Sunday, 27 April 2014

Climb Green (by Karen Varga)

The one thing I’ve certainly become more attentive of over the past few years is what I wear when climbing … and increasingly more aware of the impact-trail that item has placed on the planet on its journey into my wardrobe.

Back in my younger days it was all about wearing the cheapest oldest clothes possible. Gradually this transformed from “I don’t care how scruffy I look” to wanting to look (and feel) a bit more presentable, so that at least I could go to the supermarket after climbing without drawing disdainful looks :)

This change came about due to a number of factors … first of which was me taking my climbing more seriously and regarding myself as an athlete rather than a bum climber.  It’s hard to feel like an athlete if you’re dressed like you just scrounged through the sale bin at the local charity store (not that I condemn buying from charity stores mind you! I think they make a whole heap of sense and some of my best and favourite items are from one).  But I think you get my point :)

Another reason is simply from experiencing the difference between wearing an item designed for activity versus any old clothing.  Although I think a lot of outdoor clothing is over-jargoned with high-tech-ness than is actually necessary (or beneficial), there is definitely some value in having the right thing for the job. 

And finally simply because there are awesome options out there nowadays! Active wear clothing has become the latest trend, and even the most slothful never-had-a-splash-of-mud-on-my-shoes individual struts around fully kitted out in Adidas, Nike and The North Face gear.

On the green side of side of things, my awareness of this has been building up gradually over the years, and my readiness to do something about it even more so. We’ve all seen video footage on, or at least have heard or read about, child-labour and sweatshop factories and the exploitation of the land – but how feasible is it to avoid buying clothing that is marred by these things?  Where can I get it and at what sacrifice on cost, quality, design and comfort? As much as I wanted to be planet-friendly, I wasn’t aware of any brands out there providing me an enticing alternative.

But there are products out there that offer high quality climbing clothing (and general active wear) while also upholding strong ethical values and focus on protecting the environment, it’s just about knowing about them!

One such product is prAna. A well-known clothing brand in the climbing community, but how many of you are aware of its roots, values, and sustainability ethics? prAna started in the early 90’s by a husband and wife team, making climbing clothing in their garage and selling to some of the local climbing stores in their area.  They have gradually expanded and prAna clothing is now sold in many outdoor stores worldwide, but their principles remain the same.  They have established sound sustainability goals to mitigate impact on the environment, minimize waste, and ensure that working conditions are fair and safe.  

Another such company that I’ve recently discovered is 3rd ROCK.  They are still in their early stages of development, a small team committed to producing ethical climbing and active wear. Like prAna, they employ strong ethical values on environmental protection and sustainability.

Are there other climbing clothing companies out there with similar goals and values? These are the only two that I’m aware of, but if you know of any others I would love to hear more!

So what does it mean to be green, from a climbing clothing company point of view?

Both prAna and 3rd ROCK use organic cotton for their clothing - which means the cotton is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or toxic pesticides and is GM free, all of which is better for the soil, for the animals, for the workers, for the air (less greenhouse gases), and for the end user (no allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemical residues on the fabric).

Organic cotton fields
prAna also uses recycled polyester and is a member of Textile Exchange, a non-profit organization committed to accelerating sustainable practices in the textile value chain in order to create material change and restore the environment. 3rd ROCK uses up-cycled fabrics wherever possible - up-cycling represents a truly cyclical, balanced process of creating a product of higher quality or value than the original.

Besides the actual fabric though, there are many other ways a company can be green by prioritising practises like recycling and composting, being aware of equipment energy usage, reducing packaging and their carbon footprint. 3rd ROCK sources all their fabrics locally, and only uses local factories which they have personally visited and can vouch for their humane working conditions as well as the quality of work produced, while prAna is a member of Fair Labour Association (a non-profit organization dedicated to ending sweatshop conditions in factories worldwide) and offers Fair Trade Certified Apparel. 

I know what you thinking … this all sounds great, but surely with all this “goodness” there must be some loss of quality or comfort in the final product?  This is definitely not the case with these companies, both produce super comfortable clothing with well-fitting fashionable cuts … environmentally friendly does not have to mean scratchy and uncomfortable!

Cost is of course a factor for most, and here I think it’s important to consider the whole package when looking at the price … not just the end product, but everything from start to finish: farms, workers, factories, transportation, chemicals, ethics, the air we breathe and the land we so heavily rely on.

Many the well-known brands of clothing that we buy keep their costs down at the expense of scruples, with some of them we know this for a fact, and for others it may be to a greater or lesser extent, but invariably we don’t fully know what shortcuts they’ve taken along the way, and who or what that may have affected.  Companies that aim for high standards of environmental sustenance will incur higher costs, it’s a fact of this day-and-age, so it stands to reason that the garments may be slightly higher in price.  But this is not always the case, and with prAna and 3rd ROCK I’ve often found their prices comparable with other climbing and outdoor brands.

Ask yourself, what do you want to support and how you will FEEL wearing that garment? Perhaps you will find, as I have, that the knowledge I have shared with you here will empower you, as a consumer, to do your part for our planet.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” - Gandhi

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