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Outerwear Innovation Ramps Up With New Sustainable Performance Traits

Outerwear brands and fiber companies continue to innovate to create warmer, more durable but lightweight performance products with an eye on sustainability.

The North Face has reinvented one of its largest product lines, ThermoBall, using recycled materials in what the company said is an important step toward creating sustainable change at scale.

A division of VF Corp., The North Face said the new approach to ThermoBall, the brand’s technical winter line, is part of its continued quest for inventive new ways to make products with more sustainable materials, while maintaining the quality and performance expected from the brand.

ThermoBall Eco is being reintroduced at The North Face stores and online this month in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when many consumers will to purchase winter clothing and gear.

“We know that material production and manufacturing accounts for 60 to 85 percent of our total environmental impact, not shipping to our customers (which we offset) or consumer use, but the production of materials and manufacturing products,” the company said in a blog post. “This motivated us to change the materials used in our largest collections to recycled materials. In this case, we’re taking plastic bottles and recycling them into fibers and fabrics. Converting ThermoBall to recycled materials is an important step toward creating sustainable change at scale.”

The North Face noted the new ThermoBall Eco is the same popular lightweight down-alternative jacket at the same price, but is made from recycled polyester fabric and recycled insulation. The recycled insulation, sourced from Primaloft, is spun from at least five plastic bottles diverted from landfills.

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The product evolution builds on The North Face’s efforts to switch to recycled fibers across core products like its Denali jackets and the Reaxion and Glacier lines, the company said, along with the 2018 launch of the Bottle Source collection sourced from plastic bottles from national parks.

Unveiled in 2013, ThermoBall features synthetic insulation with small round synthetic fiber clusters that trap heat within small air pockets mimicking down and offering the lightweight warmth and compressibility of down jackets with the wet-weather performance of synthetic insulation.

The company noted that independent testing by Kansas State University has shown that ThermoBall has warmth equivalent to 600-fill goose down. ThermoBall Eco comes in six colors in adult hoodie and full-zip format.

Elsewhere in outerwear, Polartec and Kitsbow recently introduced their latest collaborative effort—the Alpha vest and updated Alpha jacket made with Polartec Alpha featuring the concept of active insulation. Kitsbow said it has found the insulation effectively regulates core body temperature throughout the widest range of conditions and activity levels.

Originally developed for U.S. Special Forces as a breathable insulation technology, Polartec Alpha eliminates the need for shedding or adding layers during dynamic and static activities, per the company. The combination of insulation, lining and durable water-resistant shell are designed to work together to manage breathability and body temperature.

Zander Nosler, CEO of Kitsbow, said, “The Alpha technology does a superior job at balancing airflow, insulation and moisture transport, which is exactly what riders need to stay comfortable and warm, whether they’re on a grueling bike-packing trip or commuting to work.”

The new Alpha jacket has also been refined and improved with new colors, while the Alpha vest serves as an insulation layer that can be worn on its own or under a wind shell.