The tagline in The North Face’s website’s sustainability section is ‘exploration without compromise,’ which acknowledges the necessity for the brand to respect its environment due to its specialisation in outdoor wear. They are clear about their sustainability commitments and embrace accountability. From what we do know of the £70 anorak’s materials and The North Face / its parent company VF Corporation’s sustainability actions, goals, and programmes, the Cyclone Anorak has earned itself a respectable rating. The North Face’s Clothes the Loop recycling programme is especially stand-out to me, pushing the pertinence of circularity. Plus, The North Face claims to be on track for 100% of its fabrics to be responsibly sourced by 2025. As well as this, although not directly related to the Cyclone Anorak, an indicator of The North Face’s growing commitment to a sustainable supply chain is their creation of the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), to reduce unnecessary harm to birds from which down is sourced. The North Face donated the RDS to Textile Exchange, hence having wide positive implications through other organisations being able to seek sustainable down using this tool, which is promising.
Much of The North Face’s sustainability stems from VF’s Global Compliance Principles. These kinds of principles allow for a degree of confidence to consumers that products of The North Face are ethical from at least those standards. Mostly, though, I observed that The North Face struggles with specificity. They definitely could be worse, but it would be great to see detail on the location of manufacture, as well as information on other components of the garment (zips, shockcords) in addition to what we already know about the main fabric body.
The Cyclone Anorak is made of WindWall™ 100% recycled and recyclable polyester, with a non-PFC durable water-repellent finish. However, it is difficult to find information on where this specific type of fabric is processed, by whom, how, and the sustainability of the transportation of the fabric. Specificity also lacks in these areas regarding the material of the zip, shockcords, elastic binding, and the non-PFC finish; it appears that these are not made of recycled materials in the same way that the main polyester body is.
It is good to see the water-repellent finish being non-PFC; PFCs (per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals) break down very slowly, remaining in snow, ice, and water for years after it has rubbed off ski jackets and other gear from various outdoor activities. Some PFCs have shown to negatively affect fertility, the hormone system, and can be carcinogenic. In general, the outdoor activities and apparel sector has been moving away from PFCs now that known alternatives have emerged. The claimed durability of this finish is also a plus, with an intentional design for longevity – running with the brand’s aim for products that last.
The North Face has partnered with Bluesign Technologies as a move to reduce the impact of their manufacturing mills by more efficiently using water and energy, and by addressing harmful fabric chemicals. Their system addresses the impacts of the supply chain in five areas: resource productivity; worker health and safety; consumer safety; water emissions; and air emissions. The North Face has chosen to encourage their current supply chain partners to voluntarily engage with the Bluesign system. On the one hand, this might indicate that some North Face products are perhaps less sustainable than if they used fabric mills with already more sustainable foundations. On the other hand, it arguably has positive wider implications: by encouraging companies with less sustainable foundations to change, more widespread sustainable influence can be made than by just opting for the suppliers who are already practicing sustainability.
I had a hard time finding specifics on the whereabouts of the discussed fabric mills or other members of the anorak’s supply chain. Most consumers, I’m sure, would appreciate to at least to know how far the product and its components have traveled. The North Face addresses having purchased offsets since 2007, where much of the information on this focuses on offsetting emissions from employee travel and physical stores. Unfortunately, information is scarce on whether VF / The North Face offsets the carbon footprint of the manufacturing and shipping of their products.
VF does emphasise that by the end of 2021, they intend to have over 100 products mapped from their origin to the store, with the ultimate goal of full traceability of all VF products. Their 2021 aim is a relatively short-term goal, which demonstrates an understanding of the reality that results among corporations must be made sooner rather than later.
The North Face’s website emphasises their focus on scale circularity, recycling previously owned gear as well as reusing raw materials. Their specifically designed circularity products are due to launch in 2022, as well as their Limited Warranty programme, the Renewed Collection, and the Clothes the Loop programme. Their packaging sustainability is to be accelerated, with hopes to eliminate single-use plastic by 2025. All paper materials are either recycled or third-party certified.
The aforementioned Clothes the Loop initiative aims to reduce the persistent issue of landfill. By implicating collection bins sent to recycling centres, clothes can be repurposed or recycled for use in insulation, carpet padding, or clothing fibres. To promote this programme, participants are offered coupons towards their next purchase, and consequent profits are donated to national charities. Albeit not a particularly new idea in the industry, it’s great to see a circular system being utilised.
VF aims to ‘improve the lives’ of one million people in their supply chains by 2025, and two million by 2030. With their Worker & Community Development initiative, VF have been focusing on water and sanitation, adequate health and nutrition, and accessible childcare and education – directly working with communities to target local priorities.
VF outlines their Global Compliance Principles, which set the environmental and social requirements a supply chain company must meet in order to do business with any of VF’s brands. Standardised requirements like these make the gauging of a specific product’s sustainability a little easier and, to an extent, makes up for the fact that such large companies tend not to provide as much detail on what goes into making a specific product as some smaller companies do. Although, the scale of a corporation and its brands should ultimately not be an excuse for this lack of detail.
Overall, although fairly sustainable, what essentially pulls the Cyclone Anorak’s rating down is the lack of information on material origins and manufacturing at an individual product level, or even at brand level - as well as the fact that The North Face and VF’s goals are yet to be met. But, we can see that VF and The North Face are certainly aiming in the right direction.