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The Jacket On Your Back Part 2

As well as the various initiatives, such as Patagonia’s Worn Wear and Common Threads Partnership, there are various generic labels, often describing what the garment or product is made from, its worth considering what these actually mean.



Worn Wear and the Common Threads Partnership
Pioneered by Patagonia, the Worn Wear initiative and Common Thread Partnership aims at reducing consumer and manufacturer waste in the outdoor clothing industry, at heart its a pretty basic premise:

-Reduce: They make high quality stuff so you need less of it in the first place

-Repair: The Patagonia Iron-Clad Guarantee sees that they will endeavour to repair a product to the best of their ability, throughout the lifetime of that product (as deemed by the customer). They even have tips on their website on how to repair the garments yourself.

-Reuse: Though mainly active in the states, Patagonia have facilities whereby customers can return old products that they no longer need or want to be reconditioned and resold (at discount) in one of several Worn Wear outlets in the States.

-Recycle: When a product is no longer fit for purpose, Patagonia ask for it to be returned to them to be recycled into new fabrics etc. They also encourage customers to do the same where possible.

-Reimagine: Bit hippy-dippy this one but they hope by leading the way in alternative ways of pursuing business, with a strict ethos and core values, other businesses and organisations may follow suit.



There is plenty more regarding Patagonia’s approach to corporate responsibility on their website, plus a really nice video summing up the Worn Wear concept.



Down Codexmain-img
Instigated by Mountain Equipment in 2009 but increasingly adopted by other Down manufacturers, the Down Codex is an effort to audit the entire supply chain of down production. From tiny farms in northwest China, through wholesalers and brokers right up to the finished product hanging on our rails, The Codex aims to ensure that high standards of animal welfare and subsequently, down quality or maintained. The supply chain that leads to a down jacket or sleeping bag is incredibly complicated and open to abuse from unscrupulous suppliers, the Codex has made the process far more transparent and it is hoped that the majority, if not all, down manufacturers will adopt it in the coming years.

There are several other supply chain moderators used by different brands such as Allied Feather and Down, they awards the Shield of Approval which marks high standards of traceability and environmental responsibility with third party testingand supplier audits and certification.



Mainly only a consideration when looking at t-shirts etc but to be certified organic the cotton (or wool, silk, bamboo, jute) must be grown in compliance with the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). Though there are no proven benefits to the consumer, it is widely believed organic growing practices are far less harmful to the environment than more mainstream intensive processes which can produce far more harmful greenhouse gasses and require more water in production.



As with any product derived from an animal, the animal’s welfare has an impact not only on the ethicality of the product but also the quality. Everybody knows free range eggs taste better and the same goes for merino wool and other, similar products. Though originally from Turkey and central Spain, the Merino breed of sheep is now synonymous with New Zealand, the highly changeable climate of the New Zealand Alps is believed to promote the growth of the best merino fibres but it’s fair to say every other merino producing country will probably contest this. Due to their economic worth, merino sheep are probably some of the best treated livestock in the world.



It has been common practice for many years to perform a procedure known as mulesing (I won’t go into details here but it basically entails removal of skin from the rear of the sheep to prevent flystrike or myiasis). Though mulesing is often performed by trained surgical practitioners, it is not always the case and inexpert attempts at the procedure can lead to unnecessary pain and discomfort for the sheep. Some brands no longer source from suppliers who use the procedure and instead persue alternative methods of preventing flystrike.



Though rarely used in technical products, cotton is a mainstay of casual ranges. Cotton production is a vital part of many countries’ economies but as demand has grown since the industrial revolution, the environmental impacts have become all too apparent as they too grow exponentially. Cotton growing is incredibly water intensive and the irrigation of cotton producing regions has strained water sources to breaking point, with parts of Central Asia suffering desertification and salinisation of aquifers. In addition; to ensure high yields, pesticides and fertilizers are heavily used, subsequently damaging the surrounding environment. Aside from environmental impacts, cotton production is a labour intensive process, especially in poorer nations that rely on man-power to yield a crop. Though working practices have improved, there are many producers that still enforce gangmaster style tactics that force workers into near slavery. As a response to these concerns, many manufacturers have turned to organic production and schemes such as the Fair Wear Foundation and Blue Sign (See Part 1).



Whatever the relative merits of the various synthetic fabrics used in jackets etc, there is also the consideration of the impact these materials have. Both Nylon and polyester/polyurethane are ultimately derived from oil, as are any plastics. This, of course, gives any jacket a carbon footprint perhaps larger than first imagined. There are no real alternatives, except perhaps waxed cotton, that offer durable weather protection but considering the impact the production of a jacket has, it may be worth thinking about prolonging the usable life of a garment as best you can. Reproofing (with Blusign products), repairing with specialist patches (such as the McNett Range) or relegating the jacket to other purposes (dog-walking, gardening, muddy days out etc). The same applies to the waterproof membranes used, whether its Gore-Tex, eVent or variations on those; they all use some form of polyvinyl chloride, polyurethane, silicon elastomer or fluoropolymer to provide a barrier. These are nearly all oil-derived and so represent an environmental impact.


In Part 3 we will look at where products are produced and the decisions facing the customer.


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