The Story of Fleece and How it Took Over the Outdoor World

Thursday, 05 January 2012

Methinks that's not your fleece

Have you ever wondered how fleece became the dominant fabric in the outdoor industry over the past 20 years? Don’t lie, I know you have. To answer your fleecy history questions, Gizmodo recently published a great article outlining the extensive background of this wonder fabric.

Plastics solved many problems in the 20th century. Why not the wool dilemma?

Enter Malden Mills Industries, which got its start in 1906 with wool bathing suits (yep) and sweaters. During World War II, they won military contracts to produce uniforms. But after the war was over, they saw a shift in the fabric landscape. Polyesters were incorporated into everything from tires to carpets to clothing. Nylon, which was invented in the ‘30s by DuPont, became an instant hit. Spandex, which we may or may not be thankful for, was invented in the '50s. New high-tech fabrics were popping up all over the place, and Malden Mills wanted in on the action. They set out to make a plastic sheep-replacer to help them climb to the top of their industry.

They started by spinning plastics into yarn. Weaving the yarn into fabric with tiny loops on one side created a thin fabric—but when brushed, the yarn broke down into individual fibers and the loops puffed up, improving the fabric's texture, thickness and insulation without increasing the weight. The innovation happened in the factory, not the lab, partly becausePatagoniawas pushing for new fabrics. Doug Hoschek, who marketed the new textile, knew it would have an huge impact in the outdoor community, so Malden Mills worked aggressively to get that crowd on board.

The full history is pretty amazing but you might be asking about how fleece it’s actually made and why it actually works so well. To answer those questions public radio station WNYC, posted an interview with Sean Cormier, assistant professor in the Textile Design and Marketing Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy atPatagonia.

In under 30 minutes you will get the complete lowdown on the fuzzy stuff.

Photo credit: Methinks that's not your fleece Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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