Welcome to winter - Fleece, glorious fleece!

Wool is the textile fibre we get from sheep fleeces, a fleece being a whole body's worth of sheep's wool cut off in one go by a shearer. We get mohair and cashmere wool from goats, and qiviut wool from the musk ox, taken from the super-soft inner layer of fur from the animal's beautiful two-layered coat. We harvest angora from rabbits and exotic wool from alpaca and other members of the camelid family. Highland cattle and Mangalica pigs – woolly pigs from Austro-Hungary - also have woolly coats that can be harvested. Sheep fleece is wonderfully warm. Exotic animal fleeces are used to make expensive, exclusive yarns. But the word 'fleece' has an entirely different meaning in the world of modern fabrics, and this new type of fleece has taken over the fashion sector. In the old days we kept warm with real wool, these days it's more likely to be a contemporary fleece fabric. Here's what you need to know about it.

The history of fleece

Fleece was invented back in the 1970s, developed by a firm called Malden Mills, who created a new polyester fleece that inspired the fabrics that are used so widely today. Before then the company was known for its faux fur and wool, and they were keen to replace these traditional fabrics with something lighter that didn't involve animals. When Malden Mills partnered with the respected outdoor clothes firm Patagonia, the result was Synchilla fleece, a remarkably strong fabric created to imitate wool. They wisely decided not to patent their invention, which meant anyone and everyone could have a go. Now renamed as PolarTec, they still make many miles of their famous fleece every year. As do many, many more fabric manufacturers around the globe.

How does fleece compare to wool?

Fleece is softer and lighter than sheep wool. It's usually cheaper, and it doesn't make you itch like real wool can. Wool is environmentally friendly in that it's a natural product. But climate change means we need to cut the number of farm animals we breed quickly and dramatically. Fleece is only eco-friendly when it's made from recycled plastics, so it has an environmental impact of its own. It can be a difficult choice but fleece often wins the battle, being more breathable than wool with all the warmth of a natural fabric. Because fleece has pile on both sides, being fluffy front and back, air pockets are easily trapped between the threads, which means the fabric holds onto warmth really well. The fabric lasts and lasts, and the cloth wicks perspiration and moisture away from the body so is perfect for extreme weather conditions as well as sportswear. It dries fast, which saves electricity on tumble drying. It doesn't shrink or fray. And the short pile of the material increases your body temperature when worn against the skin, making it ideal for winter clothing.

What is fleece made from?

Fleece is 100% synthetic. It's made using fibres of polyester, sometimes from recycled plastic bottles, which are woven into a light fmaterial that's then brushed to boost the volume of the fibres and create that fabulous fluffy feel. The polyester fibres are made thanks to a chemical reaction between petroleum and petroleum derivatives, heated until they melt before being spun into thread. Sometimes manufacturers blend natural fibres with the fleece, often wool, hemp or rayon, to add texture and interest.

We love fleece - Search for your fleece fashion favourites NOW!

You might be surprised by how many of our gorgeous alternative clothes feature fleece at their lovely, cosy heart! And all you need to do is type 'fleece' in the search box at the top right of any web page on our site to see the entire collection.

We sell fleece hats in jewel-like colours with embroidered swirly patterns. We have a gorgeous fleece lined long hippie hooded jacket and a fleecy jacket for children starring a wise owl. We have tribal printed cotton fleece pullovers and a stunning fleece lined Mandala winter coat, a long cotton fleece patchwork skirt and even fleece and lace patchwork wrist warmers. Fill your boots with glorious fleecey alternative clothing this winter and you'll stay as snug as a very good-looking bug in a particularly attractive rug! See you soon.

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