Columbia Sportswear has completed the acquisition of OutDry Technologies, giving itself a more technical image. In announcing the pending acquisition last month, the American outdoor sportswear company said that it wanted to increase the penetration of this alternative breathable waterproofing technology in the casual, military and footwear segments.
The company will keep its base in Italy while being run as a wholly owned subsidiary of Columbia under the management of its founders, Luca and Matteo Morlacchi. OutDry is a waterproof/breathable technology that has been under development since 1998 and on the market since 2004, but despite some rather obvious advantages, it has not been adopted widely, probably because it has failed to become a well-known brand like Gore-Tex. According to the Morlacchis, one reason for this has been W.L. Gore's policy of signing exclusive agreements with major brands, preventing them from adoptingalternative technologies. The industry leader's policy recently led General Electric to stop investing money to promote the eVent brand name for its own membrane.
Columbia has not adopted OutDry membranes for several reasons. Instead, one of the subsidiaries of Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, adopted it with some success for its fall/winter 2009-10 collection, and the process will now be quickly introduced in numerous styles of footwear and gloves that will be sold under the Columbia brand and in the footwear of two other brands of the group, Montrail and Sorel, starting with the fall/winter 2011-12 season.
So far, OutDry has had limited success with its technology. Its biggest customer is Décathlon, which has been using its technology on a non-branded basis since 2007 in its private-label outdoor and running shoes, with an annual volume of more than 200,000 pairs. In 2004, the pioneer was a small Italian company, Gronell, that continues to use it in its own footwear, with an annual volume of about 40,000 pairs. Other shoe companies that have adopted OutDry since then are END, Kamik, Lafuma and Trezeta. Outside the sporting goods sector, it counts Hugo Boss as a client, and it has worked in the past also with Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton and Zegna. Two producers of safety boots, Sixton of Italy and Totectors of the U.K., use OutDry. So does a Polish maker of military and safety boots, Demar.
OutDry's primary differentiator from Gore-Tex is that it laminates the membrane directly to the outer shell of a boot or glove rather than on the inner lining or bootie. Because of the complexities of taping and sealing many small pieces in footwear and gloves, Gore-Tex has instead relied on a self-contained PTFE bladder that is placed in the boot or the glove.
OutDry claims that this bladder causes a great deal of water to get inside the shell, making the boot or glove heavier and colder. OutDry's process is said to resolve this issue by stopping the water at the outer shell layer. Geox is introducing a similar concept, called Amphibiox, applying it initially to casual and dress shoes, but says the manufacturing process is different.
Officials of Columbia and W.L. Gore declined to comment on the outstanding litigation between the latter and Nextec. A court has already dismissed a request by Gore to nullify one of the OutDry patents, but a claim by Gore on another OutDry patent is still pending in an appeals court, and there is still a debate about a third patent. Gore tried to stop OutDry from using the PTFE-free claim in its communication back in 2007, but then stopped its pursuits on this matter (more in SGI Europe and The Outdoor Industry Compass).