Expectations for a more sustainable supply chain in the apparel sector continue to grow. Designers and their peers working within apparel and retail brands are rapidly changing the materials in their products to meet ever-changing customer demands.
While organic (or responsibly sourced) cotton and recycled polyester are currently among the go-to materials for sustainable clothing, some companies are pushing the boundaries even further. These efforts include crafting materials from sources such as lotus leaves and oyster shells. On this point, these three outdoor brands are testing the limits of what can be made “portable”.
Patagonia, rethinking the rubber supply chain
Patagonia has long been known for its forward-thinking approach to sustainability. The pioneering company was the first to eliminate neoprene from its production line due to its negative impacts on the environment. Neoprene is not only non-biodegradable, but critics have linked the material to chemical odors and even diseases. Patagonia moved away from this source of synthetic rubber and in 2016 switched to using a natural material, Yulex.
This natural rubber, derived from rubber trees, often comes from South America. It can absorb carbon from the atmosphere, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 80 percent during the manufacturing process.
Producers of this material, however, need to be mindful of how they grow rubber from rubber trees, as this can have more detrimental environmental consequences throughout the supply chain. In the past, companies with rubber trees in their supply chains have been linked to deforestation as they struggle to meet growing demand for rubber. Nevertheless, Patagonia assures its customers that they do not contribute to deforestation, as the brand has partnered with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to ensure that these trees help ensure biodiversity.
Finisterre: moving away from fluorocarbons and nylon
Along with Patagonia, Finisterre is another company that claims to embed sustainability into all aspects of its supply chain. The brand, launched in 2003, designs outerwear and wetsuits (As shown above) for UK surfers battling the cold. Finisterre has focused part of its attention on eliminating materials that could harm the environment.
For example, Finisterre’s most recent work was to eradicate fluorocarbons from its fabrics. Waterproof jackets containing fluorocarbons in their base materials are durable and water repellent. However, these fluorocarbons being slowly released from these jackets, working their way through water systems.
Since 2018, Finisterre has been producing fluorocarbon-free jackets. As an alternative, the brand uses a durable water repellent called neose, which contains botanical extracts and lotus leaves that can repel water. This water repellant breaks down naturally in the environment so water systems are not affected by harmful chemicals.
Along with other swimwear brands, Finisterre has also stopped using nylon in the supply chain for its swimwear and windbreakers.
Nylon is another synthetic material that poses environmental risks as it is made from non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Nylon production has also been attributed to the rejection of microplastics in the world’s oceans. In addition, the manufacture of these materials generates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas which is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
For this, Finisterre went to Econyl. As noted in TriplePundit’s previous coverage, this fabric is derived from discarded materials such as fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring, and industrial plastic. From Finisterre’s point of view, the use of Econyl allows the brand to “close the loop and turn a plastic problem into textile solutions”.
Jetty found a use for discarded oyster shells
Based in New Jersey, pier is an outdoor clothing brand on a mission to turn the tide on sustainable materials. For years, Jetty has been involved in oyster shell recycling and reef building efforts off the coast of his home country. Jetty’s team soon realized there could be another use for oyster shells, and the result is Oyster.
This material is a mix of plastic bottles, oyster shells and recycled polyester. First, discarded oyster shells are recovered restaurants and local towns. During the manufacturing process, the shells are ground into a fine powder and combined with fibers from recycled plastic bottles. The end product which is used as material for some of Jetty’s clothing.
Image credit: Finisterre UK via Facebook