Before we could challenge the snow industry to move to recycled materials, we had to change our thinking, too.
There are a number of ways to reduce a garment’s impact, but none more significant than making it out of recycled fabric. Doing so keeps material out of landfills and cuts demand for the petroleum used to make weather-resistant stuff like nylon and polyester—the material used in every ski or snowboard jacket you’ve ever worn (including ours). Ironically, anytime we’ve looked to switch to a nonvirgin fabric, we’ve basically had to start from square one.
The problem isn’t the science, it’s convincing our partners that there’s a healthy demand for recycled alternatives—and making sure there’s zero compromise in performance. “The industry has had a mental block, a stigma around recycled, so for a long time we didn’t even try,” says Pasha Whitmire, Patagonia’s senior material developer. Whitmire is as easygoing as he is unwavering—valuable qualities when you’re trying to change people’s minds. Once he did, he found that working with fabrics made from postconsumer waste was just not that hard. He helped develop a new PowSlayer Jacket with 100% recycled GORE-TEX Pro face fabric (the first of its kind), which we introduced last year and remains a favorite with backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Still, that was just one, highly specialized jacket.
“The real gut punch for me was going to one of the biggest textile-producing regions in the world,” says Whitmire. “In just one factory, thousands of weaving machines produce meters of new, petroleum-based fabric every minute. It’s pretty sickening.” Whitmire realized we could do more, so now we’re extending the PowSlayer’s recycled benchmark across our Snow line.
No question, we’ve had failures along the way. Our tearing instrument, which puts a small cut in the fabric and tests at different forces, would rip a piece easier than we’d like for those minute nicks and cuts that inevitably happen from ski edges or a crampon encounter. Or the abrasion machine would destroy a material after rubbing it vigorously with the rough side of a Velcro® fastener. Every recycled Snow shell we build must be just as bomber as its virgin counterpart or we won’t release it.
This fall, 77 percent of our Snow garments passed those tests and are fabricated with recycled content, including our popular Powder Bowl Jacket. This diverts more plastic bottles and nylon than ever from the waste stream and into the Snow gear we make. Now, the wide availability of these previously discarded materials has the potential to change the industry, and we’re hoping other brands will start to use them, too.
“If it can be thought up,” Whitmire says, “then we can make it happen. The path is rarely blazed for us, but we’ll happily set the track.”