The origins of a partnership
Like everyone, it was trust that drew us to GORE-TEX products in the early days. No other fabric technology has the kind of reputation that the GORE-TEX brand has. Fundamentally, it's the science that is the foundation of their appeal for us. Beyond that though, it's their commitment as an organization. You just don't find many companies that are willing to go to the lengths that they do, not only in making their products but also in ensuring that they're deployed in the right way in the market.
Back in the mid-‘90s, we were just starting out in the snowboard industry. The first jacket and pant we ever did with the GORE-TEX brand were for a German brand called PROTECTIVE. I remember the pattern maker there wanting to quit after the first garment review! None of us really knew how to design a GORE-TEX jacket back then and we had come up with this very ambitious venting system. Needless to say, it leaked everywhere. Talk about a steep learning curve. We re-did everything though, and it was worth it. That was my introduction to performance apparel design really. The entire process made a huge impression on us. I still remember the fabric — Taslan 2L.
Our relationship with the company has pretty much been the same from the start actually. Looking back now it's really surprising how receptive they were to what we were proposing, but, then again, they were probably the only people who actually understood what we wanted to do. They probably understood it even better than we did at the time! It did take a while to get the license through. Over the course of eight months, we met with them three different times. That would have been a problem in a regular seasonal collection, but we spent 2.5 years developing our first product, so it was fine.
Pursuing the principals
Whether we’re working with Nike or as ACRONYM, design principals always remain the same for us. How those principals are implemented is a case-by-case reflection of what we're trying to do, however. Technical design runs into the physical constraints of reality very, very quickly. Dealing with this confrontation pretty much defines the whole process at ACRONYM. For most designers, particularly in more lifestyle-defined brands, I don't think this is the case though. So the GORE-TEX performance standards are a way of ensuring that function doesn't get compromised by form.
We’re kept updated on what is next. Although I think that's the case with any GORE-TEX brand partner. They're working on so many things and their timelines are so far ahead that they kind of have to keep us all informed of what's coming down the pipeline.
"Film-out" technology is a redefinition of what a GORE-TEX garment can be. It moves the benefits of GORE-TEX products into new spaces, both in terms of what it can do and where it can be worn. For us at ACRONYM, the comfort of it is the thing — the comfort, the silence and the weightlessness. We’re not even close to reaching the full potential of that technology. I think people are going to find out new things that can be done with it for years.
Ultimately I think we're always looking to discover the true principals behind a material. Meaning we're trying to understand, on a fundamental level, how the material behaves and how this behavior can be used in some beneficial way. Ideally, you do and express things with any given material that only that specific material can do or express.
Cross-pollination and collaboration
I think it's more about cross-pollination than pushing each other. We're both pushing the limits of our respective fields as it is, and these fields overlap, but designing a garment and designing a material technology are different endeavors. We definitely learn from each other though, because the finished product obviously can't exist without both parts of the equation. So really, we're both looking at different aspects of the same thing, and that's the wearable interface of a user with their environment.
These processes do assist in the mutual evolution of both brands. Both fields are filled with so many possibilities and both are constantly evolving. So there's no end to the new things we can inform each other of. There's always some new idea or new bit of information to report back with.
I think true performance designers ultimately have the same requirements that the GORE-TEX brand has. If you're doing it right then you're chasing the same things, really. The mechanics of chasing those things are complex so their performance standards are a way of articulating a baseline, of making abstract design principals concrete. I can see why a lot of designers might find this limiting and want to push things, but we try to see beyond the product towards the result. For us, the experience of wearing the garment is more important than any one detail of the garment itself.
This focus on technology in what we wear is going to be ubiquitous eventually. Technology is ultimately about quality. Once people realize that there's a better way to do things, they never want to go back.
Author: Gary Warnett