The year was 1988 when mountaineers Todd Skinner and Paul Piana tackled their first ascent of the Salathé Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite, California, which lasted a full 30 days, wearing the iconic Denali Fleece that had just been launched by The North Face.
To make that fleece jacket, The North Face chose to use Polartec‘s Polarfleece, beginning a collaboration that continues to this day 30 years later.
With The North Face’s Circular Design project, the U.S. company, after a long awaited design study, found a way to produce its Denali using recycled materials and, most importantly, designed to be recycled again at the end of their cycle. Polartec provides The North Face with 100 percent recycled fleece fabric for the Alpine Polartec® line, the first of the brand’s Circular Design collections.
I take my cue from this new project by The North Face to tell briefly and in its key moments, the story of one of the leading global suppliers of innovative textile materials, Polartec.
Henry Feuerstein founded Malden Mills – what we now know as Polartec-in 1906, a textile company specializing in lightweight woven fabrics and woolen clothing, run for three generations by the Feuerstein family itself.
Malden Mills revolutionized the outdoor world in every way with the invention of technical fleece, kicking off the modern era of performance apparel, thanks in part to the invention of the world’s widest range of applied fabric technologies, enabling a new way of approaching outdoor experiences. We are talking about the early 1980s, when the outdoor boom exploded into full force.
Over the years, the company has continued to develop technical fabric processing technologies, improving the way products are designed, manufactured and used.
The story of what would become Polartec changed dramatically in 1981 when, still under the name of Malden Mills, he created a new type of polyester fleece fabric by “fleecing” the fleece, combing it with a cylindrical metal brush to distribute the fibers upward. This is how the first ever fleece was born. The fabric turns out to be lightweight, soft and able to dry very quickly, and the warmth-to-weight ratio is optimal, in addition to breathability and durability.
Problems also came up, however, such as pilling but immediately solved by shearing off the excess fabric, making it on the other hand even softer and retaining all its characteristics.
This new pattern was an incredible success, prompting at least a dozen brands from Europe and beyond to use the fabric, making fleece mainstream and coloring, thanks to fresh and colorful print moves, ski slopes all over the world, and we are between 1985 and 1986.
1988 is another very important year. Fifty-year-old New Zealand adventurer Helen Thayer is the first woman to reach either pole solo, alone and without supplies, wearing a Polarfleece jacket and half-zip sweater. Four years later, Thayer would return to the North Pole with her husband Bill, sporting a matching Polarfleece outfit.
I close with the year that saw the birth of the Polartec brand, 1991, when the Malden Mills company changed its name but not its approach.
Although I end my story here, Polartec’s history over the years has been consolidated to the present day, reinforcing its leadership in the industry and collaborating with the most important international companies in the outdoor world and beyond.
A long history that continues to be written even today, day after day.