Sometimes the actual experience of something is hard to put into words. I have tried time and time again to explain what it feels like to surf, about how it effects everything in my life, and have even asked others who are both more articulate and more experienced then myself, but no one has quite managed it.
The same difficulty can be realised when attempting to describe the feeling of material on skin. Try it, explain how cotton feels, how silk feels and the contrast between the two. Yes, one feels smooth and the other may be rough, but in the same moment, one might feel warmer, more comforting and sturdier. No, I have not gone completely off the rails, what I am labouring towards makes sense, at least in my head.
Without driving myself into a verbal 'cul-de-sac' I will now attempt to describe what I can only summarize to you as the closest to perfect material I have ever worn. It comes as a clothing brand and its name is 'Pally'Hi'. Each item of clothing Pally'Hi makes has a different quantity of the magic stuff in it, and that stuff has the ability to feel soft and comfortable like silk yet rugged and durable like cotton, it keeps you cool when its warm and warm when it's cool. Magic yes? I thought so!
So what is this stuff called. The answer is wool. Merino wool to be precise.
Now, the first time I heard of walk shorts being made of wool, I was like, 'hmmmm, now that's a sh*t idea if ever I heard one'. That's like trying to make a surfboard out of papier-mache, probably not a good idea. But how wrong I was...
Before I go on, a bit of background might be a good idea.
Through the interconnected weave of the universe I became introduced to, and wrote an article on, 4x World Snowboard Champion Peter Bauer, if you would like some background on Peter, check out the interview here. While I was chatting to Peter he mentioned (actually he emailed me later as a kind of afterthought) that he had started a outdoor apparel company called Pally'Hi and maybe I would be interested in taking a look at it. Now, Surf Bunker is about all things surf, but we don't really do surf fashion, so my immediate reaction was : hmmm, whatever. Another person trying to make money off the back of the surf image, nope.
However, the name did ring a bell with me, like I had heard it before, so out of intrigue I had a quick look online and then it came back to me. Nic, one of our very good writers, wears Pally'Hi stuff and it looked good. Maybe due to my age, time spent in the sun or the bar, I had not made the connection. I remember Nic talking about this clothing brand that was different, ethical in a different way. Pally'Hi. As is the way with things remembered after duress, it now seemed obvious, and after getting to know Peter's huge interest in creating sustainable and eco-conscious products, I felt foolish to not have made the connection sooner.
To say I have been converted to Pally'Hi clothing is not quite accurate enough as I sit here writing this now in my 100% merino wool walk shorts. They are literally the most comfortable and coolest (temperature not street-cred) pair of shorts I have ever owned. And no, I am not just sucking Peter's di*k, the stuff really is that good.
For those of you that need some visual stimulation, the video below makes a quick case for some of the benefits of merino wool. This is not a Pally'Hi advert.
Far be it from me to say something without being able to back it up, so let's get technical for a moment, if you will bear with me. There are a few things, a few facts about this magical stuff that are not up for debate:
- You don't smell like a hippie that hasn't washed even if you are a hippie who hasn't washed.
Why I hear you ask. The factual answer is that the surface of the merino fibres are porous and the bacteria from your sweat glands simply won't stick to the fabric. Any synthetic material (especially petrol based fabrics) has a very slick/fine surface, bacteria would attach to this and reproduce immediately. Not so with merino wool. It's revelation time for me too, as that explains this strange 'airy' sensation in places where it nice to be 'airy'. Merino wool is supposed to be super warm in the winter too, but due to the current seasonal variations in temperature that remains untested by your truly.
- It feels like silk, but silk you would wear to a bullfight.
So it's soft to the touch and very very flexible, almost elastic which means it does not restrict you movement in any way. The merino wool fibres are unusually (for wool) fine which means they can flex and bend and retain a huge amount of elasticity, always returning to the same shape (unless you use it as a tow rope). The sturdy feel may possibly be in my mind just because I know it's wool, it's a hard one to explain.
- It's so eco it would make a free-range chicken that owned it's own Landrover and had a 20% share of the business look like an environmentally ethical disaster.
Merino sheep grow a new coat every year and they exist on water, sunshine and grass. As I have said, Peter believes in keeping square with Mother Nature, so Pally'Hi only uses AWTA certified wool, which vouches for the standard and quality of the fibres, and also insures the well being of the sheep (no museling and lots of cuddles). Peter hand-selects his merino suppliers that adhere to fair employment practices and have outstanding eco-consciousness. As far as we can tell, the only downside for us in Europe is that the sheep and fibres are grown in Australia, but all we have to do is wait for a solar powered cargo ship to be invented, and that is only a matter of time.
- UV resistant, stain resistant and the sheep look like 'Gangsters'
The sun protection is a given bonus which ever outdoor activity you are doing, and the stain resistance is also true as I am one of the world's messiest eaters and have yet to ruin my woollen walk shorts (still sounds weird saying it). The sheep are cooler looking than a polar bear's toenails, but that obviously has no factual advantage, it was just an excuse to show you a picture of this sheep.
So you get the idea, merino wool is, to say the least, a noteworthy fabric with which to clothe yourself, but Peter and Pally'Hi did not stop there. Now on their 6th season's work of products, the Pally'Hi design and development department have experimented and perfected a number of different 'blends'. By mixing merino wool with bamboo and in other cases virgin wool, the team have improved on their original product so that they can offer specialized gear for specific situations.
Merino + Bamboo - This blend benefits from a greater sweat wicking and antibacterial properties (stink control), adds a more silky feel and improves strength. The typical mix of bamboo with merino might be 70% merino to 30% bamboo. As you may already know, bamboo is also a highly sustainable crop.
Merino Blends - The mixtures of virgin wool and small amounts of man made fibres with merino can create a harder wearing fabric that is suited to a more rugged application.
Okay, that's enough of the technical babble, and like I have said before, we don't normally deal in surf fashion, clothes of any kind or outerwear, my one objective in writing this article is to pass on this different approach to the both sustainable and entirely sensible wonder material of merino wool.
When I first heard about everyday shorts made from wool, I pictured a jumper like my Grandma used to home-knit for me every Christmas but fashioned into a pair of shorts.The facts of the matter are that the shorts I am now wearing are the most comfortable I have ever worn and they also look almost as gangster as the sheep they were made from.
Still being curious about many things Pally'Hi, we thought we would try to get Peter on the blower to answer some questions that only he could:
SB: What was the original idea behind Pally'Hi? When did you realize the possibilities, capabilities and need for this type of outerwear?
Peter: I love merino wool - for me it is a wonder fabric with all it's performance features, simply made by Mother Nature. But the gear the market provides didn’t satisfy my aesthetics. Most the stuff looks like you are stepping down from Mt. Everest. I was missing a boardsport inspired streetwear look. Since I couldn’t find it, it was a clear sign that I would have to do it myself. Because I was confident there will be a market for it, not only for my personal needs ;-) ! So 3 years ago I started to experiment with different merino wool qualities and fibre diameters, later we started to blend it with other natural sustainable materials such as bamboo. And the result was really amazing. This is how it all started. In the beginning it was planned to be a small “online-only” business. But more and more retailers wanted to carry it and contacted us. So at the end we rethought everything regarding pricing, margin etc. ... and now we are in over 120 brick and mortar shops, mainly in alpine countries.
SB: For surfers, we think that Pally'Hi gear is super relevant purely from a performance and eco-consious aspect, is there any way we will be able to get our hands on it in the surf shops soon?
Peter: Sure, surfing is very relevant for us too. Thinking that only a small percentage has access to the kind of warm water surfing, which is mainly communicated by the surf industry with icons like palm tree, coco nuts or g-string butts. I love all these iconic elements, but to be honest 90% of my surfing days start with a 3mm wetsuit and end in a thick hoodie, with goosebumps in the transition. Most of the people surf in colder conditions, plus the overpopulation in tropic line ups pushes surfers to explore breaks towards the poles. Our reps do have surf shops on the radar, but we need surf shops where the floor staff dedicates time to the customer and explains products. A Pally’Hi t-shirt would cost between 50 and 60 euros, due to its cost-intense material - a normal cotton shirt you can get for probably 30 euros. The sales person needs to communicate the price difference and justify it with the additional performance and sustainability points. Otherwise it would still be on the hanger after the season.
SB: How long did it take to develop and perfect the bamboo/merino fabric?
Peter: For the first merino-bamboo collection we ran through an RnD process of over one year. This was a blended material. Now we just came out with a 2-layer material: A special co-knitting procedure attaches a 100% merino layer with a 100% bamboo layer. Merino on the skin for perfect climate control and anti-stink, and a robust bamboo layer towards the outside. Incredible fabric combination !
SB: What do you see for the future of Pally'Hi?
Peter: We are growing very quickly, quicker as planned. We are currently rebuilding customer service side of our team, make sure fulfilment runs smoothly and retailers and consumers are happy. This is the safest trail to sustainable success. Our brand manager, Johannes, and I - we are sharing the same philosophy, and this is very important. Obviously financing production is always the biggest challenge. We could probably push the gas pedal and go super big in a short time, but this is not our plan, this is too risky. We want to grow in a self-sustainable way, where mistakes - which can always happen - are not lethal, and where the pace is still slow enough to breath and where we can sleep peacefully. We want to have time to go surfing, snowboarding or mountainbiking and use these activities as an energy and inspiration source. Respecting this philosophy, growth will kick in automatically, but in a sane way.
SB: Thanks to Peter for being a legend and making awesome clothes that I will be purchasing more of in the future. The only thing that would make this stuff even cooler is if we could grow it closer to Europe, but I suppose we can't have everything in life.If you want a look yourself find there website here.
Next, to test this stuff in the colder winter weather, but something tells me that won't be a problem.