Design Behind The Design

Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia rethinks its baselayers

An environmentally-friendly fabric and manufacturing process spurs company to redevelop one of its staple categories

The newly designed baselayers include both the capilene and merino wool categories and are perfect for throwing on for a cloudy day at the beach. Photo screen grabbed from video.

The newly designed baselayers include both the Capilene and Merino wool categories. Photo screen grabbed from video

Ventura, California-based Patagonia has been developing clothing for the outdoors since it was founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1972. During the past couple of decades, the company has helped pioneer and develop the idea of using environmentally-friendly ways to manufacture clothing and fabrics. Because of this environmental dedication, Patagonia has become synonymous not only with quality products, but also with corporate business practices that are rooted in sustainability.

Tyler LaMotte. Photo Courtesy of LaMotte.

Tyler LaMotte; photo courtesy of LaMotte

This fall, the company is taking this environment-first approach to its baselayers category by completely shifting to 100 percent bluesign-approved fabrics. What this means is Patagonia has made the commitment to have all its baselayer fabrics approved by Bluesign Technologies, a company based in Switzerland that audits apparel companies’ energy, water, and chemical supply chains to ensure they are environmentally sustainable and produce products that are safe for consumers.

In layman’s terms, Patagonia has revamped and completely redesigned its long underwear line, specifically its popular “Capilene” line, which uses a fast-wicking and quick-dry fabric, and its “Merino” line, which uses a wool fabric that naturally regulates body temperature.

To get the full story on the new baselayer designs and reasons for the company’s shift, GrindTV caught up with Tyler LaMotte, Patagonia’s snow sports and performance baselayer business unit director. LaMotte has been a player in the snow sports industry for years, spending time working and breathing the world of product development, fabric, and materials sourcing for industry titans Salomon, Bonfire, and Adidas before moving to Patagonia. And, while it sounds like tech-speak mumbo jumbo to most of us, words like “wicking,” “antimicrobial,” and “breathability” are part of a LaMotte’s fluent language. Even so, LaMotte says every consumer will be able to reap the benefits of the new designs. “In shifting to new, 100 percent bluesign-approved fabrics, we saw the opportunity to update each style and bring a consistent fit to the line that is slimmer and more true to baselayer,” he says.

Patagonia's baselayers are varied enough to wear in any climate. Photo screen grabbed from video.

Patagonia’s baselayers are varied enough to wear in any climate. Photo screen grabbed from video

In the Capilene line, LaMotte points out that new features like “locker loops” and elastic thumb loops have been added to all the shirts. The first makes it easier to hang the garment on hooks while the second is there to prevent that dreaded sleeve creep when putting on a sweater over your long underwear and to prevent a gap in the shirt-to-glove zone in snowy conditions. In addition to using off-set flatlock stitching, which makes the seams flatter so they don’t irritate your skin, the entire Capilene line will incorporate an antimicrobial odor control technology called “Polygiene,” which makes use of the antimicrobial properties of silver, to help keep down the funky smells.

Even more exciting than smell-resistant long underwear, however, is the company’s new Cap 4 one-piece suit. The single piece design promises to make you feel like a superhero, all while keeping the snow off your back on even the deepest of powder days. But as every kid in footie pajamas knows, it’s all awesome until you’ve got to hit the bathroom. According to LaMotte, the Cap 4′s unique, hip-to-knee zippered drop-back was created to address the need for bathroom breaks on the go and in the snow, and it was one of the trickiest parts of the new design. “The zipper solution we used features a lightweight zipper design that runs vertically down both sides of the hips toward the knee. Overall, we are all super pleased with how these worked out and just won a Polartec Apex award at the summer Outdoor Retailer tradeshow for our unique design,” he said.

Snow sports and performance baselayer business unit director Tyler LaMotte tests out the products across the globe. Photo courtesy of Lamotte.

Snow sports and performance baselayer business unit director Tyler LaMotte tests out the products across the globe. Photo courtesy of Lamotte

In Patagonia’s new Merino wool collection, the main change for this fall is the company’s decision to use wool that’s sustainably sourced from Merino sheep in the grasslands of Patagonia. Using this wool all the way down to its socks helps the company achieve the bluesign approval because of the way in which the sheep and wool are classified, selected, and processed. The new Merino baselayers will be offered in three different levels, each a unique blend of Merino and Capilene to provide varying levels of warmth and comfort for consumers. “All Patagonia Merino products are incredibly soft next to the skin, naturally control odor, are warm even when wet, and can be machine-washed and tumble-dried on low, making them much easier to care for than other Merino baselayers on the market,” says LaMotte.

Of course, all of these changes don’t come cheap, but LaMotte says only a few of the pieces’ retail prices have been affected. “Most of the line has held price from this spring,” he says. “Shifting to bluesign-approved, recycled content, new features, and new sourcing solutions has impacted some retail pricing, but in the end we believe the customer is getting a better product than before, built in the most responsible way, and guaranteed for life.”

Check out the video below for a sneak peek at the new Patagonia fall baselayer designs.