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Here at Quechua, we make our own membranes, which allows us to fine-tune our components and adapt them to the specific needs of our products.
Our textiles team work on all sports, as there is often an overlap between product requirements. At the extreme ends of the scale, high levels of waterproofing are required for tents while the fast hiking teams require high levels of breathability for their products. In some areas, abrasion resistance is also an important criteria. The holy grail when developing garments with membranes is to achieve the highest level of both breathability and waterproofing, but real life means that we often have to find a good compromise.
In terms of waterproofing, our components are rated from 1 to 5 stars and for breathability from low to high (with medium as mid point). So all our textiles are divided into 15 categories; of course the 5-star/high breathability category is the most difficult to achieve given that 1-star guarantees a minimum level of water repellency (allowing liquids to "slide off" the fabric)," thanks to a chemical formula developed in-house. We are always on the look out for new technologies because although we don't produce the membranes ourself, we like to work very closely with partners.
Products for our membranes are produced by a dozen or so different suppliers which allows us to manage the entire chain, both in terms of cost and quality. As we have a very wide range of products, produced in large quantities, we can create the components we need, or adapt existing specifications to meet our exact requirements, both in terms of technical and aesthetic aspects.
The outer fabric has a significant effect on breathability, depending on its stretch and resistance level. The process of laminating or bonding the membrane to the outer fabric is performed by a roller system with glue dots, spaced at varying intervals - a process that can be adapted by adjusting different settings (roller pressure, density of glue dots etc.) This expertise is developed in-house by our component engineers who work with our "product chain leaders" who live in different countries and work in different production units (which, today, are based mainly in Asia). Our employees are involved in all stages of the chain, so they can monitor progress more closely:they're involved with yarn production, dyeing, logistical aspects (though not necessarily on every boat) etc. in a number of different countries.This ensures a very high level of quality control and ethical standards.
We carry out very academic research, which varies from year to year (for example, on "hyper breathability," or "electro spun" membranes) but also addresses more practical subjects to help support the development of around sixty new components a year, produced for very specific uses. Once the membrane is bonded to the product, we carry out tests on product breathability and waterproofing which also includes the installation of zips and the assembly of seams. All our textiles undergo shower tests which allow us to validate, not just the component, but the actual product design.
Research on membranes is really at the interface between sport (product engineers), where requirements are described using criteria such as waterproofing, abrasion resistance, stretch or even low weight, and production with specifications defining, for example, softness ("hand feeling,") and other considerations. Our method engineers then have to do a juggling act between design and manufacturing in order to find the best compromise between intended use and style, before moving to large scale production. For example, you can have a product with a very attractive design, with lots of curves, which will then need to be covered with seam sealing tapes. The methods engineer, who is very familiar with design principles, will find a compromise with the designer to help avoid industrial problems. Achieving this balance between intended use and style is a constant feature of our product development process. It can also be a source of innovation.
A large focus of our work on components is about trying to reduce environmental impact and improving recyclability as much as possible. Today, we use polyester and polyamide with a bonded polyurethane membrane. It is very difficult to recycle this type of composite material beyond just giving it a second life. Eventually, we want to be able to recreate yarn from a jacket and the best way to do this is to use single-material components. So we're working on textiles that have polyester as the main membrane component.
It's not necessarily useful to improve recyclability if it adversely affects durability. Our close involvement throughout the technical process means we can be very demanding when it comes to product durability. When it comes to colour fastness and abrasion resistance, our lab and field tests allow us to check that the product can withstand the necessary stresses and strains. Most of the standards we apply to our tests and our quality controls are more restrictive than those commonly used on the market.