The Colours of The Outdoors

More than any other country in the world, the UK has proudly played a prominent role in the innovation of waterproof and outdoor fabrics. This is probably due to our textile industry, our geography and climate. Some of our National Parks, like the Peak and Lake District, as well as Scotland are known for being very wet. While both mountain sports and sailing need waterproof clothing, hiking and cycling generate sweat from more energetic motion, this sweat can chill the wearer. Rain is only part of the problem, if accompanied by wind and low temperatures, conditions can get pretty serious. 

In the UK cotton was used, and still is, for performance firstly by Burberry and Grenfell and other brands using Ventile for outer-jackets. We used Ventile on our 2014 Eyam jacket in collaboration with 6876. Due to the expense of these tightly woven cottons, back in the day, many people used cast-off work-wear - which became increasingly more cotton biased.  Cotton is not ideal when you sweat and that paved the way for rubber, and in the1950s more rubberised capes were popular for protecting against the rain, like the ones produced by Henri Lloyd (below).

Ventile went on Bonington’s 1970s expeditions alongside ‘modern’ nylon fabrics. This approach to outdoor gear was succeeded in the '60s by poly/cotton mix technology, where polyester was in the centre and the cotton fabrics spun around the outside. These fabrics were used in rarities like the Karrimor Whillian’s Box tents manufactured between 1972-1976 (below). 

During the explosion of outdoor activities in the 1960s, the visibility of these ‘Yompers’ on the hills was important. The bright orange of the Whillan’s pack is thought to be the forerunner and this was promptly followed by many other brands following suit and using colours that we now regard as ‘standard’ outdoor colours. 

The Berghaus Trango K2 jacket has been an iconic classic on and off the mountains. More recently it is more likely to be seen on football terraces rather than on the mountain sides. For me it is the colours that make this an iconic piece, cemented in the history of British outdoor wear. 

Before starting Mamnick, I dealt in vintage garments from the UK. My archive is always changing as bits become more or less desirable and I believe these things still need to be worn, so sell to friends and private clients, usually in Japan. Although on occasion I have regretted selling pieces and have bought them back!  These items have played a part in my interest in textile manufacturing, brand histories and the outdoors. 

I draw on these things when working with UK manufactures. Their stories and the broader history of outdoor clothing innovation in the UK continue to fascinate and inspire me.

Thom Barnett 

Leave a comment