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Patagonia | Shell, Yeah!

Who made my snowboard jacket?

How often do you stop and think about who and how your snowboard apparel was made? Do you think about it when you buy it or when you wear it, or maybe only when you read an advert that gives a glimpse into the process. We are a subculture fuelled on gear chat, reviews and sneak peeks on what’s coming next season. As the world becomes more active in the conversation around climate and sustainability, so should we with our awareness around our products and how they are made. We have a lot of power as consumers and the more we ask for this information or demand how our products are made, the more brands will bow down.

This week, Patagonia launched their Shell, Yeah! campaign and in doing so they become the first in the industry to make all their shells with recycled materials and sew them all in a Fair Trade Certified factories. It’s not simply a one-off product for marketing, not only a set of two jackets, but the whole line across snow, alpine and hike, including the new SnowDrifter jacket. The focus for this collection is around causing less harm with their environmental footprint and supporting the people who build the product whilst the product remains fully technical for shredders to rely on. We find out about how they did it and how we can be consumer conscious as snowboarders…

How difficult was it to make a whole collection of 62 jackets fairtrade sewn whilst also being recycled and technical?

Wendy Savage – Director of Supply Chain Social Responsibility & Traceability: It is very difficult to make a whole collection recycled, fairtrade and technical – it was years in the making and took a lot of aligning internally. Our team in materials had to wait for materials to be available in a recycled quality and, not only available, but to have the exact same properties so we could make a product that is long lasting. On the recycled side alone it took a while and was very difficult. On the social responsibility side, this product line is made in 2 or 3 different factories so it took us a couple of years to work with them to get it right. They were already on the Fair Wear Foundation for years but they still had to pass the next level of requirements from Fairtrade. They collaborated with the thousands of workers at each of the factories to decide how they wanted to use the premium that they were going to make as part of the Fairtrade program. Organizing all of those things before we could come out and say, we did it, was a full company effort.

Why in particular do you think the core sports community should care about how their clothes are made and by who?

We wouldn’t have apparel or anything without workers behind it. There is an extreme level of poverty within the supply chain and this is important to address especially for consumers nowadays. They are looking for brands to take responsibility around this topic. But it is also the responsibility of the consumer to help push for change. This can be lacking in other brands who are not willing to engage in helping improve the lives of workers around the world. It is even a struggle for us at Patagonia when we go to partner with other brands to make this change for more workers. So, if a customer doesn’t ask the question, who makes my clothing, then brands and factories might not have a tangible need to work on this. Customers may be asking for quality or different colours, and the brands answer them, but we want more customers to ask who made my products and how are they made. I think in the outdoor sport community customers are much more in tune with, not only the environment, but also our human rights.

Consumers have rights. You are giving brands money for this product so you need to demand the information. I have been working in Social Responsibility for 17 years and when I started my career the consumer was not so open to asking questions of brands, it was coming from the NGO community. That has shifted completely! The brands that are not looking at this area in their supply chain now are going to be left behind – we are trying to get more brands to join the movement but we need more consumers to join and care about it too!

Does it take longer in development and if so, how long have you been working on the fabrics that make up the Shell Yeah collection?

Pasha Whitmire – Senior Material Developer: It takes longer in general to develop fabrics at Patagonia. Because of our strict test standards that ensure the quality and longevity of our products, we have to go through many trials with the fabric to make sure it hits all the targets, and if it doesn’t, we tweak it, and try again until we finally get it. The Snowdrifter took over two years to develop!

What are the challenges in developing a shell from recycled materials whilst keeping the same tech standards?

The biggest challenges may lie in starting something new. Sometimes a mill cannot handle the Minimum Order Quantities that may be required to run a new sample in a new type or specification of recycled material Trying to convince a supplier that it’s worth it for them to get over that hump, and Patagonia and other brands in the industry will be creating a demand for these products in the future is the biggest hurdle. Super lightweight yarns can be a tough one too, as in the case with the mechanically (melted) recycled nylons, they sometimes have a slight decrease in strength, which means we have to get clever with the fabric construction to keep the overall package performing its best! When we designed the Snowdrifter, we picked a waterproof fabric that was totally made from polyester in the hope that one day, the recycling infrastructure and global policies would allow for the shreds of this garment after it’s been used and repaired as many times as possible to make it back into a polyester chemical recycling plant and be reformed into another future jacket that could go through the same circle of life.

What is the impact of using recycled nylon and polyester?

Usually we are decreasing CO2 emissions, energy, etc. The greatest impact is creating demand for waste that otherwise would have to be landfilled or incinerated in the best case, and end up in the oceans in the worst case. Waste, especially plastic waste is a huge problem today, and designing plastic products that do not incorporate recycled content is simply a huge miss!

Patagonia was one of the first brands to make fleeces from PCR back in 1993, how are the brand being forward-thinking or ahead of the industry with this collection?

The key to this collection is that we moved all of our most technical sport pieces to utilize some portion of recycled content. We busted the myths out there that recycled is too expensive, or that it doesn’t perform as well. The collection is living proof that you can still compete in the marketplace with reasonably priced goods that were made in a responsible way. It’s a sign to the industry that it can be done, and I hope it will help other designers and developers out there to consider the materials their products are made from, and make the responsible choice for our people and our planet!

PC: T.Davis

Can a jacket stay truly technical whilst being made from recycled materials and at a FairTrade factory?

Marie-France Roy- Ambassador: It is so amazing to see these options available on the market, and although it may be at a higher price than many lower quality outerwear options out there, I consider it an investment towards a better future. There is a lot to be said about taking care of our gear and repairing it too and I think that once you are willing to pay for quality, it makes you take better care of it and then it will last way longer. Ultimately, that is the most eco-friendly gear: gear that lasts.

In your opinion, why is the move towards making all Patagonia shells made at Fair Trade certified factories and produced with recycled materials important?

I feel like as a society, we are making some progress in improving our sourcing and manufacturing but we still have so far to go and especially with the way we create and treat our waste. We live with the illusion that waste just magically disappears and our recycling still isn’t as efficient as it could be. Waste is a gold mine and needs to be used as a resource if we are serious about saving the planet. To make products from waste materials means saving them from going into our already overflowing and toxic landfills – and reduces our need to extract new precious resources from the ground. This should be prioritized as the norm whenever possible across all industries and that is what we should subsidise instead of fossil fuel extraction. While many will argue that all these green initiatives are too expensive, what we refuse to pay for now will cost us way more in the end and greatly reduce the quality of life that money can’t buy.

How do you stay conscious to environmental issues as a skier/snowboarder?

If someone pays the slightest attention to their surroundings, whether a skier or not, you can see the devastation everywhere. I personally don’t need a scientist to prove to me that we are having a massive impact on the environment, it is obvious all over the globe. But the science has been essential to prove it on paper and to give us predictions on what types of consequences we are heading towards worldwide and how it will affect us. It is already happening and it will unfortunately only get exponentially worse if we don’t immediately commit to some drastic changes towards a more sustainable future. These next few years really are our very last chance to determine what our future will look like!

Is there anything the snow community is doing as a whole to address the issues?

I think the gears are turning and it is amazing to see. Anyone alive who has the means should be aware and getting involved the best they can as we all rely on natural resources to survive. But as outdoors enthusiasts, we should be on the frontline even more since our livelihoods depend directly on an industry that relies on stable climate, good air quality, protecting our public lands for recreation and so on… To be honest, I think it is unacceptable for any company involved in the outdoors industry not to care or take action. That is why we must invest our money in the ones that do work on bold and innovative initiatives.

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