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Where do we get our waterproof fabrics from, and why?

By Ronnie Legg
05, Jul, 2016

Our approach to fabric selection allows us to make better garments that meet our performance, ethical and environmental requirements.

Our waterproofs use a range of fabrics specially selected for their technical capabilities, each tailored to the specific end use we have in mind. There are no big name brands here, just really good quality fabrics selected from trusted suppliers such as Toyota and Amaterrace, which are the technical equals of the big brand counterparts.

By working directly with the fabric mills, we have more freedom as well as control; we ensure all our suppliers are signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative’s Base Code, and we can make informed decisions to reduce the environmental impact of our products right from the start. We believe our approach to fabric selection allows us to make better garments that meet our performance, ethical and environmental requirements.

So what do we look for in a performance waterproof breathable fabric?

Waterproofness

Waterproofness is measured in mm of hydrostatic head (HH), which tells you how tall a column of water the fabric can withstand before it leaks. We have selected high performance fabrics with 20,000mm HH, which is double the industry standard of 10,000mm HH that is generally accepted as truly waterproof.

Breathability

Breathability or the Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate (MVTR in g/m2/24hrs) is a tricky measurement, as it favours some fabric types over others. An MVTR of 20,000 is a good performance benchmark for active use, although this by no means definitive, and we wouldn’t advise you get too hung up on the numbers. Just trust that we’ve tried the fabrics ourselves, and we’re happy that they let enough of your sweat out to avoid the dreaded boil-in-the-bag feeling.

Comfort

Comfort is about more than just keeping you dry. Stretch fabrics can make a better fitting garment, that moves with you rather than working against you. Some fabric backers feel better against the skin and can help wick moisture, and the outer fabric can be made soft and quiet for stealth, or tough as nails for a more protective feel.

Durability

Durability is not just the ability to avoid tears and abrasion, but also to maintain waterproofing over the lifespan of the garment. There is a trade-off between fabric weight and how much abuse it can take, and we’ve tried to give a number of options so you can decide ‘how light is right?’ for you.

Our job as designers is to select the right fabric for the product, depending on its end use. We weigh up all of the performance factors outlined above, whilst also considering environmental and ethical factors. We can distill all of that thought process down into a handy star rating chart, but if you like more detail then read on.

  Gravitas Pulsar/Parallax Balance Definition  
Waterproofness *** *** *** ***  
Breathability *** ** *** ***  
Durability * * ** ***  
Comfort ** *** *** **  
Lighweight *** ** ** *  
Gravitas

The Gravitas uses a superlight 3 layer fabric, which has a very high spec in terms of waterproofing and breathability, and the added comfort of a tricot backer. We could have made it lighter, but we wanted it to be a joy to wear, not just to carry.

Balance

The Balance jacket fabric hits a sweet spot between durability and weight, not weighing you down but still being tough enough to put up with regular wear. The secret to the Balance’s comfort lies in the knit fabric backer, which is actually a 3D mesh structure using different yarns to create a permanent wicking benefit.

Pulsar

The Pulsar Smock and Parallax trousers both use a high stretch 2.5L fabric, which gives superb comfort and great freedom of movement. The low weight and quietness of the face fabric combine to give these products stealth waterproof credentials, barely noticeable when you are wearing them but totally functional at the same time.

Definition

The Definition jacket fabric is a fortress designed for the foulest wet weather and years of use and abuse. The face fabric and backer use reliably tough nylon, and the membrane is a bi-component PU/ePTFE sandwich that combines excellent waterproofing and breathability credentials with superb durability.

Argonaut

The Argonaut uses a 2.5L coated fabric, with a ripstop nylon face and PU coating. (The ‘half’ layer is visible in the grey printed pattern on the back, which helps keep the coating off your skin making it feel drier and more comfortable.)

Finding the right fabric for the Argonaut was one of the toughest challenges within the range because we wanted the best performance possible at a reasonable price. The fabric we chose offers ace waterproofing and breathability, a tough nylon face, and the lightweight packability to suit most activities without lightening your wallet too much.

So there you have it; an insight into the world of waterproofs, what we’ve used and why. The end result? You get great products made from carefully selected fabrics that we know are up the job.

Wondering which waterproof to buy? Head over to our Which Shell? Spotlight for guidance.

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