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Polar Fleece inventor now pushing wool

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The Latest
Thursday, July 15, 2010

BY AMANDA WALDROUPE

Doug Hoschek spent the 1980s traveling the country selling his new invention — Polar Fleece, which he says he invented in 1980. Hoschek, 64, has lived and breathed the textile industry his entire life. He was inspired by his uncle, who manufactured raincoats in New York City. He worked as an account manager for various textile companies — including Celanese and Malden Mills — selling synthetic fibers to clothing companies. He is now an independent consultant under the name of Portland Woolen Mills, which he bought the name rights to in 1992.

Although his claim to fame is the innovation of synthetic textiles, Hoschek argues that Oregon could have a bright future in wool.

Oregon Business: How did Oregon become a leader become a leader in the textile industry?
Hoschek: The industry really set a standard…with the quality of the wool that was raised here. The climate here was so much better than most other parts of the country. The sheep do really well here because it’s not really hot, and the grass grows really well.

Why did synthetic fibers become more popular than wool?

Cotton shrunk like crazy. Wool itched too much, and you couldn’t wash wool. People were tired of it. You could put [synthetics] in the wash, put them in the dryer, they didn’t wrinkle, and you were ready to go the next day. It was easy care.

What attracted you to synthetics?
Everyone was intrigued by the newness of polyester and what it could do. Polyester went into tire cords, it went into carpets, it went into clothing, it went into filters for your furnace. You name it. Polyester was in everything you could ever imagine. Everything that had been done with cotton and wool, we were bound and determined to do with polyester. That was the mentality.

How did you come up with the name Polar Fleece?
I had originally named it Polar Guard. I was fond of the Polar name. Generically, it was an outdoor fleece, and polar made it an outdoor fleece. It was a simple thing to say it was polar fleece.

Did you think it was going to be such a big deal?
I knew it could be a big deal, but I never envisioned what happened to it.

When did Oregon begin to lose its leadership in the textile industry?
By 1976, 1977, it was all disappearing. You have the issue with family businesses and they sell out. [And] everything was going to Asia. But it also went offshore because there was a change in people. The young people coming up were not interested in employing workers. Unions were becoming very aggressive.

What do you think is going to bring Oregon’s textile industry back to where it once was?
We’re going to find natural, sustainable raw materials. Oregon could easily grow them and raise them here. There’s a push in Oregon, because of the history of Oregon, to get back into wool. There’s a message out there that wool’s important because it’s environmentally better than synthetics. It’s renewable; it’s reusable, etc. The key to it is that a yarn producing facility gets built in Oregon. Once you can make yarn, you can make anything.

Amanda Waldroupe is a contributor to Oregon Business.

 

 

Comments   

 
Doug Hoschek
0 #1 bring wool back to oregon TWTDoug Hoschek 2010-07-30 09:33:50
I'm starting this out as a follow up to the short posted about myself and polarfleece and wool.
Business journals from Portland officially show that 100 years ago Oregon merchants and investors began a search and procurement of workers, machines and wool grown in oregon to build made in oregon wool (1910) products.
Believe it or not at that time wool in America was second only to steel as the second largest product in the economy of the United States.
Oregon businessmen realized there was far more economic value in making fabrics and products from wool like blankets and clothing than simply growing wool and exporting the wool to eastern mills and brokers.
Between 1910 and 1950 this proved to be a wise and very profitable venture.
During both World Wars and even the Depression the wool business in Oregon not only survived but provided strong support to the military of this country.
Portland Woolen Mills the largest mill in the area twice received high military awards from both the Army and Navy.
After 1950 the new synthetic fibers of nylon, polyester and acrylic made from by products of oil began to invade the wool business. Produced close to southern cotton mills these fibers would cross breed with cotton into yarns and fabrics and finished products.
Oregon woolen mill owners aging and unsure of the future found themselves being cut out of their marketplace in blankets and clothing.
By the early 1960's all but Pendleton had given up.
During the 1970's I developed and sold nylon fabrics and polyester fiberfil (polarguard) insulations to all the northwest (Oregon and Seattle) and Denver skiwear makers and sleeping bag producers.
Icons in Portland like White stag skiwear and Hirsch Weiss camping products among those leading brands and products.
Following up in 1980 with the developing of Polarfleece and that marketing the one two punch of Polarguard/Pola rfleece brought an end to wool outdoor clothing and the famous Eddie Bauer quilted down clothing and sleeping bags.
Arriving at the same time were Nike running shoes and sports apparel being made in Asia.
The famous brands of 80 year old White Stag and Jantzen were swished away within 5 years time of Nike build ups.
Today WalMart owns the White Stag brand and Jantzen is part of the licensing of Perry Ellis.

LETS TALK TWT (time will tell)

No matter how big this Nike ($19 billion/Columbi a($1.2 billion) bubble is at this time nor how many brands like Ice Breaker set up corporate offices and flag ship stores in Portland, nor retail brands of North Face and Patagonia.. TWT if these businesses can live as long or make the next moves that Oregon woolen mills faced during their second half century of products and profits.

While citizens in China enjoy textiles made in China under the Nike brand from Portland/Beaver ton Oregon and sweet wheat from Shaniko, Oregon thee old wool mega station, and berries from our pristine climate around the Willamette,
WE in OREGON are facing the highest unemployment ever and the worst economic climate our State elected officials have ever been challenged to budget.

The question being if our products are building a new economy in China for their workers and bottom lines of jobs why should Oregon sit and watch??
QWhy not bring manufacturing back to Oregon?
Build textile mills for yarns and fabrics and blankets and clothing?
Students of economics can easily see the profits of the brands buried deeply into that Asian labor force but only those that take the next step can see the truth that manufacturing here does work when new businesses build them and take their turn at the wheel of progress in Oregon and its next hundred years.
We have within our state a very large labor base and well educated managers and engineers. Thats all it takes to manufacture here in Oregon.
Raw materials can be brown here or imported. Ice Breaker sends their wool to China, why not ship it to Oregon.
Nike and Columbia do enough business to support at least two textile mills here in OREGON.
In return for the thousands that were making textiles in America before they became importers of textiles.

TWT if the present day textile folks are aging like the woolen mills owners before them. If Family ownership can build within the halls of public corporations and quarterly reporting.
OR if like synthetics did to wool a new generation of textiles is created and produced from the soils and sweat or OREGON lands and hands.

email me your support.. together we can rebuild a textile empire in Oregon.
ONE YARN AT A TIME

Doug Hoschek
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