Patagonia & the Snap-T sweater
An iconic piece of clothing between activism and streetwear
Words: Adrian Bianco
Fashion and trends come and go. Probably never so fast as in the last few years. If it was still the Roshe Run that ruled the streets and Instagram feeds for more than six months in 2010, then it was the dad sneaker in 2018 – along with techwear, high fashion brands x streetwear brands, countless collaborations, cloud-rapper sunglasses, bucket hats, ugly sneakers, then again tech sneakers, rings, chains, camouflage trousers, suit trousers, thrifting and wasn’t there something about platform shoes, or were they never really out?
Streetwear and fashion have become complicated: fast, superfast, everything is now mainstream, sometimes exhausting, sometimes annoying. Everything is far too serious and with the exception of a few brands and marketing action, not in the slightest bit environmentally conscious. But they do still exist! The good old classics. What now sounds like an advertising slogan from the 90s for a CD box advertisement on DSF – only Nineties kids will remember – is a fulminate declaration of love for iconic designs, products and stories that will outlive any short-term hype, fast fashion, Instagram outfit post or the next trend.
Timberland boots will never go out of style, the TNF Nuptse remains timeless no matter how many kids wearing one try to look like UK roadmen, a Levi’s 501 is always a Levi’s 501 and a Patagonia Snap-T sweater is still likely to be the most timeless and legendary fleece sweater of all time. That is probably because most of the products listed were never designed to make kids look cool in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and far into the future. No one thought about Instagram likes, Youtube fashion bloggers, rappers in the Bronx or roadmen from England when designing, drawing and revising the initial sketches. The product was designed for a reason with a specific purpose in mind and only after this purpose was met was there a reason to buy one or more of these products. With design considerations such as a firm grip when running, something to keep extremities warm while hiking, protection from rain and cold, breathability, and simply a warm sweater – vintage clothing has a certain amount of authenticity and romance that many, not all, modern creations can’t come close to.
There are not too many who think about function and utility today. Not to mention what impact our next purchase will have on our environment; where the materials for it come from; who manufactured the products; and whether we will still want to wear them in ten years’ time. Nobody asks why a pair of Triple S is now made in China and will anyone still wear them in five years’ time? Unlikely. Most won’t want to wear the shoe anymore tomorrow and some didn’t even want to wear it yesterday.
Patagonia is different. The brand from Ventura, California stands for completely different values, a different philosophy and a different world view. The focus is not on fashion or trends. Founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, the brand has a completely different vision: the production of functional and useful outdoor clothing made with the best possible environmentally-friendly circumstances and production methods. It is a mountaineering label that aims to protect the forests, valleys and mountains that its consumers access, hike and scale. Which makes sense, if you think about it carefully. This, that or the other streetwear brand can by all means start to think about how they might keep our streets clean, but we stand by Patagonia. The vision that Yvon Chouinard had at the outset when he established the brand, to achieve functionality, to cause the least harm to earth systems and proactively save the earth, is still at the heart and soul of Patagonia today.
There is for example its 1% For the Planet campaign that has collected over 89 million dollars since 1985 with the proceeds donated to local and international environmental organizations. 1 % of the worldwide sales from Patagonia go to good causes annually. Whether you realize it or not, your next Snap-T has a small impact on the planet.
With its Worn Wear campaign, Patagonia is actively helping to repair its own products and even those of other brands. So, rather take care of your old clothes before you buy new ones. It’s not often that a brand actively discourages you from buying its products. Everything you buy from Patagonia today, you can have it repaired tomorrow, also the day after tomorrow or in four years’ time. Or you can buy something from its Worn Wear Shop that offers only used and refurbished pieces. Give a piece of clothing a second home. Recycle new life into your closet by wearing clothes that someone else has previously owned and by passing on those you no longer wear.
The brand from California has absolutely nothing to do with the fashion world, with trends, with the fast pace of the industry or with the desire and inclination to be cool – Patagonia does not wish for that at all. Patagonia doesn’t need to. With the focus on its own core values – values that matter – the focus on functionality, wearability and environmental protection, Patagonia has more important considerations and attributes. But whether Patagonia would like it or not, it still created one of those classics. A design classic. A product that was designed for a clear function, but then took on a life of its very own and became an icon. We are talking about the Snap-T Fleece, the fleece of all fleece. One fleece to rule them all, one fleece to find them, one fleece to bring them all and drive them to the mountains. By the way, I am certain that one or more Hobbits would wear Patagonia – probably all would.
Joking aside, there is indeed no other fleece pullover that has won over both the mountains and cities alike, and still reigns supreme like the Snap-T. It is noted for its iconic design, the small breast pocket, the incredibly diverse colour schemes and its many cultural accomplishments along with its connection to music videos, 90s sitcoms, fashion magazines and recently Instagram feeds. The Snap-T is a cult design that has achieved meme status – the gold ticket of 2019. Just google fleece and memes or check out the stories of avid outdoor fans on Instagram. Yes, there are fleece memes.
How could this happen? Why did this Fleece become so legendary? Was it the story behind it? And how do I write about it without talking about fashion, trends and streetwear so much? Patagonia, as I said, is above this, and I respect that very much. Let’s try.
It all started in 1985 with a material that should be lighter than wool however just as warm, but faster to dry and easy to handle and take care of. It must have been something along these lines on a brainstorming board at Patagonia headquarters. The answer was Malden Mills and its founder Aaron Feuerstein – I’ll just call him the Errolson Hugh of fleece. Together with said textile manufacturer, Patagonia developed Synchilla, synthetic chinchilla. Difficult to pronounce, but way ahead of its time.
This fleece stands for the ultimate in functionality, utility and smart design. Back then the term techwear didn’t exist, but this iconic, comfortable fleece that performed well for mountain climbers and hikers, the one that your uncle and aunt wore too, was one of the first technical garments and so, pretty cool for »just a fleece«. The fleece captured the spirit of the times: the high zipper and collar, the unbelievably comfortable fit, the warmth despite the cold and moisture, and not least the range of colours – this fleece became the pinnacle. Naturally over time modifications were made, new colours and models such as the Diamond Quilt Pullover Snap-T® and the Synchilla® Tri-Color T-Neck, and then finally in 1989 the inclusion of the iconic, small breast pocket that keeps everything safe and dry, for instance the car keys when outside in nature and the greenery of the city – but we don’t want to talk about fashion and streetwear culture.
1994 was a special year for our Snap-T. Yvon Chouinard’s vision of sustainability and Patagonia’s desire to not only set foot on the mountains and in nature, but also to protect them brought about special innovations. Patagonia was the first Outdoor company ever to use recycled plastic to produce its Snap-T fleece. 1994 and already ahead of its time. What many brands still don’t have on their radar today, Patagonia was already making the first moves with back in 1994 – the reuse of plastic, recycling, the wish to produce sustainably and to reduce its impact on the environment.
In the years following, Patagonia continued to dare with innovation and modifications: extended pockets, hoods, more organic materials such as in 2013 for the Diamond Quilt Snap-T® Sweater. Since 2014 there has been a down version, a cashmere version and a wool version of the Snap-T. The Snap-T is over 30 years old and is still progressing forward, changing with time – functionality does not sleep and neither does environmental awareness. For more than 30 years, Patagonia has produced the Snap-T and provided a vision of functional outdoor clothing and environmental consciousness.
And so far, we’ve hardly spoken about fashion. There was not a word about the different colourways, the Ivy League trend that spilled over from the USA to Japan and again back to America and the rest of the world, college styles, FRIENDS, Shia Labeouf, Drake, Kanye West and the Kardashians in Patagonia. Not to mention the connection between streetwear, workwear and Outdoor clothing; why we love functional clothing; what influence hip-hop, gangster and Gang Starr have on our style; and why so many streetwear fans love brands such as Patagonia, Carhartt WIP, The North Face or Dickies.
One could also talk about how incredibly good it is to buy something that wasn’t designed to be limited, sold out, doesn’t follow the rules of hype and doesn’t need a collaboration to put it on the trend addicts’ radar. Or how good it feels to buy something sometimes that anyone can buy, something comfortable, functional and nevertheless when combined right looks quite fresh. Ok yes, even with limited sneakers. One could talk about so many contemporary reasons why Patagonia is where it now is. But it wouldn’t do justice to why Patagonia is really here and why it manages to be a big name consistently in the midst of all of the fashion madness, without ever prescribing to it. The player of the day, without wanting to play, so to speak.
Patagonia and the Snap-T are simply good, functional, serve a purpose and actively help to protect the environment. Good can be so simple. And now back to the age of Nineties advertising and bad sales slogans… The Snap-T remains a classic and is an icon, and perhaps it’s high time for a new fleece for you.
More about Worn Wear :
Discover the Patagonia range at HHV: www.hhv.de/shop/en/patagonia
Visual content: Patagonia