Do Your Part: These 5 Brands are Leading the Way Towards Sustainability

Words by Chris Zimmerman
Photos by Parks Project (main)

Even just a decade ago, the idea of “sustainable” products within the apparel industry had more to do with financial viability than pushing an environmentally friendly agenda. While there were a few outliers focused on utilizing recycled materials, the idea of larger companies decreasing their footprints was somewhat of a foreign one. Fast forward ten years and a lot has changed.

While everyone can agree no company or industry is perfect—the idea of making and selling products is inherently wasteful—we can try to minimize the impacts and be as “eco-friendlier” as possible. Whether through domestic production and limiting overseas transportation, or creating a cleaner manufacturing process and using recycled materials in new ways, more and more companies have realized sustainability is as worthwhile to the bottom line as much as it is to the planet.

We’re proud to be partnered with a number of brands focused on doing their part for the environment, encouraging others to do the same and leading the way in sustainability. It starts at the top with large companies like Patagonia, investing millions in cleaner manufacturing, encouraging repairing over replacing and using their power to make a difference in politics. And now it’s also coming from the bottom up, with newer upstarts like Parks Project, Cotopaxi, Duckworth and Jungmaven, building a template for others to follow with domestic production, conservation efforts and recycled materials. These companies are among a new generation, showing the different ways to be successful, sustainable and environmentally friendlier, and we think that’s a trend worth getting behind.  

 

Patagonia

(Photo: Becca Skinner / Patagonia)

Perhaps the largest and easiest company to highlight is Patagonia. While conservation and social causes are nothing new for this Ventura-based company, there has been a renewed emphasis on sustainable supply chains, humanely-sourced materials and pushing the use of recycled fabrics to the next level. Between programs like Worn Wear, which encourages repair over replacement, founding One Percent for the Planet and using its influence to push progressive political change, Patagonia has been leading the way for decades.

In the process of all this, the brand is proving it’s possible to be a profitable, innovative company while remaining socially and environmentally conscious at the same time. Getting behind a company like Patagonia based solely on their legendary product is only one part of this brand’s story, one it’s not letting up on any time soon, but it’s the holistic idea behind the brand that’s really worth standing up for and what excites us.

 

Duckworth

(Photo: Duckworth)

What Duckworth is doing isn’t new, in fact it’s just about the most original form of textile production there is. But what this Montana company is doing is actually a rarity these days, especially at this scale. With overseas factories, supply chains and raw materials that come from… somewhere else… and end up as clothing on some store rack, it’s easy to overlook the challenges Duckworth has overcome to get where it is today.

Starting with the production of wool in partnership with heritage family ranchers in Montana, herding and shearing sheep in a traditional way, the wool is then spooled into yarn in the Carolinas and finally gets sewn into garments in Chicago. This domestic production loop is a renewed take on the farm-to-table trend, accurately coined, Sheep to Shelf™ by Duckworth.  

While the US textile industry has been on the decline, Duckworth’s Sheep to Shelf™ supply chain helps bring jobs to small communities, keeps technical knowledge close to home and maximizes life-cycle sustainability. In some ways, the company’s approach to sustainability is different than companies using recycled materials, but in the end, it has the same effect. Duckworth is showing that it’s again (or still) possible to produce high-end garments in the USA without cutting corners to keep prices down, and doing so in a way that’s sustainable to both business goals and earth-friendly ideals.   

 

Parks Project

Another take on sustainability comes more in the form of conservation, and Parks Project is thinking about both ends of the spectrum in its efforts towards being environmentally friendly. While the process begins with Made in the USA products, this California-based company sees it through to the end with direct support of conservation projects in our National Parks. Using the sales of products to highlight and fund different conservation projects, as well as leading the charge on getting dirty themselves, Parks Project logs hundreds of volunteer hours a year.

With an ambitious ten-year goal of funding 100 parks-facing projects and generating 100,000 volunteer hours, Parks Project is not only leading by example, the dedicated crew behind the brand is showing how easy it is to get involved and make a difference. It’s easy to get caught up in the sustainability movement with technologies like solar power or water-less dyes, but it’s great to see smaller companies with a mission, putting their money, and sweat, behind a greater cause.

 

Cotopaxi

The folks at Cotopaxi like to shake things up. From making gear out of scraps of leftover fabric to insulating jackets with llama fiber, the brand has taken on production with an innovative and considered approach. Looking to make a positive impact on the world, Cotopaxi empowers the people who make the gear, focusing on getting products made under fair, sustainable working conditions.

Whether it’s products made from leftover scraps, utilizing innovative materials or building relationships with the people manufacturing the product, Cotopaxi is setting an example for others to follow. Right now, Cotopaxi products are guaranteed to last 61 years—the average lifespan of a person living in the developing world. If more companies follow Cotopaxi’s lead and push for sustainable supply chains and working conditions, they may have to increase that warranty length, something the brand would definitely not balk at.  

 

Jungmaven

When people think of hemp, they often get confused with this versatile plant’s cousin: marijuana. While related to cannabis, hemp has much lower levels of THC, making it unworth of smoking, but the qualities it does possess have been realized for ages. Hemp’s benefits read like an environmentalist’s wish list: cleans the air, cleans the water and helps nourish the land. In addition, hemp is one of the world’s best rotation crops, requiring no pesticides and producing more fiber than most natural resources, including cotton, flax and trees.

With all these benefits, there are still laws and misconceptions about the plant. But Jungmaven is one of the brands looking to change this. As hemp’s benefits become more well-known, Jungmaven is at the front of the pack, using the soft, durable fiber in its American-made, fashion-forward, comfortable hemp and hemp/cotton blend tees and hoodies. Looking to spread the good word on hemp, Jungmaven has a lofty, yet realistic goal, of getting everyone into a hemp tee by 2020. As water, resources and import tariffs become more expensive moving forward, the importance of a sustainable, commercially viable crop like hemp will only increase, and Jungmaven will be ready.

One of the great things about what these companies are doing is they are all approaching the idea of sustainability in their own way, tackling it from different directions. To us, that shows how a little creativity, some effort and willingness to take risks can go a long ways. Of course, these aren’t the only brands with a focus on sustainability, brands like Burton, Nomadix, Alex Bottles, Biolite, Arvin Goods, Yellow 108, along with more and more everyday are helping steer the ship in the right direction. If we all make an effort to do our part, there’s no telling how far this trend can grow and the positive impact we can leave behind for future generations.

If you want to get involved and get hands-on to do your part, join us and Parks Project Friday April 27th at Seattle’s Discovery Park for a morning of trail work. We’ll be teaming up with the crew at Parks Project to pick up trash and restore trails from 8am-1pm. Head to the event link for more info and to RSVP. We’d love to see you out there!

 

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