For more than 26 years, Icebreaker has worked with what nature provides to create natural, high-performing outdoor clothing as an alternative to plastic-based synthetic apparel. In 2017, icebreaker launched its inaugural Transparency Report detailing what it means to be a truly sustainable business and in 2019, the brand announced its ambition to become plastic-free.
A major highlight in this year’s Transparency Report reveals that in 2021, 91 percent of Icebreaker’s total fiber composition is now merino wool or plant-based, with 65 percent more styles compared to 2020. In 2021, Icebreaker forecasts it will sell over 1.3 million units of 100 percent merino wool or plant-based apparel.
Studies have shown that fragments from textiles and apparel can be a significant contributor to environmental pollution. Icebreaker cited a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that stated plastic particles washed off from products such as synthetic clothes and textiles contribute to 35 percent of primary microplastics polluting our oceans.
“Like many consumers around the world, we found ourselves facing the creep of plastic into our lives and our product line. So, in 2019 we made a bold commitment,” said Jan Van Mossevelde, brand president of Icebreaker. “By 2023, our aim is for all our clothing to be made from merino wool or plant-based fibers. For the very small amount of petrochemical synthetics that cannot be removed, we’re working on alternatives, including using bio-based fibers for now.”
Icebreaker said its commitment to becoming plastic-free became even more vital as a result of Covid-19. That’s because the pandemic skyrocketed the use of single-use plastic consumption as more consumers shopped online, purchased disposable protective gear and opted for bagged or wrapped produce and other grocery items.
In 2019, Icebreaker launched its “Plastic-Free by ’23” ambition, with 84 percent of its fiber composition of merino wool or plant-based icebreaker clothing PFC-free and acrylic-free. It also introduced Icebreaker Nature Dye, using renewable, plant-based dyes, and adopted plastic-free swing tags, saving over 2 million units of plastic per year.
In 2020, the company removed 59 synthetic-heavy styles with a retail value of $7.9 million, while introducing a plastic-free full body mannequin, made from non-toxic paper pulp. In collaboration with Spinnova, Icebreaker launched an innovative fabric combining merino wool with plant-based fibers.
This year, 91 percent of its fiber composition is merino wool or plant-based. The best-selling Tech Lite T-shirt moved to 100 percent merino, as did the best-selling Quantum mid layer, and the new ZoneKnit hoodie, which Icebreaker forecasts to sell more than 1.3 million units.
As Icebreaker doubles down on the “final 9 percenr” of plastics in its clothing, it faces some specific challenges. The synthetic fibers that remain in the range, and which are still derived from petrochemicals, include elastane in underwear for stretch, nylon in socks for strength and polyester in jackets for lightweight strength.
The company’s “move to natural” includes working with growers to conserve and rehabilitate the ecosystem, with the goal of 100 percent of contracted growers to join its program by 2023. Its partnership with Spinnova will invest in developing a pioneering yarn blend that takes plant-based fibers to a next level of sustainability by blending merino and cellulosic fibers.
Collaborating with leading elastic yarn producers and bio-feedstock suppliers, such as corn adhered to sustainability programs, Icebreaker aims to ensure that the yarns adopted have a clear sustainability roadmap from plant to yarn. The company is also working with yarn producers and bio-feedstock suppliers and actively engaging research teams and start-ups, while scouting the market in search for natural solutions such as castor beans to replace traditional nylon.
Icebreaker will also be replacing back neck and pip labels of new styles, using all natural fiber labels by August 2022.
A part of the VF Corp., Icebreaker is committed to championing natural, transparent and responsible ways to do business. Following the publication of its Transparency Report in 2018 and 2019, Icebreaker was one of only a handful of brands to be awarded an A+ rating in the Tearfund Ethical Fashion report two years in a row. The report found Icebreaker to excel in areas including scrutiny of policy, traceability, transparency, supplier relationships and worker rights at every stage of the production process.
Icebreaker is sold in more than 5,000 stores in 50 countries through wholesale, Touch Lab retail stores and e-commerce platforms.