Three-layer construction has long been the standard when it comes to the integration of a waterproof/breathable membrane in a technical shell.
That technology works through lamination — a waterproof/breathable membrane is sandwiched, or laminated, in between face fabric and liner (or simply to the face fabric itself in a two-layer fabric), allowing for manufacturers to not just offer protection from weather but also impart the qualities of a membrane into a wide combination of fabrics that feel and look good.
The most famous of these fabrics is Gore-Tex, launched in the mid 1970s when Gore first began to build laminate constructions, launching the first two-layer laminate in 1980. That method has spread to nearly every brand and fabric manufacturer in the industry now, whether they, like Gore, use PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) membranes, polyurethane, or even other green options. No matter what, the construction of high-performance waterproof-breathable fabrics requires a laminate. Those days could be changing.
At the Snowsports Industry Association (SIA) show in Denver this past week, Colorado-based apparel and fabric manufacturer Voormi introduced a new fabric it hopes will turn that lamination standard on its head. Called Core Construction, the fabric builds waterproof/breathable performance into a single-layer protective fabric — in Voormi's case American sourced wool. Instead of sandwiching or laminating the membrane to wool, Voormi’s process builds the permeability and protection of a membrane into the weave of the wool itself.
According to Voormi marketing director Timm Smith, that means the wool, or any fabric or yarn, is not beholden to the membrane. “Because we can essentially decide how many yarns go through, there are a lot of things that we can do. We can dial up or down to create a wide spectrum of fabrics, from stuff that is slightly wind yielding to stuff that seals out a significant amount of water." After everything is weaved together, Voormi seals the construction — creating watertight closures between the weave-throughs — then coats the exterior with DWR for protection.
At SIA, the brand showed off its Access Hydro shell ($299), a hooded pullover built with Core Construction; the Drift Hydro ($399) a Core Construction piece that adds wool insulation to that layer to create a soft-shell-type garment with hard shell attributes (it won a Gear of the Show award from Outside magazine); and its AN/FO Concept jacket ($600), which, in this case, does laminate the Core Construction layer to a wool face fabric. But Voormi is not simply planning to use Core Construction in its own apparel. The brand is seeking other partners since is feels that the fabric is big enough to change the industry.
“This is a 20-year platform of innovation,” Smith said. “It’s not specific to any particular membrane. Imagine that a manufacturer can pick from a universe of yarns, a universe of membranes. There are all these crazy permutations. It’s just like lamination was in 1980. We are on the cusp of a brand new construction technique.”
That’s a bold statement, but Voormi, which may not be a household name at retail, has the brain trust to back up its technological bravado. Executive Vice President of Development Doug Lumb spent 43 years working for Polartec as the senior vice of product development. He left Polartec in 2009 and partnered with Voormi co-foudner and CEO Dan English, a Microsoft vet, to create Voormi the following year. The team is bolstered by Dan’s son Dustin who works as a mountain guide on Denali and Smith, who spent 12 years working on new product development at W.L. Gore and joined Voormi in 2012. The brand has been at the forefront of innovative wool construction and on an American-made ethos and supply chain (all it’s merino is from the Rocky Mountains).
The development of Core Construction has been a multi-year project for the team. It had to develop an entirely new knitting technology using both existing and modified machinery. And it needed to spend more three years fine-tuning that those first fabrics to create a functional textile.
While Voormi has gained a reputation for its work with wool garments, the construction is not specific to that fabric. And Voormi is actively seeking partners who can take the concept to new heights. “We want partners who can get behind and accelerate it, innovate. We want to transform the landscape of the industry. That’s our vision,” Smith said.
Is that possible? That all depends upon how other manufacturers take to the technology and what partnerships they are willing to build. It also depends on how the fabric is received by consumers who take it into the field and put it to the test. Voormi has already won awards for its wool fabrics, though they are not easy to find at market. Laminate technology is tried and true and saturated in everything manufacturers and consumers understand about waterproof/breathable construction. It is not going away any time soon. But ultimately, the folks at Voormi have a bigger plan than even changing how membranes are built into fabric and they hope to partner with brands that share their vision of a new breed of manufacturer.
“Ultimately, we are constantly seeking companies of likeminded culture,” Smith said. “We want to partner with companies who are about the pursuit of innovation, who want to challenge the status quo. We have other things to offer, too. We can create a new smaller, more nimble, more flexible supply chain. We have hundred of ideas. We don’t know the limitations yet, but we have an inkling of the possibilities. That’s the fun of it.”
There is an indication that Voomri can find partners, especially when it comes to its made-in-America ethos. "We love the idea of the American consumer buying wool from the Rocky Mountain West and it supports a Colorado company," said Eric Lyon, CEO of SidFactor, a product solutions shop based in Colorado that works with a wide range of brands throughout the outdoor industry. "Typically wool has come from the other side of the world. The technology is really interesting for product designers as the range of garment possibilities changes a lot. It's perfect for the where we live and climates like Colorado."