Our Fall run-down of some of the latest fabric and material technologies. While not exhaustive, and you won’t need the periodic table to get through it, our list explores and explains a few innovations retailers and consumers should be looking for this winter and next spring.
By Aaron H. Bible
Although much has already been written about OutDry, Columbia Sportswear, who acquired the technology in 2010 for use in gloves through its Mountain Hardwear brand and consequently in Columbia gloves and shoes, is now utilizing the material technology in a new way in outerwear.
OutDry features a patented lamination process that bonds a waterproof membrane directly to the garment’s highly breathable outermost layer.
The company’s blog sums it up best: “With OutDry Extreme, we’ve turned waterproof breathable jacket technology inside out. This patent-pending technology is a totally new approach to rainwear. OutDry Extreme is the first waterproof ultra-breathable jacket with a waterproof membrane on the outside of the jacket for permanent water repellency and durability. By putting an abrasion-resistant membrane on the outside where it’s in contact with the rain, there is virtually no risk of the jacket ‘wetting out’ like others do when their DWR wears off. This is a durable, permanent waterproof layer that actively repels moisture and rain. OutDry Extreme is ultra-breathable thanks to microscopic perforations in the membrane that allows moisture to escape while keeping rain at bay. The interior lining is a wicking textile that enables even more breathability and next-to-skin comfort, as opposed to a plastic-feel next to skin.”
OutDry Extreme even looks waterproof, in line with Columbia’s strategy of visible apparel technology. The OutDry Extreme range will all be branded by Columbia’s Titanium logo and will be featured across Columbia’s three performance tiers: Gold, Platinum and Diamond. It will be available Spring 2016 in 19 styles of jackets and pants, in several colors, from $150 to $400.
PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Active continues to be a top story for this growing ingredient brand. PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Active is, according to the company, the only insulation solution offering both high breathability and unmatched thermal properties, designed specifically for high-output adventures.
It is soft, packable and water-resistant, allowing wearers to adjust comfort levels during intense activity. With an industry-leading warmth-to-weight ratio, the construction of PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Active enables excess heat and moisture to escape in order to keep the end-user comfortable, warm and dry. PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Active also allows product designers to utilize a much wider variety of breathable shell and liner fabrics, resulting in more year-round choices for consumers. The material is now Bluesign and OEKO-TEX Standard 100 approved as well.
Released at ORWM and ISPO in January 2015, W.L. Gore introduced a third tier in its waterproof-breathable lamination technology for makers of performance outerwear, now available in more than a dozen Gore-Tex brand partners. Gore is credited with inventing the ePTFE microporous membrane that has reigned supreme in waterproof-breathables since 1969.
Hailed by Gore as more than just an incremental innovation, the new Gore-Tex C-Knit features a hosiery-knit, ultra-lightweight woven backer construction that is rolling out this Fall 2015. The company claims it is up to 15 percent more breathable and 10 percent lighter than 3-layer Gore-Tex laminates with traditional Tricot backers.
The company launched Gore-Tex Active in 2011, followed by Gore-Tex Pro in 2013. To put it simply, C-Knit will be less crunchy but more breathable than Gore-Tex Pro, but slightly less breathable than Gore-Tex Active.
Gore product developers are calling C-Knit “the most versatile 3-layer fabric ever,” while “maintaining the Gore-Tex guarantee of being 100-percent windproof and waterproof.” Development began in 2012 and international guides and athletes tested more than 100 samples. The new backer material is 30- to 50-percent lighter as a raw material (garments may only be 10-percent lighter), and Gore developed a new seam tape for this product designed to stretch more easily around curves.
According to Gore Product Specialist Chris Mayer, the goal was to develop a robust yet softer laminate that could be used for multiple activities by outdoor enthusiasts, “who rate comfort as high as functionality.” The softer feel is achieved through a backer (the inner, third layer of a three-layer garment) constructed of an extremely fine nylon, and a lamination procedure engineered to complement it. C-Knit is made on a specific circular knitting machine – only one of which currently exists (in Japan) but Gore said it will build up to four more to support production.
C-Knit targets hikers, trekkers and free riders who Gore found through its research to be missing versatility and comfort that previous Tricot backing fabrics may not have provided. According to Gore Fabric Marketing’s Tom Boyle, the company sees a global hiking market of 166 million people, trekking with 13.3 million participants and 8 million freeriders, all whom participate outdoors at least seven days per year. Those 166 million hikers also help explain Gore’s massive push into the waterproof-breathable footwear space, going large with its Gore-Tex Surround Technology in global partner brands La Sportiva, Salewa and Ecco.
Polartec is now introducing its new Delta fabric and Power Wool fabric, both with unique properties.
Delta is offered as an alternative to quick drying polyester for warm weather. “We like to call it the Goldilocks of fabrics because it’s just right. Not too hot, not too cool. It successfully navigates the middle ground of natural and synthetic fibers, taking comfort cues from cotton for immediate and long term cooling ability, and synthetics for fast dry time, reduced wet cling and chaffing. The real proof is in the wearing, but we back it up with solid textile science,” the company said.
Technical highlights include a cool skin sensation, hydrophilic yarns, hydrophobic zones for breathability, reduced surface contact (less cling), regulated drying and odor control.
“We asked our R&D engineers to construct a radiator for cooling. A radiator is a structure that facilitates the transfer of heat from one thing to somewhere else.
Sweating is the primary way our bodies dump excess heat. So we devised a fabric that maximizes the effectiveness of your body’s natural sweat response. Our fabric radiator carries your sweat and holds it right next to your skin where it does the most good. You benefit from evaporative cooling, the removal of excess body heat, as the fabric dries,” Polartec told its sales force. “We do fabric, so our radiator doesn’t use metal fins, it uses yarns. The fabric construction features hydrophilic yarns knit in a radiator matrix to prolong skin’s natural cooling response.
This yarn will absorb and distribute water/sweat around the fabric. It works kind of like the coolant in a car’s radiator. It carries the sweat around so your skin can benefit from evaporative cooling. Hydrophobic zones created by synthetic yarn and a special knit construction promote maximum breathability and a quick dry time. The special knit structure reduces wet skin cling. And the yarns chosen have a naturally cool touch so you will want to put it on when it’s hot. We added in odor control to perfect the experience, and a UPF rating in the mid-weight to help keep you safe outside in the sun.”
For Power Wool, the premier ingredient company utilized bi-component knit construction with different yarns on either side of the fabric, creating two different surfaces. In this hybrid construction, one moves moisture away from the skin, while the outer surface dries quickly. Polartec brand partners utilizing Power Wool in their Fall 15 and Spring 16 garments include Betabrand, Brooks Range, Kitsbow, QOR, Rhone, Under Armour, and Westcomb.
“Wool on the inside provides warmth even when wet, is highly breathable, moisture wicking and naturally odor resistant,” the company said. “It creates a very comfortable micro-climate, insulating the wearer from both cold and heat.”
Munich-based Sympatex is one of the leading ingredient brands in the field of functional textiles — developing, producing and distributing high performance membranes, laminates, functional textiles and finished products with brand partners worldwide.
The Sympatex membrane is, according to the company, 100 percent waterproof and 100 percent windproof, as well as optimally breathable. The non-porous Sympatex membrane is “guaranteed green” — 100 percent recyclable much like a PET bottle. It is made of polyether/ester, a combination of polyester and polyether molecules, and therefore, the brand said, completely eco-friendly as well as safe on the skin. It does not contain any fluorine compounds as some other liners do and is both PTFE-free and PFC-free. “It is Sympatex’ standard practice to aim for the highest possible eco-friendly production level throughout the entire supply chain. We are pursuing this objective together with brand partners who share the same ecological philosophy,” the company said.
Uniquely, Sympatex has no pores and works on a purely chemical and physical principle. Hydrophilic components of the Sympatex membrane absorb moisture from the body and transport it to the outside so that it can evaporate, while at the same time the pore-less structure of the membrane prevents the ingress of rain. The brand said this means clothing featuring Sympatex are extremely easy to look after and can be washed as often or little as you like.
The latest technology for its apparel is a 2.5-layer laminate called Phaseable. Three-dimensional Phaseable, which is ecologically compatible and produced in a sustainable way, influences the body climate of the wearer in an intelligent way. According to the brand, this half-layer on the inside of the laminate only touches the skin punctually in the form of foam points. During an athlete’s recovery phase, an insulating air layer is created between the skin and the laminate. When physical activity is increased, moisture is produced, which lets the compact hydrophilic Sympatex membrane swell. Thus, the foam points disappear, the distance to the skin is reduced, and the laminate gets closer to the skin. The dynamically active Sympatex membrane also increases moisture transport.
37.5 technology was created by Cocona Inc., a world leader in the development, commercialization and marketing of active particle technologies to enhance the technical performance of clothing, footwear and sleep systems. Cocona was established in 2000 and rebranded as 37.5 in 2013. Previously, 37.5 technology was marketed under the Cocona brand name, as its original active carbon particles were derived from coconut shells. The technology has since been expanded to use additional natural materials. The company is headquartered in Boulder, CO.
Victorinox is one of the first contemporary menswear brands to put 37.5 technology into everyday pieces. Their Limited Edition series consists of eight offerings all made with 37.5 technology that work functionally together. These include the Ranger Zip jacket, Reversible Bomber, Trail Leader vest, Pathfinder hoodie, Vanguard Henley, Recon t-shirt, and Minutoli cargo pant.
Another example, the Spring 16 launch of Carhartt Force Extreme with 37.5 technology includes a Cargo Pant, Zip-Off Pant, Cargo Short, Pocket Polo, Sleeveless T, Quarter-Zip Long Sleeve Shirt, and the Short Sleeve T. Through a unique partnership, Carhartt is the only U.S. workwear brand with 37.5 technology.
The Bontrager brand from Trek is enhancing their 37.5 merino baselayer program with two waterproof breathable jackets featuring the technology—the Velocis Stormshell jacket and hooded Lithos Stormshell. Bontrager is also releasing the Stormshell Oversock with 37.5 for riding in extreme weather. Snowboarding brands Nitro and Homeschool use layering 37.5 to keep riders dry and warm. Nitro just released the Pioneer series of shell jackets, pants and bibs, along with midlayer and baselayer pieces, all packing the punch of 37.5 technology.
Another unique fabric innovation growing over the last couple years comes from New Orleans-based Tasc Performance Apparel. Seeking alternatives to polyester and cotton, the brand spent years researching and developing a proprietary finishing process it calls BamCo, blending bamboo fibers with cotton and merino wool in a line of more than seven fabrics to create layering pieces and sportswear.
Tasc’s Elevation Series is a four-season fabric of 18.5 micron Merino blended with bamboo in what the company calls “a dual-threat performance powerhouse with unmatched next-to-skin feel.” They say it absorbs and releases sweat quickly, regulates body temp, resists odors and is naturally UVA/UVB protective. The Elevation Series features a range of men’s and women’s performance tops specifically constructed for comfort and versatility.
Their original fabric MOSOtech is a blend of bamboo and organic cotton, producing a silk-like softness imbued with natural performance benefits. There’s also MOSOdry, MOSOflow, MOSOpeak Fleece, MOSOfresh, as well as VeLuxe French Terry and VeLu Performance Fleece. Each strain is used by Tasc for a specific end use. The brand also released a performance line for plus sized women in mid-September, 2015.
Voormi has been turning heads and playing by their own rules since launching with small batches of 100-percent U.S. made and sourced wool-based garments in 2011. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that they gained momentum. This year they are touting four key material innovations that some whisper will revolutionize the outdoor apparel industry.
The first innovation is Dual Surface precision blended wool– a next-to-skin application featuring single layer construction, wool on the outside, with a “razor thin” layer of synthetic/polyester on the inside. It’s “a specialized knitting technique we use to engineer single layer fabrics with advanced two-sided performance. Ideal for next to skin applications, this fine micron wool construction features a thin inner layer of high performance wicking yarns designed to pull moisture off the body and disperse it to the outer facing surface. Once there, the natural temperature and moisture regulating properties of wool are free to take over, keeping you dry and comfortable long after the furnace stops burning,” the brand said.
Next is Surface Hardened Thermal Wool (mid-layers) and Surface Hardened Technical Woven Wool (outer layers). Thermal Wool features a 21.5-micron wool reinforced by outer facing high strength performance fibers, finished with a DWR. Technical Woven Wool is a long-awaited, 21.5-micron Rocky Mountain Highcountry Merino wool reinforced with high performance Nylon and finished with a DWR. It’s a completely unique 4-way stretch construction for legitimate mountain work and play.
The last material innovation from Voormi did more than just turn heads at SIA last February, but confused people and made them question everything they thought they knew about waterproof breathable construction. Core Construction is “the first true single-layer performance fabric with a weatherproof membrane directly incorporated inside the knit construction of the textile without glue or lamination,” brand managers said. “The result is a never-before-seen performance fabric that blurs the lines between a mid-layer and soft-shell.” And because Voormi manufactures in the U.S. in small batches, some of which is developed in their tiny home town of Pagosa Springs, CO, they have been very slow and careful in rolling out these new technologies. Available, while they last, in just one product, the Fall Line Jacket provides breathability, thermal regulation and resistance to wind and snow. Think about a supple Merino wool mid-layer and the water and wind resistance of a soft shell, with the weatherproof membrane actually embedded inside the fabric. And Voormi doesn’t stop there. The brand plans to continue innovating on the Core Construction platform for the next decade.
Lead image courtesy of Nau