Words by our Director of Innovation and Sustainability: Brad Boren
After working at Norrøna for over 23 years, it is fun for me to still use my 18 year old Thermo Pro Arch Wall Fleece which looks as good today as it did in 2003 or to see my son’s face when he saw my 20 year old kolsås pants, try them on and immediately head out to the skate park. I like using these old products even more today than I did when they were new because they have memories and are even more unique when I wear them..
It is a credit to Norrøna’s quality, function, design and sustainability that the products work without compromise and still look good today. But if we fill out an End of Use measurement for these products, they often score with the worst of fast fashion. The questions normally ask:
Has the product been repaired? NO
Has the product been resold? NO
Has the product been recycled? NO
Has the product been incinerated for energy? NO
Some may ask what the product’s life expectancy is ending at five years or more, but even this is not the norm. The reason it normally ends at five years is that there are so few products as a percentage made to be worn for over five years that it is not worth the effort in additional data collection. As an industry, we are still so set on seasonal designs and sales that we lose sight of the bigger picture and what is best for the planet.
Having a twenty or thirty year old product still being used by their proud owners is such an amazing accomplishment. By building durable, timeless products that just get more special with age, we have potentially saved the product footprint five times over. So the paradox for our industry is how do you scientifically measure end of use for a product that has no end of use to measure yet?
Today’s material and product measurements for social and environmental impacts are a critical step forward for all consumers. It provides us with needed information not just on the look and feel of the product, but on its soul. Have it’s designers and developers taken care of the planet, the animals and the people who may have been involved? Have we reduced resource usage, or recycled old materials? How much carbon was produced as a result of this product? The hope that these measurements help balance buyer behaviour, and then make brands understand producing a responsible product is important.
That perfect product should have a minimum environmental footprint, make sure the workers have freedom to choose, are treated fairly and are provided with fair wages. This product should also be designed to last a long time without feeling foolish wearing it in five years. The materials and the products should be tested for durability and fit for use. Enough work should have gone into the product that the resources used on it were well allocated, and it is worth the buyer’s investment. In the end, cheap prices do not mean something is worth it? Quite often it means there were sacrifices somewhere in the value chain. Was it less environmental or durable materials? Did the workers recieve less pay? Was the product made to be worn only a short time? A product that can be recycled still uses far more resources than a product that is used for years.
So when you go through your storage areas and closets, think about pulling out things you have not used in a long time. Mix it with new products and create your own looks. Whether it is used in the city or in the mountains, making our own styles, travelling through different times of products, mixing and matching, remembering some of your history in those products like an old song, will not just be good for the environment, but it’s good for the soul.