Woolf PureFleece® was born in the summer of 2020 with the realisation that most outdoor clothing, especially the ubiquitous fleece, was still being made with polyester or other synthetic fabrics, as it had been since 1981, when it was invented by the Polartec company in the US.
But here in the 21st Century, this struck us as just plain wrong. All these brands, shouting from the rooftops about their sustainability credentials, yet their ranges all piled high with mountains of petrochemical based fabrics. And the more we looked, the worse it got as we uncovered numerous articles in the national press about the mounting evidence of the problems that polyester microfibres are causing not just to the planet, but to our bodies.
These tiny particles of plastic are shed every time we wear or wash our fleece and have been found in every corner of the planet. Everywhere from the deepest oceans and the Arctic wilderness, our cities and our pristine national parks. Sometimes it can be found in our rain. These Microfibres have also been found in the bloodstream of our unborn babies and recent evidence shows an excess of plastic is common in the bodies of those diagnosed with bowel cancer. Plastic microfibres are now classed as the most abundant man-made pollutant on earth.
Aware of the issue, the outdoor industry makes a lot of noise about combating this, with various research programmes, vague phasing out plans and switching to ‘recycled’ polyester. But as Friends of the Earth point out, there’s probably nothing worse you can do with a plastic bottle than recycling it into tiny microfibres. Overall, its estimated only 5% of all polyester is recycled. And some polyester fabric suppliers are even buying plastic bottles just so they can break them down and badge their fabric as ‘recycled’ polyester. Probably the most famous outdoor brand, with a high profile eco image, actually revels in the name of some of their products, such as ‘Synchilla’. We felt there had to be a better way.
Earth deserves better
As we searched for a new way to create fleece with natural fabrics, we quickly realised that wool had to give us the answer. Specifically Merino Wool, a very soft and fine fibre that not only feels great against the skin but already had a legendary status among outdoor folk as a base layer, thanks to the pioneering work of New Zealand brand Icebreaker. Warm and breathable, Merino is also naturally odour repellent and great at wicking moisture away from the skin. And it performed way better as a fibre than anything synthetic.
A quick search showed us that there were a few brands already producing merino ‘fleece’, but on closer inspection it was obvious that these garments were no more than slightly thicker versions of merino base layers. Some had even created fancy knitting patterns that looked to replicate the thicker 'loft' we find with polyester fleece. But ultimately, they struggle to be as durable as polyester fleece as they’re knitted, and so easily grow misshapen or become snagged. While a positive step in the right direction we felt there had to be a better way of using Merino, to give us something more fleece like and durable.
We approached a specialist woollen mill here in the north of England, regarded as one of the world’s finest, and spoke with their design team about our search for a better way to create a natural fibre fleece. The answer came when we created our first fabric samples with them, not just from Merino but the finest Merino Lambswool, the first shearing from young Merino sheep, the finest available. The fabric was precision woven, rather than knitted, using a laborious 10-week process (and given an even longer name) and crucially, gave us the required loft and feel we were looking for. And what’s more it looked fabulous too…the wool fabric was given a beautiful natural colour thanks to the four different coloured yarns used to create the overall finished colour. We also went to great lengths to avoid plastic anywhere else in the garment, which is harder than you would imagine. Did you know most thread is also made of polyester? And most zips in outdoor garments from nylon?
Change your fleece for good
After creating sample garments and then months of testing over the winter and summer into 2021 we went into production with PureFleece®. Our first garment, a pull over quarter zip fleece, has now been followed by a Gilet Vest and Jacket design. Superior insulation, wind resistance as well as natural breathability gives it a first rate performance profile. And our testing programme proved it was as comfortable on a morning dog walk along a Norfolk beach in the summer as it was life saving on a cold and windswept November afternoon halfway up Snowdon.
It’s been quite a long and hard journey to get to this point, launching a new brand, with a fantastic, high performance new product, but after launch the reaction we’ve had from our first customers has been so worth it, with excellent and detailed feedback on performance. From wilderness kayakers to Cairngorm National Park rangers, from equestrian folk, farmers and hikers and everyone in between, it’s been amazing to find just where Woolf PureFleece® has ended up out there. Because ultimately that’s what we set out to do. Create a fleece that allowed us all to enjoy the wild, without trashing it.
David Henderson - Founder