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Eco Engineering Drives Polartec Evolution

“Ultimately, the most sustainable product you can make is the one that lasts a long time.”

With the term Eco-Engineering™ (an initiative aiming to use recycled and biodegradable materials across the whole product line), Polartec captured my imagination. With its products, it created not only a new category but also revised expectations on the performance of outdoor clothing.

From its creation in 1906 as Malden Mills, Polartec has evolved to be a global supplier of innovative textile solutions since inventing modern synthetic fleece in 1981. Later technologies have ranged from lightweight wicking fabrics to insulation and weather protection for any activity. 

Following its recent acquisition by Milliken, meeting with Polartec’s genial senior management team (left to right, Gary Smith – CEO; Steve Layton – the new company President; David Karstad – VP Marketing & Creative Director) at OutDoor by ISPO was very much about the future.

As Polartec CEO Gary Smith told me last month, “We’re not an outdoor brand – we’re a textile company that solves problems. Let’s do that in any activity anywhere. Let’s open up the aperture. We want to make everyone warm, safe, cool and dry.”

Polartec’s first performance fabrics made from post-consumer recycled plastics appeared way back in 1993. The goal now is to create the world’s first fully recycled and biodegradable fleeces and breathable waterproof membranes as well as other knits and insulation.

Smith has noted previously, “Polartec is committing to the pursuit of a future where everything is eco-engineered to use recycled inputs and to be biodegradable. This is the culmination of over 25 years of Polartec investment and innovation.”

Thus, the initiative aims to set a new ‘triple bottom line’ standard for the textile industry – fully recycled inputs, fully recyclable fabrics and complete biodegradability. A significant step in the company’s journey is its Power Air fabric, described as ‘a revolution in sustainability.’

By encapsulating lofted fibres within a multi-layer, continuous yarn fabric construction, Polartec Power Air fabric ‘offers advanced thermal efficiency that is proven to shed five times less than other premium mid-layer weight fabrics.’

Mike Rose, Polartec VP of Product Development, said at the time of its launch at Performance Days in Munich, Germany, “Power Air has the potential to be our most significant development since pioneering the process to knit fabrics made of post-consumer plastic bottles.”

Regarding the expectations of consumers, Smith added, “What we’re seeing is the coming together of outdoor, sport, athletic, urban and fashion – there are no lines anymore. With young people it’s all just apparel or footwear and it either works or it doesn’t.

“In a nutshell, it needs to work but it also needs to look good, feel good and be versatile. As the newer generation takes over there’s an expectation of sustainability. Ultimately, the most sustainable product you can make is the one that lasts a long time.”

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