Once upon a time, if a pair of trousers got a hole in them, they were patched; socks were darned; the few clothes one had were taken care of fastidiously because they were meant to last a long time; when they were unusable, you simply tore them into rags to use around the house. Then clothes cheaply manufactured from abroad flowed into the states from abroad, and when you could have five t-shirts of the same color for $10, it became easy to pitch clothes after a few wearings. Why would anyone repair a zipper? How do you repair a zipper?
Long gone are the days when families like those of my father’s got by with a couple pairs of pants and maybe three or four shirts–part of the reason was that houses back then lacked closet space, few shopping options existed in the Central Valley, and my grandparents had a business that kept them very occupied. A generation later, cheap clothing chains and online stores make shopping easy. Signs indicate a reversal in the cheap clothing frenzy: more folks are aware of the impact cheap clothing has on workers and the environment, so second-hand and vintage stores generally do a brisk business. Find a clothing chain, however, that will actually tell customers that they should reduce their consumption is next to impossible, especially with the holiday season approaching. We just did: Patagonia.
Patagonia will soon launch a Common Threads Initiative that pushes what the company describes as the 4 R’s: reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle. It is another step in the Patagonia’s Common Threads Recycling Program, which started five years ago. That program encourages customers to send the outerwear company’s clothing back to facilities that would reprocess them into new garments, therefore keeping those items out of landfills.
The Initiative will kick Patagonia’s goal of a closed loop recycling system into overdrive. So far the company’s efforts have diverted 27 tons of textiles from the landfill. Meanwhile, Patagonia works with bluesign, a third-party organizations that vets products for chemicals and residues, and through The Footprint Chronicles, customers can track the overall impact of products from design until delivery.
Patagonia’s approach may appear unintuitive and against the company’s interest, but at a time when more consumers vet the source and impact of the clothes they can buy, this could be a smart move to entrench its brand loyalty. Plus Patagonia’s clothes never had the price point that would encourage you to buy five items of a color and then pitch them in a month. Given the profile of the outdoor-loving consumer who buys their clothes, the encouragement of customers to be conscious of how they purchase products is not much of a stretch.