Leading membrane manufacturers W. L. Gore & Associates and Sympatex Technologies were for many years the only companies to offer laminated textiles, bonding a waterproof and breathable film to assorted fabrics: face fabrics, linings, fleeces, fillers, etc. During the 1990s, laminating machines became widespread, and increased demand helped bring prices down. Laminate waterproof and breathable garments thus became accessible to a wider range of garment manufacturers. In a few years, the waterproof and breathable laminate outerwear category has grown to become the industry standard.
Essential to design
This new benchmark has brought renewed attention to seam-sealing, which is essential to design absolutely watertight garments, and the technique moved to new categories of clothing. It has in the meantime evolved to become less conspicuous. Thinner strips, elasticized tapes and improved glues have contributed to make laminate garments lighter, more flexible and ultimately more comfortable. From a design perspective, the challenge seems to lie not so much in styling as in quality taping. In traditional three-ply constructions, fabric, film and mesh lining are welded into a single composite textile. Though uniform on the outside, the garment interiors very often displayed a network of unsightly taping.
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An example of how ready-to-wear influences sportswear, this new global aesthetic approach to design is gaining ground in sportswear. And it has also furthered comfort. Doing away with mesh linings by adding an extra layer to films, often a silicone-touch finish, makes it easier to slip clothing on, reduces friction within garment layers and enhances the overall freedom of movement offered by the product. Lighter and more versatile, these new and improved shell garments are also more pared in their design. To avoid excessive seam-taping, their design is often simplified, their volumes leaner and closer-fitting. With the rise of soft shells, outer shells tend to emphasize protection above all. Their use restricted now to shielding from foul weather, they no longer require a separate lining fabric.
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