June 3, 2017


Voormi's Plan to Revolutionize Our Outerwear and the Mountain-Town Economy (Axie Navas, Oct 15, 2015, Outside)

Since the 1970s, companies had been making shells the same way: by sandwiching a waterproof membrane between two pieces of fabric. Confined by overseas supply chains and textiles sourced largely from two companies--eVent and Gore-Tex--innovation was incremental at best.

So in 2010, English established Voormi, named for a fictional, yeti-like mountain-dwelling beast, in a rusty, flood-prone building in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Setting up shop in, say, Boulder, which is home to dozens of outdoor companies, would have made life easier. But the team he assembled--his son, Dustin, a guide on Denali; Doug Lumb, who spent 43 years at Polartec developing fabrics used by Nike, Salomon, and the U.S. military; and Timm Smith, a former chemical engineer at Gore-Tex--worried that moving to a gear hub would only breed more cookie-cutter apparel. Pagosa Springs, a town of 1,700 surrounded by nearly three million acres of national forest and wilderness, seemed like the perfect undiscovered mountain playground. 

"Working in Pagosa allows us to focus on things that are needed rather than things that are trending," Smith says. 

What was needed, they decided, wasn't another new material but an entirely new approach to making it. "If you lay out all the garments in the industry, they're all made in one or two factories, and they all perform the same way," says Dustin English, who serves as Voormi's director of product integrity. "We wanted to make something unique from natural fibers using resources in the area we're playing in."

Instead of gluing pieces of fabric to a membrane, Voormi developed a way to knit a textile--in this case, wool--through it. The new method, patented under the name Core Construction, creates a single-layer jacket that's mostly weatherproof but wears like a fleece. The technology will debut in two shells this October--the men's Fall Line and women's High-E--which will be sold along with Voormi's other products in 40 retailers and at Voormi.com. In Outside's tests, Core Construction was adept at deflecting snow and wind, was warm enough to wear all day on a ski hill, and fit and felt like a sweatshirt. It didn't hold up in sleet, but according to Smith, it isn't meant to. "There are a lot of 100 percent seam-taped hard shells out there," he says. "I'm not sure the world needs another one."

The breakthrough fabric isn't the only way that Voormi is trying to change the way apparel companies work. Instead of outsourcing production, it built factories in small towns in Colorado. The wool comes from merino sheep raised in the Rocky Mountains, gets turned into yarn in North and South Carolina, and is stitched into apparel in Pagosa Springs and Rifle, Colorado. Think of it as the craft-beer approach to manufacturing, more Oskar Blues than Coors. 

Merino wool is remarkable not only because of the range of temperatures in which it remains comfortable and its water-shedding qualities but because it doesn't retain body odors the way most synthetic work out clothes eventually do.

Posted by at June 3, 2017 7:16 AM