In a warming world filled with single-use products and rapidly growing landfills, outdoor gear companies have an elevated responsibility to help fix the issues of resource waste and over consumption. The need for outdoor gear to be repaired, reused, and resold has eclipsed the modern consumer’s desire to replace it when the shiniest upgrade comes along. With that in mind, the way forward for many environmentally-conscious brands is no longer a linear take-make-waste system, but a circular one, in which used and unwanted products can be taken back by brands and given a second life.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity committed to creating a circular economy, millions of tons of clothes are produced, worn, and thrown away every year. A closed-loop cycle, or circular economy, transforms that waste-producing method of production into a renewable process that not only recycles products at the end of their life, but ensures they are designed to be reused again and again from the very beginning (with some repairs, if necessary).
When brands adopt a closed-loop cycle, they can effectively recycle, reuse, and resell old gear by making it into a new product or repairing it. It might seem ironic that for years, so many outdoor brands created gear that negatively impacted the planet, but thanks to vocal consumers who care and new resources that make it possible, this concept sometimes known as “recommerce” is taking hold in the outdoor industry.
And it doesn’t just benefit brands—a circular gear economy brings high-quality, albeit used, gear to customers who might not otherwise be able to afford it, creating accessibility, and in some cases those who turn in their old stuff can earn store credit to use toward an upgrade of their own. It’s a win for everyone involved. (Taking a step further, iniatives like The Gear Fund Collective have luanched to get gently used gear into the hands of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and other groups traditionally underserved by the outdoor industry.)
Some brands are just beginning to experiment with closed-loop cycles, while others are further along, but the effort and energy is undoubtedly in motion. Want to buy your outdoor gear and clothing from the most sustainable brands out there? This list of nine outdoor brands that are putting the planet over profit is a good place to start.
9 Outdoor Brands With Reuse, Resell, and Recycle Programs
This branch of The North Face upcycles the brand’s damaged goods into high-quality outdoor apparel. Using a totally circular model they select products for renewal and run them through a rigorous process to restore them to like-new conditions; everything that can't be upcycled is donated or recycled. All of these refurbished garments are for sale exclusively on The North Face Renewed website.
Patagonia might tell you not to buy its gear, but if you do, chances are you won’t be getting rid of it for a long, long time. From its grassroots environmental and social activism to its Ironclad Guarantee (which has long provided customers with free repair services), the company consistently sets the standard for eco-conscious gear manufacturing. Its Worn Wear initiative allows customers to return gently-used gear for store credit and its ReCrafted collection is a line of apparel and bags made from repurposed Patagonia products.
The outdoor retailer is rethinking consumerism with its recently launched resale site, REI Good and Used. Using its trade-in search tool, REI Co-op members can search for their product, and as long as they are able to locate it in REI’s online database, they can ship it to the retailer for free in exchange for an REI gift card. (Products that are clean and in good condition will earn a bigger trade-in value.) For example, returning a Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket will earn you $29-39 in REI store credit, while the North Face’s Inferno 0 sleeping bag will raise you $166-216. Other acceptable items include pants, running and hiking shoes, tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags.
Through ReBird, the Canadian gear brand’s resale program (which recently opened it's first brick and mortar service shop in New York City) customers can now purchase upcycled, used, and repaired Arc’teryx gear, or submit their gear for repair. What’s even more radical is the Stowe Windshell created from end-of-the-roll materials reclaimed during the production process and its Upcycled Tote and Pouch made from post-consumer materials. (More on those items, here.)
What began with an award-winning initiative to eliminate 100,000 plastic bags from Nemo Equipment's supply chain in 2019 has continued into a partnership with REI and Trove, a recommerce company, to keep its used products in circulation. Consumers can either return products through NEMO or the REI Good and Used program to be sold on REI’s new resale website and receive a gift card to either Nemo or REI, depending on which retailer the return goes through.
“We’re excited to enter the recommerce market alongside two visionary partners, REI and Trove,” says Theresa Conn, Nemo’s global distribution & sustainability manager. “This is a vital step on our journey to having truly circular products.”
When you purchase apparel or equipment from Mountain Hardwear you can be sure that it’s designed to last multiple seasons, at least. “Within our strategy we have something called the impact loop,” says Peter Valles, vice president of product and brand creative. “We try to make fewer things and design for durability and repair.” The brand’s Repair Over Replace program provides customers with free repair services and thus keeps products out of landfills and gets them back into the hands of customers. Many products in its line use recycled fabrics, and some are even made with 100% post-industrial recycled fabrics for upcycled gear and apparel.
Luckily, Mountain Hardwear has even bigger sustainability plans on the horizon, so stay tuned. (Also, many Mountain Hardwear products are included in REI’s Good and Used program, so you can trade them in for store credit there.)
For a long time, the Swedish outdoor brand has maintained strict environmental standards for its products such as avoiding hazardous chemicals, prioritizing the use of the most sustainable fabrics, a robust repair and care program that teaches consumers how to ensure the longevity of their gear, and more. The limited edition Samlaren Collection takes it a step further with one-of-a-kind bags, jackets, and hats made entirely from leftover fabrics from Fjällräven’s mills and factories.
In addition to becoming 100% Climate Neutral certified in April 2021, the Jackson Hole-based brand also recently announced the launch of its circular commerce program, Second Turn. Customers can return no more than three pieces of used Stio gear to be cleaned, repaired, or resold at a discount, and receive a store credit in return. "All of our clothing is built to last and backed with our Mountain Origins Guarantee so each garment is made to withstand years of adventuring,” says Noah Waterhouse, president and COO of Stio. “We understand that our consumers’ needs may change over time and Stio Second Turn provides the perfect opportunity to give that garment new life."
This cycling activewear company is achieving its impressive sustainability targets faster than a Tour de France racer. With an ambitious goal of making 90% of its products from recycled, renewable, or organic materials by 2022, Pearl is well on its way with, as of summer 2021, 40% of its wares already meeting or exceeding these new standards. The lifetime warranty program and free in-house repairs work to keep products in circulation, and Pearl iZumi aims to become carbon neutral (meaning it’s carbon emissions have a net neutral impact on the environment because it offsets as much carbon as it produces) by 2025.