Softshells: A ten-year success story
Friedrichshafen – One of the outdoor industry’s success stories began exactly ten years ago, at the OutDoor 2002: softshells. At a workshop held during the trade show, the new category of jackets emerged from their functional niche and were presented to a broad European audience for the first time. Today, softshells have made their mark on the image of leisure sport – in the mountains as well as in the city. At the OutDoor 2012 (12 to 15 July) the world’s leading manufacturers will be presenting their innovations for the coming year.
The trend is moving clearly towards a second jacket: a rain jacket and a softshell jacket. As early as the OutDoor 2002 industry press conference, the workshop moderator introduced this new category of jacket to the journalists attending with the phrase “I can’t tell you exactly what softshells are. I can only say for sure what they aren’t. They aren’t waterproof.” The supporting program of that OutDoor included two workshops on the topic of softshells.
At Polartec, the pioneering American fabric manufacturer, marketing manager Eric Yung remembers: “Certainly, 2002 was the year in which softshells really broadsided the markets and media.” Ten years later, softshells have developed “very well” in the opinion of Hans-Jürgen Hübner, former managing director of Schoeller Textil AG and one of the other pioneers of softshell jackets. “Today, there isn’t a single sport or outdoor retailer who doesn’t carry softshells.” The contemporary variety of new possibilities impresses professional mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts because they combine comfort with outstanding functionality. And although we are still waiting for a clear definition of what softshells are, waterproof softshells are now available.
Others view this diversity as the very strength of the new clothing category. “For every possible application, there is a specific solution available. They are characterised by versatility and specialisation”, according to Sarah Seeger, communications manager at Marmot, one of the market’s leading producers of softshells. The variety of highly functional fabrics is enormous. Ranging from very thin summer softshells, to softshells with light linings, on up to cold-proof linings of thick fleece, softshells can be worn throughout the year and during all activity levels. The wide variety of construction methods employed means that consumers can choose from an array of different levels and types of protection. The market offers just the right jacket for each and every possible need: From multi-layer softshells with membranes for maximum protection from the elements, to sandwich materials with a film which allows a measured amount of ventilation, on to woven fabrics with active moisture management which can be integrated into the classic three-layer clothing system. And industry visitors will get a look at all of them, in their many variations, at the OutDoor 2012.
But softshells have meant more than just increased revenue for the indusry. For consumers, their benefits have been great: more comfort in all types of weather, combined with a better fit than was ever possible with the old rain jackets; more freedom of movement provided by elastic fabrics; and a form-fitting, figure-acentuating silhouette which has made outdoor clothing more stylish and which trumps everyday jackets. Softshells are even becoming more environmentally friendly, something that is not easy due to their multi-layer construction. This year, the Swedish clothing specialist Houdini will present a softshell jacket which comes from the “Eco Circle Recycling System”. It is manufactured completely from recycled polyester and, after use, can also be completely recycled. This “Motion Comfortshell” is thus manufactured in a closed material cycle, making it a prototype for sustainable economics.