The new jacket from Vollebak imitates one of the best innovations of the world of nature – adaptive squid camouflage. The British brand reproduced the elements of this biological survival mechanism using lasers, resin, and more than 2 billion microscopic glass spheres.
The result is a space-looking ski and snowboard jacket.
We asked Steve Tidball, co-founder of VOLLEBAK, how this material was created, what the functionality of the jacket, and how it differs from the Stone Island Shadow Project Scarabeo Parka. You can buy the jacket from the official site, by joining the waiting list at the link. Release is expected this week.
Interview: Alexander Zabelin.
Answers: Steve Tidball [VOLLEBAK].
Layout: Tatiana Vasilenko.
Photo: VOLLEBAK, Sun Lee.
[Can you describe the process of creation such a material for Black Squid jacket?]

Back in 2017 we started on our journey towards building clothing that could mimic the astonishing colour-shifting survival mechanisms found in the animal kingdom. Our Blue Morpho Jacket recreated one of nature's most brilliant solutions to high visibility – the iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly. And the surface of our Solar Charged Jacket can be charged by the sun to glow in the dark like a firefly. While we know we'll always be playing catch up with nature, our ultimate aim is to create synthetic materials as smart and esponsive as the biological ones mastered millions of years ago.
The Black Squid Jacket is the next step in our journey. Based on 500 million years of evolution in the deep sea, this colour-shifting jacket mimics one of the most advanced biological materials on earth: squid skin. A complex network of nerves on the surface of every squid acts like an electrical skin to help it change colour and appearance at high speed. It can make itself highly visible by creating astonishing optical illusions in fractions of a second. Or make itself practically invisible by camouflaging to precisely match its surroundings.
Because of its transformational properties, squid skin is currently the subject of serious scientific study. The goal is to create an equivalent synthetic material that can rapidly camouflage itself by mimicking its surrounding environment. And with the military looking for solutions that would enable soldiers and machines to seemingly disappear, it's only a matter of time before it becomes reality. The challenge is what timescale that's on. While nature solved the problem of adaptive camouflage over millions of years, scientists only started trying to replicate these biological systems in the last decade.
While the squid uses microscopic plate-like structures on the surface of its skin to change colour, our jacket uses disruptively-structured microscopic glass spheres. With over two billion of them embedded in resin on the jacket's surface, and over 40,000 in every single square centimetre, they're invisible to the naked eye. When light hits the jacket, it travels through the curved surface of these black glass spheres and strikes the back of them, before being reflected back at the original light source and scattered away from it simultaneously, so that the fabric looks like it's emitting light.
["The result is a mind-bending ski and snowboard jacket" Does it mean that the jacket is prepared to active wear? What functional characteristics it has?]

The Black Squid Jacket is specifically designed for skiing and snowboarding. The heavy-duty front zipper is waterproof, backed with an internal storm flap and comes with rubberised zip pulls. We built two large waterproof front pockets big enough for any maps and gloves either side of the zipper so they're fully usable while wearing a backpack. And there's a large internal zipped pocket with headphone loops for your phone.
The jacket's super high collar and oversized muzzle are designed to ride comfortably up and over your face to meet your goggles on high speed runs. The collar and hood are engineered like an ocean-racing marine jacket, which means they're designed to operate independently. So if you want to ride with your face covered but your hood down, you can.
The elasticated hood works with any ski and snowboard helmet and has drawcord adjusters at the side and back. The collar is lined with merino next to your mouth and nose and comes with six air vents.
[Did you saw the Stone Island Shadow Project Scarabeo parka? Can you explain the differences of the materials for our audience?]

The honest answer is that we very rarely look at what other brands are doing. We spend a lot of time looking at other fields – science, art, technology, food, architecture. Having now looked at this Stone Island project I like what they've done, incorporating iridescent materials in different ways. And of course we know of Stone Island's heritage of being the most innovative brand with materials.
I think where our two projects differ is that we like to focus on telling the most fascinating story about a single material. And for us it is nearly always part of a larger journey we're going on – in this case projects where we are looking at biomimetic materials that mimic nature. Here the purpose is to pursue adaptive camouflage, and it's likely to be the start of a 10 or 20 year journey. For this reason we don't like to combine materials so much.
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Black Squid jacket by VOLLEBAK is available for purchase here.

You can read our other interviews with Steve in TECHUNTER 04 printed issue, representing the company in general and the latest TECHUNTER 06 ONLINE digital issue, where Steve shared with us his thoughts on the future of the industry after pandemic. Issues are available in our store.