Tough stuff

17th October 2019

Looking for high-performance apparel to see you through a motorbike trip across the Gobi Desert? Vollebak could be the brand you’re after. But be warned: you will be a guinea pig.

Words by Alex Moore

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Vollebak founders and twin brothers Nick and Steve Tidball have found a niche: ultra-high-performance apparel for “the most hardcore guys on the planet”. Vollebak makes the sort of clothes you’d wear when rowing from Europe to South America, abseiling down the 3,212ft Angel Falls, running ultra-marathons through the Amazon or motorbiking across the African plains.

Vollebak’s clothes are more than that, however – they’re scientific experiments. Every Vollebak product, whether it’s a Kevlar hoodie designed to last 100 years or a solar-powered running jacket (named as one of Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2018), is a prototype. The extreme sports fans who buy and test-run these items realise they’re early iterations of a final, far more advanced design. Nevertheless, they sell out in days.

“When they built the Bugatti Veyron, they won’t have got it right first time,” explains Steve. His brother has been called into the lab – they’ve run into difficulties on a second attempt at a jacket made from two billion glass spheres designed to imitate the iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly. “We’re building the supercars of performance clothing, so if we expect to get it right first time, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.”

Instead, they get their early versions out into the field as soon as they can, telling those who buy them to do their worst. “We say, ‘Here’s a graphene jacket. Here’s what it does. Off you go, do what you want with it,’” says Steve. “We put it out like an R&D project and the feedback is better than anything we’d discover in a lab. One guy was freezing in the Gobi Desert, so he tied the graphene membrane of his jacket to the belly of a camel for 15 minutes. Graphene conducts heat incredibly, so that kept him warm all night, potentially saving his life.”

The mere fact that Vollebak is working with graphene – the only material to have won a Nobel Prize – is proof of the brand’s ambition. “We want to make bionic clothing. We’re not there yet, but I think we’ll get there first because we’re taking the necessary steps. Invention to commercialisation historically takes 100-150 years. Our attitude is: can it be done any quicker?”

 

This article was taken from the Autumn 2019 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

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