IFAI’s European-U.S. networking conference fosters innovation and strategic partnerships.
By Yvonne Heinen-Foudeh and Galynn Nordstrom
According to Italian director Federico Fellini, “the only true realist is the visionary.” Advanced Textiles ’09 (AT ’09), which took place April 2–3 in Brussels, Belgium, brought this concept to life—and business—moving beyond today’s technical textile innovations to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the industry over the next five to ten years.
Under the leadership of Stephen M. Warner, president of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), Roseville, Minn., U.S.A., and Dr. Isa Hofmann, CEO of IHOFMANN, a management consultancy and communications agency based in Germany, the U.S.-European entrepreneur networking event brought together more than 100 participants from 14 countries to foster bilateral and cross-sector cooperation, strategic partnerships and innovative projects, creating new business opportunities around the world. The first IFAI Advanced Textiles conference took place in Berlin, Germany, June 12–13, 2008.
As the headquarters of the European Union, NATO, many stakeholder institutions and international large-scale enterprises, Brussels offered an ideal platform for the event. The conference was held in the contemporary Hotel Bloom in central Brussels, and included sessions on smart textiles, medical and biomedical applications, textile membranes and architecture, safety and protective textiles, transportation and logistics, and technology solutions and textile surfaces.
“Rely on your existing strengths to develop something new,” advised Paul J. Kullman, senior commercial officer of the U.S. Embassy to Brussels, in his opening address. He noted the commitment of all participants and organizers to bring the concept of “advanced textiles” from a nice-sounding phrase to a promising new branch of technology with myriad applications in markets like safety and protection, medicine and healthcare, transportation and architecture. Dr. Reinhard Büscher, European Commission, D2 Support for Innovation, recommended forming “clusters” as an effective way to conquer new technologies and market segments—accumulating the breadth and depth of existing knowledge from the different parts of the industry. Discussions of already existing trans-Atlantic coooperations examined the feasibility of the successful development of interdisciplinary networks to generate commercial know-how and bring products into commercial use.
A total of 19 expert speakers from areas of economics, applications, research and development led a professional exchange of ideas, providing insights into promising and commercially feasible solutions, especially in the area of intelligent textiles, a market with immense potential. Panelist David Lussey, CTO of Peratech Ltd., U.K., anticipates strong growth in the area of human interaction and the fact that textiles can become a “second skin” that will respond to inputs such as touch, pressure and movement: “The smart textiles we will interact with may be worn on the body in the form of clothing or may form part of a seat or bed or some other textile structure such as those in a car or aircraft interior.” Peratech owns the leading technical textile brands SoftSwitch and Eleksen.
Specific exhibits of the newest product, processing and marketing ideas and a lively panel discussion rounded off the programs. The conclusion was clear: it’s vital to incorporate the often-underestimated input of the end-user to help develop real product innovations in a stronger, proactive way to speed up market penetration.
“The era of hermetic innovation belongs to the past,” said Hofmann. “Open models are taking over, and offer the chance for a quicker time to market of these technology-driven products. Furthermore, the megatrends of global mobility, sustainability and health and wellbeing foster the development of new products in the broad sector of advanced textiles.”
“We are very pleased that our concept has found approval, and that Advanced Textiles is on its way to becoming a brand,” said Warner. “Our goal is to back up our industry by offering this innovative meeting platform to foster bilateral business cooperation and valuable knowledge exchange. We are committed to continue.”
Advanced Textiles 2010 will take place June 16–17 in Paris, France.
Yvonne Heinen-Foudeh is employed at Gerber Technology GmbH. Galynn Nordstrom is senior editor of Specialty Fabrics Review magazine.
IHOFMANN is a privately owned communication, public relations and consultancy agency with an international team of experts in the areas of fashion, high-tech textiles, lifestyles and health care.
The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) is a business trade association promoting the products and innovations of the specialty fabrics industry. Currently comprised of more than 2,000 member companies in 58 countries, IFAI supports a global membership with world-class trade show and conferences, as well as seven industry magazines.