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.