What Is Fleece & Is It Sustainable?

Fleece is warm, lightweight and quick drying, so the perfect partner for adventure. Our first ever product, launched back in 2003 was a fleece designed specifically to meet the needs of cold water surfers, and over two decades of development later, fleeces are still a core part of our range. But what is fleece, and is it possible for fleece to be sustainable?

What is fleece?

Fleece is a soft man-made fabric named after the wool fleece of a sheep that it resembles. The brushed fibres create a high pile fabric with lots of tiny gaps that trap air and help to retain body warmth. Like its natural counterpart wool, fleece is warm and breathable, but it is also lighter, dries faster, and is comparatively cheaper.

Developed by American textile manufacturer Malden Mills (now PolarTec) in the late 1970s, fleece was quickly popularised by outdoor clothing companies through the Eighties and Nineties. As well as fleeces, it was used to line winter jackets and boots, and for gloves and hats. Because fleece is a synthetic fabric it is easy to produce in a range of bright colours that don’t fade, which the sports and outdoor clothing brands of that era took full advantage of.

Fleece is now used across a huge variety of products beyond outdoor clothing, and the material has developed so that there are now many different types of fleece available, including lower impact and more sustainable options.

What is fleece made of?

Almost all fleece is made of polyester (specifically polyethylene terephthalate, known as PET, which is the same plastic that single use bottles are made of). 

Like all plastics polyester is an oil-based product, which means that whilst it has been produced from a finite and polluting resource it is recyclable and recycled fabrics are available. 

Some fleeces have natural fibres such as wool blended with polyester. Our Hegen Full Zip Wool Fleece is one such example, made with 63% recycled wool recovered from industry waste and blended with recycled PET polyester to create a warm, breathable, and hard wearing fabric with a lower environmental impact.

How is fleece made?

Our recycled polyester fleece is made by melting shredded post-consumer and post-industrial waste PET plastic then extruding and spinning it to create a yarn. This yarn is knitted into a fabric, dyed, and a water-repellent additive[LT1]  is sometimes applied. The fabric is then brushed so that the knitted loops on one side of it are broken (a process called knapping) to create the fleece. The process is repeated on the other side with brushes that pull fibres through from the fleece side, creating a high-volume double-sided fleece fabric. All of the fibres are cut to a uniform length to prevent pilling, then the finished fleece fabric is ready to be cut and sewn.

Is fleece warm & good for winter?

Because of the insulating properties of the air gaps between the fibres, fleece is warm and a good choice for winter and for cooler days in spring or autumn. The lofted pile of the fleece fabric traps air that your body heat warms making it a good option for an insulating mid-layer in winter or as a warm outer layer if you’re not expecting to encounter any rain or wind.

Is fleece waterproof?

Synthetic materials like fleece are hydrophobic, meaning that the fibres don’t absorb water if they get wet. That’s a real benefit if you get caught out in the rain without a waterproof shell layer on, because your fleece will absorb less water and dry out faster than natural fibre alternatives. But that doesn’t make them waterproof.

Our Bolster Full Zip Fleece goes a step further to protect you from unexpected showers with its woven fluorocarbon-free water-repellent shoulder and neck panels.

Is fleece breathable?

Fleece is a breathable fabric that wicks perspiration away from the body. The nature of its construction allows air to circulate to help regulate body temperature during activity, be that rushing to the beach to catch the tide or hiking back out carrying all of your kit after a surf.

Is fleece sustainable?

Almost nothing man-made, including fleece, is truly sustainable. However, it is possible to create clothing that has a far lower impact upon the environment than most, and at Finisterre we design to that aim.

Choosing recycled polyester fleece over virgin polyester reduces not only our reliance on fossil fuels but also requires less energy and water to manufacture the fabric without any compromise on quality and performance. We also offer a fleece made from a blend of recycled wool and recycled polyester.

When considering the sustainability of our clothes, we look at the full lifecycle. All fabrics, but synthetic fleece in particular with its brushed pile surface, release microfibres during production and use – particularly when garments are washed. Most microfibres do not biodegrade and are so small that they end up in the marine environment where they bind with toxins and are consumed by fish and other marine life. Washing garments less often and fitting your washing machine with a microfibre filter or washing synthetics in a Guppyfriend™ bag can prevent the fibres shed during washing from entering and polluting our waterways and oceans.

“All types of fibres have a propensity to shed to some extent, understanding the full impacts of their physical and toxicological presence are growing areas of research - therefore we must not limit our focus to synthetic materials.”

– The Microfibre Consortium

We strive to design and make more sustainable fleeces with the lowest possible environmental impact, so you can be warm and wear well on your adventures.

Is fleece vegan?

If fleece is made of 100% synthetic material, such as recycled polyester, and there are no animal-derived products in the trims, then it is vegan. Our Axiom and Bolster fleeces are vegan. Our Hegen Wool fleeces contain recycled wool recovered from industry waste, so are not.

Can fleece be recycled?

All our fleeces are made with recycled materials, but whether a garment can be recycled or not is generally determined by its composition. One made of a single type of material, like our 100% recycled polyester fleeces, can more easily be mechanically broken down and recycled. However, if a garment has blended fabrics where the primary material makes up less than 80% of the composition, like our recycled wool and polyester fleeces recycled wool and polyester fleeces, is generally more difficult to recycle and maintain its material value.

A fleece is an outdoor staple, but like any item it should be a considered purchase if shopping with sustainability in mind. Our warm and hard-wearing men’s and women’s fleeces are made from recycled polyester and recycled wool blend fabrics, upholding our commitment to making truly exceptional products in a more responsible and transparent way.