Google and tech companies from start-ups to industry giants have the annual CES trade show. But for techwear brands, it’s all about the Outdoor Retailer expo.
At this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show, which took place at the end of June in Denver, Colorado, brands including GORE-TEX, Schoeller, and The North Face showed off their wildest technical innovations. Some of these technologies are unlikely to hit shelves for years, so Highsnobiety hit the show floor to get the inside scoop.
With brands seeking to produce the highest-performing, lightest gear in an era when sustainability is the watchword (a lot of techwear has been dependent on plastic-derived fabrics), the pressure is on to innovate in a way that doesn’t trash the planet in the long term.
For a rundown of all the coolest fabric tech we saw at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2019, scroll on.
GORE-TEX now makes T-shirts
With the launch of its INFINIUM line, W.L. Gore & Associates, the Delaware-based materials innovator behind GORE-TEX, took a bold departure from the waterproof tech that built its brand. Now, one season after the debut of its first non-waterproof products, the name that is “guaranteed to keep you dry” is keeping a different kind of moisture off altogether.
As of this spring, GORE-TEX is officially in the T-shirt game. With a technology known as GORE-TEX INFINIUM Performance Fiber, the same ePTFE that powers the brand’s famous waterproof membranes can now be spun into super-light, moisture-wicking athletic apparel. The resulting garments allow for high airflow and faster drying than synthetic tech tees of the same weight.
Schoeller and Holden make waterproof jackets out of cork
Swiss fabric pioneer Schoeller showed off a sustainable, high-performance softshell composite made from cork trees.
corkshell is made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified cork granulate that’s a byproduct of the manufacture of wine corks. This granulate is pulverized and then anchored as a coating to Schoeller’s bluesign-approved tech fabrics. The resulting corkshell textile repels wind and water, is highly breathable, and is even up to 50 percent better in terms of thermal insulation than traditional softshells.
While more corkshell products are due out this fall, those interested can already match their Nike LeBron Corks to the Holden Summit jacket for $750.
The North Face shows off FUTURELIGHT apparel
Unveiled last January via a BMW collab, FUTURELIGHT is The North Face’s next-generation waterproof performance fabric. The first apparel to include this new technology will hit shelves this fall, but at Outdoor Retailer, the brand previewed a full spring apparel collection including an expanded City line and even Summit Series mountaineering gear.
FUTURELIGHT is a breathable membrane fabric created through a process the brand calls nanospinning. This process creates a more air-permeable membrane than any The North Face has used before. It also lets the brand’s designers fine-tune each jacket’s fabric to match the weight, stretch, breathability, and texture to the specific end use: Summit Series jackets will be rougher and heavier, while packable shells will weigh around 7 ounces.
The next step in sustainable waterproofing
It’s no surprise that something designed to keep nature out doesn’t play well with nature. In techwear, the Durable Water Repellant (DWR) coating that makes rain bead up on contact is both a positive and a negative. DWR keeps water out, but water gets polluted in the process of applying it, and once the coating degrades, it will pollute wherever it washes off as well.
For its Spring/Summer 2020 line, climbing brand Black Diamond Equipment has worked with sustainable solutions provider Green Theme Technologies to create the Highline Stretch Shell, a waterproof, windproof, lightweight tech jacket made using a water-free DWR. Green Theme’s innovation is hyperfused to the fabric at the fiber level, in contrast to spray-on or wash-in coatings, and performs better in wet conditions while keeping breathability high.
The Highline Stretch Shell will go for an affordable $299. Look for it early next year.
DU/ER shows off 6-ounce jeans
Founded in 2013, Vancouver-based denim brand DU/ER is still an emerging name in tech apparel, but innovations such as Weightless Denim might supercharge its rise.
New for Spring/Summer 2019, the brand’s ultralight hybrid fabric is a stretchy, moisture-wicking denim blend that comes equipped with COOLMAX technology. Cut into jeans, a pair of Weightless Denim pants weighs just 6 ounces. For reference, a single Nike Free Flyknit shoe weighs 7.4 ounces. Somewhere, a raw denim forum is screaming into the abyss.