Design & Sustainability on

Waxing Nostalgia: Vintage fabric, reinvented

— By: The Team at Nau

We never stopped loving traditional waxed cotton. But let’s be honest: there’s nothing sustainable about applying an oil-based wax to conventionally grown cotton. That’s why we made our own. This week in the Thought Kitchen, our textile guru, Jamie Bainbridge, and design maestro, Peter Kallen, give us an inside look at a new kind of wax job—one that’s beautiful, durable and doesn’t run on oil.

OFF THE GRID: Alright, waxed organic cotton.  What’s the big deal?
JAMIE: We love natural fibers and the way they feel against the skin. With our roots in outdoor, why not look backwards to history and see what other waterproofing methods were used over time. And the method that is still most widely used today is waxed cotton. It comes out of British Millerain which has been around since 1880. I met with them and said, “We love waxed cotton, and how it fits, how it becomes like a good pair of jeans, but what we don’t like is how it has to be renewed or that it damages other things that it comes into contact with. So what can we do?” And they said, “Well, we have a new synthetic coating that has the same look and feel of wax, but it never needs renewing. It’s machine washable and water repellent.”  So we went and developed an organic cotton version using the same base fabric, and applied their finish.

OTG: Is there any difference when applying a synthetic coating to organic cotton versus cotton?
JAMIE: No. Once cotton goes through the process of ginning, cleaning and spinning, you couldn’t tell the difference between an organic or conventional fiber.

OTG: So is it a non-petroleum product?
JAMIE:  Well, there is a small petroleum component. But the lack of having to maintain the coating means it uses a very small amount of petroleum. And it’s a water-based coating rather than being a solvent-based coating.

OTG: So what came first: the chicken or the egg? the fabric or the design?
JAMIE: Well, we knew we wanted something in the coated natural fiber realm. We wanted that hand. And we wanted it to be very comfortable against the skin and very urban looking. And waxed organic cotton t has a very unique look.

OTG: Ok, let’s talk waxed organic cotton.
PETER: Jamie and I were wondering how can we make traditional waxed cotton better? So Jamie went off into her science lab came up with a cleaner, more durable method of waxed cotton. Then she came back to me with this great fabric that uses this polyurethane coating and has the merits and qualities that are important to us in sustainability, and it had a different sense about it to. It’s quieter, visually and aesthetically. But it also has a longer lifespan and is easier to use and work with. And it immediately spoke to me…..the RIFT jacket. Because it has these qualities of being almost leather-like.

OTG: And suede-like too.
PETER: Yeah, exactly. Because it has a cotton back to it and that kind of coated surface, like sueded-back, but the surface has a leather-like quality. So that spoke to this almost utilitarian, motorcycling jacket. And that’s how the life of the rift came to be. The styles and elements of that jacket, its articulation, its scales, how it fits, details, its finishing: it speaks to rugged and burley, yet refined. It’s a balance between these two words. It’s almost an opportunity to express an modern-day version of old-new-world technology and inspiration.

OTG: And the Wax On Blazer is a badass jacket.
PETER: Yeah, it just reeks of confidence and it speaks of that same kind of quality. There is nothing more beautiful than a hefty, canvasy piece that has more depth to it.

OTG: Does working and design with this fabric lend itself to certain styles?
PETER: Oh, most definitely. There are certain silhouettes that you explore using this fabric. It holds form really well. It holds needle and stitch really well. You have to be careful about how you apply that because it can quickly become too stiff and unapproachable. More like a tent as opposed to a jacket.

OTG: I don’t want to look like a tent.
PETER: Or a tarp, or any of the words associated with canvas But we said, let’s use that structure and create something that is beautiful, with enough needle in it to give it that edge and that la femme nikita presence, but is still super sexy. It’s a beautiful mash-up.

OTG: So do you have plans of using this fabric moving forward.
PETER: Oh definitely. Now we need to push its boundaries. It’s a perfect fabric that has a lovely reference to yesterday with the technology of today.


Words by Leighann Franson.