If you wear Vollebak’s newest jacket down a ski slope, your fellow skiers are in for a surprise. As soon as sunshine hits it, it undergoes a remarkable transformation, morphing from a black monolith into an iridescent explosion, reflecting every single color in the visible spectrum. The colors seem to warp and have a life of their own, shifting with every move you make.
You’re impossible to miss, which is exactly the point, when you’re on a mountain covered in snow. “If you get lost on a mountain at night, it is hard to find you,” says Steve Tidball, Vollebak’s founder. “If a search light goes over this jacket, it would look like a star on the mountain. You would be very visible, very quickly.”
This new piece of gear, which costs $995 and launches today on the Vollebak website, is called the Black Squid Jacket and, as the name suggests, it was inspired by the deep sea creature. Over the course of 500 million years, black squids have evolved complex networks of nerves on their skin that quickly change color and appearance. When a black squid wants to be unseen (say, if it’s on the prowl for food), it can camouflage itself to match its surroundings. But it can also make itself highly visible by radiating a rainbow of neon color, stunning any predators long enough to escape.
To mimic the neural pattern on the squid’s skin, Vollebak’s designers created the jacket from a material embedded with microscopic glass spheres. There are more than 40,000 of these spheres in every square centimeter of the fabric, but they are invisible to the naked eye. When light hits the jacket, that light scatters, giving the optical illusion that the garment itself is emitting light. The windproof and waterproof outershell can be used for many outdoor activities, but was designed with skiers and snowboarders in mind.
London-based Vollebak was founded by twin brothers Nick and Steve Tidball in 2014 and has quickly developed a reputation for becoming one of the most experimental clothing brands on the market. Recently, the brand released a Carbon Fiber T-shirt, which is made using nearly 400 feet of fiber usually found in jet engines, making the garment unusually resilient to tearing. And last year, we covered the launch of Vollebak’s Graphene Jacket, made using the thinnest form of graphite, the most conductive material ever discovered, which can help regulate your body temperature.
While many apparel brands use the latest technologies to create clothes that are incremental improvements over the status quo, the Tidball brothers are more interested in what fashion might look like a few centuries from now. They spend much of their time with scientists researching cutting-edge technologies, then applying these technologies to create clothes that are designed to solve problems. “We’re interested in what kind of clothes we’re going to need in the future and what kind of stepping stones we can build now to get there,” says Steve Tidball.
There are several business challenges that come with creating a brand that has such futuristic aspirations. None of the technology comes cheap, for instance. At nearly $1,000, the Black Squid Jacket is on par with outerwear from luxury brands like Canada Goose and Moncler. And since Vollebak is still a relatively small operation, it does not order enormous batches of clothing, which would create some economies of scale. The hurdle here is to find customers who are excited about buying high-tech clothes and have the disposable income to spend on it.