Un-dyed outdoor gear is becoming more and more popular

Every piece of outdoor gear or gear we buy has an impact. A financial impact on our portfolios, of course, but also an environmental and human impact. Someone, somewhere, had to design each backpack or sleeping bag, sew it together, clean it, dye it, and ship it across the world so we could go out and explore. But some types of equipment have more impact than others, and the textile industry is notoriously unfriendly to the environment. Part of the process with far-reaching negative impacts? Synthetic dyes.

In factories in the countries that make our outdoor clothing and gear, workers are exposed to chemicals that most of us wouldn’t want within a mile of our body. The process leads to harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Massive amounts of toxic wastewater left over from dyeing processes ends up in streams and rivers, devastating natural ecosystems and making it one of the biggest pollutants of the world’s water supplies.

Fortunately, eco-conscious brands are ready to do something: from dye-free clothing, from crisp white bags to colorless sleeping bags to milky-colored boots. And while undyed gear isn’t a new concept for outdoor brands – the trend has spread over the past five years – what was once a one-off concept is finally gaining momentum. This also applies to consumers, who are showing signs of overcoming their fear of dragging white items in places where dirt, mud and gravel are plentiful, in favor of sustainability.

On’s Cloudrock Edge Raw (Photo: activated)

The clothing industry is one of the worst polluters in the world and dyes are one of its most dangerous elements. Colored dyes used in outdoor gear can contain heavy metals and can be toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic. And, because of their high volume of complex chemical compounds and the fact that dyes, especially those intended for outdoors, are designed to resist light, temperature and detergents, these compounds are often cannot be filtered efficiently in sewage treatment plants. They end up being dumped into waterways and used by local communities for irrigation, and in places without reliable access to indoor plumbing, for bathing and even drinking.

Indeed, according to studies on the toxicity of dyes, 800,000 tonnes of synthetic dyes produced each year by the clothing industry, Up to 200,000 tons end up in nearby waterways due to ineffective dyeing and dyeing processes (some dyes are only 50 percent effective in adhering to fabrics and require huge amounts of water).

People are suffering, but so are fish and other wildlife. The same process affects plants, harm soil microbes and hamper photosynthesis, germination and growth. In addition, the non-biodegradable elements contained in these dyes may persist in the environment for up to 13 years.

“From an environmental standpoint, the amount of chemicals and water used in the dyeing process is, frankly speaking, absurd,” says Charlie Ranahan, equipment and accessories product manager at Mountain Hardwear. Mountain Hardwear, a major proponent of the undyed movement, has rolled out a full range, including the Lamina Eco AF synthetic sleeping bag, several Alpine Light packs, and the three new ultralight tents of the brand (the flys of the Nimbus and Straton are not dyed).

Pack of 22 cooperative REI flashes
(Photo: REI)

They weren’t the first. Columbia has published its OutDry Extreme Eco undyed, recycled and PFC free rain jacket in 2016. Patagonia has launched a collection of undyed clothing, including their iconic Snap-T, in 2014. And lifestyle clothing brands like Housework have been offering undyed clothing lines for years. But consumer demand for more sustainable gear and practices from outdoor brands, it seems, has finally turned the tide.

REI Co-op is one of the many who have jumped on the wagon this year. The brand offered its popular Pack of 22 éclairs and Trail 2 waist bag in completely undyed fabric this spring. In doing so, says the brand, it reduced the fabric’s greenhouse gas emissions by 14% and its water needs by 18%. This can save brands money (often a minimal amount according to Ranahan), but also often requires more preparatory work on the part of the textile teams to make this happen at the manufacturing level.

Jack Wolfskin plunges his toe into the trend with his undyed lifestyle shoe, the Ecotourism, which is made with an undyed hemp upper and a durable cork insole. On Running also released its new Raw cloud Non-tinted hiking shoe, designed when the brand discovered that the dyeing process made up around 36% of its environmental footprint during production. The North Face currently offers an undyed sweatshirt and gasp in addition to several Summit Series tech packs that will be available this fall.

But one or two undyed pieces of equipment in a line doesn’t make a business sustainable, and more and more brands are accepting that.

“Greenwashing is all too common in the apparel world and the product world as a whole,” says Ranahan. “Using undyed fabrics is just one technique to reduce our impact on the Earth, and while it is incredibly effective, it is not – and never will be – the main driver of change. positive. It is up to industry brands to prioritize sustainability at all levels of the business, including sourcing, materials, transportation, manufacturing, and the product lifecycle.

Jack Wolfskin Ecosride
Jack Wolfskin Ecosride (Photo: Jack Wolfskin)

Do customers open their arms (and closets) to all the crisp white gear they ask for? So far the answer seems to be yes. REI’s Flash 22 pack sold out in, well, one flash (one month). Mountain Hardwear’s bags are seeing a steady increase in sales as the brand educates less-informed consumers about the sustainability of undyed fabrics through advertising, although the sleeping bag has not been as popular. The North Face Senior Manager of Global Sustainability Carol Shu says she has received a lot of positive reviews for their undyed products. Sales of all brands indicate that most outdoor enthusiasts understand the importance of durability and are ready to try something new.

Jack Wolfskin’s Equipment Manager Dirk Hondrich explains why he thinks consumers are so interested: “Undyed materials are easy to communicate and recognized by the consumer as a sustainable story, and speak to the challenges of the process. dyeing. Simply, it obviously looks different and arouses the interest of consumers just by the look.

As for the inherent inability of white gear to keep looking like new, some designers believe its penchant for dirt is actually a favorable quality. “I compare him to a human [body]: all the scars, the bumps, the bruises, that’s what makes us, us. And that’s what makes our equipment; our equipment is nothing without the trips we put it through, ”explains Ranahan. “A gash here, a stain there. It’s like a battle scar, a source of pride.

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