Behind the brand – innovation at Gore
Thermium, Gore's new protected insulation concept, is being launched by a number of brands
Last week’s introduction of WL Gore & Associates’ new technologies for performance outerwear follows a long tradition of innovation based on the company’s manipulation of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), a polymer that is hydrophobic as well as slick. Debra Cobb finds our more during a tour of the Gore Capability Center.
In 1969 Bob Gore managed to stretch the polymer into a micro-porous, breathable, waterproof membrane, creating the Gore-Tex technology that would change the outdoor industry.
Gore’s latest innovations for autumn/winter 2016 – Gore Thermium with protected insulation; Gore Windstopper with insulation protection; and Gore Windstopper with light rain resistance – propelled Gore into the growing category of active insulation and hybrid outerwear.
The launch of the new textile brands in Gore’s Delaware Capability Center provided the press with a unique opportunity to learn about the company’s dedication to an innovation process that is founded on meeting an unmet need.
“The unique attribute of the envisioned product must be valuable to a customer,” proclaimed Bob Gore in 1997. “Sometimes the value seems obvious but it’s helpful to answer the question: What is the problem this product solves?”
Development of the new products began with consumer-based market research on aspects of cold weather comfort indicating that there was a need for a new type of insulated outerwear that was waterproof and breathable.
Working with Gore athletes and core users to generate the concept was the second part of the process. While Gore-Tex products are “guaranteed to keep you dry,” the new technologies create reliable, high performance, protective apparel. “We wanted to balance comfort and protection in a new way,” explained Gore product specialist Chris Eisenmann.
The new technologies hinge on membranes that are softer and lighter, along with insulation materials that are not too thick. Heavy insulation reduces breathability, while outdoor aerobic activities generate moisture from within in the form of sweat.
By protecting against light rain and snow, and promoting the evaporation of internal moisture, the two new insulation technologies keep the wearer warm and dry from the inside out.
The Gore Windstopper with light rain resistance technology fills a gap between the lightweight windproof softshell, and durable waterproof breathable Gore-Tex products.
In the third part of the innovation process, the concept was tested. Gore’s testing facilities include a quality testing lab; as well as its rain room, which pummels garments with the equivalent of three inches of rain/hour for 30 minutes; and an environmental chamber with variable temperature and wind conditions. Textile materials are tested according to contract requirements, while laminates are laundered 40 times to assess their durability.
After the innovation is tested and approved, Gore works with its suppliers and brand partners to commercialise it. Gore’s textile group puts together a collection of acceptable outer fabrics two years in advance of season. The fabrics are organised by denier, weight, aesthetics, and end use.
For example, for 2017 the collection includes fabrics for Gore-Tex, Windstopper, and the insulation brands, along with fabrics for backings or linings. All lamination is done by Gore; and waterproof garments are sealed with Gore-Tex seam tape.
“We’re trying to understand the customers’ needs and provide resources for them,” said Tom Cabaniss, product development for textiles. “But the parameters of the textiles for each group are to keep the product’s promise.”
Most textile laminates at Gore also include a DWR finish using a short-chain PFC. Gore worked with its suppliers to eliminate all long-chain perfluorinated chemistry from its raw materials in 2013. The company takes its “Responsibility Journey” very seriously, and recently announced a US$15m commitment toward developing PFC alternatives that will deliver the same or better performance to its products.
The textile group is also exploring more sustainable methods of textile dyeing such as CO2 and solution or “dope” dyeing, along with recycled nylon face textiles, for introduction in 2016 and 2017.
While instituting ISO 14001 environmental management practices in its facilities, and working with its suppliers to develop laminates that meet the Bluesign standard, Gore’s environmental framework is based on LCAs (life-cycle assessments) of its Gore-Tex garments and footwear. The 2013 and 2014 LCAs indicated that product durability and longevity have the greatest impact on a product’s environmental footprint.
Gore is working to educate consumers in the proper care and maintenance of their products to prolong their use and keep them out of the landfill.
Innovation at Gore “is the process of transforming creative ideas into commercial value,” according to Eisenmann. With US$3bn in sales, Gore’s development of technologies based on PTFE in medical devices, electromagnetics, filtration, gaskets, and even guitar strings has brought the company over 2000 patents.
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