Photo: SLab

Photo: SLab

 Photos: SLab

Photos: SLab

 Photo: SLab

Photo: SLab

 This is me wearing the merino contour jacket prototype during a ski week in Whistler.

This is me wearing the merino contour jacket prototype during a ski week in Whistler.

Vancouver’s well known for being a city with super outdoorsy residents. Whether your choice is to bike, run, ski, sail, play tennis, hockey, volleyball, basketball, rollerblade, hike, rock climb, or whatever. You need gear; and we’re not talking about equipment but what you put on your body. Vancouverites are used to looking good while leading an active lifestyle. After all, this is the home of Lululemon. 

Vancouverite Kevin Zhu may not yet be the next Chip Wilson but he’s focused on creating high quality, wearable activewear based on natural fibers and fabrics. Zhu is a runner and was frustrated when he first moved here from China with his young family as he was not impressed with the current running jackets on the market. Zhu leveraged his 20 years of experience as a producer and designer for European brands in China to create what he believes is the perfect running and fitness jacket. He founded Sproat Fashion and SLab to begin this first line of jackets and even has a Kickstarter Campaign for this venture.

I decided to take Zhu’s prototype, called the Merino Contour jacket, for a test drive on my recent ski trip to Whistler. What’s interesting about the jacket immediately is that it’s made of merino wool. For someone whose skin is very sensitive to wool (I can only wear cottons, silks or cashmeres) I was curious to know how it would fare through a week of skiing. 

I wore the running jacket over a thin base layer and underneath my ski jacket. I expected to be sweating while going down runs but Zhu’s product did a good job of wicking away sweat while providing enough warmth while sitting idle on chairlifts. There were a number of pockets for my sunglasses, money and credit cards, smartphone and keys. There’s even a built-in feeder for my headphones so that was handy. I also liked that it kept its shape and size after being thrown into the wash and dryer. And as for the skin sensitivity, there was no effect at all so that was also a bonus.

Zhu’s company handpicks the best merino yarn, dyes it and weaves it into the final fabric themselves. The entire fabric creation process takes about two months with jacket production taking another 3 to 4 weeks. The whole production process can take up to three months - a good example of slow fashion that I’ve lately been more drawn to. Read my recent article on this topic here.

What I would like to see when Zhu finalizes the product is a liner inside. This may sound picky but it’s a matter of detailed finishing on a garment. The other downside is that it’s really meant more for running and not for sitting on a patio at the peak of Blackcomb without my ski jacket on top. It’s not quite warm enough for just hanging out with a beer next to a glacier - even on the sunniest ski day. 

So the net is, if you’re looking for a running jacket, Zhu’s product is pretty great. Lightweight and just warm enough - and it holds a lot of essentials for post-run coffee and brunch activities. You can definitely use it for other activities - like skiing - but you’ll want a proper back-up jacket just in case.

Check out Kevin Zhu's Kickstarter Campaign here.