FORGET THE COIN. If you are looking for a safe investment now, try buying and selling old Patagonian runes. Kelsey Silverstein, 28, and Mark Donoher, 30, have sold the Snap-T Turtle Fleece for $165 since 1996, about a year and a half ago. Today, the same fleece can fetch over $300 online. Instead of worrying about selling it too fast, the couple running Orbital Outdoor, an online shop for vintage outdoor clothing, is looking to the future. I collect the best things, says Donoher, who is convinced that the market can only grow. I think it just started.
The orbital couple is part of an ever-growing network of Patagonian swallows and collectors obsessed with the fleece from before 2000. I’m a monster when it comes to old Patagonia, said Kyle Crissitello, 22, a retailer from Vienna, Wa. Crissitello bought his first Patagonia wool as a teenager, but says he didn’t really enjoy the outfits of the Californian company Ventura, founded by Vvon Shuinar in 1973, until he studied environmental design at university. I am very fond of Yvonne Shuenar and everything he is and represents, Mr. Crisitello said.
Patagonia Snap-T in direct print can yield several hundred dollars.
Harvest in orbit
What Mr. Shuinar, Mr. Crissitello and many others represent is environmental awareness and buying less. Shops in Patagonia close on Black Friday and their advertising often promotes the idea of wearing clothes until they fall apart. The company even sells second-hand Patagonia equipment, which customers sell as part of the second-hand equipment program. This anti-new position may seem strange, but in the end the brand has a whole generation of vintage polar dogs. (The representative of Patagonia declined to comment)
Not all nonwovens meet the requirements. Today, nostalgic and fanatical stripes fall into about two camps: Specialists in textures and pattern nuts. Courier managers will tell you that the new, crispy jackets (which are increasingly made from recycled materials) cannot compete with their fluffy predecessors. I certainly prefer older things, said Colby Cook, 21, a part-time clothing salesman in Austin, Texas, who has more than 30 puffs of deep fur, some of which date back to 1988. The term deep pile refers to a fluffy shell that gently resembles the Teddy Smokespider. For collectors like Mr. Cook, who manages @DeepPilesForMiles, the Instagram account that catalogues his collection, these fragrant shells are the Holy Grail.
The collectors stack the Snap-T-Flizelin photos among the dozens.
Both texture lovers and pattern connoisseurs, who live on collectible patterns, believe that pre-2000 jackets almost always beat the models of the last twenty years. What Mr. Crissitello from Virginia finds so incredible in the Patagonian flash lines of the 90’s and even the late 80’s is that the color palette and patterns are so original. (Typical colors can be coral, brown and pumpkin, while patterns range from stylized gargoyles to vague shapes of Aztec plants). He is so surprised to have created OldSchoolOutdoor.com, an online database of Patagonia Snap-T sweaters created in 1985, when they were launched in the fall of 2000.
But for the double pericarp of each sea turtle there is a forgotten geometric sweater that leaves collectors cold. What is the wool I can pay for this investment? As with everything from baseball cards to raw materials, lack is the driving force. There’s really a lot of hype about this. People are looking for something that’s really hard to get, said Miss Silverstein of Orbital.
Josh Rotary, 32 years old, a buyer of an outdoor shop (and amateur expert on Patagonia) in Manchester, England, noticed that the first Retro-X fleeces, a style that came on the market in the late eighties and could yield more than $500, were available for a lot of money because they were relatively few in number. Mr. Crissitello recently received a rusty red jacket with a deep pile of 1982, similar to the …
for almost $1,000. He hung that pretty girl on the wall like a Farrah Fawcett poster, not quite ready to turn her over.
Kyle Criscitello bought this super rare red fleece jacket recently in 1982. A similar model was sold on eBay for almost $1,000.
For serious collectors, some exceptional specimens have become a legendary must-see. 1997 Thunder Glissade jacket at the back with pictures of electric bolts running over the front; 1998 Spiral Glissade covered with swirls; and 1994 Bullseye sweater with an almost seraphoid print. These models are extremely hard to find in America and from time to time appear on resale sites in Japan, where the fashion obsessed Americans have long hoarded Patagonia. There’s a lot about Japan, Rotary said. He still warned me: The prices are ridiculous. He’s not kidding: Yahoo Japan Auctions, a resale site similar to eBay, is currently organizing a polar spiral for about $970.
From time to time collectors rely on a network of amateur colleagues to find the next coveted fleece. Available hunters exchange tips on Instagram, for example. Friends contact me and let me know if there’s anything, said Philip Wong, 35, a account analyst in Austin, who has about 25 long hair and a dozen zippers on his sweaters. Mr. Wong was also lucky enough to dig up old coats and catalogues from local garages – the beneficiary of many Austin residents who originally bought equipment from Patagonia for his main purpose: to keep warm outdoors.
Usually, however, like most collectors, Mr. Wong is obsessed in his spare time with the combination of eBay, Depop and hardware stores,
Market and other secret sources nearby in the hope that the next plush rune will be free and just waiting to be enjoyed.
Write to Jacob Gallagher at Jacob.Gallagher@wsj.com.
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