Welcome to Further Details, a recurring column where we investigate what purpose an oft-overlooked product element actually serves. This week: the passive function of a Patagonia fleece pocket.
Given how ubiquitous Patagonia's Synchilla Snap-T Fleece Pullover is, it's easy to forget that when the company first introduced it in 1985, it was revolutionary. Far harder to imagine that, in all the years since, one of its few features is still mostly unknown.
Synchilla's origin lies in Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's search for an alternative to the wool sweaters that mountain climbers typically wore. As the story goes, he pulled inspiration from the synthetic sweaters North Atlantic fishermen favored, but it was his wife, Malinda, who found something similar at a store in LA's garment district — a roll of fabric destined to become toilet seat covers. Years later, the company worked with Malden Mills, now Polartec, to create a lighter, softer version that didn't pill up after laundering, and dubbed it Synchilla.
That origin story, however, skips an overlooked element: the front chest pocket. Other than some climate-controlling buttons at the neck and the fabric's lightness, immunity to waterlogging and ability to maintain warmth when it does get wet, the pocket is the fleece pullover's only really notable component. Yet Patagonia's first fleece prototype didn't have one at all.
And how complex can a pocket be, anyway? Perhaps not very, unless you design functional outdoor clothing for a living. Early fleeces had a square one, which bothered Bob Kettenhofen, a designer who put together Patagonia's first sailing collection.
"He groused that when you were wearing our fleece with a square chest pocket, and it became windy on the water and spray started to fly, you had to take off your sunglasses and quickly put them in your chest pocket," recalls Cyndi Davis, Patagonia's special projects development manager. "When you did that, the glasses migrated to your armpit — very uncomfortable."
Kettenhofen designed the problem away himself, explains Davis, by placing an angled point in the pocket that slanted away from the armpit. That way, a pair of sunglasses would settle into a diagonal position away from the armpit. The pocket's off-center flap and button, coincidentally enough, mirrors that offbeat solution.
So go ahead, throw your sunnies in your fleece pocket — and thank an old sailor when you do.