Picture your most beloved piece of gear, the loyal companion that has accompanied you on your greatest adventures. Now imagine that, no matter the wear and tear, your pack or bivy doesn’t have to end up in a landfill. Instead, it could be stitched up and repaired, accompanying you or someone else on future exploits.
That dream is now a reality, thanks to a growing reuse movement backed by some of the biggest outdoor gear companies. An early convert, Patagonia launched its Worn Wear Van back in 2013. The “van”—a stylish wood-paneled camper, itself upcycled—travels the country, teaching customers about repairing and reusing Patagonia products. The program has been so successful that the gear giant gave Worn Wear a permanent presence on its website in 2017.
Similarly, REI’s long-popular “garage sales,” in which REI stores resale used and returned gear at discounted prices, spun into the online Used Gear Co-op in fall 2017. Both programs accept, inspect, and resell used gear that passes inspection; Patagonia also offers customers store credit for each item turned in to Worn Wear.
Joining the recommerce field this past summer was The North Face Renewed, an online partnership between The North Face (TNF) and the Oregon-based Renewal Workshop. (TNF previously accepted and donated used gear to charity.) With the new initiative, TNF takes in returned, damaged, and defective gear then sends it to the Renewal Workshop for assessment. There, staff inspects the gear and, if an item is cleared for future use, cleans it and makes any necessary repairs. The gear goes back to TNF for a check before the company resells it online at a lower price. Anything that fails inspection gets stripped for parts or upcycled into a new product.
Nicole Bassett, a cofounder of Renewal Workshop, sees the move as a game changer: “Apparel brands have never been involved in secondary sales,” she says. “There’s no good system for the next life [of clothing].” Instead of leaving the resale market to thrift shops or letting old gear linger in dumps, Bassett and her partners saw opportunity. To date, Renewal Workshop has partnered with 16 companies, including Mountain Khakis and Prana, as well as TNF. According to Bassett, they’ve kept the equivalent of 42,578 pounds of textile waste from landfills in the last 18 months alone.
Manufacturing that much new apparel would consume the same energy as burning 5,489 light bulbs for a year and enough water to fill 54 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Plus, when you consider that the fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry behind oil, according to the 2015 documentary The True Cost, those numbers loom even larger. As the reuse movement spreads, many hope that repairing and reusing, rather than disposing, will catch on. “The big goal is to enable a circular economy,” Bassett says, meaning that clothing and gear would be part of a closed system, creating no waste at all.
None of this is possible without durable gear. It’s no surprise, then, that the outdoor leaders of the reuse movement are known for their high-quality products—often with high price tags to match. Some companies have been accused of greenwashing, or putting forward an eco friendly image without a real commitment, and it’s true that recommerce opens up a new market for secondary profit. But as upcycling technologies improve, more companies—including those that sell gear at a greater range of prices—may be able to take part.
The bottom line: Recommerce can be profitable, but it also decreases production, which means less energy consumption and less pollution overall. And, like the outdoors, that benefits everyone.