Can Paka Reinvent Fleece?

A sustainable spin on a beloved outdoor fabric.
Among outdoor enthusiasts fleece tends to be associated with near mythical levels of comfort and performance. It is as soft as a chinchilla, as warm as wool, as breathable as cotton, and as quick-drying as nylon. What magical creature could possibly have fur that possesses all of these qualities? None, it turns out.

Despite the name originating from the word for the covering of an animal, fleece is a synthetic material that was invented in the 1970s and is made of polyester. To achieve the classic pile texture, polyester fibers go through a chemical reaction and then are spun into threads.

Unfortunately, polyester is a plastic fiber made from petroleum and petroleum derivatives. In Inconspicuous Consumption, environmental journalist Tatiana Schlossberg pointed out that the production of polyester “results in more than 700 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, about the same amount as 185 coal-fired power plants.”

Wait, it gets worse: polyester and fleece garments shed more than any other fabric when washed, resulting in tremendous amounts of microplastics being released into the environment.
Paka has been an innovator in disrupting industrial production methods by utilizing alpaca fiber. Alpaca wool is three times lighter than sheep’s wool while also wicking moisture twice as well. Their newly released PAKACLOUD Fleece aims to resolve many of the issues with traditional fleece production while also improving upon the product. Their blend of 42% traceable alpaca fiber, 30% recycled polyester, 14% merino, and 14% recycled nylon cuts the use of plastic in half while also testing as twice as warm.

Yet all the innovation in the world wouldn’t matter if the product itself was scratchy and not very insulating. But warm (and soft) it is. This is a burly, remarkably soft fleece that I wore while hiking during the first snows of the year in Vermont.
I utilized the PAKACLOUD as a midlayer, but when I began to overheat I took off my shell and despite the snowflakes the fleece stayed warm and dry. The zippered side pockets are great hand warmers and can also stash valuables when on the move. Cinch cords along the hem allow you to dial in the fit and trap heat.

To put it simply, the layer hit on all those mythical levels, and I felt pretty good knowing it was a considerably more sustainable option, the “fleece” in the name primarily coming from the actually covering of an animal (one that was ethically shorn on a farm in the Andes). This is apparel innovation that I’ll be happy to get behind (or slip into) all winter long.

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