PARTNERSHIPS & WINTERSPORTS
7 ways sustainable outdoor brands are leading the way
Martina Russo, CEO
22 July 2022
There’s no denying the clothing industry has taken a bit of a beating in recent years over its disregard for sustainability. But with the fashion sector one of the world’s biggest polluters, outdoor brands have collectively taken steps to make the industry better for everyone.
Skiing, snowboarding, climbing, mountain biking or whatever sports floats your boat, our favorite sports require a fair amount of gear. our favorite sports require a fair amount of gear. Sustainable outdoor brands need to make sure that the planet and its people don’t suffer when equipment and clothes are manufactured, used and discarded.
In this blog post, we deep dive into the things sustainable outdoor brands are doing to minimize their impact on the planet and create gear that benefits everyone.
7 things outdoor brands are doing to make the world more sustainable
While no outdoor brand claims to be perfect, each step helps to make apparel and gear more sustainable – no matter how small. Here’s what the industry is doing to be more sustainable.
1/ Improving social standards for everyone
People are at the heart of sustainable businesses. From the factory workers who make our clothes to the customers who buy them, we all expect outdoor brands to use ethical practices wherever they can.
The most sustainable outdoor brands:
- Pay fair wages, regardless of the country they operate in
- Promote and encourage a gender equal workforce
- Are mindful of their social footprint (the effect they have on people and communities)
- Attract and retain the best talent in the industry
The Fashion Revolution movement, ‘Who Made My Clothes’, is a brilliant way for outdoor brands (like Picture Organic Clothing) to promote transparency within the garment industry. Fashion Revolution believes in an industry that values the environment and people over growth and profit – something all sustainable outdoor brands can get behind.
If you want to learn more, the Fashion Transparency Index is a great way to see which fashion brands are leading the way and who has more to do.
2/ Using eco-friendly materials in their collections
The materials used to make clothes are just as important as how they’re manufactured. Synthetic materials are damaging to the environment because they:
- Release carbon dioxide and toxic waste into the atmosphere
- Take ages to decompose
- Are made using harmful chemicals and non-renewable oils
- Release 8,000 tonnes of plastic into our oceans each year
- Don’t perform as well as organic materials. This means you’ll need to replace your adventure gear more often
Using recycled materials has become the standard. But the best outdoor brands are pushing even further by implementing new textile standards and investing in microfibre research. Doing this helps outdoor brands adopt better standards and, more importantly, stick to them.
Many outdoor brands are switching to animal-friendly materials – like PrimaLoft instead of goose down, vegan leather and faux fur. Others, like Patagonia and Vaude, also use cruelty-free wool, guaranteeing their sheep’s safety and welfare.
Sustainable materials that are kind to animals appeal to more people and can be made using sustainable processes. Win-win!
3/ Ecological footprint
To reduce their carbon emissions and ecological footprint, sustainable outdoor brands must be aware of their impact on the environment from the start. After all, how can you judge your progress if you don’t know how much waste you generated in the first place?
Switching to 100% renewable energies – like Picture Organic Clothing is committed to – is a smart way for outdoor brands to reduce their impact on the planet. It also helps future-proof their operations when other sectors catch up and renewable energies become the norm.
There are platforms, like ‘How Good’, that can help brands improve their environmental and social impact with real-world data.
4/ Being mindful about the suppliers they work with
Collaboration is key. For sustainable outdoor brands, partnering with ethical and eco-friendly factories makes it easier to achieve a circular business. That’s because everyone in the supply chain can share ideas and innovations to make future collections as sustainable as possible – right down to the trims, packaging and clothing tags.
Everyone will be on board with the brand’s sustainability efforts. The knock-on effect is that they will prioritize quality over churning out endless products and undercutting at every corner.
Setting out sustainability credentials as early as possible helps outdoor brands make the right choices from the get-go.
5/ Reuse, repair, recycle – giving old gear new life
Shockingly, 85% of textiles end up in landfill every. single. year. That’s not okay. To tackle this ongoing crisis, many outdoor brands are now offering consumers the chance to repair, resell and recycle their used gear to keep it out of landfill for as long as possible – if not forever. By creating a ‘circular economy’, clothes enjoy a new lease of life whenever they’re passed on.
Some outdoor brands are already well ahead of the game. For example, The North Face Renewed launched in 2018 to prevent its textiles from ending up in landfill. This is a part of the company’s commitment to circular fashion and ensures that its used clothing is repaired and brought back to life.
Similarly, ski brand EcoSki makes high-performance skiwear more accessible by offering a daily rental service. EcoSki has brought together a host of the more responsible brands and made their kit available to either buy and/or rent. Their pre-owned and repairs service helps to extend the lifetime of these products and reduce the pressure on our planet’s finite resources, limit waste and also help skiers save money at the same time.
The production phase of a garments life is the most impactful, so it’s crucial we extend the lifespan of these items through sharing, repairing, and re-wearing, and this is the ultimate goal for EcoSki. You can also buy pre-owned gear worn by athletes and other famous outdoor names for a fraction of the price, giving customers the chance to do good while saving money.
6/ Reliable designs that outlast fast-fashion trends
Adventure gear is made to last. Outdoor brands spend a lot of time and resources creating pieces that can withstand the trail, the crag and the ski slopes for years and years.
Instead of reinventing the wheel each season, design teams make minor tweaks to their clothes to make them even better than before. That way, consumers don’t feel like they have to keep spending money on the latest trends. Sure, quality outdoor gear costs more, but it’s an investment – especially when compared to throw-away clothes designed to be worn only once or twice.
Making timeless ethical outdoor clothing means that customers have no reason to get rid of them before their time’s up. And they’ll look good season after season, whatever the fashion trend.
7/ Ditching the plastic for eco-friendly packaging
Packaging has a big part to play in boosting a brand’s sustainability credentials. Over time, sustainable packaging reduces its impact on the environment and helps create a circular economy. Outdoor brands are turning to biodegradable, eco-friendly materials that protect clothes in transit but can also be reused again and again.
Several outdoor brands, including Burton, GSI Outdoors and Bontrager, have joined the Responsible Packaging Movement. Launched by prAna, the movement is a space for like-minded brands to share their learnings about sustainable packaging and work towards a shared goal of eliminating plastic across the fashion industry.
Outside of the movement, The North Face and other lifestyle brands have committed to eliminating single-use packaging by 2025. Watch this space…
Our favorite eco-friendly brands paving the way for green adventures
Several sustainable outdoor brands are leading the way with manufacturing and selling their gear mindfully. Here are some that are making a difference.
When you think of sustainable outdoor brands, Patagonia is bound to be top of the list. That’s because this iconic adventure brand has a long list of sustainability credentials. First and foremost, Patagonia creates long-lasting products using recycled materials. It also encourages customers to buy clothes more thoughtfully to help reduce consumerism, even though this undoubtedly comes at a cost to their sales.
Patagonia sells second-hand clothes through its Worn Wear hub. The aim here is to keep gear in play for as long as possible. According to the website, “buying used extends a garment’s life by about two years,” reducing waste and our reliance on virgin resources.
Last – but definitely not least – Patagonia works in partnership with Fair Trade USA, offering more Fair Trade Certified sewn styles than any other outdoor apparel brand. Since 2014, this has impacted more than 64,000 workers across 10 countries.
Photo credits: Patagonia
Based in Germany, mountain sports brand Vaude makes climate-neutral, sustainable outdoor gear using materials with a lower CO2 footprint. The brand believes in repairing clothes rather than throwing them away. As a result, it designs timeless, long-lasting gear that can be recycled at the end of its life cycle.
Vaude relies on natural materials in its collections, including organic cotton, hemp, wood fibers and bioplastics. And it’s not just the clothes that are sustainable – the zips and buttons are environmentally certified, too.
3. Picture Organic Clothing
We’ve already mentioned how outdoor clothing brand Picture Organic Clothing is one of the top supporters of the Who Made My Clothes movement. But that’s not all the good stuff the brand’s doing. Picture is committed to creating an entirely sustainable business – starting with eliminating fossil fuels from its supply chain.
Picture Organic is also a member of the Fair Wear Foundation as part of its efforts to improve working conditions for the people who make the clothes. But while Picture is mindful of its impact on the environment, it realizes that it needs the support of its community to make a difference, and works with other businesses to achieve this.
Cotopaxi – a certified B Corporation – creates sustainable products to inspire adventure, fights extreme poverty and encourages people to do good.
This outdoor brand Cotopaxi is also committed to fixing issues within its supply chain, conducting annual audits and anonymous supplier surveys to identify problems. And to ensure its workers are well looked after, it provides direct grants to all workers in cut-and-sew factories to increase their wellbeing.
Photo credits: Cotopaxi
Rab is a certified Climate Neutral Company that works with grassroots groups in Europe and Northern America to improve access to the outdoors.
So far, the outdoor apparel brand has eradicated polybags from direct-to-consumer shipping in the UK and US and expanded the amount of recycled materials it uses to make its clothes. It also stopped using silk in 2021 – a textile that has the worst environmental impact of all fibers.
Fjӓllrӓven aims to leave basecamp in better condition than how it found it. Like other outdoor brands, it encourages customers to reuse, repair and recycle their gear wherever they can. The materials Fjӓllrӓven uses have a low impact on nature and are made to stand the test of time.
Fjӓllrӓven is also part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). With more than 80 leading NGOs and clothing and footwear companies, this industry-wide group shares information and best sustainable practices to help reduce environmental and social impacts.
Sustainable outdoor brands are a force for good
The reality of climate change is bleak. If winters stop having snow, there are no more snow sports. If rivers dry up, water sports become obsolete. Plastic is killing our oceans. Extreme temperatures are melting our ski slopes. If we don’t act now, there is no future for our favorite sports.
Thankfully, every single outdoor brand is doing something to help – from the big activists like Patagonia to the smallest startups. By partnering with organizations like Protect Our Winters, 1% for the planet and European Outdoor Conservation Association, we’re making waves in the fashion industry together.
And we’re doing our bit to help, too. Preserving the environment is critical to what we at The Action Sports Translator and the companies we work with do. That’s why we’re proud to be a full member of the EOCA. CEO Martina Russo is also a co-founder of Protect Our Winters Italy, which helps outdoor people protect the places and lifestyles they love.
Sustainability in sports matters. If you’re a sustainable outdoor brand, we’re the sports translation agency that knows how to get your message out to the world. Whether you need translations for a new recycled collection or communications for trade shows to get your message directly in front of customers, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat.
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Martina is the CEO and founder at The Action Sports Translator. After starting her career in marketing translation in 2010, she has been recognized as a Localization industry influencer multiple years in a row and has been working with some of the world's most exciting brands to bring multilingual marketing campaigns to life.
Co-founder and localization manager of Protect Our Winters Italy, she founded The Action Sports Translator to provide outdoor brands with a sports translation service that truly gets them. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her climbing a mountain or snowboarding down the other side.
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