Expectations for a more sustainable supply chain within the apparel sector keep growing. Designers and their peers working within clothing and retail brands are rapidly changing their products’ materials to meet ever-evolving customer requirements.
Whilst organic (or responsibly sourced) cotton and recycled polyester are among the go-to materials for sustainable apparel right now, some companies are pushing the envelope even further. Such efforts include manufacturing materials from sources like lotus leaves and oyster shells. On that point, these three outdoor brands are testing the boundaries of what can be made “wearable.”
Patagonia, rethinking the rubber supply chain
Patagonia has long been known for its forward-thinking approach toward sustainability. The pioneering company was the first to eliminate neoprene from its production line due to its negative impacts on the environment. Neoprene is not only non-biodegradable, but critics have linked the material to chemical odors and even illnesses. Patagonia transitioned away from this source of synthetic rubber and in 2016, it switched to using a natural material, Yulex.
This natural rubber, which comes from Hevea trees, is frequently sourced from South America. It can absorb carbon from the atmosphere, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 80 percent during the manufacturing process.
Producers of this material, however, have to mindful of how they cultivate rubber from Hevea trees, as the result can be more harmful environmental consequences across the supply chain. In the past, companies having Hevea trees within their supply chains have been linked to deforestation as they strived to meet increasing demand for rubber. Nevertheless, Patagonia assures its customers that they are not contributing towards deforestation, as the brand has partnered with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to ensure that these trees are doing their part to ensure biodiversity.
Finisterre: moving away from fluorocarbons and nylon
Alongside Patagonia, Finisterre is another company that says it is incorporating sustainability within all aspects of its supply chain. The brand, which launched in 2003, designs outerwear and wetsuits (as shown above) for British surfers battling the cold. Finisterre has focused some of its attention on eliminating materials that have the potential to harm the environment.
For example, Finisterre’s most recent work has been eradicating fluorocarbons from its fabrics. Waterproof jackets that have fluorocarbons within their base materials are durable and water repellent. However, these fluorocarbons will slowly be released from such jackets, making their way into water systems.
Since 2018, Finisterre has been producing fluorocarbon-free jackets. As an alternative, the brand uses a durable water repellent called Neoseed, which contains botanical extracts and lotus leaves that can repel water. This water repellent agent breaks down naturally within the environment so that water systems are not affected by harmful chemicals.
Along with other swimwear brands, Finisterre has also discontinued its use of nylon within the supply chain for its swimwear and windbreakers.
Nylon is another synthetic material that poses risks to the environment as it is made from non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. The production of nylon has also been attributed to the shedding of microplastics into the world’s oceans. Further, the manufacturing of this materials results in nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
To that end, Finisterre has switched to Econyl. As discussed in TriplePundit’s previous coverage, this fabric is derived from discarded materials such as fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring and industrial plastic. From Finisterre’s point of view, the use of Econyl allows the brand to “close the loop and turn a plastic problem into fabric solutions.”
Jetty has found a use for discarded oyster shells
Based in New Jersey, Jetty is an outdoor clothing brand that says it is on a mission to turn the tides when it comes to sustainable materials. For years, Jetty has been involved in oyster shell recycling and reef building efforts off the coast of its home state. The team at Jetty soon realized that there could be another use for oyster shells, and the outcome is Oystex.
This material is a blend of plastic bottles, oyster shells and recycled polyester. First, discarded oyster shells are collected from restaurants and local towns. During the manufacturing process, the shells are crushed into a fine powder and combined with fibers from recycled plastic bottles. The final product that is used as material for some of Jetty’s garments.
Image credit: Finisterre U.K. via Facebook
Holly is a recent graduate from the University of Southampton with a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Philosophy. She is currently working as a freelance writer and has a strong interest in the outdoors lifestyle, environmental issues and sustainable solutions. In her free time, she trains and competes internationally as a professional kite surfer.