Billabong unveiled today a new wetsuit technology — dubbed “The Solution” — that will use a new Impact Welding Seam Seal (IWSS) process that eliminates the need for wetsuit stitching.
According to the company, “Not since the introduction of the Billabong Zipperless wetsuit has there been such a profound impact on wetsuit development.”
While that’s a pretty bold statement, Billabong Wetsuit V.P. Mark Machado says this technology represents the fruition of a lot of “stitchless wetsuit” claims made by other companies over the course of the last few years.
“It’s really pretty great,” says Machado. “It’s what everyone has been trying to do for quite some time and we’re the first ones to really pull it off. It’s going to be a great product.”
The announcement also sheds some light on the hyper-competitive nature of the wetsuit market. This weekend’s ASR show will showcase new seam technologies from O’Neill, Rip Curl, Neil Pryde, and others.
According to Billabong Director Of Product Terry Strumpf, “Both the O’Neill and Rip Curl technologies are good, but we simply outdid them. I’ll challenge anyone to look at their systems and then compare it to ours — it’s simply a case of comparing apples to oranges, or even apples to watermelons. When it comes to detail, aesthetics, and comfort we know we have the best system out there on the market bar none.”
“It’s the application and process that makes the IWSS Billabong seal unique,” continues Strumpf. “Add to it the stichless wetsuit and it’s apples to oranges.”
Machado says it’s the advances in tape technology that made the elimination of stitching possible. While vague on details, Machado says IWSS isn’t applied by hand: “It goes through a machine that applies the tape and bonds the material.”
Machado says Billabong has been working on alternatives to taping and stitching for more than two years, but “the technology just recently caught up with us.”
Unlike other seam-sealing processes where there’s blind stitching on the inside and outside of the suit, The Solution uses IWSS throughout the entire wetsuit, eliminating the need for stitching altogether. IWSS is a high stretch, extremely durable fluid bond that creates a watertight seal.
Strumpf says he’s been working closely with Neil Pryde, who manufactures Billabong suits, but that the specific IWSS process is proprietary to Billabong. “To the untrained eye, IWSS and the Neil Pryde technology might look 70 or 80 percent the same, but it’s not.”
TransWorld SURF Business got a sneak peek at the new Neil Pryde seam at the September Surf Expo show. The Neil Pryde neoprene swatch sported a clean one-centimeter-wide band of flexible material that was nothing like the cloth tapes common to the industry.
“I’ve been skeptical on all of the recent developments in this area of the wetsuit,” says Machado, “but I can honestly say this new seam-welding technology meets all of my expectations and more.”
Billabong will offer The Solution in its traditional zipperless entry and a mini-zip version. Of course, the high-end Solution wetsuits will also feature a laundry list of other features: a hollow-fiber Airmax jersey, super-stretch F-max neoprene with an aluminum atomization treatment to increase heat retention, and newly designed anatomical Supratex kneepads.
According to the company, the first limited run of The Solution will be in select retail stores by late April 2002. Retail pricepoints for the suits should retail between 329 and 339 dollars for the 3/2, and a little bit more for the 4/3.