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Waterproof Breathable Fabrics: New Technologies for Greater Comfort
published in Issue 73, 2nd quarter 2008
Garments which are waterproof and breathable help to provide wearers with greater comfort. For consumers, comfort is an increasingly important consideration when buying performance apparel. For manufacturers, a garment which is both waterproof and breathable can often command a significant price premium. However, price differences have narrowed over the years as waterproof breathable garments have become more affordable than in the past.
Waterproofness and moisture permeability are mutually contradictory. It has therefore proved to be a major challenge for manufacturers to produce a material which has both these properties. In the past, fabrics which offered protection from wind and rain did not breathe, and this made them uncomfortable to wear. But great strides have been made in waterproof breathable technology over the past 30 years.
USA-based W L Gore & Associates (Gore) has been given credit for giving birth to the performance outerwear segment and to the 3-layer approach to dressing for the outdoors. In 1976 it introduced Gore-Tex, a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) membrane, which revolutionised the waterproof apparel market. Since then, a myriad of functional alternatives to Gore-Tex have been introduced including Conduit from Mountain Hardwear, Entrant from Toray Industries, EPIC (Encapsulated Protection Inside Clothing) from Nextec, eVent from BHA Group, H2No Storm from Patagonia, Helly Tech from Helly Hansen, HyVent from The North Face, MemBrain and PreCip from Marmot, Omni-Tech from Columbia Sportswear, Pertex from Mitsui, Reflex from MacPac, Storm-FIT from Nike, Sympatex from Sympatex Technologies, and Triplepoint from Lowe Alpine.
The introduction of new waterproof breathable fabrics has greatly increased the range of choice for consumers. It has also led to greater segmentation in the market, as technologies have been developed for specific end uses and weather conditions. Also, competition has intensified as new players have entered the marketplace and have challenged Gore-Tex’s domination. Such competition seems set to intensify in the future, leading to an increase in the tempo of innovation as companies scramble to raise comfort levels for those who pursue outdoor activities.
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