Interview

September 4, 2020

Evolving Human Performance Through Clothing: Q&A With Vollebak CEO and Co-Founder Steve Tidball

FabCafe Global Editorial Team

The YouFab Global Creative Awards has announced its annual call for entries for this year’s competition, which is headlined by a prestigious panel of judges, including Steve Tidball, the CEO and co-founder of clothing company Vollebak.

Founded in 2016 by Tidball and his twin brother, Nick, Vollebak uses science and technology to create clothing from the future. From the world’s first Graphene jacket, made using the only material in the world with a Nobel Prize, some of the toughest T-shirts on earth made out of materials such as carbon fibre usually found in jet engines and supercars and the same embedded ceramic technology as the International Space Station, and 100 Year Pants built to withstand fire, nature, water, and the rest of this century, Vollebak has been behind some of the coolest and most innovative items of clothing in recent years. The company has won innovation awards from TIME and Fast Company and has been compared to Tesla and elBulli in its commitment to the future.

Steve chatted to FabCafe about his inspiration, the role clothing plays in increasing the plasticity of human life and the future of the fashion industry post COVID-19.

This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

I’m the CEO and co-founder of Vollebak, where we use science and technology to create clothes from the future. Since our launch four years ago, we’ve created the world’s first Graphene Jacket using the only material in the world with a Nobel Prize, released 100 Year clothing designed to outlive you, created a Plant and Algae T Shirt that can biodegrade and turn into worm food in 12 weeks, and created jackets that are 15 times stronger than steel.

  • The Graphene jacket is made with graphene, the lightest, strongest, most conductive material ever discovered and the only material in the world with a Nobel Prize.

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We came up with the idea for Vollebak just over a decade ago while taking part in some of the toughest races in the world. Running across deserts, over the Alps and through the Amazon jungle made us realise that the sports kit that was out there wasn’t actually as progressive or as smart as you were made to believe. When other fields of technology were advancing really fast, clothing wasn’t.

From the outside, we could see an industry that was fighting wars over pricing, trends and consumer eyeballs. But we couldn’t see the same level of competition around true innovation or ideas. And our background was in ideas. Before launching Vollebak, we’d worked together in advertising for 15 years helping creative direct some of the world’s biggest brands like Adidas and Airbnb. So we took our experience from here to build our own brand.”

The Relaxation Hoodie was designed to help people chill out and create space in the harshest and most testing environments.

Over the next decade, the intersection of science, sport and clothing is going to witness exponential advances. For the last 50,000 years, clothes have been used to keep people warm, dry, cool and alive – they are essentially tools to help us maintain stasis. But over the next 50 to 50,000 years clothes are going to be used to increase the plasticity of human life. They will enhance our strength and sensory perception. They will help us become faster, more intelligent, and live longer. 

Rapid advances in material technology, sports science and space travel are aligning to create the perfect conditions for a revolution in clothing. By bringing together the learnings from each of these radically disparate fields, we plan to be the ones driving this forward. 

Working in the intersection of these areas has helped us grow incredibly quickly from a brand that started with just two pieces of clothing four years ago, to one where you can kit yourself out for almost any adventure anywhere on Earth.

The Indestructible Puffer is built from the strongest fibre ever created, and 15x stronger than steel.

Every piece of clothing we make is based on questions that haven’t been asked of clothing before. Our Solar Charged Jacket is designed to store and re-emit sunlight. Our Deep Sleep Cocoon is designed to help you sleep in space. Our Relaxation Hoodie is designed to help you relax in cramped and isolated conditions. And our 100 Year Pants are built to survive a century of wear and can even go through fire. 

We take the extreme challenges that adventure poses and try to solve them with pieces of clothing. This singular focus on hardcore innovation is the thing that truly differentiates Vollebak.

Built with 65% copper, the Full Metal Jacket was designed to help pioneer the future of intelligent and disease resistant clothing.

While the events of 2020 feel closer to a sci-fi movie than they do to the events of 2019, for a brand like ours, the world today looks a lot like the reality we’ve been exploring for the last four years. The last six months have demonstrated exactly why we should be designing clothing for the needs of the next century and not the next season. So we’re going to continue ignoring what everyone else is doing, and double down on our mission to ask questions of clothing that haven’t been asked before.

Built to help people sleep anywhere on Earth or in outer-space, the Deep Sleep Cocoon is a self-contained microhabitat that’s a cross between a cocoon and a spacesuit that strips out light and allows the wearer to see out but no one to see in.

The thing that is likely to define the next century is the thing that has defined 2020 so far – radical unpredictability. As floods and fires sweep the globe and the Earth heats up, we’re completely underprepared as a species for the speed at which change is taking place. Clothing is our primary defence mechanism against danger, so it will be the role of fashion designers to build designs that look and feel like normal clothing, but with advanced performance capabilities built in.

At the same time, designers need to get back to the point where you could throw your clothes away in a forest and nature would take care of the rest. Or we need to progress to a point where all your clothing lasts as long as you do. It’s our responsibility to explore how we can change people’s behaviours around clothing – and we’ve found this is most effective when the design idea is simple and entertaining.

The Plant and Algae T shirt is built from pulped eucalyptus and beech from sustainably managed forests and algae grown in bioreactors and biodegrades in 12 weeks to become worm food.

In the next 18 months, I expect to see an enormous shift within the creative industry worldwide. I think that the greatest creative minds will share a singular focus in responding to the new reality that we’re experiencing. As soon as you have something that affects the entire planet, there’s going to be a creative responsibility to act on it. 

But of course, one of the funny things about the creative industry is that you can choose whether or not you want to react to reality. Some creatives might take the opposite direction, and run away from reality rather than running toward it. For example, I’m expecting to see that sort of shift towards fantasy and escapism in industries like film. 

The Garbage Watch, to be released in 2021, is made from electronic waste.

Over the next 10 to 10,000 years, clothing has the potential to help us become stronger and faster and even live longer. But everything from exoskeletons to integrated monitoring and intelligence will require power distribution. So that’s why we’ve started to make clothing out of naturally conductive materials like graphene and copper now. We’ll continue to work on the material building blocks for intelligent clothing, but also start to explore the types of intelligence we want to layer on top of it.

The 100 Year Jacket is engineered to withstand the toughest environments on Earth, being waterproof to over 43,000mm and crazily tough.

I’ll be looking for ideas that I’ve simply never seen before – something that I have no choice but to sit up and pay attention to. For me that’s what makes a great idea, no matter what field it’s from.

Having worked together in advertising for so many years, we’re used to collaborating. As twin brothers, if one of us comes up with a rubbish idea, we’ve got no problem telling the other one that it’s rubbish and neither of us will be offended, and I think that’s pretty unusual and valuable in a creative relationship. There’s no tiptoeing around feelings. All that matters is the idea.

All photos via Steve Tidball/Vollebak

Go to YouFab 2020 Official Website now, Click here

YouFab 2020

Theme: Contactless
In line with its mission of capturing the zeitgeist through art and design, the 2020 award theme is “Contactless”. As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced sudden changes to social systems and personal lifestyles through quarantines, lockdowns and social distancing measures, YouFab is calling for designs that shed light on experiences that bring humanity back to everyday life, as well as works that present actual experiences where being contactless is stronger by default.

Entry Requirements:
The YouFab awards are open to all individuals and corporations around the world, regardless of age and nationality. All works, products and services past the planning stage will be accepted, and works can be physically or practically implemented, currently in operation or have already been published or released. Starting 2019, works done without digital production tools are also welcome.

Submission dates: Saturday August 1, 2020 – 12:00pm JST Saturday October 31

Grand Prize: Kohei Nawa-designed trophy and US$2,000 

First Prize: Kohei Nawa-designed trophy and US $1,000

Student Prize: Certificate and US$500

Special NewHere Prize: Certificate and US$1,000

Go to YouFab 2020 Official Website NOW

Inspired by the ‘Fab’ revolution as prescribed by MIT maverick Neil Gershenfeld, FabCafe is a series of ‘Fab’ innovation labs that specialize in creating products, services and experiences of the future. Here, maker enthusiasts, businesses and everyday people can access digital fabrication tools and experiences for fields ranging from fashion to bio. Founded in Tokyo in 2012, FabCafe’s global network now serves and fosters creative communities in 11 locations around the world, including Bangkok, Barcelona, Hong Kong, and many more. Subscribe to FabCafe Global newsletter here

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  • FabCafe Global Editorial Team

    This articles is edited by FabCafe Global.

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    This articles is edited by FabCafe Global.

    Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on this article with us.
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