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Steve Tidball of Vollebak on the Future of Clothing & Exotic Materials
Feb 5, 2020 · 49 min
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Steve Tidball—the CEO and co-founder of Vollebak—is passionate about leveraging technology and science to create the clothing of the future. He and his brother co-founded the apparel brand in 2016 and have completely shaken up the industry. They focus on creating clothing from exotic materials such as graphene and algae, each with its own unique purpose. 

How did their business come about? What sparked the idea to launch something so revolutionary? Learn more as Steve and I chat about the future of the clothing industry, science & technology, and Steve’s love for uncommon materials. It’s a fascinating take on an industry that has gone untouched for far too long. 

Outline of This Episode
  • [0:17] I learn how Steve Tidball was inspired to launch Vollebak
  • [3:40] Vollebak: extreme clothing for extreme conditions
  • [5:25] Experimenting with uncommon and exotic materials - why?
  • [14:50] It’s only relevant if it’s actually adopted
  • [16:47] Their journey from advertising to innovative clothing
  • [21:10] A brand for a dystopian tomorrow
  • [27:00] We finished our jacket, how’s your rocket going?
  • [28:50] How Steve’s childhood influences the present
  • [35:25] Steve’s vision for the future of the company
  • [38:08] Influencing how you perceive clothing
  • [42:00] Increased transparency in the apparel industry
  • [43:30] What materials will Steve try next?
The roots of the futuristic apparel company Vollebak 

Steve and his brother, Nick, spend their free time racing ultra-marathons around the world and always find themselves competing in extreme conditions. While preparing for a race across the Namib desert in Namibia, they stumbled upon their first idea. They spent a night tossing and turning, unable to sleep as they anticipated the 24-hour trek in 130-degree heat that they would be attempting the next day.

What if a piece of clothing could solve their problem? What if they designed something that could help calm their nerves and let them sleep? 5 years later, they launched their Baker Miller Relaxation Hoodie. It’s engineered as an ‘isolation tank’ that is able to lower your heart rate and slow your brainwaves, improving your ability to sleep. Now, Steve and Nick focus on creating clothing out of exotic materials by meshing their love for design, technology, and the latest scientific breakthroughs.

The future of clothing is in exotic materials

Adventure sports athletes are often in conditions where they are risking their lives on a daily basis. They need their clothing to perform at the highest level. Vollebak strives to create clothing of fabrics that will protect these extreme athletes in the worst of conditions. But they also desire to remake each piece of your wardrobe in an interesting and memorable way. They have a long history of being maverick inventors and prefer to push the limit, doing what hasn’t been done before.

That’s why they launched a jacket coated in graphene—an allotrope of carbon that is 100x stronger than steel. They also designed their Solar Charged jacket that stores and re-emits light at night (akin to a firefly). They even created a t-shirt made of pulped eucalyptus, beech, and algae that is completely biodegradable. I myself recently purchased their indestructible puffer jacket, constructed with Dyneema®, the world’s strongest fiber. 

Steve points out that they aren’t creating anything new. These are all materials that have been used before—just not in clothing. They love when people tell them it’s impossible to create clothing from these materials. They enjoy the challenge of proving the naysayers wrong. They make the impossible possible with their revolutionary designs. Listen to hear some of the amazing applications of their jackets and how they’ve even saved lives. 

Their journey from advertising to the apparel industry

Before Steve and Nick dove into apparel, they started their careers in advertising at a point when the industry began transitioning away from huge televised ads. Social social media was becoming a driving force in advertising. Ad budgets are now spent on Google and Facebook. They learned that in advertising that it was all about perception. They had to make brands interesting

They were struck with this thought: What if each piece of clothing functioned like an ad? Each piece of apparel is named after what it is and what it does. Every product has a story. Now they spend their time creating products as they come across new and innovative materials that they could potentially use. 

Steve truly enjoys seeing his clothing being worn. It’s all well and good to create something extraordinary, but he believes it’s only relevant if it’s actually adopted and used. Someone wearing and loving the product is far more exciting to him than the conception. Perhaps that is because he is the strategist while his brother handles the creative side of the business.

Building a brand for the future

We live in a charged and unstable world with an uncertain future. Rampant bushfires and natural disasters leave me wondering what our future will look like. Steve points out that we are a frontier-based species always looking for a challenge to overcome and that radical periods of change lead to the most incredible innovations. He believes exciting changes are ahead.

Perhaps we will become an intergalactic species that will one day live on Mars. After all, Tesla’s Cybertruck was built with Mars in mind. Steve hopes that as we near the realm of space travel that his apparel can be at the forefront, driving change. He desires to create clothing that alters the plasticity of human life, enhances sensory perception, and can even adopt a breathing system.

His goal is to radically alter the perception of what clothing should be and can be. Listen to the whole episode as Steve and I discuss how his childhood influenced his current success. We also talk about the future of the company and the increased importance of transparency in the clothing industry. 

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