On any given day, you’re likely to find a small team of product designers, material developers and scrappy marketers holed up in a converted mine building in the town of St. Agnes on the North Cornwall coast—unless, of course, the surf is good. At those times, you’re more likely to see these folks, who operate the Finisterre outdoor apparel company, bobbing in the chilly waters of the Atlantic, just a quick walk away from the office of Finisterre.
Finisterre makes jackets and base layers for people who love being outside, whether they’re surfing, hiking, skiing, climbing…whatever.
Most of the baselayers it sells are made of the soft, high-performance wool of sustainably-raised merino sheep. But the company is not only using materials from animals in its products, it’s also designing products that mimic the way that animals stay warm and dry. In developing this season’s Humboldt and Storm Tracker Finisterre jackets, the designers employed biomimicry.
“A lot of what nature does is awe-inspring. So we try to use it in the way we make clothing. After lots of research with academics at Bath University, we have been able to manufacture the Napa lining [for the Humboldt and Storm Tracker]. It mimics the structure of otter fur,” says Finisterre director of marketing Ernie Capbert. The lining has multiple layers that work to keep heat close to the body while wicking away moisture.
Many other makers of outdoor clothing take a similar approach to jacket construction, but often employ various types of membrane liners made (with very small pores) that allow make fabric to be waterproof but still breathable. But Finisterre stays away from membranes for a number of reasons. Because they are laminated to the outer fabric, they cannot be easily recycled. Plus, manufacturing the membranes is highly energy intensive and usually requires a number of hazardous chemicals.
The material Finisterre uses is made of recycled polyester, which can be recycled again at the end of the jacket’s life.
The company’s ingenuity and attention to lifecycle and sustainable materials has not gone unnoticed. It has won numerous awards from organizations including ISPO, an international outdoor sports trade group; the UK newspaper The Observer (an Ethical Business Award); the Surfer’s Path (its Green Wave Award), and the city of Cornwall, England (its Sustainability Award).
For such a small firm—it has just a handful of employees—Finisterre has some very big plans, including breeding and raising its own sheep in the UK. This would allow the company to have total control over the source of its wool. Gaining better control over the quality and sustainability of the materials it uses became very important to Finisterre after it discovered that the organization that issued sustainability accreditation for the merino wool it was sourcing from Tasmania is also an exporter of live sheep, and that’s a practice to which Finisterre objects on ethical grounds.
In 2007, Finisterre decided to pull production out of China in view of concerns over working conditions and employee rights. Manufacturing now takes place in Devon and Portugal, and at a facility in Colombia run by nuns as part of a rehabilitation project for at risk women.