Unlike natural ovine wool, synthetic fleece is comprised entirely of polyester. Although this does not sound very environmentally friendly, polyester is, in fact, often made from recycled plastic, such as cola bottles. It is becoming a strong contender to wool in the outdoor wear market.
Wool is gained primarily from the domestic sheep; a descendant of the Asian moufflon. It is produced in huge quantities in countries such as Australia, China and New Zealand; and American states such as Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. A vast amount of the wool produced is used to make garments. In fact, 60% of the annual 1.3 million tons of wool produced goes straight into clothing, notwithstanding the hand-spinning market, who get wool from smaller scale farmers.
The Ovis aries could soon be made redundant, as the positive qualities of synthetic fleece begin to be acknowledged. A cheap material, made from recycled plastics, which manages to keep the wearer dry and warm, whilst also remaining fully active, is something that is not to be sniffed at.
1981 saw the development of the inspired ‘Polartec Fleece’; the first ever item to be produced using synthetic fleece material. This has changed outdoor clothing for good. The company to achieve this milestone was called Malden Mills.
Synthetic fleece is a fabulous fabric for people who love the great outdoors and enjoy being active. In the past, mountain climbers did not have the advantage of such a good product. The only way for them to keep warm on the cold mountains was simply to put on more layers. This cumbersome method must have been pretty hindering. Synthetic fleece is lightweight, but provides twice the insulation of merino wool and four times that of cotton.
Perspiration will not weigh down fleece fabric because of it’s special properties. When wet, synthetic fleece actually performs as well as when it is dry. It still insulates perfectly, it doesn’t let body odour escape, and it dries very quickly. It means that it is very good for those who are active, keeping them warm after the activity has stopped.
With the creation of such a pioneering piece of fashion, came the birth of a material that lasts. Just like plastic never disintegrates, so a material made from plastic bottles is resilient. A good synthetic fleece jacket will be with its owner for many years, so it’s worth the investment. Famous mountaineers like Sir Edmund Hilary and George Leigh Mallory would have benefited from the fabric.
As a material that is hypoallergenic, synthetic fleece even solves the problems of those who react badly to wool. It is remarkable really. So much so that, in 1999, Times Magazine named the Polartec fleece one of the hundred greatest objects of the 20th century.