Polartec® Alpha® coming to consumers fall 2013

We’re returning from the Outdoor Retailer, SIA and ISPO trade shows where we launched Polartec® Alpha®, the first-ever breathable puffy fabric, to media. It’s an entirely new class of fabric technology that rounds out Polartec’s offering of over 300 performance fabrics – from lightweight next-to-skin, to insulation, to extreme weather protection fabrics.

Essentially, Polartec Alpha is a puffy fabric that’s not a vapor barrier – a lightweight, quick-drying insulation that allows air exchange for breathability and comfort in more dynamic situations. Unlike down or existing synthetic insulation bating, Polartec Alpha is a highly stable layer allowing for the use of more open and breathable fabrics on the outer and inner layers of puffy-style garments. Classic puffy garments require “down-proof” or high-density woven layers that create a vapor barrier. Although they work well in static conditions, these classic puffy garments trap moisture inside the garment during even minimal activity.

In addition to unprecedented levels of breathability and moisture vapor transport in a puffy, Polartec Alpha maintains insulation values while wet and offers dramatically faster dry times than existing puffy-style fabrics on the market. Highly compressible, it also provides inherent wind resistance and warmth without weight.

Polartec Alpha was developed to meet the performance requirements of the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). SOF required something that was warm, wind resistant, highly durable, quick drying, and more breathable than existing insulation products. Polartec Alpha received the highest testing results of any Polartec product ever tested by the SOF evaluation team. The SOF garment made of Polartec Alpha (by Patagonia) will replace two to three layers, reducing costs, saving weight in the field, and improving combat effectiveness.

Polartec Alpha jackets, vests and hoodies will become available to consumers fall 2013 in the collections of Polartec partner brands 66º North, Eddie Bauer, Eider, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab, Ternua, Terry Cycle, The North Face, Trangoworld, Vaude and Westcomb.

Check out these recent awards and recognition given to Polartec Alpha, as well as other innovative products coming out fall 2013:

GearJunkie ‘Best in Show’ Awards

Gear Institute ‘Best in Show’ Awards

ISPO Awards

SNEWS Editors’ Picks

“Puffy killer?” Polartec and The North Face win GearJunkie ‘Best in Show’ Award

We’re pleased to share that GearJunkie has awarded Polartec and The North Face a ‘Best in Show’ Award for the new Polar Hooded Jacket, which we previewed to the media and retailers at the annual Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago. GearJunkie asks if it’s a “puffy killer.”

Available to consumers next Fall 2012 for $299, the Polar Hooded Jacket is a sleek, hybrid, body-mapped soft shell made of two new Polartec fabrics. This design maps key hot/cold zones and optimizes fabric placement for function and comfort, providing increased warmth and breathability where needed most.

The body is made of a new version of Polartec® Power Shield® soft shell fabric with a high loft fleece interior that’s both 25% warmer and 25% lighter thanks to a revolutionary new lamination technique. A new version of Polartec® Thermal Pro® is used in the sides, underarms and hood to insulate without inhibiting breathability and moisture vapor transport. Unlike down or classic synthetic fill insulation, Polartec® Thermal Pro® fibers won’t migrate, so The North Face was able to use an open mesh knit fabric on the inside to eliminate the vapor barrier phenomenon of most puffies.

The Polar Hooded Jacket combines the warmth of a puffy with the moisture-wicking properties of fleece and the protection of a soft shell to let climbers eliminate layers and give them freedom of movement. We’re not aware of a warmer, lighter, more compressible soft shell.

The Evolution of Fleece

Ever wonder how the modern synthetic fleece came about?

The New York Times magazine recently published an article, “The Evolution of Fleece, From Scratchy to Snuggie”, which takes a historical look at the product category Polartec invented.

Polartec fleece products are now more lightweight, warm, functional, versatile and durable than ever. And we keep working to make them better.

The Evolution of Fleece, From Scratchy to Snuggie

By HILARY GREENBAUM and DANA RUBINSTEIN
Published: November 25, 2011

Even in the heyday of the polyester age — during the height of John Travolta and white bodysuits — when people wanted to stay warm, they still wore wool. And that venerable material had its downsides. It was notoriously itchy. When it got wet, it stank. And moths liked to eat it.

By the late 1970s, however, Malden Mills, a Massachusetts textile maker that specialized in baby bunting, began experimenting with polyester’s outdoorsy potential. Under the direction of the mill’s owner, Aaron Feuerstein, a team of engineers wound superfine polyester yarn into a dense fabric resembling terry cloth, only lighter. After its fibers were brushed, the fabric’s volume greatly increased; they also provided insulation and could wick water away.

In 1981, through an unusual collaboration with Yvon Chouinard, owner of a little-known mountaineering outfitter called Patagonia, Feuerstein introduced his invention to the burgeoning sportswear market. “We had the finest technical group, engineering group and research group in the textile industry,” recalls the father of fleece. “We built performance into the fabric. We were so proud of what we did.”

“GAP HAD IT TO THE MAX”

The first-generation fleece, called Synchilla (as in synthetic chinchilla), was used in Patagonia’s seminal Snap-T pullover (1985), which was subsequently made famous by family ski trips across the Northeast. “For many, many years,” says Rob Bondurant, vice president of marketing at Patagonia, “Synchilla was the Kleenex of fleece, if you will.”

Within a decade, however, fleece had become an inescapable element of daily life. And just as the fabric’s lightness appealed to sportsmen, its colorfulness, lack of fur and relative inexpensiveness made it, in a word, trendy. Scott Schulman, who runs The Sartorialist, a popular style blog, is reminded of the transformation that jersey went through after Chanel used it in her early collections. Before that, he says, jersey “was thought of as underwear fabric.”

Eventually, Lands’ End, L.L. Bean and others incorporated fleece in everything. “In the late ’90s, Gap had it to the max,” explains Ingrid Johnson, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. According to Nate Simmons, director of marketing at Polartec, the successor company to Malden Mills, “It completely changed the way the world dresses for cold weather.”

COMING IN FROM THE COLD

Ever since its early days, fleece has been continuously improved. The yarn — now about as fine as cashmere — was honed to prevent the fabric from pilling and wind from blowing through. As a result, the unmistakable fuzzy material is unusually lightweight and warm — an unreasonable expectation only a synthetic could fulfill. In 1993, Patagonia and Polartec began exploring how to make fleece from recycled content. The first iterations, however, were fraught with issues; they were also scratchy. By 2006, though, they were able to make recycled fabrics at costs comparable to the original.

Beyond embracing environmental issues, fleece’s greatest impact has probably been on the eco-chic fashion industry that blossomed around it. No longer does a man, come winter, have to hide his svelte figure beneath dowdy layers of down and wool. And no longer does he have to wear it outdoors. Lands’ End, for instance, uses fleece for monogrammable dog jackets with reflective trim, beanbag covers and Christmas stockings. Of course, for $10 anyone can enjoy the Snuggie, a fleece blanket cum smock that no mountain climber ever could have imagined.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 27, 2011, on page MM28 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Who Made That? (Fleece).

Those with a NYT account can view the article here.

2011 APEX Award Winners Available Now

Each year, Polartec honors the finest Polartec-based garments with a prestigious Polartec APEX Award. We announced the North American and European winners back in May. Most of these pieces are now available for purchase. Check ‘em out!

Senator Scott Brown Visits Polartec

Did you know Polartec is a major supplier to the US Military? Well, out of the company’s Lawrence, MA headquarters, Polartec has worked with the US Military for over a decade – developing new fabric technologies that protect our troops. No melt, no drip fleece that protects soldiers from skin burns during IED explosions? That was us, and we couldn’t drive this innovation without all the dedicated people who work with us everyday.

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown recently toured Polartec’s headquarters in Lawrence, MA, where he met with executives and some of the several hundred employees that work there. The Senator even held a short Q&A with employees.

Polartec President Andy Vecchione shows Senator Brown a garment made from Polartec® Power Dry® FR, a flame resistant, highly breathable and quick drying fabric designed for high speed tactical operations.

Senator Brown can't get over how soft the fleece feels.

Polartec Scufoneda 2011

We headed into the heart of the Dolomites last week for Polartec Scufoneda, the annual freeride festival that celebrates the mountains and local gastronomy. Polartec Athlete Advisory Board member Nick Devore took first in the Freeride Cup big mountain competition, skiing a smooth, fluid line with plenty of airs and a crowd-pleasing 360 at the bottom in the shortest amount of time. This year’s Polartec Scufoneda also served as the consumer launch for Polartec NeoShell, and the variable weather conditions provided perfect testing grounds for the revolutionary new waterproof/breathable fabric.

Polartec Partner Moms and Jobs, Inc. Launches Holiday Giving Program

Back in October, Polartec partnered with Mom’s and Jobs, Inc. (MoJo) to provide them with discounted rates on fabric for use in MoJo’s product line of apparel and logo-wear. MoJo employs a full staff of single mothers and the proceeds from MoJo product purchases are dedicated to providing free childcare, higher than average wages, healthcare, and educational opportunities for MoJo employees. Check out this cool program they’re running. Purchase two MoJo blankets and make a double impact – help to create sustainable job opportunities for single moms in need, and help a homeless family stay warm this winter through a blanket donation.