In the past 20 years, ski clothing has undergone huge changes. From polypropylene to Gore-Tex, we can now stay warmer and dryer and get longer life from our clothes. Patagonia has always been on the forefront of sustainable, recycled, high-performance clothing. Here’s a look at what they are doing now—and what we can expect to see in the future.
According to Judy Kim, Patagonia’s product line manager for ski/snow, one of the first questions they ask when looking at fabrics is whether or not they can make it using recycled yarns or whether it’s recyclable. “You can use recycled yarn for the face fabric, but the laminate that makes it waterproof generally isn’t recyclable,” Kim says. “We have been able to develop a polyester-based laminate that is recyclable.”
Randy Harward, Patagonia’s director of quality, agrees. “We reject 93 percent of the fabrics we evaluate because they don’t perform to our standards,” he says. “The remaining seven percent we subject to further rigorous testing and analysis during product development to make sure those standards are continuously met.” Patagonia uses their own waterproof standard called H2No.
After they come up with a new fabric, they want to make sure it’s going to last so they stimulate the years of abuse skiers put on their jackets by beating the hell out of them in the 24 Killer Wash—a modified washing machine. If a jacket passes, it will exceed the U.S. Military standards.
Patagonia doesn’t see a jacket as a novelty that will be trendy one year and thrown away the next. They consider every aspect—including the eventual retirement of a jacket. Making ski outerwear can be a toxic process and many aspects of the production process can endanger both people and the environment. The coating that makes your jacket waterproof is made from one of three chemical compounds, either polyester, polyurethane, and polytetrafluoroethene. As of 2008, Patagonia stopped using polytetrafluoroethene, which is the most toxic, in their production.
They also started the Common Threads Garment Recycling Program, and now any old, unusable Patagonia Capilene, fleece, and cotton t-shirts are made into something brand new. They even take Polartec fleece—from any manufacturer—and make it into brand new products.
“As our dependence on petroleum based and oil based fabric dwindles, I think we will see more recycled yarns with increased performance,” Kim says. “It takes a lot of trial and error to get recycled fabrics to perform as well as virgin fabrics. In 20 years, we will probably have softshells with a mix of absolute waterproofness and insane breathability that won’t be very heavy and won’t feel like you have much on.”
To learn more and to check out their ski jackets, go to www.patagonia.com.