W. L. Gore & Associates is expanding its array of waterproofing membranes to meet brands’ and consumers’ simultaneous demands of performance and sustainability.
The material science company behind the Gore-Tex brand is introducing expanded polyethylene (ePE), a microporous material that can be combined with polyurethane to create a breathable membrane. This membrane can then be fused with textiles to create a laminate for waterproof and windproof apparel, gloves and footwear.
“We really saw it as this great challenge to deliver a new material set,” said Matt Decker, global technical leader at Gore. “We take great pride in living up to our reputation as an innovator in this space.”
Rather than replacing Gore-Tex’s expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), ePE is positioned as a complementary material platform in Gore’s portfolio. While they have some similar properties, the structures of the two polymers are different, presenting an opportunity for varied applications.
“This microporous material is a natural extension of our history, and very deeply tied to our heritage,” said Decker. Gore’s ePTFE originated in 1969 when Bob Gore pulled on PTFE and stretched it out, discovering its potential properties for waterproofing.
Compared to ePTFE, Gore says its ePE has equivalent waterproofing properties and durability, even though it is only half the thickness and weight of the earlier material.
EPE was more than a decade in the making, from concept to commercialization. During a media presentation about ePE, Decker explained that previous microporous polyethylene materials in the market weren’t durable enough for the stress put on outdoor garments. What separates ePE is the ability to use the membrane on performance apparel due to how Gore engineered and manipulated the polyethylene.
From a sustainability standpoint, Matt Schreiner, global product specialist at Gore, referred to ePE as “the next milestone on our journey to responsible performance.” The material’s durability will enable garments and footwear to remain in use for longer. EPE also has an improved Higg MSI score compared to ePTFE due to its smaller mass and the production processes used. EPE is in the final stages of Bluesign approval, it will be certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 100, and it also contains no PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals) of environmental concern. Gore has committed to eliminating harmful PFCs from its consumer fabrics product life cycle, and many of its brand partners are aiming to be PFC-free in the near future.
“We rely extensively on collaboration; we know that we cannot reduce our impacts working in isolation,” Schreiner said. “Our unique role as an ingredient brand in a complex value chain working with some of the best global brand customers and suppliers really creates a sense of shared responsibility and purpose, and our customers have high expectations of us as a responsible manufacturer, and also as a reliable supplier.”
This focus on sustainability will carry over into the branding for ePE at retail. A hangtag insert will share details on the long lifespan and PFC-free properties of ePE, with a QR code to learn more. Gore has also scaled down its hangtags and swapped to sugarcane paper with soybean ink for a lower impact.
“Our consumers are asking for this, and they’re not only asking, but they’re demanding this. It’s the cost of doing business today, which is why sustainability is the number one priority for the industry, it’s the number one priority for all of our brands, and frankly it’s the number one priority for us,” said Nora Stowell, global sales and marketing leader at Gore.
Gore is limiting the commercial launch of ePE to a select group of customers. Starting in fall 2022, the material will be used in outdoor apparel, lifestyle footwear and snow sporting gloves from brands including Adidas, Arc’teryx, Dakine, Patagonia, Reusch, Salomon and Ziener. From there, the company plans to scale up production and explore and test ePE’s use in other categories of goods.
“[Our launch partners are] not brands that will wait and see on new innovations; they want to be first to market,” Stowell said. “And I think it really speaks to the trust and confidence that these brands have in us as a material supplier. They know we test to the gills, they know that we stand behind our materials.”