Why is this interesting? - The Synthetic Patina Edition

On age, time, and synthetic fabrics

Colin here. We’ve touched a little bit on manufacturing in WITI, most recently with the Loopwheeler Edition that outlined an outdated, but beloved way to make a fabric. But aside from the product itself, what people like about this method is how the cotton ages, breaks in, and develops patina and character. The same goes for certain types of denim made on mills. There’s a hidden signature from the machine that reveals itself in a natural fabric with time and wear. 

Lots of different types of patinas are prized in the world. Certain Rolex models with a “tropical” dial faded from the sun, giving the dial a unique texture and look. There’s also wear through repetition, like how a nicely made pair of leather boots improves with time. I recently wondered whether this same type of admiration will continue in the future with synthetic fabrics:

Why is this interesting? 

I was curious if, in 2030, Japanese fashion kids would be trawling forums and re-sale sites for some sort of elusive “synthetic patina.” Think worn-in Gore-Tex, frayed Nylon, or other iterations that age hasn’t granted us yet. I got some interesting answers. Friend of WITI Adam Wray mentioned that his Arc'teryx Veilance shell had already developed unique characteristics after 7 years of regular use. My pal JoRoan Lazaro sent a shot of some faded MOLLE webbing on a nicely worn-in Nylon pack.

I took the Twitter thread to iMessage with friend and WITI contributor Abe Burmeister, founder of Outlier, a company that works extensively with technical fabrics and materials. He thought that the signals that emanate from synthetic patina might be a bit different. “Synthetics don’t really fade much,” he explained, “the one exception is nylon can fade from UV, but it takes a lot of exposure so if you see that it’s a sign someone has spent a huge amount of time outdoors.” 

So the social capital in the aftermarket in this case would be the sun-faded jacket bought from someone who used to be a Swiss alpine guide for years. It is earned. It signifies time doing something. Abe continued: “Gore-Tex and the like don’t age well, they de laminate and there is a distinct odor from the breaking down glue. I imagine finding ones that haven’t de laminated is higher status... [Swiss Fabric] Schoeller is often nylon, so there is UV aging...”

But more than wear and tear, it seems that these types of high tech fabrics are often tied to a memory of strenuous activity. Abe continued, “Patching is probably a big part as freak event damage often hits faster than regular wear and tear...People who keep the old stuff often tie them to storytelling: ‘I wore that when the flash flood trapped us in that canyon…’” Like a scar, there’s a physical bridge to memory that garments can bring out. 

So the actual story isn’t what happened to the jacket in terms of elements and exposure, but perhaps the intrigue around what it did or what was achieved while wearing it. This already exists in the watch world. It is not uncommon to buy a vintage Rolex that comes with “box and papers.” I have a Rolex Datejust that included the sales receipt from Paris’s Roissy Airport in the 70s that adds an interesting little daydream about what the original owner was doing (or celebrating) when it was selected from a glass case. 

It is interesting to think about linking the entire backstory of a product to its aftermarket sale. Obviously we see this at auctions for bigger ticket items, but it is also interesting to apply it to more normal, everyday things. This isn’t just a Marmot Jacket. It is one that summited Everest in 2012. The Vuarnet Glacier glasses worn by a French mountain guide on Mont Blanc for his career are more interesting than an ordinary pair. By linking a product to its actual history and backstory, more value is created out of the ether. This seems like a business opportunity no one has actually landed yet. 

We’re obviously in the first innings of sophisticated aftermarket sales. We’ve written about the Real Real and Grailed and how these marketplaces exist to create new life for old products. But imagine the extra dimension of context and value when the full, interesting backstory is included. (CJN)

Site of the day:

It is frustrating to see the lack of interesting, original global reporting. Quartz does a good job with Africa coverage, but with foreign bureaus being sliced and diced, it seems like less of a priority for major publications. We are intrigued by the concept behind Rest of World, a newly launched site. Their mission: “Rest of World is a digital magazine that explores how people in the non-Western world are being changed by technology, using technology in surprising ways, and what these phenomena tell us about life and innovation in a global digital age. We are less interested in how the world looks from Silicon Valley, but, instead, from Nairobi, Bangalore, Kuala Lumpur, and São Paulo.” The first wave reporting has been interesting and differentiated. Worth adding to your bookmarks and watching how it develops. (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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