The Future of Fabrics

The Lab,  
Fred Perrotta

The outdoor industry is always innovating and pushing technical boundaries. The luggage industry… is not.

At Tortuga, we want to change that. You demand more than the average traveler from your luggage. We need to meet those high expectations today and stay ahead of your future travel needs. That’s why we spend more time at Outdoor Retailer than at the Travel Goods Show.

Part of how we stay ahead of the curve is by using the newest technical materials and hardware that can help you travel better. When we see something new that can benefit you, we should get it into our pipeline for testing and sampling ASAP. As a small company, we take get new materials into a product and into the market faster than big brands.

We should not, however, use something new just because it’s new. Our goal is improvement, not novelty.

The biggest technical lever we have for improving a backpack is its materials. We have seen the future of fabrics and believe that these new materials can make for better luggage.

But First, a Quick History Lesson

Until World War II, all natural fabrics like leather and cotton were standard. During the war, material shortages and technical needs led to the development of most of the synthetic, man-made fibers we are familiar with today.

Nylon, for example, was developed as a replacement for silk. Ballistic nylons were developed as an early, failed effort to make bulletproof vests. Please do not attempt to use your V2 backpack as a bulletproof vest.

WWII was a long time ago. So what’s new in fabrics and materials?

Laminates are the Future (and Present)

Outbreaker Collection: VX21

When we were plotting the next generation of Tortuga, we knew that we wanted a better, more technical backpack. Other brands had entered the market using the same 1680D nylon that we had historically used. We needed to level up.

When Patrick joined the team, he led a research project into the materials we might use for our next product, which became the Outbreaker backpack.

Our customers demanded durability, a discreet appearance, and weather-resistance. We found the perfect solution in VX21, a waterproof sailcloth.

Most backpacks are made of a single layer of fabric with a spray-on coating for water-resistance. VX21, in contrast, is made of four layers laminated together into one material. The layers include X-Ply (the diamond pattern) and a PET film for increased tear strength and true waterproofness.

In addition to being the perfect fabric for the Outbreaker collection, VX21 was also novel. The material was originally developed for racing sails and is only now making its way into the lifestyle market. A few commuter and biking brands are using it but no travel companies were. So we brought VX21 to the luggage industry. We know that you, our most hardcore customers, are bag nerds (like us) who appreciate new, functional materials.

Cordura and Incase have already knocked off the material and given it new names.

No worries. We already have something new for the next collection.

 

Homebase Collection: LS21

The next collection, Homebase, is at the other end of the spectrum from Outbreaker. Our priority with the Homebase collection is to make lighter, more agile bags.

The Outbreaker collection is all about packing volume, organization, and comfort. These priorities led to a larger, more complex, and heavier bag. For some travelers, this is the right solution and the tradeoffs are absolutely worthwhile.

Other travelers want to pack minimally and travel as lightly as possible. I’m in this category. From the V2 line, I carried the 27L Tortuga Air. Now, I carry the Homebase backpack which is 32L and weighs only two pounds.

Weight was a huge priority in developing this collection. Reducing weight means making a smaller bag with fewer zippers and a simpler suspension system. We also needed a different material that would be light but still durable.

Our material supplier’s latest project, LiteSkin (LS), was the perfect solution. As a bonus, the LiteSkin line is extremely abrasion resistant and has a different look than VX. We chose LS21 because it was the right mix of weight and “stiffness.” Tortuga bags are used as luggage, so our materials should have some “body” so that the sides of the bag stand up for easier packing.

As an added bonus, we placed the second ever order of LiteSkin, so you’ll be among the first people to ever see or own it.

What are Laminates?

Both VX21 and LS21 are laminates: Several layers of material that are joined together. Laminates have the benefits of multiple materials in one raw material.

VX21, for example, is a laminate of 3 fabric layers together with a very thin plastic film.

A laminate like LS21 is “finished” on both sides meaning that it doesn’t require a separate lining fabric on the inside. In the interest of reducing weight in the Homebase collection, we removed all unnecessary lining. You will see the finished backing side of the LS21 on the inside of the bags.

Our version of the LS21 is a laminate that combines a layer of nonwoven fabric (the LiteSkin) with a traditional woven fabric (210D Nylon). Nonwovens are fibers that are bonded together by chemical, mechanical, heat, or solvent treatments. A traditional example of a nonwoven is wool felt. Another is truck tarp that is made from vinyl (PVC).

Laminates are the cutting edge of the present and will be far more common in the future. We’re proud to bring them to you first.

To finish off this discussion, I asked Patrick, Tortuga’s industrial designer, what we’ll see even further into the future. Here’s the future he sees…

Patrick Predicts the Future

We will see post-consumer recycled fabrics becoming more ubiquitous. Recycled polyester is proving to be easy to manufacture into a huge array of fabrics. Our team loves Girlfriend leggings made from post-consumer plastic water bottles.

In general, materials will become lighter, stronger, and more environmentally friendly. Where it makes sense, they will also become more waterproof.

Performance coatings, specifically those that don’t wash out quickly, will help even traditional fabrics become water, odor, and stain resistant.

Advanced nonwovens and synthetics will allow us to make exactly as much material as we need, when we need it. This change will eliminate a huge amount of waste and may even replace leather in many situations.

Beyond materials, the most exciting changes will be process-driven. For example, we will use CNC technology to turn raw material into fabric on demand. These fabric panels will be exactly as big as we need them to be, eliminating both labor and waste.

The future is zero waste bags and garments that are printed locally, on demand from recycled raw materials.

For More from the Lab

We hope you’re as excited for the future as we are. Join us on the journey there by following The Lab. In return, we promise to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in travel gear and to tell you all about it.

See you at Outdoor Retailer in July.