My guess is that not many people are familiar with the Dolfing brand from The Netherlands. Even most Dutch people have never heard of the brand or even seen one of their products in real-life. This is partly due to low brand recognition of their products, and partly because their overall range of products available to the general population is simply not that interesting. But what is interesting is the company history and how that fits in with other rainwear brands discussed previously. Let me come back to that later.
The range of products the Dolfing company makes, and made, seems like a bit of everything: ranging from rainwear to waterbeds, medical supplies, and seat covers for the public transport sector. But what all these products have in common is the production method of high-frequency welding of PVC materials making it waterproof and durable.
The focus will of course be on their range of rainwear, which is also the main product the company produced since the fifties and which led to their initial economic success. Their range of products is easily divided based on the material used: there is a “classic” line of relatively heavy-duty PVC with a 400gr per square meter material weight, a “medium duty” line which is a bit lighter giving more comfort to the wearer made from PVC at 305 gram per square meter and a “featherlight” range which is made from PU at only 185 gram/m. In general the weight per square meter is linked to the amount of wear and tear a product can withstand on one hand, and how comfortable it is to wear on the other hand. Most heavy-duty rainwear brands make products ranging from 400 to 700 gram/m for rough fishing work, while most fashion brands go considerably lighter to increase comfort. Added downside to heavier materials, besides the weight, is that it is often much less flexible.
The Dolfing product range is further divided into categories based on target audience, like agriculture, offshore and fishing, building and industry, food and cleaning, and finally recreational use. Each of the workwear categories have a very similar selection of rainwear, mostly differing in color only to distinguish between the target audiences. And as a true workwear producer the rainwear is really workwear: completely functional without any interesting details, designs, or fittings added. Expect a range of pants, bibs, jackets, and anoraks, with a bulky and unfashionable workwear cut, no visible brand logo, and no interesting material finish.
Of course this is not really a critique on the brand and their products, as they are a workwear brand making high-quality workwear and they are not competing with fashion brands bringing out new raincoat designs on a yearly basis. And although brands like Helly Hansen and 66North have workwear that has a certain popularity outside the workwear branche, you cannot expect every producer of workwear to be interested in competing in the fashion market and being as successful as they are.
The company does have a small range of regular rainwear in their “recreational” category, but the products do not really stand out in any way. My guess is that they are just exploring this market at the moment and based on future success they will either stop making this range of products or continue with a broader lineup.
In general the company seems to be doing what they are best in regarding rainwear: producing high-quality workwear at a reasonable price. Both jackets and pants start at about 45 euro’s a piece and are available online through several suppliers in The Netherlands, but unless you are interested in some generic PVC rainwear there is not really that much to look for.
The most interesting part of of the Dolfing brand, in my view, is the history of the company. The Dolfing company started out as a tailor shop, but after the second world war it had to adopt to new times where bespoke clothing couldn’t compete with mass-produced products anymore. Instead the focus shifts to workwear, with the Dutch army big a large buyer. This range of clothing requires higher level of durability but is less sensitive to changing fashion styles. One of the products the Dolfing company makes is long overcoats that are made waterproof with tape and glue.
The focus on waterproofing clothing creates new opportunities in the fifties when PVC cloth is introduced. In 1958 the Dolfing company purchases its first PVC high-frequency welding machine, shown below, that can make a waterproof connection between pieces of PVC cloth resulting in a completely waterproof and durable rainsuit. These rainsuit are the only viable option for workers and bicyclists to stay dry in the rain around that time and the company produces up to 400 pieces of rainwear a day after a decade of strong growth.
But this comes to an end in the seventies when the Dutch Ministry of Roads and Waterways tries to get more people on the bike by organizing the contest “Who can design the best rainwear”, which is won by the relatively new Agu company. The Agu company comes with a rubberzied nylon rainsuit that is superior in almost every way compared to the inflexible and non-ventilating PVC rainsuits. With over a million Agu rainsuits in only a couple of years, and many competitors introducing similar rainwear, the end of the good times for the PVC rainsuit are near. Below the much more fashionable, comfortable, and practical Agu rainsuit.
Instead of going bankrupt the company refocuses on their strength: high-frequency welding of PVC materials. Next to rainwear they start producing other PVC products matrass covers for hospitals, folding doors, and seat covers for public transport. Basically they jumped into every market where they could use their strength, and while they diversified away from rainwear they never gave up on this part of business.
What is so interesting about this story, for me, is that it shows the other side of the Agu rainwear story that I covered previously. It is great to read about a small and new company coming with a rainsuit design that takes off immediately and sells millions of products, but there are also parties in that story that stand on the other side and lose out. Dolfing is one of those companies that was really hurt by the success of the Agu company, but luckily it survived and now still produces the product that gave them their initial success: rainwear.