W.L. Gore & Co., the $3 billion (yearly sales), 10,000-staff, family- and worker-owned Newark, Del. company that makes high-end, waterproof but sweats-right-through Gore-Tex ("Guaranteed To Keep You Dry") fabrics for military, medical, aerospace, industrial, firefighting and outdoor users, opened its doors to dozens of military and retail reporters from the U.S., Asia, Europe and Latin America Thursday to show off its new two-story Biophsyics testing lab and evnironmental chamber, just over the state line in Cecil County, Md.
Gore works from a science-based culture and distinguishes itself from retail-first enterprises. "Our product does what we says it does.Everyone else is just out there making claims," said Christian Langer, Fabrics Division leader. "Sometimes when we make a claim, it sounds reduced. But we can actually prove it."
As a private company Gore evades the quarter-to-quarter outside investor pressures (the kind that drove its ten-times-larger neighbor, DuPont Co., into its pending merger with Dow Chemical Co.) Langer says that frees him to focus on firming partnerships with the manufacturers and retailers who use Gore-Tex materials -- Adidas, Nike, North Face, Patagonia, Timberland and dozens more. "I compare it to a marriage: you have to have common values and principles, otherwise it doesn't work out," Langer told the group.
Gore says recreating high-altitude sunshine, wind-driven heavy rains, extreme cold and blast-furnace heat in the lab helps engineers, designers and clients fashion multilayered applications and products. "We understand the human body. We understand apparel," and can quantify and manipulate it accoringly, Langer said.
"Comfort is the absence of discomfort," said global technical leader Matthew Decker. He went on to sketch "thermal, psychological, ergonomic and sensorial-aesthetic" distinctions he says influence Gore design. There's a behavioral-scientist on staff. There are acoustic technicians who study the sounds flaps make when they open and the effect it has on users.
Sometimes, less is more, said Shawn Riley, group technical leader. Firefighters complain of being "horribly overprotected," to the point where heavy gear slows them, heats them, limits their vision. Gore works with firefighters to find "the right protection in a comfortable package," and convince cities and corporate fire departments it's worth spending extra -- compared to the high costs of burn injuries.
Everyone who spoke was trim, cropped, casual and spoke with clear intensity, like newly-tenured science professors, or Silicon Valley sales engineers. A board on the side of the rock-walled, wood-beamed meeting room listed four old W.L Gore principles: "Fairness, Comittment, Freedom, Waterline."
Gore has been among the beneficiaries of changes at Wilmington-based DuPont Co. The companies have long hired each others' people, but DuPont lately has been shedding assets, managers and researchers as it prepares to combine with Dow and split into three or more successor companies. So far this year, Gore has hired Patrick Lindner, former president of DuPont Performance Materials and Performance Polymers, as Enterprise Business Leader, and David Rurak, an ex-senior Protection and Flouropolymers executive at DuPont, as Operations Leader, among others.
The visitors had forward-looking questions? What about sensors, the Internet of Things, clothing studded with digital aparata that talk to servers and users and d other clothing?
Emily Oliver, head of Global Distinctive Capabilities, said Gore and its partners are looking at "smartwear." She and her colleagues wouldn't say what those products will look like, or even how much the new testing labs cost, because it's a private company, and they don't have to tell us.
Embedding sensors "takes a pretty good amount of R&D," Oliver concluded. Users have many good ideas how smartwear will eventually work, she noted. "It will take some time for the science to catch up."