Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '08: New materials and product designs focused on sustainability

Many manufacturers continue to tell SNEWS® that consumers are not yet asking for tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, headlamps, stoves, technical clothing and boots that are sustainable, earth friendly or green. Despite that, it is clear to SNEWS that the majority of outdoor companies now are trying to figure out how to operate a greener and more sustainable business, of which manufacturing green products is a significant part.
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Many manufacturers continue to tell SNEWS® that consumers are not yet asking for tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, headlamps, stoves, technical clothing and boots that are sustainable, earth friendly or green. Despite that, it is clear to SNEWS that the majority of outdoor companies now are trying to figure out how to operate a greener and more sustainable business, of which manufacturing green products is a significant part. Greenwashing is becoming a bit less prevalent, perhaps because any company now using lip service to color its company or products risks more than just peer ridicule -- it risks consumer backlash.

Green clothing

Apparel has always been the low hanging fruit of categories for manufacturers. Recycled poly has been around for over a decade, but now it's available in enough fabric styles and is being so widely used, if a company is using it in one product, it's barely notable. The price has come down -- which points toward another trend -- economies of scale that will make "green" more affordable. Organic cotton is following suit. It's no longer notable when a company is using it in one product -- only when they have made the 100-percent commitment to organic, recycled and sustainable. Helly Hansen (www.hellyhansen.com) is a good example. It has moved to 100-percent organic cotton, and expanded its Ekolab collection, which is green through and through. In its Ekolab Converter jacket (MSRP $300) and pant (MSRP $250), it uses a polyurethane laminate for waterproofness and breathability, while maintaining stretch. It's also using water-based dyes, sourcing fabrics close to the manufacturing plant, and has decided not to air ship any of that product. So, an environmentally benign DWR was the natural finishing touch. The fluorocarbon-free DWR doesn't yet meet industry wash standards for durability, but the company determined it was the right choice for this collection.

New materials from suppliers

In order for outdoor companies to be able to do what they say they want to do -- build green gear with the same performance standards as the gear they already have -- they need new materials to work with. And, they are coming. This show Unifi Reprieve (www.unifi-inc.com) introduced the first commercially viable recycled nylon 6.6, the nylon most appropriate for outerwear. It meets the same first-quality standards as virgin products, costs about 25 percent to 30 percent more, and according to Unifi, can be swapped with virgin nylon on the production line without any modifications to the manufacturing process. Also in fabric, Schoeller's (www.schoeller-textiles.com) new Nanosphere uses a C6 that's PFOA and PFOS free. C8 is the fluorocarbon used in most DWRs, and it's a bio-accumulator. Most PFOA and PFOS need to be eliminated by 2010, and all need to be eliminated by 2015, according to a Schoeller representative. The bonus for Schoeller: using C6 increased Nanosphere's abrasion resistance. Cocona (www.coconafabrics.com) also announced a new product: a wicking, odor-control fabric additive made from naturally occurring volcanic minerals. Also, Coolmax (www.coolmaxusa.com) now has a new Ecotech fabric from recycled sources.

Sleeping bags may be the next green frontier. The North Face (www.thenorthface.com) hit that category hard with two new bags for summer '09: the synthetic Remeow (MSRP $199) and down Blue Kazoo (MSRP $279). Both use 100-percent recycled Pertex Eco as the shell fabric. The Remeow uses 84-percent less energy to produce than a virgin poly bag, with 77-percent less CO2 output, and no residual waste material by-product as all material waste can be reused. It's filled with Climashield HL Green, which is made from 100-percent post-consumer recycled plastic. They join other green bags already available from Big Agnes, Marmot and Mountain Hardwear. To highlight its evolving commitment to being green, The North Face offset the carbon created by media traveling to Summer Market, a total of 143.3084 tons of C02.

Getting creative

When solutions are not readily available, companies that are committed to minimizing their impact are getting creative. Pacific Outdoor (www.pacoutdoor.com) developed the Peak Oyl, a recycled poly and PET sleeping pad that uses palm-oil-based foam as a substitute for petroleum-based foam (MSRP $95). It's 40-percent palm foam, and Pacific Outdoor President Greg Garrigues told us he hopes to increase the palm to petroleum ratio over time. In tents, Jake Lah from DAC (www.dacfeatherlite.com) has perfected the process to mass produce green anodized poles -- a quantum leap forward as it eliminates the equivalent of tear gas from the pole manufacturing process -- good for workers as well as the environment. The folks at Nemo (www.nemoequipment.com) are trying to take it a step further with renewable bamboo poles. So far, they're in the concept phase, and their bamboo poles are being hand made by a fishing pole manufacturer in Alaska, while Nemo continues to work on how to make them commercially viable. In the meantime, Nemo has its new Oz (MSRP $449), a recycled PET tent with green anodized poles. Big Agnes (www.bigagnes.com) was showing its Salt Creek 2 tent (MSRP $350), which uses recycled fabric and zips.

DAC's Lah has come up with a way to make tent poles much less toxic. To get them shiny again after they've been heat treated, poles are typically treated with something akin to tear gas, which is not good for the environment nor for the people who work in the factories where tent poles are made. Lah figured out a way to use brushes to achieve the same shiny aluminum pole that had previously only been achievable with toxic chemical treatments. Big Agnes was the first to use them this year, but now many tent companies will use these new poles (called DAC Featherlite NSL poles) in their tents.

Eco treads

Green treads are an emerging trend in the eco-ification of the outdoor marketplace. It's no longer just Patagonia and El Naturalista making natural rubber sole shoes with cardboard footbeds. Many companies debuted a shoe or built new styles into their line. Hopefully soon, footwear will be as evolved as apparel. Garmont introduced its Natura, with a Vibram EcoStep sole, 30-percent recycled midsole, a canvas upper and other recycled materials (MSRP $100, www.garmont.com). Helly Hansen has a lifestyle collection of Ekolab linen and hemp shoes that use natural tanning, and natural rubber and hemp soles. Keen's Harvest Mary Jane (MSRP $70, www.keenfootwear.com) uses repurposed rice bags in the uppers. And Evolv, a climbing shoe manufacturer, now has its Eco Trax recycled rubber shoe (www.evolvcanada.com).

Greener paddling

In the kayak aisles, Necky was showing its recycled Looksha 14 (MSRP $1,429, www.neckykayaks.com). Extrasport (www.extrasport.com) had a new line of PVC-free Gaia foam PFDs. NRS (www.nrsweb.com) introduced a line of PVC-free PFDs, as well as paddling apparel made from Terraprene petroleum-free neoprene. Immersion Research (www.immersionresearch.com) had 15 products made from sustainable materials, including its Thick Skins fleece base layer (MSRP $95 for the union suit), which is 30-percent post-consumer recycled.

Packing lighter

Green is happening in the marketplace, and it's also happening behind the scenes. Teva (www.teva.com) got rid of the silica packets in it shoe boxes and is, instead, using a mildew absorbent tissue, compostable corn-based bags and biodegradable flip-flop hangers. The question: Will consumers know to drop those bags into their compost instead of crumpling them into their trash? And, Nau, harbinger of green trends to come, is back, if slightly modified. Principles are still intact, but now Nau is part of Horny Toad (www.hornytoad.com) and selling wholesale to retailers. That it is still around is a testament to what it represents: pushing the limits of what's possible (and necessary) in green apparel. Horny Toad now has 68 sustainable styles including its Dri-Pulse recycled poly and organic cotton.

Eco Working Group progress

To really see the way the outdoor industry is headed, update yourself on the progress being made by the Eco Working Group. The group's participation has grown to over 100 companies, and a project manager, Zero Waste Alliance represented by Pamela Brody-Heine, has been hired, pending Outdoor Industry Association approval. Zero Waste Alliance will help steer the group toward a viable and widely usable tool for evaluating a company's overall and product-specific footprint by Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2009, while developing tools that give companies a shared language that will let everyone, including suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, non-profits and media, talk to each other. The next Eco Working Group meeting will be the two days before OIA Rendezvous in Boston in late September. For more information, visit www.oia-eco.org/blog or contact Loraine Gruber at OIA (lgruber@outdoorindustry.org).

The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.