When autumn closes its doors, and the winter chills arrive, our coats and jackets - often made out of this soft fuzzy fabric called fleece - keep us warm. But have you ever wondered what material fleece actually is?
We have all heard the nursery rhyme about Mary and her little lamb with its fleece as white as snow. So is fleece simply the fur of a sheep? Are our jackets just fashioned out of sheep's fur? Or is it a different material altogether? Let’s find out!
- What Is Fleece Made Of?
- History of Fleece
- Types of Fleece
- Polar Fleece
- Mid Weight and Heavyweight Fleece
- Sherpa Fleece
- French Terry Fleece
- Cotton and Cotton Blend Fleece
- Is Fleece Vegan?
- Is Fleece Eco-friendly?
- Eco Fleece
- Recycled Polyester Fleece
- Organic Cotton Fleece
- TENCEL™ Fleece
- Eco Fleece Brands
What Is Fleece Made Of?
Fleece is commonly made from polyester by weaving its fibers into a dense fabric and then brushing it to give the fabric more volume. Occasionally, other fibers are mixed in with polyester to give it a certain texture. Although polyester is one of the most common, fleece also comes in different fabric variations such as cotton, and hemp. There are also sustainable fleece alternatives made from recycled polyester, organic cotton, and TENCEL™.
Aptly named after the woolly coat of a sheep, this fabric has insulating properties and is brushed to imitate the feel of wool. What results is a light fabric that can keep you warm. It is the bulk that provides the insulation.
But the difference is that, unlike wool, fleece is lightweight. It has anti-perspiration qualities and is fast drying. It is often referred to as synthetic wool. Because of its properties, its inexpensiveness, and the fact that it comes in a wide variety of colors, it is often chosen over conventional wool and fur to make winter wear and even sportswear.
History of Fleece
It all began in the 1970s when Malden Mills, now known as Polartec, began experimenting with polyester. He was previously known for making faux fur and wool garments. After finding out that polyester had the ability to keep people warm, he wanted to use it as an alternative to natural wool.
Malden Mills partnered with Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, and together they released the first-ever fleece called Synchilla®. They didn’t patent fleece, so it was cheap and widely available. Soon, it caught on, and today, fleece has revolutionized the outdoor clothing and sportswear industry.
- Lightweight, breathable, and comfortable
- Keeps you warm, even when it is wet
- Extremely soft and plush
- Resists wrinkles
- Dries quickly
- Durable and water-resistant
- Low maintenance - easy to clean, and does not need to be ironed
- Fleece is usually polyester, therefore it is non-biodegradable
- Sheds a lot of microfibers that cause plastic water pollution
- Prone to “pilling” easily
- Prone to attracting dust, lint, pet hair, etc. because of its characteristic to create static electricity
- Not windproof
Types of Fleece
Used for: Blankets, Jackets, Outdoor hiking gear, Socks
Polar Fleece was the first type of fleece to ever be manufactured. It has a two-sided pile, so it keeps the wearer thick and warm.
Fleece garments come in different thicknesses, and their weight is measured by gsm (grams per square meter). Each category increases by 100 gsm. The higher the gsm, the heavier and thicker the fabric. This means that with each gsm jump, the fabric gets warmer. Polar fleece comes in categories of 100, 200, and 300 gsm.
Used for: Blankets, Bathrobes, Sweaters, Light outdoor clothing
Microfleece is the thinnest and lightest form of polar fleece, with its gsm usually being less than 200. It is also double-sided and is very soft and comfortable. Microfleece is very flexible, making it easy for you to move around, which is why it is a favorite choice for working out in the winter. It is also breathable, doesn’t leave sweat stains, and isn’t prone to pilling!
Mid Weight and Heavyweight Fleece
Fleece that weighs between 200-300 gsm is called mid-weight fleece. It is warmer than microfleece and is perfect for when you want to go out in cold weather. However, due to its thickness, it is not as flexible as microfleece but is still comfortable and breathable.
Heavyweight fleece is a fleece that has a thickness of more than 300 gsm. It is the warmest and thickest and is perfect for Arctic conditions where maximum warmth and insulation are needed. It is not at all flexible and is quite heavy, so it is suitable only when the physical activity will be minimal.
Used for: Lining material in jackets and coats
Sherpa fleece is the fluffiest kind of fleece and is very cozy. It is meant to resemble actual wool and is commonly used to line garments to provide an added layer of warmth. It is usually light knit and is softer than other types of fleece.
French Terry Fleece
Used for: Sweatshirts, Light hoodies
French terry fleece is characterized by its softness, smoothness, and thinness. It is completely unbrushed, so it lacks the fluffiness that is common among other types of fleece. As a result, it is thin and sits flat against the body. French terry fleece is not very warm, so it used to make lighter clothing.
Cotton and Cotton Blend Fleece
Used for: Sweatshirts, Sweatpants, Shirts
Cotton fleece usually has a deep pile and keeps you warm while also being breathable. Its outer layer is usually smooth, while its inner layer is plush. It feels more light and breathable when worn. But the downside is that it is not as good as other types of fleece when it comes to retaining heat, so it might not be suitable for very cold winters.
Is Fleece Vegan?
Vegan fabrics are those that do not use any animals in the process. As an entirely wool-free product, fleece is vegan. It is often called the vegan alternative to wool. However, there are some fleece products that contain wool, so it is always best to check the labels before buying!
Since it takes the properties of wool and makes it better, it is a wonder product. But the caveat is that being vegan does not automatically make a fabric sustainable. Let’s find out how fleece ranks on the sustainability meter.
Is Fleece Eco-friendly?
Most of the fleece on the market is a type of polyester, meaning that it is a petroleum-based product, the same products used to make plastic bottles. Since it is made out of non-renewable products, it is not sustainable and impacts the environment negatively. While it is possible to make fleece out of fully recycled polyester, only a handful of brands are doing so.
Since fleece is plastic, it is not biodegradable. Moreover, the production of petroleum-based products requires massive amounts of energy and chemicals.
Fleece is also a serious pollutant because it sheds microfibers when washed. Microfibers are too tiny to be filtered out by waste treatment plants, they end up in the oceans, causing marine pollution and harming aquatic life.
In order to make fleece waterproof, it is coated with fluorochemicals, known as PFAs. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they never break down in the environment, and are hazardous both to the Earth and human health. So, beware. Your favorite fleece jacket might have chemicals lurking underneath the surface...
Okay, now that we have established that fleece is bad for the environment, what’s next? Does this mean we can never wear fleece?
There is a way for you to be more sustainable without giving up your warm jackets. There are some fleece options available in the market that have less impact on the planet. Let’s look at a few of them!
Recycled Polyester Fleece
Instead of using virgin plastic that takes a toll on the environment, making fleece out of recycled polyester is gaining traction as an eco-friendly option. Once again, this journey began with Polartec. Not only did they invent fleece, but they also pioneered the process of converting plastic water bottles into fleece, making the first-ever recycled polyester fleece. Not only does it save plastics from ending up in landfills, it also keeps you warm in a much more sustainable way.
Organic Cotton Fleece
Cotton and cotton blend fleece is known for its cozy comfort wear. But conventional cotton has a very high negative environmental impact. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is sustainably farmed and is much more sustainable. It is also softer, and usually made without toxic chemicals, so it is safer on your skin. Organic cotton fleece is a perfect choice for winter wear for your baby!
TENCEL™ is an eco-friendly fabric that is sourced sustainably from natural wood and processed responsibly. TENCEL™ fleece is soft, comfortable, and warm. It is also breathable while offering functionality and stretch. It has a smooth exterior while having a velvety interior which makes the wearer feel warm and pleasant. Ideal for jackets and sweaters as well as caps and headbands.
Eco Fleece Brands
Now that you have learned everything you need to know about fleece, here are some fashion brands that offer sustainable fleece options.
Patagonia, the company that needs no introduction. Made out of 100% recycled polyester, they have fleece products for all your needs. They even come in many styles and colors!
Locally manufactured in Los Angeles, this ethical company sells luxuriously soft “cloud fleece” made from TENCEL™ Modal fabric.
Vaude sells multipurpose fleece made from wood cellulose. Even the microfibers shed during washing are fully biodegradable in seawater!
Made with recycled polyester, Kathmandu has fleece options for all your hiking needs!
This brand’s organic cotton fleece products are so soft that you will want to keep them on for the entire day!
We hope you enjoyed learning about this cozy fabric. Now grab your fleece jacket, zip it up, and stay warm! Winter is coming.