Around the time when Samurai warriors last used metal armor in battle during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, an entrepreneurial Norwegian fisherman named Helly Juell Hansen was busy creating another form of armor — oilskin jackets, trousers, sou’westers and tarpaulins to protect sailors from the cold and wet. Developed at first using coarse linen soaked in linseed oil, Hansen and his wife manufactured 10,000 pieces during the first five years. Over the next sixty years, Helly Hansen would grow into a large production factory and develop exclusive fabric breakthroughs, many of which are responsible for creating the outerwear industry we have today.
To learn about how Helly Hansen changed the weatherproof fabric industry forever, keep reading on the next page.
In the 1950s, layering and welded seams became an integral part of the outerwear story. While fabric advances had greatly improved “weather-proof” gear, seams still represented a serious weak point. Helly Hansen set out to address the problems of leaking seams by patenting the process of Micro-Welding, which involved blending translucent sheets of PVC plastic into waterproof outer shells using microwaves to create a new line of fabrics dubbed Helox and Plarex. The Helox was commonly layered over another of Helly-Hansen’s proprietary technology — Fibrepile, a warm, insulating layer with lightweight and fast-drying characteristics. These jacket combinations were worn and endorsed by Swedish lumbermen and European fisherman, making it the first system-based layering outfit designed for active use. It didn’t take much time for this performance wear to make its way from the harbor to the Scandinavian slopes.
The 1980s provided the most competitive innovations in outerwear technology, thanks to the invention of Gore-Tex waterproof laminate and seam tape, as well as a growing outdoor recreation industry. During this era, the company released Helly Tech, which was the company’s most waterproof and breathable fabric system, to date — using both hydrophilic and microporous technologies, which allow vapor to pass out of the fabric without letting moisture in.
In 2004, the company pioneered a new seam construction called high frequency welding. This welding has proven to perform better than standard heat-press seam taping, since the cooling process needed for typical heat-press construction is often rushed during the manufacturing process. The high-frequency application is typically only used to secure zippers to trilaminate shells, to account for the heavy use and stress on these areas of the garment. The introduction of this technique is a testament to Helly-Hansen’s continued commitment to progressing outerwear technology — the body armor of modern adventurers.
To learn more, check out the history of Helly Hansen on their website.
Written by Justin Gural. Additional contribution by Ben Bowers and Eric Yang