Waterproof war warms up: Gore, Columbia introduce dueling DWR-free raingear technologies

Gore-Tex, Columbia introduce DWR-free raingear tech for water
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We’ll be adding stories from Outdoor Retailer Daily over the next several weeks. This news article can be found on page 82 of the Day 4 issue.

Last November, W.L. Gore took the outdoor industry by surprise with a sudden announcement about its radical new fabric technology: Gore-Tex Active Shell with Permanent Beading Surface, a lightweight, two-layer material that places the waterproof/breathable membrane on the outside of the jacket. By eliminating the face fabric, Gore says it’s made the new fabric lighter and more breathable. And because the membrane faces out, there’s no need to use a DWR that will eventually wear off and need to be reapplied. In other words: A shell that won’t ever wet out.

Even more surprising: Consumers wouldn’t have to wait long to try the new tech. The North Face introduced the first Gore-Tex Active Shell with Permanent Beading Surface to retail stores on December 15. TNF calls the HyperAir Jacket (MSRP $249, pictured at right), which is aimed at road cyclists and runners, “our most breathable waterproof jacket.” Arc’teryx plans to follow suit with the limited release of its Norvan SL (MSRP $299), a minimalist running piece, in mid-March.

Why the surprise? “We had something that was exciting and we felt like the time was right,” said Andre Tiffany, retail marketing associate for W.L. Gore. “So we thought, ‘Let’s hurry up a bit.’”

Arc’teryx had been working with Gore to develop and test the technology for the past three years, said Manager of North American PR Jo Salamon. The brand decided not to wait until fall ’16 to introduce the Norvan SL, so they settled on a midseason spring launch (a first for Arc’teryx) of just 800 jackets. “Having the spring ’16 launch was a little fast for us, but because we have our own manufacturing in Vancouver, we were able to turn it around,” Salamon said.

In spring ’16, Columbia will begin selling shells made from its new OutDry Extreme technology—another two-layer material that places the membrane on the jacket’s exterior and was introduced at last summer’s Outdoor Retailer. Though Columbia’s shells are burlier, more durable and better-suited to backcountry use than the much more delicate new Gore-Tex Active Shell, the quick turnaround begs the question: Was the release timing influenced by a desire to beat Columbia to market? “No, we’ve had this technology in the bucket for a while,” Gore’s Tiffany said. “We think it’s great somebody else is doing something [similar]. The outcomes are very different.”

“OutDry Extreme is a revolutionary approach to rainwear, and it’s not surprising to see other brands following in our footsteps,” said Columbia VP of Design and Innovation Woody Blackford in an email statement. “And we’re just getting started. We’ll continue to lead the industry in developing innovative solutions to keeping people warm and dry in the outdoors.”

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