VOLLEBAK HAS MY number. The British company, which bills itself as a maker of “Clothes From the Future,” produces T-shirts from carbon fiber (a material most often found in jet engines and MotoGP bikes); sweaters from recycled bulletproof vests; and jackets designed for interstellar space travel (literally), complete with a ballistic nylon outer shell and anti-gravity pockets (for shifting gravity fields, of course).
While I don’t entirely understand what most of that actually means, the feeling that it elicits makes me want to buy it all. I am on their mailing list, and get an email from Nick and Steve Tidball, the twin brothers and founders of the company, almost daily. I’m happy to receive it. The German-Norwegian man who models the clothes looks to be in his early 40s. He is heartbreakingly pretty, for sure, but also modestly masculine, his furrowed expression suggestive of the kind of guy who services his own Bentley in his free time.
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As I begin to write this from the front seat of my 10-year-old Volvo, waiting to pick up my girls from their Brooklyn charter school, it’s this feeling that I’m trying to understand. My life is pretty rad, I say to no one, but it’s not indestructible, planet-Mars, off-grid, Arctic-lumberjack rad. Vollebak is. For a guy like me, their clothes provide a bit of an existential escape, a superhero glimpse into the possibility of an alternate reality.
Sustainability is the foundation upon which this parallel universe is built. Traditional clothing production relies on petroleum-based dyes, which are extracted from tar sands. I admit I had no idea what those were, so I did some research. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, tar sands are oil — but worse. They not only emit three times the greenhouse gases of traditional crude production, but they also create giant ponds of toxic waste. And because this oil is thicker and more acidic than conventional crude, spills are significantly more detrimental, as they are nearly impossible to clean.
I am shocked to learn that this is how nearly all of my black T-shirts (and tires) have come to be black. But Vollebak? Their garments are dyed with algae, which grow in ponds and generates up to 70% of the atmosphere’s oxygen. Additionally, according to the brand, once the algae become a part of the garment, the carbon that was used as their fuel is captured and stored for the next 100 years.
Confirming the veracity of this is clearly beyond the scope of this piece, but even if Vollebak’s claims are only, let’s say, 8% true, I’m on board. I support an 8% change in the way traditional clothing manufacturing is currently interacting with (read: exploiting) our environment.
The second prong of the Vollebak multiverse facilitates phenomenological recalibration. After exploring the website’s product description pages, I’m confident that after buying these clothes, I should be well equipped to seamlessly move through discriminant realities as I see fit. Suddenly, I am able to imagine my 48-year-old self as an interstellar space traveler (Mars Jacket), warding off the zombie apocalypse (Apocalypse Jacket), or artificially inseminating polar bears in the Arctic (Solar Charged Puffer).
Unfortunately, I don’t have all of these clothes (yet). I did, however, start with the piece I thought I would get the most out of: the 100 Year Hoodie. I chose it because I wear hoodies — a lot. Their flexibility and classic, unembellished aesthetic assure their staple status, and a hoodie can be worn just about anywhere I’d want to be. I wear them under a vintage quilted Woolrich overshirt, or a khaki Japanese workwear suit jacket. But this hoodie isn’t that. It truly is something else.
I had my son try it on. He’s generally about as unimpressed with the world as any 15-year-old kid; plus, he goes to fashion high school in Manhattan. But he was impressed by this garment. “It makes me feel safe, like I’ve been wrapped up in something strong.” He’s right. This is Vollebak’s third iteration of the 100 Year Hoodie. The three-layer fabric, initially designed for military application, repels rain, wind, snow, and fire (yep). It really wears more like a fleece-lined windbreaker with an oversized hood. However, unlike any windbreaker I’ve ever owned, the hoodie has four-way stretch throughout, and is breathable. According to the brand, each one takes over 40 weeks to make. (And did I mention it’s FIREPROOF?)
When I put it on? Well, frankly, I feel like I should hop in my Tesla (I drive the aforementioned Volvo) and head up to the off-grid Swedish A-frame (that I don’t actually own) and tell people I built it myself.
In all seriousness, the clothes are amazing. There are a lot of companies out there making all sorts of claims about who they are and what they stand for, many of which feel performative at best. Vollebak says they make clothes for the future — our planet’s future — and they actually do. These guys are not only thinking outside of the box, but are hoping to expand the universe, to change our biospheric trajectory — one $500 sweatshirt at a time.
Jeremy Malman Writer
Jeremy Malman is a part-time journalist and full-time dad based in Brooklyn. His writing explores topics including motorsports, design, fitness, farming, and fatherhood — in other words, some conceptually comical notion of modern masculinity. He also really enjoys traveling.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.