Sixty years ago, in a small, dusty San Diego shop, Lowell North, a champion sailor born in Missouri, began tinkering with one of the oldest and most important inventions in human history: the sail. At the time, “innovation” in sailmaking was virtually nonexistent; sails had been more or less the same for hundreds of years. But North knew they could be faster, lighter, stronger.
Today, his namesake company, North Sails, is the world’s largest sailmaker. Its sails are used all around the globe — on ordinary day-cruisers, on super yachts, on the fastest and most advanced racing boats. This unchallenged reign over the ocean can be traced, ultimately, to one key thing: North Sails’ relentless dedication to innovation. And among North Sails’ most significant breakthroughs is a technology called 3Di — an innovation so influential that variations of it are now being used in round-the-world solar gliders, F1 racecars and the world’s top racing boats (those competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, America’s Cup, etc).
“3Di allows us to use the same materials that are available to everyone else, but to yield a higher stretch resistance out of any given material,” said Bill Pearson, North Sails Materials Technical Director. “For 30 or so years, high-performance composite [sailing] parts have been made with carbon fiber mixed with resin in a tape format, known as pre-preg tape. We’ve taken that format and we’re putting other fibers into it and a different adhesive system.”
The result of this fabric development, in part, is a 3Di NORDAC cruising sail — seamless, one-piece sails that are strong, beautiful and extremely durable.
Now that North Sails has established dominance in the world of sailmaking, they are harnessing that same dedication to innovation, smart design and passion for the ocean to become masters of another realm: the world of lifestyle clothing. For the past 25 years, their apparel has acquired a loyal following along the coasts of Italy, a country often regarded as a litmus test for successful fashion. And now, they’re bringing the style to a global stage.
“We took a lot of the relationships from the sailmaking side of our company and put it through an Italian sportswear filter, and that resulted in an incredibly desirable and incredibly successful brand,” said Antonio Bertone, Chief Product and Marketing Officer of the North Technology Group.
North Sails’ 2017 collection includes just about everything you’d ever need, on or off the water — waterproof jackets, down vests, swim trunks, polos, tees, backpacks, sneakers, sweatshirts and more. And every piece in the collection draws, naturally, heavy inspiration from the ocean.
“It always comes down to meeting the needs of the participants,” Bertone said. “How do you build great-looking products that also resist the elements? The way we see it, the clothing bridges a gap between Minden, Nevada and Milan, Italy. Minden is our R&D kitchen from a sailmaking standpoint. You will never find a more advanced laboratory of flexible composites in the world than what we do in Minden. But in Milan, that’s the center of fashion. If we grab ingredients from Minden, and push them through a Milan filter, there’s going to be something that no one’s ever seen before, and can’t get anywhere else.”