Gore-Tex Tackles the Great Indoors
By Brad Wieners

(Business 2.0) – Having mastered ski slopes, cliff faces, and the north woods, Gore-Tex is ready for its next challenge: the office park.

This spring and fall, the all-weather material that made its reputation atop Everest and K2 will debut on Madison Avenue and Rodeo Drive, in stores such as Brooks Brothers, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Daniel Cremieux. By bringing the Gore-Tex brand in from the cold, privately held W.L. Gore & Associates hopes to create new avenues of growth beyond the maturing $9 billion market for high-performance outdoor duds.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the fabric's ruggedness will impress corporate clothes hounds. Diane Davidson, head of Gore's citywear team, says the company expects professional fashion to account for 30 percent of its consumer fabric business within two years. The properties that make Gore-Tex so useful in the backwoods, she argues, are also valuable in civilization. Imagine, say, a wash-and-wear merino V-neck pullover with a Gore-Tex treatment. It would be waterproof, wind-stopping, sweat-wicking, and odor-neutralizing. Buy it and you'd be the only person in the office who could deliver a PowerPoint presentation in a Force 8 gale.

Some industry insiders agree that officewear is a natural evolution for the Gore-Tex brand. "For years we've been making outdoor clothes more fashionable," says Francisco Morales, president of Royal Robbins, a California clothier. "Gore is simply trying to make fashionable clothes more technical." The advances will come at a considerable price: A Gore-Tex-treated jacket can cost three times as much as an untreated one.

Still, even Gore admits that when it comes to workwear, style matters most. Gore-Tex treatments can be added to just about any fabric, including leather, so Gore's success will depend on which designers choose to build the material into their clothes. To seed the market, the company is encouraging up-and-coming clothing design houses like Martin Wynn to make their name in Gore-Tex. (The New York firm created the $1,555 Gore-Tex suit shown above.) Davidson says incentives to designers don't include cash, but, she adds, "we have been generous with sample yardage." In addition, a Gore-Tex branding campaign will hit national lifestyle magazines this spring.

For urbanites who are willing to pay the premium, the biggest drawback of Gore-Tex workwear might be how it sounds rather than how it looks. When in motion, some Gore-Tex clothes emit a distinctive noise--a bit like nylon scratching against nylon. The sound is irrelevant when you're scaling El Capitan. But it may be a tad conspicuous when you're trying to stride confidently into that big sales meeting. -- BRAD WIENERS