Retro Fleece - The Story Behind Patagonia's Fleece Takeover
After a lovely summer, the cold and wet weather is slowly but surely starting to creep into our daily lives. This is not necessarily a reason to be gloom though. This weather means that we finally can layer up and wear all our favourite winter clothes once again. Apart from offering real warmth and protection against the elements, it is wonderful to see how wearing a piece of clothing can truly evoke a sense of comfort and cosiness (that’s what your purchases should be about!). One of those garments that we just can’t wait to wear each year is our Patagonia fleece jacket, whatever iteration it may be. Patagonia is a company we admire for many things, as do many others. Its well-known philosophy is the reason why so many people gravitate towards the brand. One thing a lot of people don’t know however, is that Patagonia made the first modern-day fleece jackets. In this blog, we’ll give you a short history on how this all started.
It all started with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. Yvon, who was already in the production of apparel, was looking for an alternative to the wool sweater. Wool is an amazing natural fabric, yet it has some downsides to it once exposed to wet weather. It absorbs water easily, and with that gains a lot of weight. Also, it dries very slowly. Basically, a wool jumper would become more of a curse than a blessing if it started to rain. So, Yvon went in search of a synthetic miracle fabric that would offer the insulation properties of wool minus its downsides.
A young Chouinard (left) at work.
After some searching, Yvon’s wife found a waterfobic polyester fabric that was intended for, you won’t believe this, toilet seat covers. This unordinary fabric was everything he was looking for. It had insulating properties, held 1% of its weight in water, dried quickly and was even machine washable! After the first design was made, a simple pocketless vest with a zip front, the company found a partner who was able to produce the first light, strong pile fabric. That company was the Massachusetts-based Malden Mills, nowadays known as Polartec. This was the birth of the now beloved fleece sweater.
An early version of the now beloved fleece sweater.
Patagonia found a solution to their problem, but with that created a new one. Their now immensely popular jackets were made from polyester, which is made from fossil fuels. Patagonia wouldn’t be Patagonia if they wouldn’t ‘never not be tinkering’ (a slogan that has a prominent place in their archival office). In 1993 they were the first outdoor brand that was able to turn trash into fabric, by recycling soda bottles. Back then, this technique only allowed them to make the fabric in the colour of the recycled items, so, soda-bottle green was the colour of the first recycled Patagonia fleece jacket. To this day, Patagonia pushes the envelope when it comes to utilizing the most environmentally friendly fabrics and production methods possible. The search isn’t over though - “The perfect fleece, we haven’t made it yet. We are still tinkering”. A prime example of why we love the company so much.
You can find all our Patagonia fleeces through this link.