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This wild new puffer jacket is solar-powered and glows in the dark

Vollebak’s latest jacket is designed for extreme temperatures and a rapidly changing planet.

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Vollebak is a high-end outerwear brand that parlays in the extreme—pushing apparel design to its scientific limits. And while you might not think you need a puffer jacket that’s indestructible or made of virus-resistant copper or billed as “part science experiment,” Vollebak has found success on its bet that you do—with designs that look like the future but are very much rooted in the present.

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[Photo: Vollebak/Sun Lee]
The latest example? The brand’s solar-charged puffer, a white hooded parka that can store solar energy, which makes it glow at night. The puffer, available starting Wednesday and priced at $1,295, withstands cold as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The phosphorescent tech provides an additional safety feature, so whether you’re hiking a snowy winter path or crossing the street at night, others will be able to see you. It’s all part of the brand’s belief that clothes should be made more adaptive and intelligent, especially as the climate becomes more extreme.

[Photo: Vollebak/Sun Lee]
The brand philosophy first emerged when cofounders Steve and Nick Tidball, who are also ultramarathoners, were preparing for a 24-hour race across the Namibian desert and couldn’t sleep the night before. Some people might turn to a podcast or music to get a good night’s rest. But the experience prompted the Tidballs to ask how their clothing might be able to help. “We’re always going to be wearing clothes,” Steve Tidball says. “They’re always with you. What could you ask them to do?” The twin brothers challenged themselves to ask harder questions of the clothes we wear. Functional innovation became the Vollebak brand requirement.

Go beyond color or style, the Vollebak team suggests, and ask how clothing can help you relax. Or, in this instance, light you up at night. “In asking questions that seem ludicrous, you have to go into really interesting areas,” Steve Tidball explains. “That’s why we work with materials that no one else is working with.”

[Image: Vollebak/Sun Lee]
One such material? The solar-charged puffer uses a phosphorescent compound within a layer of the jacket to absorb energy and emit light so it glows in the dark. The wearer can charge their jacket with “literally anything, as long as light is shining on it,” Tidball says. That could be car headlights, a megawatt spotlight, or the highest wattage of all, the sun. You can even “paint” it with the flashlight from your iPhone. The more energy it absorbs, the longer it will glow. After about 12 hours, the bright, luminous green will fade to a ghostly light green.

That technological innovation informed the rest of the jacket design. The layer that absorbs light is incredibly weak, so the jacket needed an exterior layer to make it durable enough to wear. The Vollebak team went through hundreds of designs, materials, and construction methods to land on the final product: a phosphorescent membrane layer, along with rain- and windproof mesh, durable nylon ripstop (the same found in parachutes), and an insulating layer for warmth made out of synthetic fibers from plastic bottles, which mimic down feathers. It sounds like a lot, but Tidball says it all has a purpose, particularly as the future of fashion must become more adaptive.

“The world is becoming more extreme. We’ve always had this distinct philosophy that’s come to the fore in 2020. The world right now has plague, floods, fires. The things that 50 years ago maybe only explorers and adventurers encountered, now everyone’s encountering,” Tidball says. “We didn’t set out to be some sort of apocalypse-y brand. I don’t think the world’s about to end. But if you look at some of the things we’re facing, clothes should have a role in that.”

About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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