Since its creation in the 1980s, fleece has become ubiquitous. It was initially designed as a technical alternative to wool, something that was light and warm in all conditions, but its practical viability has made it an apparel staple in all walks of life (even its original pile form is making a full-scale comeback as a style item). Patagonia, Arc’teryx and other outdoor companies made fleece famous, and even J.Crew and Gap now produce their own versions of the warm layer. None of this commonness, however, has stopped a tiny company in Leadville, Colorado called Melanzana from garnering a cult following for its small collection of apparel, all made of fleece.
Melanzana means eggplant in Italian, and until a trademark conflict forced the company to change its name, the English version was the name of the brand when it was founded in 1994 by Fritz Howard. His goal was to make gear locally in an authentic mountain town using materials made in America. He and his slow-growing team have been doing precisely that for the past 24 years, but you’d still be forgiven for never having heard of Melanzana.
That’s because the only way to get one of the brand’s coveted fleeces is to go to its Leadville headquarters. Melanzana has, at various times, sold its products online but demand consistently exceeds the production capabilities of its in-house team of makers. I first came across the company through a friend who had previously lived in Leadville — he made sure to take fleece orders from those in the know before any trip back.
It’s hard to say why Melanzana fleeces are so sought-after. I was drawn to the zipperless design and adjustable scuba-style hood, which I had never seen on a pullover fleece. Performance certainly has a major role to play — it’s why Howard started the brand — and the company’s Microgrid Hoodie is often compared to Patagonia’s R1 fleece, which is widely considered to be the best technical fleece available.
The simple fact that Melanzana’s fleeces are hard to get can’t be overlooked as a defining contributor to the company’s cult underground following either. Limiting supply has worked for other brands, perhaps most notably Vermont’s Alchemist, maker of the famous Heady Topper beer. There are entire Reddit forums dedicated to comparing its products to others, and to discussing the best way to get them. If you don’t live near Leadville, the answer to that question might be to find someone who does and have them mail it to you. Or you can resort to eBay, where Melanzana fleeces can go for more than double their original value (new and used).