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Is The North Face’s Waterproof Innovation the ‘Future of Technical Fabrics?’

For years, waterproofing went hand-in-hand with a near-complete lack of breathability—after all, how can you keep water out without limiting the flow of air as well?

The North Face thinks it has an answer to that question: Futurelight.

More of an innovation in production than a specific line of apparel or fabrics, The North Face said that Futurelight is the brand’s “most anticipated product launch to-date” with the potential to create a “new paradigm in clothing and protection.”

Those claims are based on the strength of the cutting-edge process that The North Face used to create Futurelight: a technology known as nanospinning. By creating “nano-level holes” in the material’s membrane, The North Face claims it brings “unmatched air permeability” to Futurelight waterproof fabric.

Nanospinning allows for adjustments in weight, stretch, breathability, durability, texture and constructions for both knit or woven fabrics during the manufacturing process—something the brand said gives it the ability to match products to a variety of activities and consumers.

“Product innovation, pushing the boundaries and having the courage to disrupt have been a part of The North Face DNA since our company was founded over 50 years ago,” Scott Mellin, global general manager of Mountain Sports at The North Face, said in a statement. “For far too long, we have been forced to adapt to our clothing and environment.

“With the introduction of Futurelight, we are finally offering clothing that adapts to our needs,” Mellin continued. “The introduction of this fabric is a pivotal moment for our brand, for the future of the apparel industry, and for consumers who will no longer need to sacrifice comfort or air permeability for waterproof protection.”

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The North Face's new waterproof fabric innovation, Futurelight
The North Face team captain, alpinist Hilaree Nelson, and the rest of the brand’s sponsored athletes helped inform the creation of Futurelight. Shutterstock

The first Futurelight collections released by The North Face—the Summit Series, the Steep Series and the Flight series—will include jackets, pants and bibs common to outdoor sports, all produced using nanospinning. In order to ensure the technology would hold up in extreme conditions, the brand enlisted the help of outdoor athletes to field test the apparel in locations around the world.

Fifteen athletes evaluated Futurelight gear over 400 continuous days in the harshest of environments (including on Mount Everest) enduring temperatures from -50 degrees Fahrenheit up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

“During the past two years, our world-class team of climbers, skiers, alpinists, snowboarders and trail runners has been rigorously testing Futurelight across every discipline to prove this technology in varying weather conditions and climates all over the world,” Hilaree Nelson, The North Face athlete team captain, explained. “In all my years in the mountains, I’ve never experienced a product that moved and performed as well as Futurelight. It is creating a new paradigm for what I expect out of a waterproof material.”

The North Face said it also worked with independent third-party experts, tapping organizations like Underwriter Labs (UL), a global safety organization, to test the limits of the fabric. In the case of UL, researchers scrutinized Futurelight under the conditions necessary to certify first responder gear for firefighters and medical personnel—a testament to the variety of conditions in which Futurelight fabrics could be beneficial.

“We are starting with jackets and outdoor apparel, but we won’t stop there,” Mellin explained. “Futurelight can theoretically make anything breathable, waterproof and for the first time—comfortable. This technology is paving the way for the future of technical fabrics and provides endless possibilities across The North Face product categories.”

Futurelight fabric in The North Face’s new collections will also be produced with “industry-leading sustainability,” according to the brand. The facing and backing layers in the collection’s three-layer garments, for example, will feature 90 percent recycled materials.

The North Face released the Summit Series, Steep Series and Flight Series on Oct. 1 through its own retail channels and through key retail partners.