ion mask phase 2

ion mask has raised many eyebrows since its groundbreaking entry into the outdoor market earlier this year, and for good reason. Applied to ‘solid state’ material like leather on a boot upper, ion mask is waterproofing without a membrane, staying cleaner for longer, saving weight, saving energy and a great deal better for the environment. The next step for HI-TEC is the broader introduction of the technology across the range, which they are terming HPi – Hydrophobic. It’s not waterproofing as such, but it brings serious benefits to footwear, as Jason explained to SGB.
SGB: So what is phase two of ion mask’s application, for HI-TEC?
Jason Larke: We’ve been involved with P2i for about two years and in order to bring this technology to market we’ve been researching, testing and developing the ion mask process for about that long as well. Commercialization was the key objective. HI-TEC is extremely proud and excited to be the first brand to bring to market this brand new technology! One thing we noticed quite early on is that you can treat any material – and in our case, any shoe – but the material itself and the design of the shoe does affect the benefits. So essentially, if you’re dealing with a material such as leather it’s very dense and there’s less opportunity for water to ingress in there, and it’s very easy to design and develop a product that is essentially waterproof, and remove the need for a membrane.
We’ve already launched our first ion mask product, the V-Lite Altitude Ultra, and with that launch we’ve come straight out with a waterproof product which we’re putting in a category called ‘WPi’; the evolution of ion mask really is then twofold. SS09 we evolve this technology with a brand new product category for HI-TEC which we’re calling HPi, which means hydrophobic. But it’s also an educational thing, because the whole industry is geared around waterproofing and keeping your feet dry; what we didn’t want to do is go straight out there with two messages and confuse customers.
HPi is an evolution and for us it’s a brand new category. We’re not saying your feet will stay dry in our HPi product, what we are saying is that there are essentially four benefits. The first with the hydrophobic product because it’s less absorbing, leads on to the other three. Being less absorbing means less water can get in to the fabric of the shoe which means it’s quicker drying and it remains lighter. Any dirt carried in that water is also repelled as effectively meaning it stays cleaner for longer. On that last point, our wear testing has shown some quite dramatic results.
SGB:  HPi has expanded across the range from a set price point up, is that right?
JL: Yes, we’ve gone from what were walking shoes in terms of the Altitude, to different types of product that would truly benefit from the ion mask treatment e.g. trail running shoes the V-Lite Hornet HPi , amphibious / sandal-type shoes like the Targa HPi and Carrera HPi. In those casual shoes the stay-clean element of ion mask really comes into its own, as a pair of hiking boots you’d really expect to get muddy.
SGB:  What’s the impact been of the WPi product, the V-Lite Altitude Ultra, at retailer level? Has it raised the perception of HI-TEC’s walking product?
JL: It’s hard to say; we’ve been pushing the technology story from a group perspective, so we’ve been involved in launching it to markets around the world and the reaction every time we demonstrate the technology is open-mouthed wonder. That has translated from our internal staff to our distributors, to many retailers.
We’re close to 100 per cent orders from presentations of the V-Lite Altitude boot; it’s been a ‘wow’ factor we’ve never experienced before and it’s translated into orders for that particular product, and in that sense it’s been a huge, huge success for us.
We are still very cautious, in a way, how this groundbreaking technology is presented – we know it is such a new thing for the industry that we need to ensure the benefits are communicated clearly and precisely using the results from our research. We decided to launch the technology in what we regard to be our best recognized and respected product in the Altitude. We have a trusted history with consumers buying that boot, so to be able to supply them with an upgrade of a product already well liked is an extra incentive.
SGB: What’s the potential impact of the technology on the multi-activity outdoor shoe?
JL: That’s where the ion mask HPi story has great legs for our brand. We’re developing it all the time, we’re looking at how the technology can add value to us as a brand and to our product, and one of our core technologies, an in-house development, is V-Lite. V-Lite and ion mask are perfect partners; if you’re absorbing less water, your shoes are not so heavy, and you’re adding no extra weight with the inclusion of a membrane. Because you can treat anything, you can literally treat any shoe; but with HPi shoes, we’re not saying they’re waterproof – in fact quite the opposite. To give an extreme example, if you have a pair of sandals, a sandal has an obvious open design so your feet will clearly get wet. But if that product absorbs much less water making it more lightweight, it’s not going to attract sand sticking to it; it will be more comfortable… There’s really an almost limitless amount of opportunity for this to be used on footwear, because it’s a post-production process.
In the waterproof (WPi) story, you have six key benefits: waterproof, hydrophobic, breathable, lightweight, stay clean longer and environmentally friendly. In the HPi story, we’re literally substituting waterproof for quicker drying.
All of those six benefits will either scale up or scale down depending on the product itself – this can be applied to sandals, approach shoes, casual shoes…
SGB:  The technology almost sounds like a magic wand…
JL: It really is fantastic and it has really different benefits, and very clear ones to us. But it is not a magic wand; it is a surface enhancement treatment whose benefits are dependant on the material it is treating. That’s why we’ve been so clear with the HPi and WPi categorizations; some people have looked at this and thought any shoe would go through the process and be instantly waterproof – that’s definitely not the case. We must make it clear that ion mask treats the individual fibres of material; it is not a coating or a membrane application. Used on leather, the result is waterproofing; used on mesh it decreases the shoe’s ability to take on water, bringing other benefits.
What we don’t want to do is over-promise and under-deliver. We are being careful with developing the two distinct categories, and explaining the different benefits of the two.
What we’re doing is launching a technology to the trade and the consumer. As we’ve said in the literature, it is a quantum leap like moving from cash to card or landline to mobile. You’re dealing with a different set of benefits, and something that ostensibly is very different to what’s out there in terms of current membrane technology. HI-TEC are the first to market so there’s an onus on us and a responsibility to communicate the technology in the right way.