How other brands are tackling the plastic problem,
from gimmicks to gold-standard innovation
Professional surfer Kelly
Slater’s brand, Outerknown, includes a line
of jackets and board
shorts made from recycled
fishing nets and nylons.
Proceeds from some products go toward cleaning
plastics from the ocean.
Using merino wool, Forest
certified bamboo, and
Allbirds is reimagining
sneakers with sustainable materials. The company also pioneered a
sole made from sustainably sourced sugarcane,
though the material
is not biodegradable.
New York–based fashion
brand Amur, which debuted
in 2017, exclusively uses
organic natural fibers,
forest-friendly cellulosic materials (aka tree
pulp), and regenerated
created its first
women’s swimwear brand of
and cover-ups made from
recycled plastic. The
line uses eight plastic
bottles per one-piece
and four per bikini.
The fur- and leather-free
fashion designer is
working to phase out virgin
nylon by 2020 and virgin
polyester by 2025, while
championing recycled-plastic fabrics that live
up to the high expectations
of luxury buyers.
Adidas has committed to
eliminating plastic bags
in its stores and using
recycled polyester “on
every application where
a solution exists by 2024.”
The company’s sustainability team includes about 70
lawyers, engineers, and
Reebok launched a plant-based shoe in 2017 made of
cotton uppers, a corn-based sole, and an insole
derived from castor-bean
oil. The company said it
was the first step in a
larger movement; nothing
has been announced since.
Patagonia uses both recycled synthetics and recycled natural fibers, such
as wool and down. It also
encourages customers to
hold off buying new products by offering DIY repair guides online and an
in-store repair service.
company’s entire line of
leggings and sports bras
are made from recycled
plastics. Since some
“recyclers” process new
bottles (rather than postconsumer ones), the brand
uses a Taiwanese factory
that’s been certified by
the local authorities.
By fall 2019, 78% of Patagonia’s synthetic materials will
be recycled, and Dwyer says the company is working to
use only renewable or recycled materials by 2025.
As the quality of recycled fibers has improved, more
apparel companies have embraced them. Startups such as
shoemaker Rothy’s and swimsuit brand Summersalt have
incorporated recycled plastic into their supply chains from
the very beginning. Other companies, including Everlane
and Adidas, are phasing them in deliberately but quickly.
Adidas recently committed to eliminating virgin plastic
from its entire supply chain by 2024. With some 800 factories in more than 55 countries, it will be a gargantuan task.
Adidas is being aided in this effort by Parley for the
Oceans, an organization founded seven years ago by
Cyrill Gutsch, a former brand strategist for clients such
as BMW and Levi’s. Parley intercepts marine plastic
waste near beaches, coastal communities, and remote
islands and turns it into a material called Ocean Plastic. The nonprofit then offers it to brands that promise
to reduce their overall plastic consumption, including
Stella McCartney, Net-a-Porter, and G-Star Raw. Gutsch
says the resulting capsule collections are as much about
illustrating the extent of the plastic problem as cleaning
up the oceans. “People like to talk about products,” he
says, “and [Ocean Plastic] is a way of creating a global
conversation about plastic pollution.” Indeed, while
Adidas expects to make 11 million recycled-plastic
sneakers this year, the company still produces nearly
400 million pairs of virgin-plastic shoes annually.
Many advocacy groups, including Parley, say that recycling plastic for products like Ocean Plastic sneakers and
ReNew outerwear is not enough to curb the crisis. Studies show that less than 15% of plastic that is thrown into
recycling bins actually ends up being recycled, because
it is contaminated with food or other substances. At a
deeper level, the University of California’s Roland Geyer
believes that recycling might even spur consumers to use
more plastic because they think they are disposing of it
responsibly. “I have a sneaking suspicion that recycling
might actually drive the total consumption of plastic,” he
says. There is also growing evidence that washing synthetic clothing, even items made from recycled fibers,
releases tiny particles of toxic microplastic which end
up in the water system, affecting sea animals and, by
extension, humans who eat them.
Ultimately, the most effective way to address our
plastic problem is to encourage consumers to buy less.
“There is no good plastic,” Gutsch says. “To solve the
problem, we need to break our addiction.”
group of jeans-and-tees-
wearing designers at Everlane
headquarters is creating prototypes for the fall 2019 outerwear
collection, which includes both
sporty puffer jackets and classic
long wool coats. Members of the
marketing team, meanwhile, are
huddled around a computer, crafting copy for one of the
company’s thrice-weekly email blasts alerting customers to new products and upcoming launches.