Patagonia is the first in the industry to make all shells with recycled materials and sew them all in a Fair Trade Certified factories. That's what is being celebrated with their Shell, Yeah! campaign. The focus is on the achievement - causing less harm with their environmental footprint and supporting the people who build the product - and on recognising the risks and rewards of going first. Someone has to do it. And with 62 shells now responsibly made, including the Ascensionist jacket, Patagonia is glad they did it. Now they want the whole industry to follow.
We chat to Pasha Whitmire, Patagonia Senior Material Developer plus Patagonia Climb Ambassadors Sean Villanueva-O'Driscoll and Pete Whitaker to find out about the Shell, Yeah! collection and why climbers should be engaged in environmentalism.
Pasha Whitmere, Patagonia Senior Material Developer
What are the first steps in fabric development when going down the recycled route?
Usually the first step is just to identify the problem we are trying to solve, and what fabric specifications might get us there. Then we look at different fabrics in a given collection that might hit our target. We'll see if those targets and specifications can be met with recycled yarns. Sometimes it takes a few different iterations, especially in the case of the Ascensionist jacket. Since it is so lightweight, we had to adjust the weave pattern and bonding method a few times, it was quite the project with Gore to get to the final fabric that met all of our specifications.
Does it take longer in development and if so, how long have you been working on the fabrics that make up the Shell Yeah collection?
It takes longer in general to develop fabrics at Patagonia. Because of our strict test standards that ensure the quality and longevity of our products, we have to go through many trials with the fabric to make sure it hits all the targets, and if it doesn't, we tweak it, and try again until we finally get it. The Ascensionist took over a year to develop.
What were the sources of the recycled nylon and polyester you came to use across the collection?
I love this question, often we only see, it's recycled/it's eco! DONE! Instead we should really be asking ourselves, if it's recycled, what waste was this made from? In the case of the face in the Ascensionist, the nylon was made from post-industrial yarn, spinning waste that the yarn factories typically produce when they start and stop their massive melt spinning lines. This usually equates to 2-3% of their entire manufacturing volume, but it's a waste nonetheless. Most of this typically would be down cycled if there was a market for it, into lower quality nylon products, or landfilled if there wasn't a buyer. By creating a demand with products like the Ascenionist, we insure it is recycled every time back into top quality goods.
I've heard nylon is more difficult to recycle than polyester, is this true? And if so why did you want to take on the challenge of using recycled nylon?
It's known that nylon is more difficult only because there is less nylon out there, especially segregated waste that is clean and identifiable, and there are less facilities and processes that can handle it. The post-industrial recycled nylon we use is only clean, white yarn waste, that is easy to melt down and put back into the processes. To get post-consumer dirty nylon waste is a much more difficult process that requires a robust collection system and a chemical recycling plant. We started using ECONYL chemically recycled nylon with the Nano Puff storm in F20, and will continue to expand this type of recycled nylon into future seasons. For F19, the bulk of our recycled nylon is post-industrial, like that used in the Ascensionist.
What is the impact of using recycled nylon and polyester?
Usually we are decreasing CO2 emissions, energy, etc. The greatest impact is creating demand for waste that otherwise would have to be landfilled or incinerated in the best case, and end up in the oceans in the worst case. Waste, especially plastic waste is a huge problem today, and designing plastic products that do not incorporate recycled content is simply a huge miss!
Patagonia was one of the first brands to make fleeces from PCR back in 1993, how are the brand being forward-thinking or ahead of the industry with this collection?
The key to this collection is that we moved all of our most technical sport pieces to utilize some portion of recycled content. We busted the myths out there that recycled is too expensive, or that it doesn't perform as well. The collection is living proof that you can still compete in the marketplace with reasonably priced goods that were made in a responsible way. It's a sign to the industry that it can be done, and I hope it will help other designers and developers out there to consider the materials their products are made from, and make the responsible choice for our people and our planet!
Sean Villanueva-O'Driscoll and Pete Whitaker, Patagonia Climb Ambassadors
Have you always been engaged with enviro issues or has this grown over time?
Sean: I have always been aware of environmental issues, being in climbing and being part of Patagonia has made it more important and I think we should be engaged with it.
Pete: I grew up in the Peak District and I would say my family has always been outdoorsy . They always respected and have been conscious of the environment. So I have always been engaged around environmental issues but more subconsciously from my upbringing, but my awareness and involvement has grown over time and more recently.
Is the climbing community engaged and passionate about environmentalism?
Sean: The community is in contact with nature and it is our playground so it is important to them - but I wouldn't say as a whole the community is very engaged, unless it is a local issue which is dear to their hearts. But I think it's important to communicate about these projects and fights - the decision makers then get more pressure. Every little bit helps, even if the climb community are not fully engaged, simply communicating is a step and I hope we can do it more.
Pete: I think climbers are passionate about protecting the environment and National Parks because they want to go and rock climb there. But I've come to realise, climbers also like to break the rules, at the same time they want to protect these places. Which is contradictory but I realise the rules and regulations protecting national parks are a good thing. I don't want to go out there and consciously break them because they are there for a reason, and I think other climbers feel this way.
In your opinion, why is the move towards making all Patagonia shells Fair Trade and produced with recycled materials important?
Sean: I'm not a product geek, so for me if it works, it works. The fact it is also fairtrade and made with recycled materials is a huge plus and important to communicate about so that hopefully other companies and other people will start finding those things important too!
Pete: For obvious reasons, but I think it's good that Patagonia is setting an example for other companies to follow in terms of using recycled materials, which the brand has done time and time again. Not only with products but also the company going carbon neutral by 2025, changing everything. It is setting a good example for other brands in the industry to follow. That is then more important than the jacket. The collection is an example of what everyone should be doing. Being part of Patagonia has made me more aware of my environmental consciousness.