Fabric Tech

Reputable fabric sources, realistic fabric attributes and USA manufacturing. 

NO SHORTCUTS:

Reputable fabric sources are hard to come by and the prices can be hard to stomach, especially when a custom camo print is being added to the fabric. For every reputable fabric source, there are 10 cheap knock-offs that have untested and unverified attributes. Early on, we decided that the fabric is every bit as important as the camo pattern; in fact, it is even more-so. I can openly say that the majority of hunt-wear manufacturers are unwilling to advertise where their fabrics are sourced. We moved forward with the central idea of utilizing quality materials from reputable sources and designing innovative gear for the hunter who is in the field all fall in varying weather conditions. We believe that quality gear tends to speak for itself.

We researched fabrics both on and off shore for over 2 years trying to find the perfect fit for Thlete. Believe me when I tell you it was not an easy task finding fabrics that met our standards. The quality of construction and the finish of top fabric manufacturers (Gore, PrimaLoft, Schoeller, Polartec, Tweave, Toray, etc) cannot be met by cheap imitation knockoffs. The upper tier names are simply more durable and perform better. However, with tested and reputable attributes, a fabrics price increases exponentially. One of the most trying hurdles that we had to overcome was locating a fabric manufacturer that would work with our allocated budget. It is not uncommon at all to see fabric MOQ’s (minimum order quantities) soar over the 5000 yard mark as a buy in, especially when a custom print is requested. So, we were stuck negotiating with major manufacturers that regularly see orders of 20,000-50,000 yards and there I was knocking on the door asking for 2,000. When you do the math, a fabric that is priced at $25/yard will eat up a large portion of your budget when there is an MOQ of 5,000 yards. For those of you not willing to pull a calculator out, that’s $125,000. Go ahead and factor in that it takes 2-3 yards of fabric to make a finished garment, zippers and trim still need to be added and we planned to manufacture in the USA; the price per finished piece was astronomical.

Over a two year period, we contacted the majority of major fabric manufacturers in the world. We traveled to trade-shows and made midnight phone calls to Japan, Europe, and China in search of a company that fit the ideology of what our brand should be. Some could not print the fabric we wanted because of its composition, others had a minimum order quantity that was too high and some were just too expensive from the get-go. To make USA manufacturing feasible, Primaloft fit the bill. Of all the manufacturers we corresponded with Primaloft expressed a willingness to meet our requests and work with us to build a long term brand and business. Primaloft wanted to grow with us, not simply from us.

Primaloft Softshell:

Primaloft has been a trusted brand name in outdoor insulation and custom fabrics for over 30 years. It was not until recently that they decided to expand product development into innovative outerwear fabrics. Primaloft has designed what we feel is one of the finest fabrics we have tested and we are proud to be the first outdoor clothing manufacturers to bring Primaloft softshells to the consumer.

Primaloft is a relative newcomer to the softshell industry. In fact, Thlete is one of the first to manufacturing outerwear with the innovative fabrics that Primaloft introduced in the fall of 2015. Primaloft softshells incorporate a custom softshell face that is bonded to a superior Primaloft Silver Performance Fleece backer. We opted to have a PU membrane added to the softshell to increase the how windproof the fabric is as well. After lab testing, our Primaloft softshells maintan a CFM windproof rating of <1 and an MVTR breathability rating of 918 (g/m2/24hr). The face of the fabric is very silent and maintains a subtle drape and soft feel. At 350gsm (weight), the Primaloft softshell is heavy enough to maintain warmth at very cold temps and knock down over 99% of the wind. To increase air circulation through the fabric, we are implementing a custom cross-vent zipper design to maximize breathability during high exertion activity.

PRIMALOFT STYLE: I-2007-52004
DESCRIPTION: Polyester Stretch Woven Face with DWR/
PU Film / Laminated to PrimaLoft Fleece Back
WEIGHT/WIDTH 350 g/m2,  54″
MVTR (g/m2/24hr) 918.1
CFM <0.5
SUTER (psi) 54.8

The above-listed traits are the results from Primalofts lab tests in 2015.

Merinos and Alpaca:
Merino is a staple in base layers that adds warmth, comfort, and durability. But where does alpaca fit in? Alpaca is a relatively underutilized fiber. Much of this is due to its availability and price. Quality alpaca fiber has many of the same qualities that merino has, but they are amplified in performance characteristics. At THLETE, we wanted to be the first to offer a blend of merino and alpaca. The two fibers combined create a natural fiber fabric…on steroids. To simplify things take a look at alpaca fibers stats compared to wool:
-Alpaca is less itchy due to smoother fibers
-Alpaca is easier to launder – less shrink
-Alpaca dries faster due to hollow fibers
-Alpaca wicks moisture faster

Merino is a subtle fiber and retains its shape/memory longer than alpaca. By combining the two, you get a durable and flexible fabric that will retain its shape for a long period of time.

In the below diagram, you can see coarseness comparison of wool and alpaca. Alpaca is not as coarse as traditional wool and therefore more comfortable. The strand labeled “fine wool” represents a strand of merino. The process in which the fiber is processed greatly impacts the scales on the individual fiber and in turn the comfort level. We have seen merino that looks similar in structure to alpaca due to the scales being removed.
wool_fibers

Our blend of merino/alpaca (30% merino/70% alpaca) is a fabric that we are genuinely excited about.

I was in the outdoor retail industry for over eight years before I decided to break off and manufacture my gear. My knowledge of fabrics and brands grew rapidly because I was wearing the gear that I was selling. I was always taking note of what works and what did not make the grade. Performance fabrics with verifiable attributes and testing are far superior to the mass produced cheap knock-off fabrics that dominate the market. There are undoubtedly a few companies doing it “right, long” and their gear has been recognized for holding up in harsh conditions during prolonged periods of extensive use. In my mind, the raw fabric is the most important piece of the puzzle for superior outdoor wear. A close second is manufacturing, or cut and sew. I have worn gear that I have brought home and thrown away. When you are 5 miles from the nearest road, your gear directly reflects the quality of your hunt and potential your survival. Quality sewn seams and quality fabric are simply a must.

We pay significantly more for our fabrics. Some of that is due to the custom print and quantity we order, but for the most part, it is due to the overall quality of the fabric itself. Our merino and alpaca are sourced directly from New Zealand, and our Polyesters come from both Toray and Primaloft.

Softshells, wind, and breathability:
Softshell fabrics are all the rage these days. Go to any major retailer, and they will have racks of softshells on display. But what qualifies a softshell as superior? For outdoor use, when the temps dip below 50, a softshell needs to be silent, warm and windproof. As a Midwestern hunter, I can say from personal experience that the two causes of heat loss are wind and moisture. The wind has the capability to cut through a garment and release all the heat the body works so hard to produce and maintain. For that very reason, I prefer fabrics that incorporate a slightly breathable laminate as opposed to a highly breathable fabric with no laminate. With a windproof fabric, there is a laminate between the two layers to prevent the wind from penetrating the fabric.  Primaloft softshells maintain an MVTR rating of 918 by utilizing a vapor/moisture release that travels through the PU membrane via a process called adsorption. To increase breathability further, we have incorporated a cross ventilation zipper system into our jacket and pant designs. This allows the user to increase ventilation during high exertion activity as well as batten down the hatches when activity decreases.

CFM
While our shell fabrics may not breathe as much as other comparing brands, our softshells will knock down the wind and keep you comfortable. Our Primaloft softshell has a CFM rating of under .5 meaning that it will knock down almost 100% of wind. To combat the issue of fabric breathability, we incorporated a zippered ventilation system to allow the hunter to unzip multiple mesh lined zippers and immediately increase the air flow within. The end result is that you are able to stay comfortable both on the move, and standing still.

Competitive Price-point:
I started THLETE with the intention of utilizing dealers to spread brand awareness and sales. However, we quickly realized that if we wanted to maintain a competitive price-point with quality fabrics and US manufacturing, it was not feasible. Our margins shrank dramatically after we received my first quote on USA manufacturing. A jacket made in a Chinese mill may cost $20-30 per finished piece while that same garment is likely to reach $80-100 to manufacture in the USA. Think about that, once you add in the fabric costs, trims, zippers, shipping, tariffs/duties and dealer mark up, it is impossible to keep the finished product under the $200 retail mark. So, out went the dealers. By cutting dealers, we can afford to maintain a competitive price-point without making any cuts that would sacrifice the quality of the final product.

No Knits! (for shells)
Many times, the end user has no idea where the fabric is sourced from and maybe doesn’t care. There are two main construction categories of performance outerwear, woven and knit. A woven fabric is produced on a loom and is made by many threads that are warped and weft to make an exceptionally strong end fabric. Knits are inferior for outdoor outerwear due to the construction of the fabric itself. A knit utilizes a consistently fluid thread meaning that if one thread is pulled, the entire garment begins to unravel. We have seen this happen many times in multiple camo brands and believe me, it is disheartening  to see the pattern on your $200 jacket slowly start unravel. While knits are common in base-layers, we see absolutely no use for them in outerwear. We designed our shell layers to withstand rugged back-country use.