Until the early ’90s, Styrofoam cups and food containers were the norm in the restaurant business. Now, recycled paper products dominate, being pushed into popular use by consumer demand for corporate environmental responsibility.
Jason Finnis, president and founder of Hemptown Clothing Inc., foresees a similar paradigm shift coming in the apparel industry. A bonafide hemp evangelist, Finnis believes recent advancements in the manufacturing of hemp fabrics plus a growing public consciousness about the impact of industrially-produced cotton will spark industry change toward environmentally-friendly fabrics.
Finnis says cotton is inferior to hemp on several crucial agricultural fronts. He lists hemp’s bug and weed resistance as a big plus, noting that the plant does not require the extensive use of herbicides and pesticides. It uses much less water and fertilizer than cotton, he says.
Despite cotton’s faults, Hemptown Clothing (www.hemptown.com) still uses cotton in its clothing line, and many garments are compromised of about 55 percent hemp and 45 percent cotton. The company is developing a new enzyme processing technique that it says will speed up hemp fiber processing and produce whiter, softer, more consistent hemp fabrics that could soon rival cotton.
Beyond hemp, there is a general trend in the outdoors industry toward the use of fabrics that are environmentally wholesome. Wool, bamboo, recycled-polyester and “organic” cotton are examples, and companies including Indigenous Designs, Earthpak, Icebreaker, Bamboo Textile, Ibex, Patagonia, Prana, Teko and many others have embraced an environmental ethos in the manufacturing of socks, shirts, shorts, backpacks, hats and trousers.
Icebreaker’s Superfine line, for example, includes summer-weight shirts and tops made of 100 percent merino wool, which is an annually renewable resource that is all natural and completely biodegradable. Further, the company (www.icebreaker.com) gets its wool from small farms in rural New Zealand.
Prana, Patagonia and several other companies use organic cotton throughout their apparel lines, which means the cotton is farmed and processed with fewer chemicals but with similar quality controls. Prana’s (www.prana.com) Men’s Argus Short, for example, are 100-percent organic cotton shorts that feel smooth and soft to the touch.
Teko’s Ecopet socks (www.tekosocks.com) are made from recycled material. The hiking socks are 92 percent recycled polyester, with a touch of nylon and Lycra. On a similar vein, Earthpak Corp. has a line of backpacks, sports bags, baby packs, computer bags and duffles made of fabric derived from recycled soda bottles.
Gear junkies of all stripes are voracious consumers of fabrics, from rain shells to backpacks to tents and tarps, and thus we have a responsibility to be conscious of what goes into the making of any particular product. Fortunately, there’s now a litany of gear and clothing companies that make it easier, designing and selling products that are manufactured with much more than just the bottom line in mind.