LONDON — Vollebak is shooting for the moon.
The London-based label, headquartered in Granary Square, King’s Cross, is courting big thinkers whose ideas may alter the course of human history, with products made for some of the most extreme scenarios depicted in H. G. Wells novels or Christopher Nolan films.
Meaning “all out” or “go for it” in the old Flemish dialect, Vollebak was founded by brothers Nick and Steve Tidball, who both come from advertising backgrounds.
Since 2016, Vollebak has released a slew of big-idea products, such as a thermal camouflage jacket, another jacket entirely made from copper and a hoodie with a vomit pocket meant for space travel.
It also produces a series of more wearable lines. The Apocalypse range, for example, is touted to “withstand black lava, flash fires, chemical erosion and zombies.” The actual products are made using fireproof materials and come with 23 pockets on the inner lining. Meanwhile the Titan range is made for “cryogenically cold weather” and offers puffers made of the light, strong, temperature-resistant parachute fabric that NASA used in the Mars landing of the Perseverance Rover.
Their vision, which sometimes was frowned upon by the fashion world for being too detached from reality, eventually found resonance in Silicon Valley.
The brand closed a $10 million funding round in November 2021 led by venture capital firm Venrex, with participation from Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia, Headspace’s chief financial officer Sean Brecker, Rapha cofounder Simon Mottram and a few other undisclosed private investors.
The brand is also one of the recipients of Venrex BFC Fashion I, a new fund the British Fashion Council founded with Venrex last year.
In an interview with WWD, Steve Tidball said the raging Californian wildfire that made global headlines in 2021 played a key role in helping investors realized that Vollebak’s vision is not so distant. (The recent wildfires in Canada that sent a thick cloud of smoke over much of the country and the northeastern U.S. this past week may scarily serve as even more evidence.)
“One of our investors emailed me in the middle of the lockdown when L.A. was on fire and no one was allowed to leave the house,” he said: “I think the frontiers are coming to us now. If you’d wanted to face really extreme stuff 50 years ago, you’d either have to go scale a mountain, go to war or try to go to the bottom of the sea. But in the last five years a lot of that has come to what we think as safe and normal places.”
Tidball argued that the brand is not thinking about how to sell their clothes to people, but instead how the new reality or future concerns make them reframe the way they make purchase decisions.
“From our experience and the customers we chat with, people have rethought how they think about their own levels of personal protection. If clothing is one element of answering that problem then you put it more into a problem-solution bucket than what kind of a color I want to wear today,” he added.
The latest offering from the brand, an 11-acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia, built in partnership with famed architect Bjarke Ingels, looks to extend the protection solution beyond apparel to habitation.
Billed as “a powerful vision of how we might live on Earth in a self-sustaining way,” the island features a 6,426-square-foot Earth House, consisting of nine interconnected buildings, and a standalone 947-square-foot Wood House on the island’s eastern shoreline.
The island achieves full energy self-sufficiency through a combination of geothermal energy, offshore wind and solar power, with the energy stored in Tesla power walls.
“Ingels is a genius. He’s building the moon base. He’s working a lot with Elon Musk and he has done the Google London office. Because his worldview is very utopian, he is very sought after, particularly in Silicon Valley, where many people want to change the world for the better. He has this working idea called ‘hedonistic sustainability,’ in other words, sustainability doesn’t have to be boring and dry,” Tidball said.
The brand worked on selecting hero materials that are used in the project, and Nick Tidball, who used to be an architect, worked hand in hand with Ingels’ practice BIG to polish the concept of the project, which took three years to complete.
“We also asked them if there is something that they secretly wanted. So they’ve got this plan of this carbon-neutral human civilization, and they needed a proof of concept. So we provided them with a blank canvas to do that,” Tidball said.
Vollebak Island will be auctioned via Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions on June 14 at Sotheby’s New York with an estimated price between $5 million and $10 million.
Tidball anticipates that the project will be popular among architectural collectors, or people “who want to own a small piece of the future.”
As for why Nova Scotia was picked for the project, Tidball said one of their investors strongly recommended it.
“He said the best way of describing the islands on Nova Scotia is you’ll be eating your breakfast on a beach and a squirrel will start trying to steal it and then a seal will come in to play with the squirrel. I think that is the perfect place to build something that seems completely in harmony. Let’s say you try to do that in the middle of New York — you’d make a lot of noise but it would look really out of place,” he added.
In the long run, Tidball said he hopes Vollebak can bring a quiet revolution to the fashion industry, just like famed Copenhagen restaurant Noma did with the culinary world. In the meantime, the brand is planning for a few disruptive moments like Vollebak Island to “crash worlds and make people sit up.”
“It will be very easy to follow the pack and make a million T-shirts and do some crazy marketing campaigns to sell those T-shirts,” he said: “But that’s not what we are interested in. We want to create a line in the sand, where clothing might be fundamentally different from after we’ve existed and before we existed.”