NeoShell nips at Gore-Tex’s heels

Performance fabric developer Polartec’s new NeoShell has inadvertently found itself squaring up against some of the biggest names in the outdoor trade. David Pittman reports

NeoShell is Polartec’s new hardshell performance fabric, which it describes as the ‘most breathable, waterproof fabric available on the market today’.

It allows actual air permeability, which Polartec says significantly improves moisture vapour transport, through an exclusive sub-micron fibre membrane offering twice the breathability of conventional membranes.

This gives it the performance characteristics of both a hardshell and the breathability of a softshell, Polartec says.

“The Polartec brand only enters categories where we can deliver true innovation and breakthrough performance,” says Polartec president Andy Vecchione. “Polartec NeoShell represents a massive shift forward in allconditions comfort.

“Polartec has offered the most complete layering system of performance fabrics for decades and now we can add a truly revolutionary waterproof, breathable solution.”

Eric Yung, Polartec’s European marketing manager, says that the development of NeoShell was brought about because of the company’s heritage in offering comfortable performance fabrics that provide breathability.

“People want, like and expect those characteristics from us, and that led our research and development partner brands to ask us if we could develop something that combined comfort with breathability and was waterproof.”

This has led to inevitable comparisons to the market’s leading performance fabric, Gore-Tex, a fabric which is constantly being evolved and is used by many of the leading manufacturers in their existing and future collections.

Similarly, the likes of The North Face, Mammut, Marmot, Vaude and Westcomb have already started introducing NeoShell into their autumn/winter 2011 collections, with more to come in the months ahead, Yung says.

“NeoShell hasn’t been designed to go up against Gore specifically. Our DNA is in comfort and breathability, whereas they have a history in providing waterproof and weather-resistant fabrics.

“We’ve come from different angles and in the process of research and development it’s inevitable that our paths will cross.”

Yung adds that NeoShell actually offers performance characteristics, such as air permeability, that Gore fabrics do not, putting it more in competition with the likes of eVent and helping it meet the demands of increasingly demanding customers.

“The variations in the weather are more extreme today than they were in the past, which means consumers want a versatile product they can wear all the time, whether going up a mountain in the sun or coming down in the rain.”

To develop a product that suits this need, Polartec worked with a team o athletes to test, refine and hone the technology.

“Talking to them we got the impression that there was a common feeling of disappointment with the shells they were using. This gave us a starting point, and allowed us to research and develop the  product using the athletes as a test bed.”

This took around three to four years, but Yung adds that Polartec’s decades of heritage in developing performance fabrics have been fed into the development process.

“We’re starting from scratch, so this is only the beginning of the story. We are constantly working to develop and evolve NeoShell, with new faces and backs being developed depending on what our customers are looking for.

“We’ve already put a number of years of work into the product, but at the same time we have a history of research and development built up over a number of years, which also went into developing NeoShell.”