PrimaLoft Bio concept pieces showcase biodegradable gear.

Apparel is a lifeblood of the outdoor industry, with new jackets, shirts, and pants canvassing the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show floor. But a dizzying pace of changing trends, colors, and concepts means an insane amount of clothing is created and eliminated all the time. And herein lies the problem for outdoorsy environmentalists. We may think we’re doing good by going Marie Kondo on our gear closets and sending last season’s puffies to the thrift shop, but the abundance of unwanted apparel has to go somewhere—and most of it winds up in the trash. According to Newsweek, 84 percent of all unwanted clothing end up in landfills.

For PrimaLoft, this growing problem led them to launch PrimaLoft Bio, the world’s first biodegradable synthetic insulation, at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2018. Without sacrificing durability and life span, this insulation is built to break down once you send it the landfill—in as little as 394 days. Once it breaks down, Bio fibers leave just organic compounds (methane, biomass, carbon dioxide, and water) behind.

PrimaLoft says this new insulation maintains the same durability, life cycle, and performance of the competition, and for this Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, the company invited outdoor brands to create concept pieces showcasing the technology, with the idea of going to market with PrimaLoft Bio gear by fall 2020.

Helly Hansen’s fully biodegradable men's shirt jacket

Helly Hansen’s fully biodegradable men's shirt jacket

Helly Hansen’s concept jacket leads the charge, as it is the only fully biodegradable piece in the collection. The on-trend men’s shirt jacket uses PrimaLoft Bio insulation, wool labels, wooden buttons, cotton fabric and thread that will completely break down in a landfill scenario. While this exact piece will never go to market, it gives us a glance into a future of performance-oriented gear that establishes a new standard for environmentally conscious design and sustainability.

“There are different solutions to the environmental problem, biodegradability is one solution in the U.S. that’s big because you have a lot of landfills,” says Philip Tavell, the category managing director of Helly Hansen, “We want to partner with PrimaLoft to evolve and learn about sustainability.”

Creating the concept piece allows brands like Helly to see what’s possible, “Biodegradable is only one part in sustainability story, and we don’t even know if we’ll use it in production yet,” says Tavell, “We may use it in U.S. specific products because of the landfills, but this is all part of the learning curve about biodegradability.”

Houdini, L.L. Bean, Norrona, and Vaude launched Bio concept pieces at the Show as well ranging from plaid jackets to kids’ coats, “Each brand took their own approach to developing around the Bio insulation. Our brand partners are focused on sustainability from a holistic standpoint,” says Ken Fisk, PrimaLoft public relations manager, “You’ll see elements of recycling, reuse, and repurposing in materials used in concept pieces.”

Fisk says the brands showcasing concepts have signed on for launching Bio-filled products in Fall 2020, “Brands will start with using natural exterior fabrics with Bio insulation for Fall 2020 with subsequent seasons—hopefully—having biodegradable synthetic exteriors as well.”

Using the knowledge gained from concepting a Bio piece, Helly Hansen is building knowledge for a future of sustainable gear, “We have to find a balance of what we is doable today, and how can we learn to do things for the future that might not exist yet today,” says Tavell.

The Bio concept collection is headed to ISPO next, and Fisk says PrimaLoft’s long-term goal is to create fully sustainable, biodegradable pieces, ““We’re working with co-contributors, referring to other material manufacturers for zippers, shells, and liners, to share this technology and eventually be able to come to brand with a fully sustainable solution.”

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