Sometimes finding a solution to a challenge requires looking back in order to move forward. That’s exactly what Paul Long of ANIÁN did to create a line of adventure gear that demonstrates synthetics such as Gore-Tex aren’t necessary to enjoy the outdoors. He researched what people wore before the invention of synthetic and petroleum-based fabrics.
“That put me on to Melton wool,” Long says. “Which is what much of the old army gear, army pants and forestry pants were made of — stuff that was made to last and had to last. It was more function over fashion. I was getting fed up because things were more fashion over function.”
The Problem with Synthetics
Long says synthetic fabrics and the continual micro-fibre pollution resulting from their use is “the biggest problem that nobody sees.” Many fabrics used in outdoor gear, including synthetic fleece and Gore-Tex, are made from the chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs), which are also used in Teflon, Stainmaster and Scotchgard. PFCs now contaminate the earth’s air and water — and even the bloodstreams of people and animals. In a 2016 study, researchers at the University of California found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibres each wash. It also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibres as new jackets.
“As long as you use a natural fibre, it can biodegrade,” Long says. “With petroleum-based synthetics, it dead-ends. It doesn’t break down.”
The Starting Point
Using Melton wool, which has a weave so dense that it creates a wind- and rain-resistant garment (it was used originally to make sailors’ peacoats), Long designed the Modern Melton. A multi-functional shirt that wears well both in the rainforest and a downtown restaurant, it became the go-to garb — along with ANIÁN’s natural fleece sweaters — for outdoor guides, including those at Nimmo Bay Resort.
“At Nimmo Bay, our waterways are our lifeline,” says resort owner Fraser Murray.
“There had to be a way to replace the favourite fleece our staff wears with a more natural fabric that would be less harmful to our waters. When ANIÁN came up with the answer to our challenge, we loved the fact that the clothing looked great, worked well and withstood weather, wear and tear. It answered our own needs perfectly while actively reducing the microplastic pollution.”
The Trail Forward
Buoyed by the success of the Modern Melton, Long considered how he could develop an outer hard shell, something that also fused a modern technical cut with an older material.
“I got to thinking, ‘What did they wear when they first went up Everest?’” he says. “That brought us to Ventile and our new Ventile Hard Shell.”
Ventile is densely woven fabric, made from a special strain of long fibre cotton. It’s not coated or laminated, but the combination of its weave and the swelling properties of the fibres when wet provide excellent weatherproofing.
“It’s what Edmund Hilary was wearing when he climbed Everest,” Long says. “It was used for adventure wear before Gore-Tex.”
The main reason manufacturers moved away from Ventile, Long notes, was price point; it’s considerably more expensive than synthetics. While some luxury brands use it for high-end hunting suits, ANIÁN is the only company using it in a modern, technical fit.
“We’ve done two years of testing on our Ventile jacket and it’s virtually indestructible,” Long says. “You should have it for 40 or 50 years.”
This article is from the October/November 2018 issue of Douglas