on our lifestyles, and certain styles, jeans, for example, have become prevalent as city wear, while shirts now hang nonchalantly in shops, rather than pressed and folded. Fashion is also more sporty, with stretch fabrics, jeggings, mixed blends, new fibers and fluidity in fabrics giving new context to textiles.

“This range of sensations plays into the dimensions of fabric, letting the consumer enjoy the fabric’s original creation, while the notion of blending fibers, assembling and bonding materials, and raw edges offer ways to personalize clothing. This also presents a challenge. Caring for clothing with more complexity is challenging. We need to go further to care for the refined beauty of these complex fabrics,” said Le Chatelier, who explained how textile research is expanding the roles of designers, as curiosity grows about fabric, shaping garments, printing on them directly, and re-thinking seam edges.

Tomorrow’s Fabrics
Communicating color is also a real issue for tomorrow, as clothing fabrics continue to explore the use of electromagnetic fabrics, embedded chips, and other means of differentiation. She touched on ecological impact, recycling fabrics and fabrics as living material.

“Fabrics are more composite, more complex, more subtle. They are a living material, so how you take care of them and how you wash them are key. This will enhance the value of your purchase,” she said.

Margarita Bahrikeeton, global research and development leader, P&G, has more than 30 years experience as a researcher. Most recently, she has led the crafting of the vision and definition of P&G Fabric Care’s Global Innovation strategy. She explained that her personal affinity for fabric, and its care and appreciation, came from her childhood in Puerto Rico, where her mother’s homemade clothes accompanied her from infancy through her college years, giving her a window into the emotional connection with fabric, function and family. She quoted Marc Jacobs, saying, “Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them,” and noted that maintaining the original integrity of clothes for a longer time is key.

“Fabrics are becoming more sensorial, and as they become more complex, we need to teach consumers how to care for them. My job is to create fabric anti-aging technologies,” she said, relating the freshness of clothing to a relationship. “Clothes are important to people and we need to protect their fibers as the fabrics age and keep them fresh. We all know about first wash anxiety and how multiple washings can cause changes in clothes,” she said, noting, “We can fall out of love with our clothes.”

Advanced fabric care technologies can maintain and enhance the health of the fibers, explained Bahrikeeton.

“For fabrics to be beautiful, they really have to be healthy. Multiple variables, such as incomplete soil removal, chemical damage, shrinkage, water quality, and physical damage all impact the look, feel, and handle of clothes,” she explained. “It’s like hair, and natural fibers like cotton, are impacted like hair. We need to turn first wash anxiety into first wash confidence.”

Gimme Three Steps
Bahrikeeton explained Three-Step Fiber Science, inspired by the science of beauty:
  1. Clean, to purify the fibers;
  2. Protect, to preserve the health of the fibers; and
  3. Enhance, to beautify fiber.
She likened Downy to a hair conditioner, calling it a beauty treatment for clothes. Downy deposits microencapsulated perfumes which release scents into the fibers, while adding softness, freshness and protective benefits to clothes.

The Downy collection includes Ultra Downy with Silk Touch, the classic fabric softener formulation, and Downy Infusions, which feature a selection of fragrances that provide a multi-layered scent experience, with such scents as Cashmere Glow, and its newest scent, Honey Flower, with a sheer floral bouquet of jasmine, lily of the valley, and sweet rose. Other scent-centered enhancers include Downy Unstopables, an in-wash scent booster, in a bead format, designed to keep fabrics smelling fresh for 12 weeks in storage. The beads, which allow control of the amount of scent desired in each laundry load, dissolve during the wash cycle, and are safe for use in any washing machine, including high efficiency machines, at any temperature. Downy Infusions retail for $4.99-$5.99 for 40-loads.

Tide+, with its cocktail of enzymes, is designed to remove hidden soil and dirt deposition in clothes, with a special technology that suspends dirt and frees it from the fibers. The Tide+ collection consists of new Tide Ultra Stain Release, with a unique “Zap Cap,” that can be used to pre-treat stains across a broad range of fabric types; Tide Plus Febreze Freshness, with dual perfume microcapsules; Tide Plus Febreze Sport, for deep cleaning and odor removal; Tide Coldwater Clean, formulated for cleaning and color protection in cold water conditions; Tide Plus Downy, with upgraded silicone technologies to enable fibers to fall into place and glide with softness; and Tide Plus Bleach Alternative, including powerful surfactants that remove dirt and stains. Tide Plus products retail for $13.99 for a 48-load bottle.

Also highlighted were Tide Pods, with their three-chamber liquid single-use form, which provide a 3-in-1 product to clean, fight stains, and brighten clothes. The formula was created to be HE compatible, and twice as compacted as the current 2x Tide Liquid. Its design allows the chemistry matrix to work synergistically in the wash for excellent results and Tide Pods use a new film that dissolves completely in the wash, even in cold water. Tide Pods are available in small and medium bags, and large, XL and XXL tubs in three scents: Spring Meadow, Ocean Mist, and Mystic Forest. Retail price of Tide Pods is $15 for a 57-count.

Fashion Insiders Look at Fabric
A panel discussion, moderated by Kolb of CFDA, which included panelists, Alex Keith, P&G Fabric Care North America VP and GM; Drew Child, director of technology specialty fabrics division, Milliken & Company; Le Chatelier of Première Vision;  Deacon; and Sandra Markus, a professor in the fashion design department at Fashion Institute of Technology, shined a light on the need to keep the care equation in clothes.

Kolb, who along with Reese, had visited the Procter & Gamble research facilities, spoke of the development and product innovation he observed, where 1,000 scientists at P&G were working on fabric care. He acknowledged the opportunity to learn about fabric care “from the experts.”

Keith said, “People don’t necessarily want to have disposable fashion. Keeping fabric fibers healthy is key.”

Le Chatelier noted that putting a light on new development in fabrics is enhancing communication between upstream partners and designers.

“For students of fashion,” noted Markus, “technology and the design process have become one.”

Child noted the importance of sustainability. “Fabrics that are greener will be something very important in the coming decades,” he said.

Keith noted “P&G is well-poised to meet the needs of the customer as smarter fabrics come to the market.”

Le Chatelier concluded, saying, “The future of fabrics is clearly to create a convergence between complex fabrics and their care.”

Color retention, fabric protection, scent infusion, shape retention, wrinkle reduction, freshness and effective cleaning for a range of conditions were discussed and explained in breakout sessions in studios at the event space, where efficacy, product differentiation and usage were demonstrated.