SNEWS Retail College: Test your product IQ – first soft shell?

The SNEWS® Retail College is more than just a classroom. Inside our virtual college walls, there exists a library of information, unlike any other training resource, which is perfect for ensuring sales people are always on their specialty game. How good is your sales knowledge? See if you can answer this question. What company was the first to bring a soft shell product to market?
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The SNEWS® Retail College is more than just a classroom. Inside our virtual college walls, there exists a library of information, unlike any other training resource, which is perfect for ensuring sales people are always on their specialty game. How good is your sales knowledge? See if you can answer this question.

What company was the first to bring a soft shell product to market?

a.The North Face

b.Cloudveil

c.Mammut

d.Arc’Teryx

e.None of the above

And the answer is?

If you said Mammut (C), you would be correct. But, wait, there’s more….This subject is not without quite a bit of debate because technically, the terms “soft shell” (as SNEWS calls it) or “softshell” did not become part of the outdoor industry lexicon until much later.

  • 1994-1995: Mammut introduces the Chamonix pant using Schoeller Dynamic fabric. Fabrics in this category are labeled “stretch woven” with no such phrase as “soft shell” in the vernacular.
  • 1997: Cloudveil introduces the Serendipity jacket—inspired after using Chamonix pants in tests—made with Schoeller Dry Skin. Still not even a whisper of the phrase “soft shell.”
  • 1998: A review of interview notes from the files of SNEWS President Michael Hodgson, following a pitch from Penn Newhard of Backbone Media, reveals his description of the Serendipity jacket as “like a shell, only soft.” While not a direct reference to the now popularized phrase, it’s darn close.
  • 1998-1999: Mike Blenkarn, design guru for Arc’Teryx, prods Malden to partner with Enterprise Coatings and Tweave to create Polartec Power Shield. Arc’Teryx creates the Gamma SV, which is generally acknowledged as the garment that truly launched the soft shell phenomenon. However, still no public mention of the exact phrase, soft shell.

So who really gets the credit for the first public and in-print use of the term “soft shell?”

That mention came in February 1999 in SNEWS when we wrote a trade show trends story that included the following:

Apart from all the new elegance, perhaps the most intriguing outerwear story of the Show was that of ‘hard shell’ versus ‘soft shell.’ These terms refer to the differences between waterproof/breathable garments (hard shells) and the new generation of technical pieces employing fabrics like Malden’s Power Shield. Arc’Teryx Gamma pieces and its hybrid Alpha SV suit

included three-layer ePTFE on top and Power Shield on the bottom. Also new was Schoeller’s Dryskin, used by Cloudveil and Marmot in its Crestone Stretch jacket. The new generation included Dynamic fabric and wool-based Ski Fans, which Ibex used for jackets and pants. This new generation included Nextec’s Epic fabric, which Patagonia includes in the new Velocity shell, as well as the Infurno, Fusion and Zephyr garments. All of these are far more breathable than any hard shell system, but offer enough

weather protection for all but the most inclement situations. On top of that, most of the soft shell garments function as mid-layer pieces in nasty conditions, and they perform as outerwear the rest of the time.”

--Michael Hodgson

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