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Icebreaker Raises the Bar for Outdoor Industry Transparency

Transparency has been front and center for many brands, including Icebreaker, which has plans to elevate visibility and traceability in the outdoor apparel industry.

The New Zealand-based brand, which produces natural fiber performance apparel and is owned by VF Corp., published its first transparency report, titled “Made Different.” The report focuses on key areas of action within Icebreaker’s business: fibers and growers, products, supply chain and people, with the goal of providing consumers a full view of its sourcing and manufacturing operations. Icebreaker designed the report to serve as a benchmark for other outdoor apparel brands, so they may follow suit and elevate transparency for their consumers worldwide.

“In this report, we share with you our origins to where we are today. We identify where we can improve and our aspirations for the future,” Greg Smith, Icebreaker’s CEO, said. “Transparency opens us up to the deepest possible feedback on the decisions we make. We need it. This is what will allow Icebreaker, the industry we work in, and our entire economic system to evolve and improve.”

Growers & fibers

Over the past 20 years, Icebreaker has set out to make performance apparel more sustainable by sourcing natural fibers, including superfine merino wool, and establishing meaningful connections with its suppliers.

The brand, which sources roughly 84 percent of its superfine merino wool from New Zealand, said its superfine merino wool provides a myriad of benefits for outdoor performance apparel, including thermo-regulation, odor suppression and UV protection, without the negative carbon footprint. In 1997, Icebreaker began establishing long-term contracts with its merino wool growers who also expressed concern for animal welfare and the environment. Today, Icebreaker works with 75 contracted merino stations managed collaboratively with The New Zealand Merino Company (NZM), an organization that supports the nation’s merino growers.

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As part of its transparency goals, Icebreaker this season will offer New Zealand grower families 10-year forward contracts for their fibers, so they may, in return, commit to supplying high quality ethical wool for Icebreaker’s products. The contracts are part of the Icebreaker Growers Club, a new initiative that aims to provide price stability for New Zealand growers and foster eco-friendly practices in New Zealand’s superfine merino wool supply chain.

To foster environmental and social welfare, Icebreaker said it will work with NZM, and audit and factory partners to support growers and form environmental management plans. To date, more than 65 percent of merino stations have passed audits with no issues and as part of its traceability efforts, Icebreaker will work with NZM to set additional audit targets for the next transparency report.


For its products, Icebreaker is focusing its transparency efforts on seeking natural alternatives to synthetic fibers, updating its packaging to become more eco-friendly and engaging consumers to close the loop in the outdoor apparel industry.

According to Icebreaker, more than 85 percent of its fabric consumption is natural fiber. The brand’s fabrics, including RealFleece and MerinoLoft, are designed to heighten performance for consumers without negatively affecting the environment. Furthermore, Icebreaker’s core fabrics received Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex certification for heightened environmental compliance and product safety.

For packaging, Icebreaker aims to reach outlined goals for its 2020 packaging review, including ensuring 100 percent of its packaging educates consumers on recycling practices, removing non bio-degradable additives from its packaging, using 100 percent Forest Stewardship Council certified paper packaging and updating packaging to include Oeko-Tex fabric certification.

To engage consumers in its transparency efforts, Icebreaker also plans to launch a return-and-recycle product life cycle program by 2022 that will reward consumers for recycling their Icebreaker apparel items.

Supply chain

Supply chain visibility is a major part of Icebreaker’s transparency goals as the brand aims to trace its entire supplier network and continue protecting workers’ rights.

Icebreaker said more than 65 percent of its volume is from two suppliers it has been working with for more than 13 years and that its factories average a score of 9.2 out of 10 for factory audit results. While the brand has made its Supplier Code of Conduct publicly available and updated its audit format last year to enforce protection for migrant workers, it is taking its transparency commitments a step further.

To better support workers, Icebreaker said it will work with NGOs and its suppliers to promote more collective bargaining opportunities. Icebreaker will also analyze the wages within its supply chain and benchmark them against Fair Wear Foundation’s living wage calculator, to ensure that workers are earning enough to support themselves, their families and their communities.

While Icebreaker directly sources more than 90 percent of its fiber, fabric and trims, the brand would like to target 100 percent tracking of supplier names, including all trims and vendor sourced fibers, for its next transparency report.


Icebreaker’s employees are also part of its greater transparency story. Today, the brand works to create a culturally diverse and global workforce, by creating team engagement events and establishing well-being programs for its global workforce. To elevate transparency among its employees, Icebreaker plans to incorporate a workplace grassroots sustainability program, which outlines ways in which employees can participate in more circular practices at Icebreaker’s offices worldwide.