We recently caught up with twin brothers, designers, and athletes, Nick and Steve Tidball of Vollebak, for our next installment of the Wild Ingenuity™ series. Taking inspiration from the natural world, Nick and Steve have created an incredible line of clothing that combines science and technology like never seen before.
How is nature woven into the Vollebak product strategy?
Back in 2017 we started on our journey towards building clothing that could mimic the astonishing survival mechanisms found in the natural world. Our Blue Morpho Jacket recreated one of nature’s most brilliant solutions to high visibility — the iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly. And the surface of our Solar Charged Jacket ($445) can be charged by the sun to glow in the dark like a firefly. Our color-shifting Black Squid Jacket ($995) mimics one of the most advanced biological materials on earth: squid skin. And while we know we’ll always be playing catch up with nature, our ultimate aim is to create synthetic materials as smart and responsive as the biological ones mastered millions of years ago.
While we’re attempting to reverse engineer some of the craziest biological materials on the planet, we’re opening up our R&D process to our customers and to nature, in order to accelerate their innovation and discovery. By taking these materials out of the research labs and into the field, we’re harnessing the collective power of our early adopters and seeing them test our gear in some of the most remote parts of the world. In the freezing mountains of Nepal one of our customers used his Graphene Jacket ($695) like a solar sail to absorb the last rays of sunlight to turn it into a life-saving device. While out in the Gobi desert another became the first to discover what happens when you tie your jacket around a camel at night. We also love hearing from people who are experimenting with our clothing a little closer to home. That’s why we have our Plant and Algae T Shirts ($110) that will decompose in 12 weeks when buried at the bottom of your garden.
Where do you go for inspiration? What out there in current culture is creating the best or most interesting vibes to motivate you?
When we’re coming up with new ideas nearly all our answers come from running and the outdoors. But we’re also inspired by the work of influential artists, designers and entrepreneurs in other industries. We’ve always taken the view that in every industry there’s someone building the future, whether it’s food, technology, architecture, cars or rocket ships. In clothing, our aim is for it to be Vollebak.
A lot of our inspiration comes from art and food. Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adrià, Olafur Eliasson, have all been creating the kind of ideas we’re interested in. While a lot of their work is highly technical and difficult to accomplish, the end result is spectacularly single minded, multi-sensory, and thought provoking. To be able to do that with clothing is where we want to be.
One of the moments that proved highly influential in creating our design principles was the El Bulli exhibition at the Courtauld Institute. This was the first time we’d got to see Ferran Adrià’s work in person. One of the things that stood out most was a bespoke plate they had created for one of their dishes. It was entirely black and molded with a series of unique oval indentations where the various elements of the dish were intended to sit.
What we were really fascinated by was how in a different context, if you’d been told it was a plate designed for a mission into deep space you would have believed it. What we saw was this amazing crossover where extreme functionality and the extremes of creativity were impossible to tell apart. And that’s where we realized we should sit. Nearly every subsequent aesthetic decision has fallen out of that.
What trends are you seeing and tracking right now that are helping you and your company plan for the future?
With radical unpredictability set to define 2020 and beyond, we’re doubling down on our approach of designing for the next century and not next season’s trends. Since starting Vollebak we’ve been asking questions that look into the near and far future. Questions around survival, isolation, fear and comfort. We take the extreme questions and challenges that adventure poses and try to solve them with pieces of clothing.
Of course the reason we started asking these questions in the first place is because the next hundred years aren’t going to look like the last hundred. As floods and fires sweep across countries, the Earth heats up, and a pandemic grips the world, we’re radically under prepared as a species for the speed at which change is taking place. We’re not suddenly going to evolve the ability to resist fire or live back in the oceans. So our survival systems need to adapt — from emergency planning and infrastructure, to our architecture and clothing.
As risk becomes more commonplace, the clothes on your back need to do more. They still need to be soft, comfortable and warm, but they should be designed with extreme performance capabilities. Clothes are going to be used to enhance our strength, our immune systems and our sensory perception. They will help us become faster, more intelligent, and even live longer, and they’ll need to be resistant to fire, wind, water, disease, and even time.
When it comes to our audience, we didn’t set out with a profile in mind. Instead we started out with the question ‘what happens if we make the world’s most advanced clothing?’ The reality is that this approach has been a magnet for people who are interested in the future, be that scientists, adventurers, or entrepreneurs. So it’s their commitment to innovation, as well as our own, that informs our decision making.
Check out Vollebak’s full line of men’s apparel on their website.