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The Perpetuation of Significantly Erroneous Information

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Since I have been in the textile business, 1961, I have seen a variety of fabric treatments enter into the market place primarily to enhance warmth or repel rain. In the 1960’s one company was weaving aluminum thread into the lining fabric to enhance warmth. One manufacturer used aluminum dust applied to lining fabric to reflect heat back to the wearer of the garment. Another company quilted silver coated mylar film also to reflect heat. The space suits had 9 layers of silver coated mylar for the same purpose. A textile mill that sold rain wear fabric decided to urethane coat their fabric for a waterproof and vapor permeable finish. Now for the fiberfill activity. As I have said chopped polyester fiberfill was first introduced into the market place for use as an insulating medium in 1960. For all intents and purposes it had to be processed one way i.e. via a garneting method. With the advent of continuous filament fiberfill the chopped staple fiberfill for sleeping bags specifically was made obsolete but when used in outerwear it does out perform the chopped staple fiberfill product without question. However, that has not stopped companies from making garneted polyester fiberfill batting and saying they are state of the art insulators. At one time companies coated the fiber with a silver powder or they joined the fiberfill to mylar via a needle punch process. The end result for all of these products except continuous filament fiberfill has been the same; none and I mean none has worked as the manufacturer of the product had or has claimed. To this very day all rainwear materials advertised as waterproof and breathable (vapor permeable is the correct term) does not work. All the new fangled chopped staple fiberfill’s do not work very well nor will they ever, ever, ever work as continuous filament fiberfill does.

Since the companies that continue at this time to make these claims have never been taken to task by manufacturers to prove conclusively that what they advertise is accurate they have taken license to venture forth with equal erroneous information about their product as their predecessors. What I have noted over the years is the fact that publications publish what they have been told by a representative of these companies. Occasionally I have read these articles and made contact with the writer (s) and inquired if they had asked the interviewee for proof of the ability of the fabric to perform as expressed. In all cases the writers never have asked regardless of how outlandish the claim. They never ever thought to ask either.

Recently I received a copy of a textile magazine that had an article titled “2012 Top Innovators” referencing innovations from several companies. The first company in the article to be interviewed was Columbia Sportswear. Knowing Columbia from its early days when sales were less than one million and knowing Tim Boyle I am always interested in knowing what he they are up too, so I read it ultimately with great interest. The technological innovations at Columbia abound. The first product I read about is, I quote; [Omni-Freeze ICE, apparel technology that capitalizes on the sweat that your body naturally produces to deliver “aggressive heat management,” says Woody Blackford, vice president of global innovation. “the moment the moisture hits the fabrics surface the temperature of the fabric is lowered, creating an immediate cooling sensation,” he says]. Mr. Blackford has demonstrated with this initial comment how little knowledge he has of how the human body works as well as how materials affect the human body. To begin with the sweat initially covers the skin surface for the specific purpose of “cooling” the body. By wearing a garment such as this you will restrict the flow of moisture so when the fabric becomes cold you will become cold too. Then you will get a chill and if the garment is worn in moderately cold weather, say 40 degrees you will definitely get very cold. Mr. Blackwell obviously does not know that water in any form is the greatest absorber of heat on the planet.

The very next paragraph is mind boggling, and to think the interviewer accepted what he had said without batting an eye I believe is incredible. I quote; [The company is also introducing Omni-Wick EVAP (probably short for evaporate), a wicking technology that Blackford says proactively manages sweat and moisture. EVAP uses moisture management technology that disperses sweat across a broad surface (I went through the Columbia web site looking for an explanation, none exists), allowing moisture to spread out and quickly evaporate. “Perspiration is whisked away, so you’re dry before you even knew you were working up a sweat.” Maybe it is me but to the best of my knowledge every human being I know as well those I do not know will sweat and will always know about it. However, I do not know Mr. Blackman and maybe he will not realize he is sweating. The statement is ludicrous to say the least. Didn’t the interviewer use any common sense and ask about the statement, of course not because the interviewer is as ignorant of human physiology as Mr. Blackman is. To be fair to both interviewer and Mr. Blackman over the years I have read other articles on this subject and the interviewer and interviewee for those articles were just as ignorant of the subject as these two are.

I shall digress for a moment. I wondered about Columbia’s use of the term “Omni” since they do not offer an explanation on their site I went to the internet. Here is what I found; Omni was a science and science fiction magazine first published in the US and the UK.The first issue was published in 1978 and the last in 1995 with an internet version that lasted until 1998. Omni was launched by Kathy Keeton, long time companion and later wife of Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione, who described the magazine in its first issue as “an original if not controversial mixture of science fact, fantasy and the paranormal”. Did someone in the employ of Columbia decide to use the term as it relates to scientific fact? The reality as I see it what they are doing is the fantasy aspect of the term.

The next subject they tackle deals with wind chill. I quote; “Wind chill can substantially lower the perceived (italics mine) temperature, making you even colder in windy conditions,” says Blackford. I agree the wind will lower the temperature that exists but it is not perceived it is real. When you are outside with a thermometer and the wind is blowing the thermometer will register the ambient air temperature. When you read a wind speed meter you can then calculate what the temperature is as a wind chill reading. This is real not perceived. The article further states “Omni-Wind Block style, including the Triteca Softshell, feature a technically advanced membrane that providesultrabreathable wind protection (italics mine) – the wind chill is kept from coming in but perspiration is allowed to escape. “the wind chill is kept from coming in”- this is a new statement for me to read. Another statement from someone who simply put hasn’t a clue. “but perspiration is allowed to escape”—so we have two actions going in opposite directions at the very same moment in time, incredible. The article goes on to say; “The technology uses an “ultralight membrane that is windproof, waterproof, extremely lightweight and ultra-breathable (italics mine). This one sentence is a contradiction! They go on to say “It can also be combined with other Columbia technologies to amplify the benefit”. None of what they state about their products thus far actually works so what are the benefits they are referring too? There are no benefits. They go on to say and I quote; [“We’ve been focused on a new way to deliver comfort and increased performance. We’ve studied sweat/heat zones and have given a ton of thought to thermal regulation and how to help the body’s natural ability to expel heat and moisture and hold heat,”says Blackford.] This statement is gibberish, there is no way the heat being generated by the human body can be regulated. There are no sweat/heat zones and the statement “expel heat and moisture and hold heat” is ridiculous. Blackford further states “The result of that research is a zonal (and visible) approach that combines Columbia’s technology”. The statement is meaningless and I am sure if you asked him to explain it he wouldn’t know what to say.

There are more of these nonsensical statements but I will only end his interview with the following. I quote; “Finally, the entire shell is wrapped with the new Omni-Wind Block membrane to ensure that it is completely waterproof but also ultra-breathable. “Essentially,” say Blackford, “we’ve multiplied technologies to amplify the benefits, as well as the body’s natural thermal-regulation process.”

Until this interview I thought I had read or heard everything that was erroneous that could be spewed to the general public by a manufacturer serving the outdoor market. If awards were to be given out for the most outlandish gibberish Mr. Blackford in my opinion would get the top prize.

The companies that promote products that do not perform as advertised in the outdoor industry have taken poetic license to say what ever they think will fly with the general public. They seem to think if you say the same thing over and over again it will eventually be believed or at least those saying it will believe it. All I can say is “buyer beware”.

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