New Wetsuit Technology

Patagonia Inc and Yulex Corporation have introduced a guayule ‘natural rubber’ based wetsuit, that is being positioned as the first alternative to traditional fossil-based neoprene.

Patagonia is a leading designer of core outdoor, surf and sport-related apparel, equipment, footwear and accessories. Yulex Corporation is a clean technology company developing agricultural-based biomaterials for medical, consumer, industrial and bioenergy products.

“When we started to build wetsuits we knew that neoprene, by nature of its production, was the most environmentally harmful part the product,” said Jason McCaffrey, Patagonia’s Surf Director. “Our initial approach was to use innovative materials, like wool, that are highly insulating and allowed us to use as little neoprene as possible. But we quickly realized that we needed to create a new material that could be a true alternative to neoprene.”

He continued, “After four years of working together, Patagonia and Yulex have co-developed a unique material that allows us to make a wetsuit that is 60% guayule (plant) based. Our goal is to have the formula 100% plant based, but we feel that for now this new material is a big enough step forward to let the world know it is possible to buy something cleaner.

“This is just the first step; it’s our hope that other brands see this as interesting and join the effort to innovate and implement alternatives to traditional neoprene that is used in wetsuits.”

Yulex’s biorubber material is made from guayule, a renewable, non-food crop that requires very little water, is grown domestically in the US, uses no pesticides, and in comparison to traditional neoprene, is reported to have a very clean manufacturing process.

Essentially a desert shrub, guayule (Parthenium argentatum) is a renewable biorubber that has been identified as an alternative to traditional Hevea (Hevea brasiliensis) rubber for many years. Recently, the guayule plant has seen a small but growing resurgence due to its hypoallergenic properties. While traditional rubber contains proteins that can cause severe allergic reactions in a few people, guayule reportedly does not.

Initially, the new Patagonia suits will be available in Japan only. Given that Patagonia’s main market is in surf wear and watersports, this will be the primary area of activity. In spring 2013, surfers will be able to order custom suits out of Patagonia’s wetsuit facility in Ventura, California, with a global roll-out to follow.

The application of guayule in triathlon wetsuits has yet to be fully commercialised. Although, this could present an interesting opportunity.

Earlier this year, De Soto Clothing Inc claimed to have pioneered an alternative to petroleum-based wetsuits. Billed as a first in the industry to introduce limestone rubber into triathlon wetsuits, all T1 Wetsuits now incorporate GreenGoma limestone rubber technology. However, while it is seen as a better option than petroleum-based materials, limestone is still a non-renewable resource.

Made & Harvested in the USA

Given that the guayule plant is home grown in the US, there may also be heightened consumer interest for a ‘Made & Harvested in the USA’ product in the world’s largest triathlon market.

Yulex has developed a portfolio of biomaterials derived from the US grown guayule plant. The company’s technological innovation is designed to replace traditional tropical or petroleum based rubber for consumer, industrial and medical markets, with the residual agricultural materials utilized as a feedstock for bioenergy.

“Yulex commends Patagonia for supporting the advancement of a sustainable, low-carbon future by embracing agricultural-based, biomaterials to replace petroleum-based synthetics,” said Jeff Martin, CEO, President and founder of Yulex Corporation.

“Patagonia is guiding the action sports industry to a new level and setting an example for the importance of sustainable practices. Yulex views this partnership as a major step towards a future where use of our renewable, guayule-based biomaterials is the industry standard.”