June 22, 2018
Words & Photos: Icebreaker
What does it take for a textile to be truly sustainable, feel great in everyday life as well as during peak performance, and be a favorite of ultra-marathon runners? Bryhn Ireson, business unit manager for the training category at Icebreaker, fills us in on the breakthrough textile, Cool-Lite™.
We’re always looking for new ways to enhance merino, and we were researching cellulose-based fibers, which come from wood pulp. But we weren’t comfortable with their footprint. Except for Tencel®, which comes from Eucalyptus trees and was sustainable with minimal impact on the environment. That’s when we said, ‘Now we can start using this to enhance merino.’ That blend of merino and Tencel® creates the Cool-Lite™ textile.What makes Tencel® a smart choice for the environment?
Our suppliers grow the Eucalyptus on non-farmable land, which means the trees aren’t displacing food production in any way. Their production uses 10 times less water than cotton. And it’s a closed-loop process to turn the wood pulp into the cellulose fiber we use, which means 99% of the chemicals are captured and used again. It’s truly ground-breaking. They don’t get lost in the downstream effect. The manufacturers won the EU’s European Award For The Environment for this. Finally, at the end of a garment’s life, Tencel®, like wool, is biodegradable, so it degrades and won’t clutter up the oceans or landfill.
“It’s a closed-loop process to turn the wood pulp into the cellulose fiber we use, which means 99% of the chemicals are captured and used again. It’s truly ground-breaking.”
Tencel® is incredibly natural against your skin. It works well with your body’s flora and fauna, whereas synthetics can actually disrupt that and change your skin chemistry. It’s a natural product that enhances the way your body heats up, cools down, sweats and works naturally, which makes it symbiotic for your body.How does it feel to wear a Tencel® blend?
Cool-Lite™ combines merino with Tencel® to keep you cooler and drier, which makes it a wonderful fabric for summer. Both merino and Tencel® fibers hold moisture on the inside, so they feel dry and comfortable next to your skin. Tencel® is softer than silk, it feels cooler than linen, and is incredibly strong. Merino wicks away moisture, but Tencel® does it three times faster, so someone working out wearing a merino/Tencel® blend is going to find the sweat moves across their body faster, so they feel cooler. In Tencel®, you can be hot and sweaty and comfortable. In a synthetic garment, you just get hot and sweaty.What makes synthetics smelly and natural fibers odor-free?
Synthetics such as polyester don’t absorb moisture, it just stays on the surface of the fiber. And that provides a warm, wet environment for bacteria to grow. But with merino and Tencel®, the moisture is sucked inside the fiber, where bacteria cannot grow.
“Tencel® is incredibly natural against your skin. It works well with your body’s flora and fauna, whereas synthetics can actually disrupt that and change your skin chemistry.”
We’re intimately connected with the seasonal cycle that creates our fibers, whether it’s with the merino sheep high up in the Southern Alps, or in the Eucalyptus crops that grow on marginal land in South Africa. We focus on what happens to the fiber once it leaves the farms, and make sure the chemistry along the way is not harmful to land or water resources. We’re also connected to the people involved – making sure our farmers are supported. These factors are all important to us in how we make Cool-Lite™ products. We recently launched our global transparency report, which is a great resource for people to look in-depth into our products, from supplier all the way to the shelf. The people, the provenance – everything is revealed so people can see that merino, Tencel® and our Cool-Lite™ products are a great environmental and sustainable choice.How important is it to test out the products?
People that are active in the outdoors have high standards, and really want their clothes to perform at high levels. We make sure that we listen to them every step of the way, whether that comes from our own wear testing, through comments online, or through one of our key customers like backcountry.com. We’re currently partnering with Backcountry to get people wearing the Cool-Lite™ Sphere T-shirt on a bootcamp and then let us know how it performs.
“We’re intimately connected with the seasonal cycle that creates our fibers, with the people and the provenance – merino, Tencel® and our Cool-Lite™ products are a great environmental and sustainable choice.”
We’re really proud of the fact that our Cool-Lite™ T-shirt won best ultra-running top (Ultra Running Magazine, March 2018). To be able to take a tee from our adventure line and run an ultra-marathon in it and be comfortable really speaks to the versatility of our product.How does Cool-Lite™ fit different needs?
In terms of training, Cool-Lite™ moves moisture away from your body to boost your performance, whether you’re running, working out indoors or practising yoga. When it comes to adventure, it wicks away moisture, has a great drape and feels comfortable in a range of temperatures. So you can hike in it, carry a heavy backpack around, wear it for multiple days and it doesn’t smell. And it’s part of our life category too, because it drapes beautifully, it’s incredibly soft, and just feels great to wear in daily life.