Sales of Global Hypercolour, a range of heat-sensitive garments produced by Global, a supplier to high street chain stores, have taken the clothing industry by surprise. Last year, Global sold 3.5 million shirts and recorded a pounds 15m turnover.
Now the giants of the industry want to get in on the act. Coats Viyella Apparel has this month launched Sunseeker, a light-sensitive range of clothes.
Sunseeker clothes, which change colour in sunshine, are being stocked by such high street retailers as John Lewis, C & A and House of Fraser.
The range of garments, including T-shirts, sundresses, leggings and shorts, was produced by CV Apparel in a link- up with Matsui, the Japanese firm that developed the technology. The garments are made up in conventional cotton fabrics, then dipped in light-sensitive dyes. CV Apparel is also negotiating licensing deals to apply the process to swimwear and beach towels.
British clothing firms have been slow to recognise the potential of the dyes, first developed in Japan in the Eighties. The view was that light- and heat-sensitive clothing would never be more than a fad.
Peter Dubens, who founded Global with Jonathan Sieff, a member of the Marks & Spencer Sieff family, said heat-sensitive clothes had proved most popular with children and young teenagers.
'The beauty of the shirts is that customers can see them change colour on the spot, in the store,' he said.