Patagonia and Uniqlo have made it a business, and now everyone wants a sweatshirt of synthetic fabric.
The 90s are back to stay? If brands like Ellesse, Champion, Fila and Invicta are reconquering the market after a few years of silence, it is a technical material bound to the white week that returns to fashion in the city: the fleece. If we are usually used to finding it in the Decathlon lanes, this year the pile appeared in the windows of Uniqlo, YMC, Burberry and & Other Stories. In other words, this material, as hot as it is synthetic, has left the paths of the technical outdoor, to insinuate itself in the retro 90s trend of 2018 and beyond. He also won the looks of a new generation of managers in New York. But its history hides an unexpected past, made up of social innovation and immigration, with a protagonist that is anything but ordinary.
The invention of the pile
The history of the pile could not be that American. The “polar fleece” was born in Lawrence in 1979. This small town of Massachusetts, renamed “immigrant city” for the great number of Italian, Polish, Irish, Jewish and Lithuanian immigrants arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century, hosted the Malden Mills headquarters, a textile production company specializing in the search for innovative fabrics. The idea of the battery stems from a collaboration between its CEO Aaron Feuerstein and Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the Californian brand specialized in outdoor. It was 1981 when the research unit of Malden Mills presented the first pile: the “synchilla”, a play on words that evokes the idea of a synthetic chinchilla.
Without wasting time, in 1985 Patagonia produced the first pile of history that became the ideal garment for skiing: the Snap-T. The declinations followed with the pocket in 1989, relaunched in this autumn winter collection. The 90s brought improbable geometric patterns and, above all, the revolution of recycled fabric starting from plastic bottles. In fact, the pile is nothing more than a synthetic fiber made from polyester, in other words, from plastic.
An illuminated company
The fortunes of Malden Mills, and the pile, did not stop growing until the tragic accident of 1995. A fire broke out in the historic factory of Lawrence destroying the entire production site. The CEO Aaron Feuerstein decided to invest the insurance money in his reconstruction by continuing to pay his 3,000 employees during the months needed to restart the work. A social and ethical choice, like that of using plastic bottles as a raw material for the production of batteries, which Feuerstein explained to the newspaper L.A. Times in 1996: “Once you betray the trust of your workers, you will never be able to go back. You will no longer have the quality you need. Once you treat them as expenses that can be eliminated, rather than the most important resource you have, you will not be able to go back. This is what every CEO should do “.
Feuerstein’s words were not born in the colleges of the American elite or during an MBA in a business school. Aaron was the nephew of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, Samuel, who worked as a street vendor on the streets of New York. Unlike many other companies, Malden Mills never yielded to cuts in wage costs or relocation to Asia. Also for this reason, the company failed in 2007 and was acquired by the group Gordon Brothers of Boston who created a new brand, the Polartec.
Patagonia, the ambition not to sell
The political and social commitment of Feuerstein was transmitted to his historical partner, Patagonia. The Californian brand that has exported the technical (and sustainable) pile all over the world was founded in 1972 by the mountaineer Yvon Chouinard. The current CEO is called Rose Marcario and seems to have the same DNA as Aaron Feuerstein. His ambition is to make Patagonia a brand capable of being totally sustainable, producing items that are resistant to time and inviting their customers to responsible consumption.
For this reason, the first day of sales, the so-called Black Friday, of 2012, the Patagonia brand had appeared in the New York Times with a rather unexpected announcement addressed to readers: “Not bought this jacket”.
Following the election of Donald Trump, Marcario had declared to the magazine Fast Company: “It is not the moment to be lazy, reserved, accomplices or silent. We are experiencing a time when business must be guided by a new economy, a new vision “. Marcario’s words are also supported by the 70-year-old founder Yvon Chouinard who, as reported by the Californian magazine, would have told her: “I do not care how much money we make”. The pile has never been so rock. Or even punk, if we want to.