This has been a bad year for raincoats. My dear old coat that I had had for years, the faithful chum that had been up the hills, down to the shops, round Myanmar was looking… diseased. A white bloom had appeared on the collar and cuffs. I thought it was from my home made suntan lotion and it just needed a good wash. Big mistake. Turns out it wasn’t suntan lotion but the waterproof lining disintegrating. Washing only hastened that process and the coat, and everything else, came out of the washing machine covered in tiny white flecks of micro plastic.
We had only a few days before we left for China. I had to get a new lightweight waterproof coat quickly. I am way too tight to pay hiking shop prices so I went to TK Max. I ended up with a navy-blue, middle-aged anorak. It even had a belt! But it was cheap.
Amazingly it didn’t rain in Manchester before we left so I didn’t get chance to test it. That opportunity came in Xian, China where it didn’t stop raining. Turns out my new coat was bloody useless. So much so I cannot see what purpose it was actually meant to serve.
Now I want to make this quite clear from the beginning – I bought this coat from the outdoor wear section of TK Max. Yes it was massively reduced but at the time but I thought it was because of the particularly aggressive, ugly shade of navy colour and home counties, walking the golden labs style. I had my doubts about the silkiness of the fabric but modern shower proof fabrics are a huge step away so from those rustling plastic bags sold as cagoules back in the 70’s.
What persuaded me to buy was that it was so well made! There were all kinds ofoutdoorsy sort of features like a zip that opened from the top or the bottom, double fastenings with a flap to seal the pockets, a removable hood, overlapped seams and two layer of fabric on the shoulders for increased protection. Features that screamed “weather-based scenarios seriously catered for”.
And, and I cant say say this too often, it was in the outdoors section of the store. Surely I might be forgiven for thinking that this would be a reasonably weatherproof kind of coat. I was not expecting base camp performance but showerproof at least.
This coat did not offer the smallest degree of moisture based protection. Rather it sucked it up like a sponge. Thanks to the flaps and double front fastenings, the zip and pockets didn’t leak but everywhere else the water flooded through. Even the lightest of drizzle passed through in a moment. Which made it no good for the U.K. nor, (as it turns out), Xian. In 5 minutes I was soaked and freezing cold.
Which leads me to ask what purpose is this coat meant to serve? Is there some fashion I am unaware of? An indoors, outdoors kind look that I know nothing about? Are people sipping cocktails in Barbour look alike jackets that dissolve in the rain? Ravers off clubbing in Wellington boots made out of cardboard? But if that is the case then why was this jacket hanging up in, and I am going to say this again, in the frickin outdoor section!
Lucky we were near a Chinese supermarket that had an outdoor clothing section which sold jackets. Jackets you could actually wear out doors. Raincoats that repelled the rain. Fancy that!
So I bought one. Yes it is made from synthetic fibres but this is an example of plastic being the best material for the job. My new coat is light-weight, folds up small, dries out quickly and doesn’t get as mouldy or stinky. It is great for back packing. And it’s rain proof.
Both coats are counted as part of my Fair Share Fabric Project. In 2015 I pledged to use no more than my fair global share of fibres and they have to be sustainably sourced. Whats a global share? 11.74 kg per person of which 3.8 kg is natural fibres. You can see how I am doing here.