Here’s a sobering stat: 80,000 chemicals are currently used around the world today. Most of these chemicals are untested and a surprising portion are used to make your clothes. From dying and finishing to spinning, ginning and even laundering, chemicals are used in every step of the textile process making even natural fibers unsustainable. But the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA)—along with Jamie Bainbridge, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability—is spearheading an initiative that hopes to change all of that. How? By adopting a mission of continuous improvement and establishing a carefully cultivated list of preferred chemicals. Sounds simple, sure. But first the OIA has to convince an entire disparate and often complex global manufacturing industry that sustainable chemistry is good for business.
THE BLUE SHIRT CONUNDRUM
Let’s back up a minute. Before an industry can change, we need to know where the current process fails. Take the lifecycle of a simple, blue organic cotton T-shirt. Let’s assume the tee is made from GOTS-certified organically grown cotton which currently sets the strictest standards for the chemical processing of organic cotton. So we’ve eliminated the use of pesticides and fertilizers up front. However, up to five separate chemicals are added at each subsequent stage thereafter. Spinning lubricants are added during cleaning and ginning which allow the raw cotton fibers to be spun into yarn. Lubricant compounds are then added during knitting to allow the fiber to easily pass through machinery. Mordants and salts are added during dying to affix the color to the fabric. This is the most toxic and chemical-consuming phase where OIA is focusing its initial sustainability efforts. Even natural dyes require heavy use of mordants, salts and water in order for the dye to be effective. In the finishing process, chemicals like silicones and formaldehyde are added to impart the desired hand of the fabric. Finally, consumers add their own mix of bleaches, detergents, softeners, and starches to mold and shape the tee into the perfect blue shirt.
This is where things start to get increasingly complex. Each one of the 5000 chemical compounds used in textile production are considered proprietary which means no one— not the OIA, not the EPA, not even the apparel industry—knows what chemicals are used to make a simple blue t-shirt. Jamie, our textile maven, likens it to the manufacturer’s secret sauce that is highly guarded due to its perceived competitive advantage. With such a massive barrier to sustainable business, the only way the apparel industry has been able to dictate which chemicals are used in their products is through a Restricted Substance List (RSL) (you can view Nau’s RSL here). But with 80,000 chemicals on the market, most of which remain untested, an RSL falls short of being a sustainable solution. But it’s all we have—until now.
The Chemicals Management Working Group, a strategic subgroup of OIA dedicated to sustainable chemistry, is working with big and small retailers and their manufacturers to bring transparency to each stage in the textile process. Using the EPA’s twelve principles of green chemistry as a foundation, they’re building a Preferred Substance List (PSL) that would offer sustainable substitutions for unsafe and untested chemicals. For example, a PSL would provide safe alternatives to formaldehyde, a ubiquitous, toxic chemical currently used to create wrinkle-free fabrics.
In addition, the industry is perfecting the use of low-impact or high-exhaustion dyes which require less water and less dyestuff during one of the most polluting textile processes. With less water being used in the process, more money is being saved by the manufactures which is a tremendous incentive for change. Once the manufacturing industry realizes that sustainable business is good for business then we’ll have a sustainable solution. But until then, the OIA and Nau won’t stop until we find one.
Last Friday, around 2pm, Mark, our GM disappeared. It was shortly after consuming a pomegranite margarita (no salt) and a taco platter. Of course, this is not unusual. Mark has been known to mysteriously vanish only to suddenly reappear days later with a grin and a suntan. This time, he resurfaced on a Monday morning smelling of sulpher and parched earth, surely evidence of a desert escapade. But he was gracious enough to write us a virtual postcard so we wouldn’t have to rely on an Edward Abbey quote to complement these few captured moments.
The desert is a diaspora for the displaced, a refuge from our hyper-saturated social scene, attracting the margins of society— mystics and malcontents, desperadoes and drug runners, rednecks and ranchers, artists and anarchists.
It’s an environment that expands our visual and perceptual horizons. —Mark
Pared-down blazers, lightweight shells and new skin-soft, eco-friendly fabrics converge in our most extensive spring offering yet. Introducing our 2013 Spring Collection—an exploration into the beauty of minimalism and the sweet intersection of freedom and movement. Here’s a glimpse of what’s to come.
How do you build the perfect ski? All you need is some sugar maple, Kevlar and the world’s most badass computer algorithm. Oh, and you need Pete Wagner, too. The computer-nerd turned ski-craftsman who started Wagner Custom Skis is single-handedly changing the way an industry makes skis. This week in the Thought Kitchen, we sit down with the man behind the planks to learn more about the number cruncher and his coveted custom boards.
OTG: It’s a bluebird day in Telluride and you’re on the phone talking to me. I’m honored.
Pete: (Laugh) That’s alright, I got out this morning.
OTG: You moved to Telluride in 1998 with a mechanical engineering degree and an impressive career customizing high-end golf clubs. So how does one make the leap from computer nerd to ski-maker?
Pete: Well I bought a pair of telemark skis that I couldn’t demo. But they were the right size, length, width, and they were from a good company, so I bought them anyways. I skied on them for about 70 days, then tried another set and realized I had been crippling myself. At the time, I was working as an engineer developing software for design analysis and manufacturing of golf equipment and I thought, why wasn’t anyone doing this type of fitting technology for skiers? I was spending my energy trying to figure this out in a parallel industry. So that’s what inspired me to create the software for fitting people into the right ski.
OTG: Funny, when I think of making skis, I don’t think of software. And the few boutique ski-makers which do exist in the country mostly rely on precast molds, but you don’t use molds, you use—as you said— software. How’s that possible?
Pete: Our software designs the skis and programs our manufacturing equipment to fabricate all of our parts for the skis. Using high tech machinery, we fabricate all of the components of the skis—the base, bending the steel edges, the wood core, sidewalls, structural layers. Then we use the scrap material from cutting out these different parts—along with our computer-controlled milling equipment—to create the molds for our skis. So every ski gets a unique mold which allows us to go through the same steps each time we build a product, but build a completely unique product every time. It’s a mass customization manufacturing model.
OTG: So would you say Wagner Custom Skis are the most customized ski on the market?
Pete: As far as we know. Because every ski we design is uniquely optimized for the individual skier based on length, width, side cut, tail shapes, camber, and rocker. We calibrate the stiffness and flex pattern based on a person’s size and skier preferences. We choose the perfect set of materials, and they get to choose their own graphics.
OTG: You also use Kevlar and Carbon wraps with a traditional wood core. Why do you choose these materials?
Pete: The way we build our skis is the way they built World Cup skis back in the 70’s, and that technology hasn’t changed that much. We take proven materials that work well for ski construction, performance and longevity and we focus on the fit. That way, we can create a design that can help improve someone’s balance, comfort, control, efficiency and power. Ultimately, we create a product that makes skiing easier and more fun for people, and we do that by focusing on the fit rather than trying to reinvent the wheel with materials.
OTG: I think you just answered my next question, but I’ll ask it anyways: How is a Wagner Custom Ski going to change my experience?
Pete: It’s going to help your balance, comfort, control, improve your efficiency, allow you to conserve your leg strength and energy so you can ski longer in the day. It also improves your power, so you can ski with better control and more fluidity. If you look at the best skiers in the world like Bode Miller and Ted Legity, you realize that they aren’t skiing in off-the-shelf skis. They’re sponsored by a company which has a small prototyping shop with a team of dedicated engineers which are making sure that they are on the perfect equipment that will allow them to ski at their absolute highest potential. That’s what Wagner Custom Skis does for recreational skiers. We’re a team of engineers and craftsmen who help people ski their best by making sure they are on their perfect fit equipment.
OTG: Well, I’m sold. At Nau, sustainability and performance are two of our core values. And you already touched upon performance as your core value, but how is sustainability reflected in your business?
Pete: We focus on two things: energy and conservation. From an energy perspective, we have a solar thermal system that is on the roof of our building which supplies all of the heat and hot water for our shop. We buy wind energy to run our computers and factory equipment. From a conservation approach, we try and minimize our energy usage by using programmable thermostats and energy efficient lights and work stations to conserving the materials we use and minimizing our waste stream.
OTG: Many people don’t realize that there’s a personal component to sustainability which involves maintaining a sustainable work/life balance, something that’s hard to do as you become more successful. Obviously, you’ve done just that, so how do you strike a balance?
Pete: One thing that we do to help us stay focused on that balance is that we have a Powder Day Clause. So if the snow report for the Telluride Ski Resort shows five inches or more, we work from 1pm to 9pm so that we can get out and take advantage of the best skiing.
OTG: Excuse me, I think I need to go convince our GM to include a Powder Day Clause.
It’s dumping in the Cascades and there’s a blizzard heading for the midwest. Winter is here, my friends. And it’s a perfect time for our seasonal nod to cabin porn and the snowy escapes that help us find respite during the insanity of the holidays (and the end of the Mayan Calendar). Here’s a compilation of our favorite winter refuges. First stop: the Tin Hat Cabin.
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In case you’re like us and need a little reprieve from all the holiday hullabaloo, here’s a visual meditation that will bring you back to what truly matters. A few guys traveling the vast landscape of SouthAmerica put together this beautiful montage of pampas, windy horizons, distant cultures, and waterfalls. It’s not hard to see why vimeo chose it as their pick of the week. Now for that one-way ticket to Patagonia, please.
Pendleton was a staple in the Northwest long before wool was considered cool and sustainability was a buzzword. For the past 150 years, our Eastern Oregon neighbors have been sourcing local wool and weaving jacquards and plaids into the American fabric landscape. This holiday season, as part of the Nau Collective, we’re honored to bring you their Cradle-to-Cradle certified Eco Wise blankets made in the same woolen mills the classic Pendletons have been made for over a century.
Here’s a little inside knowledge on their Eco Wise Collection, courtesy of our friends at Pendleton.
Pendleton Eco-Wise Wool® passes strict standards of sustainability and stewardship. Sounds admirable, doesn’t it? But those lofty words would mean nothing at all if Pendleton Eco-Wise Wool® products weren’t soft, richly colored and luxurious to touch.
There are many products out there claiming to be green. Pendleton Eco-Wise Wool® has been Cradle to Cradle Certified© by MBDC, a respected product and process design firm dedicated to promoting sustainable production. If you’re curious, you can find out more here. The best way to explain it? If you were to take a Pendleton Eco-Wise Wool® blanket and bury it (but please don’t), it would leave the earth better, not worse, for the addition.
Pendleton Eco-Wise Wool® is an innovation in the Umatilla wool we’ve woven for over a century that uses nontoxic biodegradable dyes. Pendleton is known for the depth and intensity of our colors. Vegetable dyes are not as stable as chemical dyes, and the formula took some tinkering, especially the red spectrum. But with a great deal of trial and a reasonable amount of error, we produced Pendleton Eco-Wise Wool® that we could guarantee for quality.—Pendleton
We never stopped loving traditional waxed cotton. But let’s be honest: there’s nothing sustainable about applying an oil-based wax to conventionally grown cotton. That’s why we made our own. This week in the Thought Kitchen, our textile guru, Jamie Bainbridge, and design maestro, Peter Kallen, give us an inside look at a new kind of wax job—one that’s beautiful, durable and doesn’t run on oil.
OFF THE GRID: Alright, waxed organic cotton. What’s the big deal?
JAMIE: We love natural fibers and the way they feel against the skin. With our roots in outdoor, why not look backwards to history and see what other waterproofing methods were used over time. And the method that is still most widely used today is waxed cotton. It comes out of British Millerain which has been around since 1880. I met with them and said, “We love waxed cotton, and how it fits, how it becomes like a good pair of jeans, but what we don’t like is how it has to be renewed or that it damages other things that it comes into contact with. So what can we do?” And they said, “Well, we have a new synthetic coating that has the same look and feel of wax, but it never needs renewing. It’s machine washable and water repellent.” So we went and developed an organic cotton version using the same base fabric, and applied their finish.
OTG: Is there any difference when applying a synthetic coating to organic cotton versus cotton?
JAMIE: No. Once cotton goes through the process of ginning, cleaning and spinning, you couldn’t tell the difference between an organic or conventional fiber.
OTG: So is it a non-petroleum product?
JAMIE: Well, there is a small petroleum component. But the lack of having to maintain the coating means it uses a very small amount of petroleum. And it’s a water-based coating rather than being a solvent-based coating.
OTG: So what came first: the chicken or the egg? the fabric or the design?
JAMIE: Well, we knew we wanted something in the coated natural fiber realm. We wanted that hand. And we wanted it to be very comfortable against the skin and very urban looking. And waxed organic cotton t has a very unique look.
OTG: Ok, let’s talk waxed organic cotton.
PETER: Jamie and I were wondering how can we make traditional waxed cotton better? So Jamie went off into her science lab came up with a cleaner, more durable method of waxed cotton. Then she came back to me with this great fabric that uses this polyurethane coating and has the merits and qualities that are important to us in sustainability, and it had a different sense about it to. It’s quieter, visually and aesthetically. But it also has a longer lifespan and is easier to use and work with. And it immediately spoke to me…..the RIFT jacket. Because it has these qualities of being almost leather-like.
OTG: And suede-like too.
PETER: Yeah, exactly. Because it has a cotton back to it and that kind of coated surface, like sueded-back, but the surface has a leather-like quality. So that spoke to this almost utilitarian, motorcycling jacket. And that’s how the life of the rift came to be. The styles and elements of that jacket, its articulation, its scales, how it fits, details, its finishing: it speaks to rugged and burley, yet refined. It’s a balance between these two words. It’s almost an opportunity to express an modern-day version of old-new-world technology and inspiration.
OTG: And the Wax On Blazer is a badass jacket.
PETER: Yeah, it just reeks of confidence and it speaks of that same kind of quality. There is nothing more beautiful than a hefty, canvasy piece that has more depth to it.
OTG: Does working and design with this fabric lend itself to certain styles?
PETER: Oh, most definitely. There are certain silhouettes that you explore using this fabric. It holds form really well. It holds needle and stitch really well. You have to be careful about how you apply that because it can quickly become too stiff and unapproachable. More like a tent as opposed to a jacket.
OTG: I don’t want to look like a tent.
PETER: Or a tarp, or any of the words associated with canvas But we said, let’s use that structure and create something that is beautiful, with enough needle in it to give it that edge and that la femme nikita presence, but is still super sexy. It’s a beautiful mash-up.
OTG: So do you have plans of using this fabric moving forward.
PETER: Oh definitely. Now we need to push its boundaries. It’s a perfect fabric that has a lovely reference to yesterday with the technology of today.
Here’s a sobering statistic: it takes 2/3 pound of pesticides to produce enough conventional cotton to make one pair of jeans. Apply that fact to the over 450 million pairs of jeans that are sold in the US every year, and well, you get a few more zeros and a much more sobering statistic
That’s why, six years ago, Nudie Jeans—our new Collective partner— set a goal: to make their entire line of premium, high-quality denim using only 100% organic cotton by 2012. It was an ambitious goal. Entire supply chains have to be reevaluated, new fabrics developed, and old business practices reexamined.
We get it. We make these decisions every day. But for the Swedish-based company, they had to rethink everything—from design to manufacturing—in order to create premium, well-fitting denim that wouldn’t compromise their style or ethics.
Here’s what Maria Erixon Levin, Nudie Jean’s Founder, had to say about the company’s journey to organic:
“Sure, it has taken time, but we have maintained the courage of our convictions during a period that has seen a number of eco-trends come and go. For us, this is a question of lifestyle, and one of our core values. Since starting up back in 2001, we have remained focused on issues around sustainability and the environment regardless of the demands of the market or our customers, in a time when price has been a key factor. Prices have often been so low that quality, as well as organic and CSR-aware production have been sacrificed as a result.
We have chosen to work with organic cotton regardless of the trends of the day. We are often asked if our values are a marketing tool, or something requested by our customers. The answer is no. It’s a choice we make in the boardroom, and a choice we make during product development. We believe our commitment to organic production should be part of our pricing and quality profile.
In 2006, we invited all our material suppliers and laundry operators to join us in a discussion on sustainable development in the industry. And today, we are especially proud to say we offer 100% organic cotton across our entire range of rigid, stretch and selvage denim. This is a vital stage in the evolution of the Nudie Jeans philosophy. We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has been with us along the way.”
This season, we’re proud to partner with Nudie Jeans to bring you their first collection of premium denim crafted entirely from fine Italian and Turkish organic cotton. Clean, minimalist construction, classic European style, and none of the bad stuff.
Years of inspiration and hard work have transformed our new Fall line into one of our most beautiful collections yet. With the return of many coveted favorites and the debut of some much-anticipated styles, our new 2012 Fall Collection—debuting the middle of August— features luxurious fabrics, bright break beats, and distinct design cues that continue our tradition of beauty, performance and sustainability.
Here’s a first look at what’s to come….