November 24, 2006

Waxed Cotton: Vancouver's nylon alternative for a rainy day

(aired November 6)

Sick of nylon or rubber raincoats? I sure am, especially the raspy hand of the fabric and the ridiculous scratchy sound it makes when you walk. It's like that episode of Seinfeld when George Constanza wore a nylon business suit.

Any way, isn't it time to make the jump to an organic fabric. As reported before On The Coast during my segment of VBD, natural fibers like hemp and bamboo are finding their way onto the runway. And maybe it's time for waxed cotton to make it into your wardrobe.

Yes that's right, for once I am ahead of the curve and in touch with the climatological and
fashion zeitgeist. I have been thinking about how waxed cotton or oilskins will be next year's fall outerwear fabric.

The origins of waxed cotton is mixed into the history of the British imperial expansion. Originally, sailors made raingear out of linen sailcloth proofed with linseed oil. When the linseed aged, it would yellow which is the origin of the bright yellow raincoat (above and beyond it's safety).

Later on linseed oil was replaced by paraffin wax and beeswax and the treatments have become proprietal with a trio of great companies looming large in the world of wax cotton outerwear. One is in Australia called Drizabone and the other is Barbour in the UK. Then there's Filson, a storied outfitters in Oregon. Their waxed cottons
hold water when flat and when wet the water beads. Initially, none of it should soak into the canvas.

Vancouver is also home to a waxed cotton empire called the Australian Outback Collection. Despite it's Aussie/Brit mystique, the waxed cotton is being designed and made in Vancouver and the majority of their coats are being sold in the US.

Their style evokes the Man from Snowy River...long aussie drover riding coats, brownish and festooned with snaps and a cape.

But the collection has diversified since the 1990s western Authenticate man craze.

I spoke to Lori McElwain. She runs the Australian Outback Collection from Vancouver. And she told me about how their beginning to create products in bamboo and hemp and hemp cotton. They have also created a line of lighter weight canvas for city slickers and now have cuts flattering to women.

While Lori likes to wear a jacket called the Katandra - a simple zip front with fleece lining on the collar and in the pockets, I think the most stylish of the collection is a jacket called the Kiama.

It's essentially a fitted light-weight waxed cotton version of the duffle coat. It has toggles and a hood. But it has a fitted waisted and it has a shorter more contemporary mid-thigh length. It's a great knock-about-town look, not formal or office wear, but it has an urban chic that doesn't say
you're going off to shoot ducks.

You find them in half a dozen locations in town like Frances Hills at 151 Water Street in Gastown in Vancouver and also at 3 Vets.

Waxed cotton is the perfect material for our climate and sensibility. There's the whiff of the rugged Western and simultaneously has the great nautical heritage. If there was a material, or
a fabric that could replace rip-stop nylon and challenge hemp as a Vancouver material, I would say it should be waxed cotton.

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