Montreal

How a Quebec company used a weed to create a one-of-a-kind winter coat

Entrepreneurs transform milkweed into insulation to keep Canadians warm, help monarch butterflies

Jean-Philippe Robert and Francois-Xavier Robert

Brothers Jean-Philippe Robert and François-Xavier Robert bought Quebec winter-clothing company Quartz Co. two years ago. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC News)

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It turns out milkweed isn't only good for the monarchs — it's also good for keeping Canadians warm on freezing cold winter days.

This week Quartz Co. officially unveiled the first-ever winter coat to use milkweed fibre as insulation. It looks like a normal winter coat, but it's not.

It took years of research and testing to create the final product: a Quebec-made winter jacket, filled with plant-based insulation, that's supposed to hold its own next to traditional down or polyester. 

The bonus is that it means more milkweed is being planted, which lends a hand to the monarch butterflies who eat it. 

In fact, the manufacturers avoid harvesting the plant until after the monarchs migrate, to make sure they get their fill. 

wdr-mexico monarch

It turns out milkweed isn't only good for the monarchs. (Darlene Burgess )

Not such a pesky weed after all

The special milkweed insulation was created by Quebec's Fibres Monark using vegetable fibre from plants grown in the Saint Lawrence valley. 

"Milkweed was considered to be a bad weed for a long time. We knew it had thermal benefits, but it was impossible to transform it for industrial use," said Nathalie Morier, the general director of Fibres Monark.

"We worked hard. It took a few years of research and development in order to be able to extract the fibre and the seed to transform it into insulation." 

When Quebec entrepreneur Jean-Philippe Robert heard about the innovative idea, he pounced on it.

Altitude sports milkweed

Altitude Sports sells the milkweed fibre winter jackets for around $800 each. (Altitude Sports)

He had bought a winter clothing company, Quartz Co., two years ago with his brother, and they figured designing a coat with a plant-based insulation would be a great addition to their polyester and down options.

"We took their material. We made some tests last winter and it proved to be really good, working really well under the cold," Robert said.

Quartz Co. partnered up with Fibres Monark to manufacture the jackets, which are being sold online by outdoor clothing retailer Altitude Sports.

There are a limited number of coats for the time being, since they're all handmade. 

But they hope to find a way to start mass production by next year. 

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