Why UnNew: Coming Around to the Full Circle Economy
How Geartrade and outdoor brands are contributing to a more sustainable circular model.
The backstory: linear manufacturing has been driving the environment into a ditch.
To understand what a circular economy is, you have to take a step back—way back. You’ve got to look at the big picture of how things generally get made. Most of us are pretty far away from this process—in fact, if you don’t have a job in manufacturing, you’re probably never gotten a good look at it. But here’s the lowdown: materials are acquired either by extraction or cultivation. Then the product is created, bought, used, and finally, disposed of in a landfill. This is what’s known as a linear model of resource consumption—“take-make-dispose”—a model that was established in the early days of industrialization.
Obviously, that model was developed by people who sure didn’t take sustainability into account. But now we know that model is totally unsustainable in the long term. And it’s painful for us outdoor-loving folks to realize that, typically, the vast majority of the gear we love was sourced in this linear fashion—from the metal buckles on our ski boots to the Velcro closures on our jacket cuffs.
Closing the loop. Saving the planet.
Now, consider what happens when you introduce reusing and recycling into this manufacturing model to create a closed loop … a.k.a. a full circle. Recycling materials reduces the need to harvest the world’s natural resources, and it keeps materials out of the landfill. Reusing extends the life of products, eliminating the need for ceaseless production. In a roundabout way (wink), the full circle economy is a coming home.
A circular economy means returning to a sustainable business model that treats resources as precious, limited, and worthy of reuse. An important report from the Ellen MacArthur foundation outlined it clearly: this kind of system is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. To put a fine point on it, it’s better than a wasteful, destructive, and unsustainable linear approach. (Sorry, that sounds like yelling. … We tend to be very passionate over here.)
“Full Circle” is our rallying-cry. And our partners’.
Since launching in 1999, Geartrade has been part of the circular economy as a “recommerce” platform. Our slice of the circle is resale and reuse, which keeps goods in circulation—and out of the landfill. The Geartrade online marketplace consists of pre-owned, reusable, repaired, and returned outdoor gear and apparel. We work with both brands and individuals to make their UnNew gear available. Recently brands including The North Face, Patagonia and Arc’teryx have developed inhouse programs that keep their used garments out of the landfills and in circulation.
The North Face (TNF), through their TNF Renewed program, are playing a part in the circular economy by repairing and refurbishing products for resale. The TNF Renewal process started in 2018 as the company’s response to the need to find solutions for products at the end of their useful life. TNF developed an eight-step Renewed process to return previously worn, returned, damaged, and defective products to like-new condition. This rigorous process includes cleaning, inspection, repair, finishing, and a thorough quality assurance. The Renewed products, ranging from jackets and fleeces to T-shirts and sports bras, are then resold, ready for their next adventure, with less impact on the earth. This reduction in environmental impact puts a dent in the linear model (in which 85 percent of all textiles produced end up in landfills). To date, TNF Renewed has kept over 115,000 pounds of textiles out of landfills and back in circulation. Cheers to that!
Patagonia Worn Wear is Patagonia’s hub for keeping gear in play. This model allows for participants to simply trade in used Patagonia gear in good condition at a local store or by mail for credit towards the purchase of new Patagonia gear. The worn gear is expertly inspected and cleaned, and is then resold. Patagonia also encourages customers to repair their gear to get all the life out of it through Patagonia repair centers, at-home DIY repair tutorials and through the Worn Wear repair tours. To date, Patagonia has a running tally of over 415,174 products that have been repaired since 2005. Another cool circular avenue is the Patagonia Worn Wear ReCrafted Collection, which features items created from thousands of used garments diverted from the landfill, sorted at Patagonia’s Reno Repair Center and then deconstructed, redesigned and sewn in Los Angeles. These one-of-a-kind garments are then available for sale online.
Arc’teryx likewise offers customers the opportunity to trade in their used gear for credit toward new gear through the Arc’teryx Used Gear Program. This gear recycling hub is designed to keep gear in play and out of storage and landfills. Customers receive 30-percent of the original price back on a gift card to be used on new or used Arc’teryx gear.
Clearly, transitioning to a circular economy isn’t about making sacrifices or settling. It’s an improvement in our environment—relying less on harvesting natural resources, generating less waste, using less energy in the production cycle, and throwing away much less of everything. In a way, “less is more” could be the mantra of the full circle economy.
Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com