Alex Zabelin, editor-in-chief of TECHUNTER Magazine and CEO of TECHUNTER Media, drops some science about the past and future of technical apparel.
"I prefer more of a balance in the modern approach to the production of functional clothing: technically progressive, while not losing points on design and presentation."
Why did you start the magazine, and what got you excited about performance apparel?
Our magazine began in 2015, on the first waves of mass popularity of such a subcultural phenomenon as "techwear." We saw a lot of pictures of people in cool-looking garments on social media and forums, but absolutely without any specific information about the clothes themselves. After quickly exploring the international and local markets, and realizing that there are no analogs of such media anywhere else, we began to search for information ourselves, gathering it piece by piece and sharing it on the Russian-speaking social media community. In parallel with this, it was necessary to get experienced information, so we launched our own brand of tech clothing called Nameless, which sadly lasted only for two years. Now we are focused on the media work, having a print and online publication, our own media production, and an international agency.
I came to the study of functional clothing gradually, starting with an enthusiasm for subcultures, their style, and choice of clothing. I am always hungry for new information and events, so the constant research of such a topic as functional clothing with all its technologies, innovations, materials, methods of production, design, and presentation, plunged me headlong. I prefer more of a balance in the modern approach to the production of functional clothing: technically progressive, while not losing points on design and presentation.
Do you see any overarching trends that are shaping the performance apparel industry?
No doubt, that the main trend is the mixing of industries. Outdoor and sports industries primarily produce clothing from a technical point of view, for specific purposes and needs of use. The fashion industry reflects modern social and cultural features, using for this purpose an external image.
However, in the last 5 years, the boundaries between them are blurring. Now the outdoor industry enters the market of casual and fashionable clothing, realizing that for the modern sophisticated buyer, it is not enough to have just functional clothing – you need it to look suitable for the buyer's needs, reflect his interests and satisfy his taste. At the same time, the fashion environment is experiencing a severe crisis of ideas, and is aware of the sharp obsession of humanity with technology – people want not only to look good but also to use all the amenities possible today: protection from the external environment, internal comfort, new urban functionality, etc. Thereby, at the intersection of this shift a new chain of interactions begin: new brands, ideas, and trends are born.
Of course, it is worth mentioning the trend towards sustainable consumption, environmental friendliness, and the new responsibility of companies. Despite a large number of compromising statements and outright greenwashing, there are many giant brands that have already redeployed their production in this direction, forming a new reality for future companies – looking at which we can only rejoice. We are only at the beginning of the road, and the clothing industry will continue to be one of the most wasteful in the world. We all still have a lot to do to reach a turning point.
Do you think the melding of fashion / outdoor is here to stay? And trends that you anticipate?
Oh, yes! It seems to me that this is one of the main turning points that determines all the further development of industries for years to come. Even if the trend for outdoor aesthetics itself will not be relevant in 5 years, all those chains formed at the junction of mixing – visual, technical, new materials, technologies, etc. – all this will remain and will evolve further.
Image Courtesy of TECHUNTER Media
Courtesy of TECHUNTER Media
You’re based in Moscow. Are Russian consumers embracing performance apparel - is it different than in other markets?
Indeed, the Russian consumer is beginning to get acquainted with this new phenomenon. Most often this happens through mass-market brands that copy the main innovations and trends of functional clothing. Or through more niche projects – brands and media that demonstrate new trends and reality. However, if you look globally, our market is very small and slow-growing, due to political, economic, and social reasons. Despite the fact that we, as a media project, have been sharing all sorts of information on this topic for 5 years, most consumers are still more conservative than open to new phenomena and changes of familiar images.
On the other hand, a young market is always a promising market for new players, so over time more interesting brands, designers, and productions will appear here. Of course, if we can get out of the local crisis. For me, this has always been surprising, because the territory of our country is located in four climate zones, the temperature range from -64 to +40 degrees Celsius, we have a huge area for research and testing of functional clothing, even in the most extreme ways – absolutely ideal conditions for the development of the industry.
What are the top three or four coolest products that you’ve seen in the past year, and what made them stand out to you?
I would allocate three clusters and several products in them.
If we talk about innovations, then one of the most interesting in my opinion were shown in 2020 at ISPO: this is the seamless weaving technology called Wholegarment by Shima Seiki and the new ultra-thin olefin membrane called X-Pore by BenQ, which does not contain perfluorinated compounds (PFC-free), is environmentally friendly, resistant to abrasion, durable and elastic at the same time. I will note new developments based on graphene technologies, namely the Mimic Hood V Series from Haglofs: a lightweight down jacket with polyamide filler mixed with graphene particles. At the end of last year, we were invited as judges for the ISPO Award 2021 nomination, where the main winner will be a product with this technology, only even more advanced and versatile. It is very interesting to watch how this trend develops. Among the many new products from London-based innovators Vollebak, I would like to mention their new experiment: a jacket with copper wire interweaving – another promising material for the clothing of the future. We were lucky enough to get our hands on one such piece and are now testing it on a daily basis. It's mind-bogglingy awesome in all the right ways.
From the interesting design point of view, which also combined with the necessary functionality, I would like to highlight the recent transformer jacket from BYBORRE and Descente Allterrain collaboration: 2 base layers combined with each other, which can be worn in three variations. I will also note the return of the Nike ACG line to its archival references: a recognizable design in modern materials with the coolest styling and promo campaign yet. Perfect hit in the consumer query.
Of the shoe designs that I remember the most, of course, it is a Road Warrior by NIKE ISPA and Russian-origin designer Nikita Trofanov. Incredibly bold concept and design solutions. I was very pleased with the collaboration of Danner and White Mountaineering: a classic Oregon hiking silhouette with an increased sole height and Boa lace system. Among the new silhouettes, I remember the relaunch of the Italian hiking boot manufacturer called Demon, prepared by the SlamJam store. Incredibly stylish silhouettes that reflect the modern snowsports aesthetic.
Do you think performance apparel is part of a broader cultural movement, with creatives (artists, musicians, makers, athletes) playing a different role in product development and how brands are shaped?
Definitely! The argument can start from the "techwear" subculture, where enthusiasts are engaged in in-depth research of technical aspects of clothing, often its creation and home experiments (DIY), as well as its visual and graphic representation in digital form. Then, a more strict, in contrast to the dark avant-garde “techwear” aesthetics, modern representation of functional clothing with a bias in the urban environment or inspired by natural, organic motifs.
In my opinion, due to its technical superiority, functional clothing has a greater entry threshold, both for studying and working with it. Therefore, the creative approach and ways of thinking are the main ones for those who get acquainted with this industry. This leads to a large number of collaborations with cultural representatives of other spheres, whether they are artists, musicians, dancers, artisans, photographers, etc.
Who are your favorite artists and musicians at the moment?
Since the mid-2000's, I have been into electronic music, and in 2020 I bought my first DJ controller, recorded several sets, and in January played my first performances in some of St. Petersburg's underground clubs. Among the musicians, I have a predominant love for the electronic scene with a variety of genres from electro and acid, to ambient and IDM. Also, for the last two years, I have been actively studying the metal scene and other rock genres. From the last groups: Gojira and Lamb Of God.
With regard to artists, since I'm also representing a dance culture and have been engaged in dancing for more than 10 years, I follow dynamic artists more. For example, my recent discovery – Takahiro Fukui and his project called MuDA.
Anything else you’d like to share? Any questions we should have asked you?
As for the plans for 2021, in addition to continuing to work on an online magazine, the production of the author's content in various formats, and new collaborations, I wanted to share and announce our new project – TECSAURUS. It will be a database and an open online educational platform on functional clothing, where anyone can find information on fabrics, materials, technologies, manufacturers, and productions, both of a superficial nature for introductory study, and more detailed materials for in-depth research of the topic. In the near future, we will launch a beta version of the project to see the response and start editing it to meet the needs of all users. The project is timeless and labor-intensive, so we count on any support from the industry and feedback from all those who are not indifferent.
Courtesy of TECHUNTER Media