In this series with Testex, Ragtrader looks at trailblazers in the sustainability space.
What have been some of the positive advancements to sustainable fashion?
In recent years, it’s been great to see the growth in the apparel sector investigating supply chains more carefully.
Working with suppliers to reduce adverse social and environmental impacts and ensure production is conducted under safe, fair, legal and humane working conditions is crucial.
The next step for many brands is making that information available to customers, so they can make informed decisions in-line with their values.
At Patagonia, our supply chain resource is The Footprint Chronicles.
On our website, we're completely honest about where our products come from and the resources required to create them, sharing clear maps, data and short films.
At the other end of a product’s life, we’re seeing circular fashion initiatives pop-up to combat waste problems.
‘Rethink, Reuse, Repair, Recycle’ is making inroads on the consumerism mentalities of the past. Patagonia’s ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign spoke to Rethink and Reuse, as well as highlighted the value of purchasing quality over quantity.
Repairing clothes is not a new idea for Patagonia either; we’ve had repair services for our clothing since the 1970s and our Worn Wear program started in 2005.
What have been some of the key sustainability projects for Patagonia in the Australian market?
We’re in business to save our home planet – that’s our mission statement and it underpins all that we do.
Ever since Patagonia had an office (and wasn’t just selling gear out of the back of Yvon Chouinard’s car), we’ve devoted desk space, our free time, and a percentage of our sales to protecting wild nature.
Through our 1% For The Planet commitment, we’ve contributed more than US$110 million in grants and in-kind donations to grass-roots environmental activists around the globe.
In Australia, we’ve actually exceeded our 1% commitment, and last year had more applicants and recipients than ever before.
Locally, we gave the Big Oil Don’t Surf movement a platform with our 2018 film ‘Never Town’ and later supported campaigners from The Wilderness Society, the Great Australian Bight Alliance, and Surfrider Foundation Australia.
In February this year, Norwegian energy giant Equinor abandoned its plan to develop the Great Australian Bight as a deep-water oil field.
Growing from a tiny grassroots group into a national movement involving tens of thousands of people, The Fight For The Bight became the single biggest coastal environmental action in Australian history.
Patagonia has set an ambitious, but attainable goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2025 across our entire business, including our supply chain.
We will eliminate, capture or otherwise mitigate all of the carbon emissions we create, including those from the factories that make our textiles and finished clothing, and the farms that grow our natural fibres.
When it comes to our Australia stores, which we also offer as community hubs and event spaces, we think carefully about their footprint and how they can align with our brand’s values.
If you’ve been inside our Melbourne store you’ll see photography celebrating civil action; from 60s anti-nuclear protests to blockades against logging in East Gippsland in the mid-80s and the recent School Strike 4 Climate.
Before opening in late 2019, we restored the façade and ground-level interiors of Carson House – a 1884-built heritage building – before fitting it out with reclaimed and sustainable materials.
What have been some of the new projects on a fabric/garment/circular fashion front?
I mentioned our Worn Wear program earlier; it has evolved from a blog about the stories we wear into repair centres, tours, the wornwear.com trade-in business, and the ReCrafted range, which launched this year.
While this program was first rolled-out in North America, it has also seen great success in other regions, and we’re keen to expand it in Australia in the coming years.
With the popularity of our surf products locally, our renewable Yulex® natural rubber in our wetsuits has been another stand-out. Yulex® is tapped from hevea trees that can produce rubber for 30 years; it replaces conventional non-renewable neoprene.
Then there’s the Better Sweater which has long been a staple piece for Patagonia. The product team has innovated all aspects of its footprint, and this season are stoked to share that the Better Sweater range is all recycled – well, everything bar the zipper teeth (there’s always work to do).
What are the top-selling garments in Australia?
We’ve put a spotlight on our traceable down jackets as well as recycled and Fair Trade Certified sewn fleeces and rainwear.
These products are offered for men, women and kids’ and we’ve been really encouraged to see them be so well received by Australians.
Then there is our range of cotton t-shirts and sweaters Patagonia tees are made from organic cotton – something we've been committed to since 1996.
But to us, organic was just the first step, Regenerative Organic is what we need now.
This form of agriculture explores carbon sequestration potential, whether it be for farming food or fibre, and challenges us to think about our business impact going further than just ‘doing less harm’.
This is a major focus for Patagonia in 2020 and into the future.
Because healthy soil traps carbon, we think Regenerative Organic could draw down more greenhouse gases than other farming methods and this growing movement could help stop climate change.
This season, the first pieces made from regenerative organic cotton recently arrived in our online store. To see such a revolutionary concept at work, from farm to product, really spurs you on.
What future opportunities are there in the sustainability space for fashion retailers?
While increased supply-chain transparency across our industry is something to commend, there is still a way to go to.
As apparel retailers we need to keep learning, sharing and improving on this front. Coming together – whether that be through business communities, such as B-Corp, 1% For The Planet, The Regenerative Organic Alliance – and utilising the technology available can make it happen.
I think it’s also paramount that we move beyond just thinking of our industry in a bubble.
In the face of political inaction, businesses can be catalysts for change, supporting and amplifying those fighting to save our home planet.