Hot on the heels of the success of its jacket made from graphene—the lightest, strongest material ever invented—outdoor fashion startup Vollebak has a new trick up its sleeve: it’s a T-shirt made from carbon fibers usually used in missiles, jet engines, and supercars.
You may remember carbon fibers from your science lessons in grade school: Thomas Edison used them as the filaments in his lightbulb. In the mid-20th century, scientists realized how strong the material was and used it to reinforce plastic components in missiles. The British Ministry of Defense patented the production of carbon fibers, leasing it out to Rolls-Royce to make jet engines. And today, Vollebak is putting it to work in another industry: fashion.
The T-shirt, which costs $110 and drops online today, looks like a regular sporty base layer, with a stretchy, moisture-wicking exterior. It feels cool, smooth, and soft to the tough. But it’s much tougher than a T-shirt made of nylon or polyester. In fact, carbon’s atomic structure is five times stronger than that of steel. Each shirt is woven with over 120 meters (394 feet) of carbon fiber that is combined with elastane, which gives it four-way stretch. And yet, at 170 grams (6 ounces), you’re not compensating for the extra strength in weight.
Until now, carbon fibers have not been widely used in clothing. They have occasionally been used in bulletproof vests, but most manufacturers prefer to use Kevlar for this purpose because it has a stronger resistance to sharp objects and fast-moving bullets.
So, all this begs the question: Why would you ever need a T-shirt that is effectively a modern day suit of armor? Well, for one thing, it is much more resistant to abrasion than other materials, which means it will withstand more wear and tear in the outdoors. So, say you fall off your bike—this shirt is less likely to tear when you hit the ground, and by extension, your skin is less likely to get scratched. For a less dramatic example, if you run ultramarathons or jungle races with a hydration pack on your back, the constant movement can cause your shirts to wear out quickly.
This shirt is not biodegradable, because of the 36% elastane in the material. But Vollebak says the shirt was designed to be much more durable than the average outdoor shirt in your closet so, in theory, you’ll own it for longer and need to buy fewer replacements. That said, the company says that fabric recycling is high on its list of priorities.