The North Face is trading new fibers for old. Its 2018 Bottlesource collection, a line of T-shirts and hoodies derived from plastic bottles from national-park waste streams, was only the start. Since then, the outdoor apparel maker has been working in earnest to “reinvent” classic items, including, most recently, its iconic Mountain and Nuptse jackets, using castoff materials such as 600-fill recycled goose down and 100 percent recycled polyester.
It’s finding new outlets, too: Last fall, the brand introduced eight new sustainable product lines, including Futurelight, a series of PFC-free waterproof outerwear made with 90 percent recycled materials.
“Through the transition to sustainable products and collections throughout more of our portfolio, we hope to prove that products with smaller environmental footprints do not have to compromise the quality and performance customers have come to expect from The North Face,” a spokesperson said.
To find creative uses for textile waste—and curb waste production from the start—The North Face teamed up with The Renewal Workshop last year to roll out its Renewed Design Residency program, which trains rotating groups of the brand’s designers on the principles of circular design and creative garment repair.
“After attending the workshops, our designers will apply and scale their learnings to other apparel lines, expanding the use of refurbished materials and circular design principles across The North Face’s entire product portfolio,” the spokesperson said.
As the world’s largest outdoor-wear brand, The North Face knows that anything it does has an impact at scale.
“The North Face recognizes our responsibility to be positive stewards of the earth’s resources, and to protect the environment and the outdoor places our consumers love to explore,” a spokesperson said. “We have been committed to sustainability since our founding over 50 years ago, and we will continue to set an industry example as we look for ways to cut waste and reduce the use of virgin materials throughout our business model over the coming years.”
Because of its size, finding the volume of recycled fibers it needs remains an ongoing challenge. Another obstacle is the dearth of commercial-scale product recycling infrastructure and technology, particularly for blended materials, which may stymie efforts to recapture resources
“Our designers and trims teams try to be mindful of designing products with mono-materials—such as all recycled polyester, even trims—whenever they can, but there unfortunately isn’t a scaled solution for recycling these products at their end of life as of yet,” the spokesperson said.
As a result, the North Face says it feels a “motivation and urgency” to innovate to reduce waste and substitute virgin materials wherever it can, not only for its own purposes but for the industry at large.
“We are grateful to have a dedicated materials team that focuses on partnering with key suppliers to find sustainable solutions that work for our scale,” the spokesperson said. “Our motivation for finding new waste solutions is knowing that changes we make are driving the whole industry forward and showing customers globally that sustainability and performance do not have to be tradeoffs.”
What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?
“Each year, 85 percent of textiles produced are wasted. We are proud to report that since launching Renewed in 2018, The North Face has diverted more than 200,000 pounds of clothing from landfills. We recognize that the only way to keep these textiles in the value chain is if the apparel industry shifts from a traditional, linear model to a circular model where people share, resell, repair and recycle clothing.
As we look towards the future, it is our hope that the fashion industry commits to operating within the circular economy. Our goal is to continue to share learnings with our peers and others across the apparel and fashion industries so we can protect the places we love to explore for generations to come.”
For more on Sustaining Voices, which celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action, visit sustainingvoices.com.