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At Outdoor Retailer, Brands Sell Sustainability

Outdoor is a crowded space. And never more so than today with the intersection of performance clothes and everyday wear. At last week’s Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Utah, exhibitors focused on ways to keep their brands authentic and make their products desirable to their core crowd.

Many exhibitors agreed on one thing in particular: Their consumer is one who is as passionate about the outdoors as they are devoted to protecting it. This means companies must be responsible and transparent.

“It will become increasingly important for brands that cater to the true outdoor audience to be as sustainable as they possibly can to meet increasing pressure from customer groups,” said Martin Berling, chief marketing officer of Spindye, a company that offers a dyeing system that doesn’t use water. To that end, Berling says brands are embracing sustainable technologies.

Lisa Owen, senior director for Microban at Global Textile Business, said the most sustainable product is the one consumers want to hang onto. And as it turns out, they’re more likely to toss clothes that stink—which is a big issue in our athleisure world. “With the rise of synthetics in the marketplace, permastink has become an apparel and footwear industry problem. It shortens the useful life of synthetic fabrics and it is difficult to remove during laundering,” she said.

For consumers, the ability to thoroughly clean athletic wear is right up there with comfort and fit when they make purchasing decisions.

For Carhartt, durability has been a hallmark of the brand for 128 years. The company, which made its name in workwear, focuses on continuing to offer product consumers can wear for years to come. Deb Ferraro, vice president of product development at Carhartt, said consumers are more sophisticated and have moved past the idea that recycling is enough. She said they now recognize that quality and durability are the basis for a truly sustainable brand. “This fits great with Carhartt since we have always been known for long-lasting apparel with an extended lifecycle. Even after 20 years of wear, our jackets are handed down to the next generation,” Ferraro said.

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She also noted the industry’s movement toward materials and processes that use durable water repellent and are free of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are positives for the environment.

Amy Williams, design director of wool-based clothing line Duckworth, sees this focus on diminishing the environmental impact of dyes and finishing products refreshing. Williams is also pleased to note that the outdoor community is demonstrating a willingness to adopt ethical practices through the use of tools like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, which helps companies identify how they can improve their environmental, social and labor impact; the Bluesign system, which enables them to achieve more responsible practices; and the Responsible Down Standard, which ensures ducks and geese are raised ethically.

“It’s great to see the activity in this market sector that celebrates and benefits by human active lifestyles proactively integrating behavioral shifts in the supply chain,” Williams said.

At the show, companies showcased products that represent their brand ethos.

Global Textile introduced Scentry, the latest in the Microban family, which neutralizes odor using a non-antimicrobial solution. It prevents body odor from building up by capturing it and releasing it in the wash.

Odor was also on the minds of WuLuen Knitting Co. The knitting and dyeing factory showcased fabrics containing XT2 silver fibers designed to prevent odor formation as well as those that remain cool during physical activity.

Eastman debuted the first products using its Avra technology, which uses microfibers to create a soft hand and easy drape. Developed in coordination with Unifi, it uses a proprietary spinning technology to create fibers that dry up to 50 percent faster than conventional polyester products.

“Avra fibers enable the production of fabrics with unique combinations of performance and feel that are desired in many other textile applications,” said Dawn Allen, director of performance fibers at Eastman. “We can tune the size and shape of the fiber, which provides a great deal of design versatility to brands.”

Reporting by Karla Magruder, founder of Fabrikology International, a market intelligence company that offers education, sourcing, brand building and business development.