Polartec have recently introduced their Peaking Since 91 campaign to celebrate their 30th year of design peaks and fabric innovations. Please read on to find out what all the fuss is about.
We are sure every outdoor person has at least one item of fleece clothing in their gear store. This amazing fabric offers great insulation along with it being easy to care for, long lasting, good value and quick drying. It also offers good levels of warmth when wet, lasts well and breathes efficiently. It’s a great option for so many activities and all seasons. Please read on to find out about it’s history and why Polartec have been Peaking Since 91.
The Birth Of Fleece
Polartec may have been peaking since 91, but it was actually 40 years ago when a company called Malden Mills created a new breed of polyester pile fabric. This was created by combing polyester with a cylindrical wire brush to break the loops on the pile and tease the fibres upward. This is known as “napping” the pile. With this process the first fleece was born.
It wasn’t perfect. The fabric was very prone to creating little fuzzy balls on its surface in a process known as ‘pilling’. Even so, given its many benefits, it was still widely adopted by outdoor goers. Soon, fleece was a common sight everywhere from the mountains to city centres.
Things developed over the years. Another big innovation came in the mid eighties when Patagonia partnered with Malden Mills to develop Synchilla. This was a double faced fabric that didn’t pill. Patagonia created their famous Snap T Pullover and it became a stable for many outdoor enthusiasts. The Snap T remains in the companies line up to this day.
Bright Patterns & Strong Colours
Other innovations soon came when fleece could be made with designs and colours. Malden Mills started producing bright patterns and strong colour schemes. Customers soon had an alternative to the previously rather drab colour options available. Patagonia again led the charge with two tone Snap T’s and many other bold fleece colours.
Polartec Is Born
But, Peaking Since 91 continues the journey from Malden Mills transition to Polartec. A turning point from a business perspective, but also because 1991 was the year Polartec introduced technical fleece. Soon Polarfleece was introduced. This fleece became the standard for many generations of users. Polarfleece was also introduced in three weights which answered the need for different weights to suit different activities and seasons.
The company could have rested in the knowledge that Polarfleece was a runaway success, but that isn’t Polatec’s way. The intervening years have actually been a rollercoaster of innovation.
Post-Consumer Plastic Waste
One of the big drawbacks of fleece’s reliance on oil was addressed with another Polartec and Patagonia collaboration. The early nineties brought recycled fleece which changed the industry for the better in so many ways.
Soon after, Powerstretch stretchy fleece was developed. This was an instant hit as fleece could now be made into base layers and other closer fitting garments. It also breathed well and its four way stretch ensured it didn’t limit user performance.
Powerdry built on this as it wicks moisture to keep the user comfortable for high intensity activity. Patagonia marketed this as Capilene. One of the biggest disadvantages with fleece is that it isn’t windproof.
Next, Polartec developed the technology to sandwich a PU layer between the fleece to create windproof and water resistant Windbloc.
The Softshell Revolution
The late nineties introduction of Power Shield ushered in the arrival of soft shell and a new and important clothing category was born. By producing a fabric which vents and yet offers protection in a broad range of conditions Polartec had again rewritten the rule book.
High Loft & Power Grid
Finally, the end of the decade saw the development of open knit fleeces that move air through the fabric and yet offer excellent levels of insulation. High Loft offers great warmth and Power Grid excels when you need a fleece that wicks away moisture and breathes exceptionally well. In Patagonia’s case this was used in their iconic Regulator product line. We also reviewed a Salewa High Loft fleece here.
Finally, as if the nineties hadn’t been packed enough, the decade ends with Time Magazine naming Polartec Fleece as one of the 20th centuries most important inventions.
The rate of fabric development in the 1990’s had been wide ranging and rapid. It was hard to see how these type of large scale developments could continue. In some areas the 2000’s was more of a fine tuning, but there were plenty more peaks to come. Through the 2000’s Peaking Since 91 remained true to the Polartec ethos.
More Windproofing & Better Breathability
Some of the early windproof fleeces had lacked breathability but Wind Pro offers four times more wind proofing than regular fleece while still breathing at 85% the rate of standard fleece.
Polartec Hardface later arrived on the scene with an abrasion resistant outer coating. This widened the potential applications for fleece products as it was ideal for items like gloves.
Thermal Pro offers fleece that appeared like a knitted fabric and became the fleece to pull on for apres activity relaxation. Polartec also used this knitting technology to create fleece with varying insulation levels. Now, fleece could be body mapped. We reviewed a Rab fleece featuring body mapped fleece here.
Power Shield Pro
Finally, 2009 saw the introduction of Power Shield Pro. This combined a soft-shell fabric with a membrane to offer a highly breathable fabric with much improved weather protection. This fabric scooped many awards and massively broadened the conditions a garment could be comfortably worn in.
2010 to 2020
As the world continued to seek ways to protect the environment, Polartec also sought solutions. With the introduction of Unifi Repreve it became possible to make products with 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Wear a Patagonia R1 fleece and you had saved nearly 30 bottles from landfill.
In 2011 Polartec used their knowledge to upturn current thinking on waterproof breathable fabrics. Neoshell was created by waterproofing a breathable membrane and allowed for a very supple fabric with stretch capability.
Alpha Insulation followed. This led the industry into the possibilities offered by active insulation. The idea of insulation that can dump heat during high intensity activity and yet keep a wearer warm when needed was an incredible innovation. Polartec achieved this by employing a knit construction that created air space without the need for breathability reducing container fabrics.
In 2015 Power Wool entered the market. By placing high performance Merino Wool on one side of a fabric and a durable synthetic on the other, Polartec created a hard wearing fabric that offered all the natural benefits of wool.
Hydrophobic & Hydrophilic
Polartec Delta was their first fabric targeted at warm conditions. Combining hydrophobic and hydrophilic materials promotes airflow while keeping some moisture against the skin. This effectively mimics the cooling process of the skin. It is soon in widespread use by fitness clothing manufacturers
Synthetic down offers the insulating qualities of down with the benefits of synthetics. The disadvantage again being that synthetics need oil for production. Enter Polartec Power Fill. This is insulation made from 100% recycled material. Now a garment could be made without any need for virgin crude oil or the feathers of geese.
Any exposed fibre is susceptible to shedding. Polartec sought to tackle this by encasing the insulating lofted fibres within the knitting process. Power Air came onto the market in 2019. Even better, Polartec sought to openly share this technology with the fabric industry to encourage other manufacturers to follow their lead. We reviewed a Helly Hansen Power Air product here.
As our new decade continues it is exciting to see what new possibilities Polartec can create. Their history shows there is no doubt they will keep innovating. Developments that make our outdoor adventures safer and more enjoyable.
But, with the emphasis on sustainable technologies we also need companies willing to commit research and development resources to offer products helping to tackle the climate emergency. In both regards, thanks to Polartec for Peaking Since 91 and for what will undoubtedly continue to unfold. The future is fleecy.
Please do check out the Polartec website for details about their products here. They also have a dedicated page about their Peaking Since 91 here.