To that end, the outdoor door clothing company recently created repair guides in partnership with iFixit to help customers learn about the art of repairing clothes. Repair guides include how to patch a down jacket, how to install a zipper and how to remove stains. In addition, Patagonia also promotes product repair through its Worn Wear program. The message to customers is simple: Do not toss out any gear that only needs simple repairs.
Patagonia’s efforts fly in the face of a fashion industry that tends to create products that just don't last. Over the past 20 years, the number of clothes the average consumer owns increased by 60 percent, but that same consumer only keeps each garment half as long. To counter this fast-fashion trend, Patagonia says it wants to create garments that last, which includes proper care on the part of consumers.
Patagonia says it takes back 100 percent of the products its customers return through the Worn Wear program. In addition, the company claims to have recycled almost 6,800 pounds of products in 2018, keeping that volume of textiles out of landfills. If a returned product is not fit for recycling, the company holds on to it in its Reno, Nevada, warehouse until it can find what it terms a “better solution.”
In turn, Patagonia sells its recycled products through the Worn Wear online shop. Launched in 2017, the program is a profitable one for the company, with over 120,000 units of recycled products sold. Patagonia aims to shrink its stockpile of products that cannot yet be recycled or reused and says it's investing in solutions to reach its ultimate goal: using only recycled and renewable materials in its products by 2025.
The textile industry leaves a huge impact on the environment. One estimate suggests it takes 2,700 liters of water to make just one cotton shirt. That is enough water for one person to drink for two and a half years. Cotton farming uses only 3 percent of the world’s arable land but is responsible for 24 percent and 11 percent of the world’s insecticide and pesticide use, respectively.
Synthetic fibers are not any better for the environment as they emit more greenhouse gases per kilogram. Dyeing fabrics, whether they are from natural fibers or synthetics, also requires a significant amount of water. Fabric dyeing uses around 1.3 trillion gallons of water every year, which is enough water to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to the World Resources Institute.
Data from the EPA suggest textile generation in the U.S. nearly topped 17 million in 2017, and only 2.6 million tons of textile waste was recycled.
Discarded clothing makes up most textile waste, and few solutions are in sight. Textiles take 20 to 200 years to decompose, according to Close the Loop, which produces guides on how to make the fashion industry circular. While they decompose, textiles emit methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 28 times that of carbon dioxide.
Patagonia is not the only company with a take-back program. The North Face’s Clothes the Loop program encourages its customers to drop off unwanted clothing and footwear at its stores. The company sends the collected clothes and shoes to the nonprofit Soles4Souls. The popular brand Madewell partners with the trade group Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green to collect denim from any brand at its stores. The program turns the unwanted denim into housing insulation.
Take-back programs that remake unwanted clothes into something new help cut down on the environmental impact of fashion. The fashion industry can become circular as more clothing and footwear companies create take-back programs and make garments and shoes from recycled products. A circular fashion industry “would benefit business, society, and the environment,” as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation puts it.
Image credit: Worn Well by Patagonia
Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.