An abridged history of waterproof-breathable warfare

Feb 29, 2012
Outside Magazine
The history of the waterproof-breathable membrane wars

The history of the waterproof-breathable membrane wars    Photo: Courtesy of W.L. Gore and Associates, Danner Archives

Insane in the Membrane

Read MIKE KESSLER's account of the battle between the iconic Gore-Tex brand and its waterproof-breathable fabric, and the newcomers who want a piece of the billion-dollar market.

Roy Plunkett, a chemist with Kinetic Chemicals, discovers polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a fluoropolymer that will later be branded Teflon.

Bill Gore leaves DuPont and launches W.  L. Gore and Associates in the basement of his home in Newark, Delaware. 

Gore’s son, Bob, discovers that rapidly stretching PTFE results in a microporous structure—later dubbed expanded PTFE, or ePTFE. This will become the main ingredient in Gore-Tex fabric.

Seattle outdoor-gear company Early Winters uses Gore-Tex to create and market one of the first waterproof-breathable jackets.

Gore files its patent for ePTFE. Gore-Tex is first used in boots (Danner); two years later, it debuts in gloves (North Face and Marmot).

Future Gore rival Malden Mills introduces Polartec—a performance-fleece brand. The company will later manufacture soft-shell fabrics and, eventually, waterproof-breathable ones.

Jackets made with eVent, an ePTFE membrane similar to Gore-Tex, appear from Salomon, Timberland, and Pearl Izumi

Columbia acquires Mountain Hardwear; GE Energy acquires BHA Group, creators of eVent, for $260 million and mounts the first large-scale effort to compete with Gore-Tex.

Columbia and Italian subsidiary OutDry file a complaint with the Commission of the European Union about Gore’s business practices. A similar complaint is filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commision. 

Columbia develops its own proprietary waterproof-breathable technology, OmniDry, and starts using it in jackets and gloves, publicly vowing to “take down Gore-Tex.” Polartec launches NeoShell with an aggressive marketing campaign. Mountain Hardwear debuts Dry.Q, its proprietary fabric.

Official investigations by the EU and FTC are ongoing.

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