Environmental activism is rarely central to a multinational garment brand. Yet, Patagonia is a clothing company that prides itself on its rigorous commitment to environmental protection. Patagonia is scathing of both fast fashion and greenwashing. The company aims to produce high quality, long lasting products that have minimal environmental impact. They do not claim to be sustainable, recognising that whilst they do as much as they can to limit their impact, they still remain part of the problem. I was incredibly impressed with the level of transparency, traceability and information on their website (possibly the most comprehensive display of environmental accountability I have seen from any company in the industry). The company even offers a repair service and encourages second-hand buying . They even ran a campaign asking people not to buy their products at all. It is one of the most (if not the most) overtly environmentally focussed ‘big’ clothing companies, that use traceable, recycled and organic materials across their range. To improve they could work on limiting emissions in their supply chain. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that ALL workers in the supply chain are being provided an adequate living wage, but this is something the company says it’s working on. As far as an environmentally-friendly (but new), long-term quality outdoor jacket goes - this is a good option.
It has netting made of NetPlus material which is made from 100% recycled fishing nets collected from South American fishing communities. The Californian company Buero works with these communities to collect the nets which are then 100% traceable. Patagonia has kept hundreds of nets out of the sea and helped to provide supplementary income for communities. The company has currently saved 149 tons of plastic from entering the ocean. The down that is used in the jacket comes from 100% recycled items that were otherwise destined for landfill. For instance, cushions, bedding etc. These were items that could not be sold, therefore saving waste and reducing the need for the production of new materials. Patagonia estimate to save 31% of co2 emissions per kg of down (compared to non-recycled material). Nylon is an essential material that is needed to retain strength while remaining lightweight. However it is environmentally costly to produce as it is petroleum based (greenhouse gas emissions). As such they use a combination blend of post-consumer and virgin nylon in a 50/50/yarn. The recycled nylon comes from discarded industrial production and fishing nets (and other products destined for landfill e.g. carpets, clothing, plastics). Some items use a higher percentage of recycled material, but this tends to deduct from the durability of the product. The company is exploring options for a plant based replacement, but a viable alternative is not yet available. PFC-free ( nonfluorinated) DWR coating is used to make the jacket water repellent without the use of harmful chemicals. Standard DWR coatings contain fluorine, which bonds to carbon and doesn’t degrade naturally. The science on nonfluorinated DWR is incomplete and not yet viable for fully waterproof outer layers. Many outdoor products that have previously used nonfluorinated DWR suffer longevity issues, which can be worse for the environment in the long term due to increased consumerism. The company uses nonfluorinated DWR across 90% of its range in products that are not needed to be fully waterproof outer layers. The lining is made from 100% recycled polyester, wth the material mostly coming from plastic bottles. So far, using recycled polyester, the company has avoided 5.2 million excess lbs of CO2.
The company Buero sorts and cleans fishing nets from South American communities, shredding them in Chile to turn them into recycled yarn. Normally, recycled materials are melted at high temperatures which helps to destroy contaminants. However, as nylon melts at a lower temperature it must be carefully cleaned to remove impurities. The recycled down insulation comes from Ohio and assembly occurs in Taiwan. A material traceability program is in place to provide full transparency. Although the materials themselves are ethically sourced, the distances involved in the transportation of raw materials for assembly (and sale) are large. We have to assume that this would result in GHG emissions. Patagonia has instilled an ‘Ironclad guarantee’ which encourages longevity of products by guaranteeing repairs/replacement/refund if the customer is not satisfied with the product.
Incentivising repairs through their ‘repair and reuse program’ decreases the need to purchase new items.
Patagonia vets factories/mills to ensure that they meet their rigorous environmental and social standards via a ‘4-step process’. For example they work with Ohio (USA) based company, Downlite, to provide the insulating material for their jackets. Assembly occurs in a textile mill owned by Formosa Taffeta Co., in Taiwan. They employ 177 and 2949 staff in each factory respectively. Although they do not own any factories themselves, and thus have limited direct control over working conditions, they pay a premium to ensure all products are Fair Trade Certified. Through this initiative, Patagonia pays extra money to factory workers, who can then decide how to spend it. Usually, this decision is made by a democratically elected ‘workers committee’, who often spend the money on community projects. In this way, the Fair Trade certification not only helps individual workers (garment manufacture is one of the lowest paying and highly exploitative sectors globally) but also the wider community. In addition they follow a Supply Chain Environmental Responsibility program to limit and reduce environmental harm during the production process. They also follow a Supplier Workplace Code of Conduct, modelled on International Labor Organisation (ILO) standards, ensuring that they abide by relevant regulation and law in all countries in the supply chain. The company scored 51-60% in the 2021 Fashion Transparency Index. Patagonia has been committed to the 1% for the Planet pledge for over 35 years - donating 1% of sales to environmental protection projects since 1985 (more than $89 million so far). They encourage other businesses to join this scheme.