by Ryan Jordan | 2007-01-29 22:39:00-07
A beloved brand among hardcore outdoor enthusiasts in the UK and US alike, Pertex's roots sink deep into the annals of apparel design for mountaineers, hillwalkers, and ultralight backpackers. Long ago, Pertex, a woven nylon fabric, was combined with pile to create a comfortable, water-resistant clothing system designed specifically to move moisture away from the skin (due to capillary action of water absorption into the pile) and out of the Pertex face fabric (due to dispersion of liquid moisture along the face fabric fibers, and subsequently, its evaporation). Consequently, Pertex has long been known for nylon woven fabrics with excellent breathability.
Fast forward to 2002: Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Salt Lake City. Pertex announced the availability of its Quantum family of fabrics, composed of 20 denier nylon yarns woven into a breathable fabric that weighed only 0.9 oz/yd2. This announcement created quite a stir in the outdoor industry. Pertex Quantum was breathable, water resistant, downproof, and best of all, light. Well known manufacturers jumped on board with Quantum, including The North Face, Marmot, Western Mountaineering, and others, and Quantum was positioned to shave significant weight off of sleeping bags, wind shirts, down jackets, and other gear.
Pertex Quantum was almost single-handedly responsible for the first wave of three ounce windshirts and one pound sleeping bags. Since that time, Pertex has had its hands full. Fabrics from other manufacturers at competitive weights, and better prices, stole some market share. Add to these challenges the cost of subsidizing less profitable product lines, and Perseverance Mills' (the company that owned the Pertex brand) financial woes reached an apex in 2005 when it filed for bankruptcy, sending manufacturers scrambling and loyal end users saddened by the loss of a brand that developed tremendous brand affinity and delivered a solid performing product line. Pertex closed the doors on its UK manufacturing business as the sun appeared to disappear over the horizon.
However, the Pertex sun didn't quite set all the way. Like an arctic sunrise, it rose again in January 2006, when Japanese textile manufacturer Mitsui purchased the production rights to Pertex. Mitsui, well known for its high quality fabrics, including eVENT (a waterproof-breathable technology considered by many to be among the most breathable waterproof fabrics on the market), promised a new era for Pertex, restoration of its status as a premium outdoor fabric brand, and the more reliable manufacturing quality and delivery times that plagued Perseverance Mills.
One year later, the sun continues to rise. Pertex Quantum and other fabrics are still being used, Pertex continues to create new fabrics, and the brand, and its key torchholder - Steve Laycock - remains committed to the cause in spite of extreme adversity (like any good Brit, I suppose!).
So, when I sat down with Steve at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and reviewed Pertex' most recent major new product line with him, I felt a sense of honor at having known him through all these years, and a sense of contentment that most adversity is only a temporary condition.
Now, let's talk about Pertex Shield.
First, Shield is not the original Pertex concept, launched in 2003 as a DWR technology. That project was bagged when Perseverance Mills filed bankruptcy. But the Shield brand remained alive, and is being launched in 2007 as something completely different.
Shield is Pertex' new family of durable waterproof-breathable products. It is based on a polyurethane membrane technology from Mitsui and the signature face fabrics characteristic of the Pertex brand. The result is a series of 2- ("Shield 02"), 2.5- ("Shield DS"), and 3-layer ("Shield 03") waterproof breathable fabrics with excellent breathability at lower costs than either eVENT or Gore-Tex PRO. The 2- and 3-layer fabrics are based upon similar technology (Shield DS, the 2.5-layer fabric, is based on a different technology that is slightly less breathable than Shield 02 or 03), and provide 20,000 g/m2/day breathability levels (according to the JIS 1099 B1 standard). Compared to eVENT (~27,000 g/m2/day), Gore-Tex XCR (~21,000 g/m2/day), Marmot Membrain Plus (~25,000 g/m2/day), and most polyurethane coatings (5,000 to 10,000 g/m2/day), Shield will be a competitive player in this market space - especially if prices are kept low. The result (possibly - hopefully!) will be products having very good breathability at an affordable price. The lightest versions of Shield will tip the scales at 2.0 oz/yd2 (2-layer) and 2.9 oz/yd2 (3-layer). Ultralighters take note. These are, indeed, lightweight fabrics. Pertex Shield will be neither the most breathable, nor the lightest, nor the cheapest, of the available waterproof breathable fabrics. However, it just may provide the right mix of breathability, lightweight, and price that could see it used in some innovative products that are actually affordable.
So, where does that put Pertex when we peer out on the horizon?
For now, it puts them into the premium products of many key manufacturers, including The North Face in the US and Rab Carrington in the UK, both of which have been well-known for their ultralight designs in the past few years.
But the road won't be easy. Since the introduction of Quantum, a half dozen other mills are selling very high quality ultralight fabrics less than 1 oz/yd2, and dozens of factories are producing lightweight polyurethane-based waterproof-breathable fabrics.
But Perseverance Mills' spirit lives on, and, like any good Brit, the brand and its technology seem to be alive and well, and we should see Pertex products using Shield within a year.
"Shield Emerges from Pertex Ashes as Competitive Waterproof Breathable Technology," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/02769.html, 2007-01-29 22:39:00-07.
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