Cotopaxi and Llama Fleece: A Q&A About Insulation

Cotopaxi Kusa Jacket Cotopaxi and Llama Fleece

Clothing manufacturers are exploring myriad new materials for insulation and warmth. There’s Kora using yak wool, United by Blue using bison fiber, Oros using aerogel, and of course Cotopaxi and llama fleece. With so many options, I’ve been inquiring with the companies about why they chose the materials they have, and the different benefits of each for those of us who get cold easily. This latest Q&A in the series is focused on Cotopaxi and llama fleece, which seems similar to yak wool but has some unique properties of its own.

Two Cotopaxi representatives graciously participated in this Q&A: Anders Piiparinen, Social Media & Brand Manager, who’s been at Cotopaxi since the company’s launch in April of 2014, and Lindsey Kneuven, Chief Impact Officer, have been with Cotopaxi since mid-2015.

People have known about the insulating and wicking properties of merino wool for years, but there seems to be an influx of companies now exploring different materials. What made the proverbial lightbulb go on for Cotopaxi to pursue llama fleece?

Piiparinen: Ultimately, there are a few reasons why we went with this.

  1. It fits perfectly with our brand, and the llama as something we are passionate about.
  2. The sustainability behind llama fleece. Llamas need only to be sheared.
  3. Llama wool offers a wider comfort range, and hypoallergenic fibers don’t cause irritation, even for sensitive skin.

Several companies using non-merino materials have decided to use them exclusively. Cotopaxi’s approach is different; you use Polartec Alpha and other materials too. Why the diversified lineup?

Piiparinen: We have a great relationship with Polartec and recognize the need for using other materials in our products. As much as we love llama fleece insulation, it is not a fit for every consumer’s purchase intent, and we want to offer the best and most versatile product on the market.

The Kusa Jacket (shown above) looks great. How does it perform compared to other Cotopaxi clothing (warmth, waterproofing, etc.)? What aspects of the jacket are you most proud of? Which aspects do you think people who get cold easily will most appreciate?

Piiparinen: Thank you. There are many similarities between the insulation and DWR coating on all Cotopaxi products that provide a water-resistant layer. The Kusa Jacket is not “waterproof,” but one unique thing about the llama insulation is that llama fibers insulate when wet, so you’ll still stay warm!

What we are most proud about is the innovation, sustainability, and design that has gone into the piece. We see people wear this in the city, on the trail, and even as a mid-layer on the slopes.

Does Cotopaxi have plans to launch more llama fleece apparel in the future? If so, is there a timeline you’re targeting, and/or specific types of clothing?

Piiparinen: We recently launched our Kusa Blanket, made with the same style as the Kusa Jacket, but available as a camp blanket. Yes, you’ll see more of our Kusa line coming out this summer and fall.

How does llama fleece compare to fibers from other high-altitude animals (yaks, merino sheep, etc.), which have lightweight wool that’s also very insulating?

Piiparinen: [They’re] very similar. One thing to mention is that llama fibers are hollow, similar to a polar bear. This provides a great insulation and also is a reason why llama fibers still insulate when wet.

Cotopaxi recently became a certified B Corp, which is both recognition of – and an obligation to uphold – the company’s social and environmental mission. You’ve done work in Filipino factories. What else does Cotopaxi do to live up to that B Corp status?

Kneuven: The B Corp assessment evaluates a company’s performance across a significant number of social, environmental and operational benchmarks. In order to receive certification, we had to demonstrate that we met their standard across these benchmarks. Cotopaxi has robust giving programs, significant skills-based and direct service volunteer initiatives, social impact integrated into all aspects of our business, and operations that are designed to reduce our environmental footprint and strengthen an ethical supply chain.

People often associate llamas with South America and the Andes Mountains. Has Cotopaxi done any particular social or environmental work in that region?

Kneuven: We have a number of community development initiatives in this region. A few of the initial nonprofit partners were based in South America. We are soon to announce our new 2016 grantee portfolio, which includes an incredible nonprofit with a 20+ year history of work focused on advancing education and reducing poverty across Latin America.

Thank you to Anders Piiparinen, Lindsey Kneuven and their respective teams for taking time to talk about Cotopaxi and llama fleece, as well as the company’s social and environmental efforts.

Jonas Allen

Jonas spent 17 years covering travel, technology and entertainment for regional and international media. He now writes about gear, clothes and tips to stay warm. He hopes his lessons will help other people who get cold (re)discover the great outdoors.

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