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Challenges and Potential Innovation

Greater breathability is continually demanded by consumers, and they want their fabric’s breathability to be maintained despite long term use. Gore-tex?’s latest product, Active Shell,  is their most breathable fabric yet and has achieved this by being thinner, thus reducing the resistance to water vapour transmission. However, durability will almost inevitably suffer.

Polartec, a new competitor in the waterproof-breathable fabrics market, have used a new technique – electrospinning – to produce their Neoshell membrane. Making breathable membranes from electrospinning leaves great room for innovation as there are an exceptional number of parameters that can be changed in this technique to produce new materials.

Developing a laboratory test for breathability that correlates well with field testing is of continuous concern: if a cheap, simple and reliable technique could be developed that correlated perfectly with user trials then this would be a significant advancement in the field of breathability appraisal.

A great challenge for the sector is recyclability and reducing environmental impact. PTFE membranes are not Biodegradable? and numerous toxic chemicals are used in their energy-intensive manufacture. A Gore-tex? jacket cannot be recycled and does not degrade over time. Conversely, Sympatex, a product more prevalent in mainland Europe than in the UK or USA, is made using a polyester membrane. If this membrane is bonded to a polyester face fabric then the whole garment can be recycled.

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