The future of Knit and technical fabrics for uppersWe asked three leading manufacturers of knitting and fabric machines - Santoni, Shima Seiki and STOLL – to illustrate the present and future of the knitted upper.
The revolution began with Nike’s launch of the first Flyknit models in 2012, which were a big hit during the London Olympics. Innovation led to a long-term interest that over the years has increasingly investigated the possibility of making a shoe by relying on knitted uppers sometimes realized into a single piece and no longer sewn. What are the advantages? Faster and more streamlined production, thanks to fewer production steps, and huge customisation possibilities.
According to STOLL “the knitted upper is not a passing trend at all. In fact, not only is it imposing itself in the sports world in a systematic and lasting way (because of its increasingly technical characteristics thanks to cutting-edge and eco-friendly yarns, as well as lightness and optimisation of the production processes thanks to the software solution knitelligence®), but it is also receiving great interest from the fashion sector. There are several reasons for this: the possibility of coordinating the upper with the knitwear collections, the versatility of the graphic/technical customisation, the possibility of using the same production partners for clothes and the consequent optimisation of resources and skills”.
Shima Seiki agrees and adds that “what matters most is that new horizons have been opened, showing the capabilities of knitting machines that can produce not only tricot, but much more: bags and clothes similar to fabric, décor furnishings and especially, knitted shoes”.
Chiosa Santoni: “Knit will change the market. It is already happening in the sports world, while it has yet to take off in the fashion world, but the trend is destined to last and become standard”.
Everyone is convinced that fashion is also moving in the direction of knitted uppers – some examples are Fendi and Burberry – and this will require a search for increasingly finer yarns and machines that can provide greater three-dimensional effects offering more creative possibilities to designers: “It is very stimulating,” suggested those at Santoni, “to imagine how to apply technical yarns used for automotive or furnishings to shoes… It opens a world of opportunities and new possibilities”.
But what are the most pressing demands that brands request from machine manufacturers, who are the real strategic fulcrum of this new construction method?
For STOLL, the flexibility factor: “The sudden request to develop knitted uppers has been reflected in the technical specifications of our machines which are able to adapt to the most diverse types of fabrics. Thus, most of our customers were able to respond promptly to renewed market demands. It was only a matter of enhancing some skills, in particular those related to yarns”.
And on the subject of skills and training, Shima Seiki insists: “for us, training new generations of programming technicians is the main and fundamental objective. Our ‘School of Knit’ in Segrate was born from the need to train new figures able to provide support to companies and operators in the knitwear sector”.
What is the current state-of-the-art of machines capable of knitting shoe uppers? The question is inevitable. So here is an overview of the offer proposed by the three market leaders.
Santoni proposes X-Machine, a 4-feed knitting machine based on INTARSIA technology and specifically designed for the footwear market. This machine offers unlimited possibilities and colour combinations. The fully electronic single cylinder machine is controlled by an on-board microcomputer. Its revolutionary needle selection system allows unprecedented 3D patterning, while each feed can offer the possibility of selecting a terry fabric. The needles have been designed to match with an extended range of yarns and the new software offers a programming experience that makes the preparation of intarsia structures intuitive and easily accessible. Instead, MEC-MOR is more suitable for 2D processing. This circular knitting machine with rib border separation, comes with an open variable front panel (Variatex technology) to produce garments in weft knitting, offering high quality and high productivity with a large number of feeds. The variable width of the fabric panel allows setting the number of working needles, which in turn enables one single machine to produce all the sizes, without waste.
Shima Seiki focuses on SVR093SP, the machine dedicated to the production of shoes able to combine fabric and knitwear in a single product, while remaining reliable and easy to manage. It is equipped with a Loop Presser for the woven fabric, which is fundamental for greater tension points in certain areas of the shoe and for zones with differentiated padding (a feature that other machines do not have). It can use different colours (up to 30 yarn guides), with different types of yarns and fibres, also very different from each other, ranging from polyester to polyurethane, from wool to linen up to much more technical and complex fibres such as Kevlar. It is suitable for the production of different types of footwear: sneakers, moccasins, ankle boots… thanks to Sinkers, which allow completely shaping the product.
STOLL has created two models designed specifically for the footwear industry: the CMS 330 HP BW TT sport and the CMS 530 HP BW. Thanks to devices such as belt-take-down, that allows the extreme 3D shaping, the weave-in presser for the execution of the stitches similar to the fabric, and the new U-groove for the insertion of special yarns, these machines have achieved surprising results. Many customers, who already use the 2 models, are focusing on the state of the art technology proposed by the machines of the ADF series, able to further differentiate the products from the competition, both in terms of performance and, above all, exclusivity, with the aid of 32 motorized and independent yarn feeders.