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No Time to Dye: Outdoor Brands Sacrifice Color in Pursuit of Sustainability

Adidas, Hestra and Big Agnes have all invested in more responsible dye methods. Will the trend stick, or will it fade?

man hiking on hill

A few weeks back, Adidas Outdoor held a virtual event for members of the media, highlighting some of its latest offerings for the new season. Such showcases are part of the new normal; the ongoing pandemic has rendered remote brand presentations more common than in-person ones.

Still, there was something new and novel about what Adidas had to share. Developed in partnership with Parley for the Oceans, the brand’s all-new Terrex MyShelter PrimaLoft Hooded Jacket is a snowy white commitment to help end plastic waste, a bit of alchemy that transforms discarded bottles and other "trash" into functional, gorgeous outerwear.

The Parley for the Oceans partnership, as well as the technical aspects of the jacket itself, were enough to keep anyone captivated. However, what stuck out to me was the jacket's color — or lack thereof.

man wearing adidas terrex outfit
man wearing adidas terrex outfit

Rethinking the Process

In the past five years, certain segments of the outdoor space have begun to shift away from conventional, environment-destroying dyeing techniques in favor of more responsible approaches. These methods are one way of addressing the paradox that haunts the outdoor industry: In the race to push innovation and consumption of the outdoor gear that allows us to get out and explore in comfort and style, we are poisoning the very environments where we hope to recreate.

So what is a brand, or an ethically-minded consumer to do? The most obvious, albeit least talked about solution would be to stop consuming at the rapid pace we’ve been taught to expect. It would mean buying less, mending more and reframing what a ‘necessity’ truly is.

woman on mountain

But until that day comes, we’ll continue to innovate the production of our outdoor goods, in the hopes of creating ethically-produced, aesthetically-pleasing, high-performance outdoor goods that don’t destroy our planet. As much.

No Dye, No Problem

This is where Adidas comes back into play. It is one of the biggest and most notable brands to commit to a no-dye technology. The aforementioned, just-released Hooded Jacket ($220) represents a bold investment into non-dyed gear.

"If we want to make a change, we need to think, and act, in completely new ways."

According to the brand, its no-dye process dramatically cuts down energy consumption, and it works with the material’s natural color to cut out the water-thirsty part of the process — the pre-treatment phase of conventional dye techniques. The naturally colored fabric does require a post-treatment step to achieve the same performance qualities, yet it still achieves an average 60 percent savings on not only energy but also water.

woman posing on mountain
woman zipping up her terrex jacket

“Managing our environment impacts at our own sites and along the value chain, where our products are designed, created, manufactured, transported, and sold, is a key focus of our work,” the brand told us. “We have developed an approach to address our carbon footprint, water efficiency and quality and are committed to steadily increasing the use of more sustainable materials in our production, products and stores while driving towards circular business solutions. If we want to make a change, we need to think, and act, in completely new ways.”

Solutions-First Mindset

Adidas isn’t the only brand in the outdoor space re-thinking dye in an impactful way. Earlier this year, Big Agnes introduced Solution Dyed Fabric, which is “produced from yarn made from pre-colored chips of nylon or polyester versus fabric made from uncolored yarn which is then colored.” The brand makes its Ultralight Fly Creek and Tiger Wall backpacking and bikepacking tents out of the sustainably-focused fabric. Worth noting: The Tiger Wall UL3 ($469.95) is the best overall pick in GP's own best camping tents guide.

The Solution Dyed process has fewer steps than traditional dyeing methods, and boasts impressive stats. Solution Dyed (SD) fabric results in a 50 percent reduction in water required for the dyeing proces, which translates to nearly 5 gallons saved per tent on some models. The brand says that production of 2021 SD tents will save 132,000 gallons of clean drinking water.

man inside of big agnes tent
Big Agnes

There’s also an 80 percent reduction in energy required, and 80 percent fewer chemicals used; this results in reduced carbon emissions, and cleaner and safer dyeing and finishing processes, respectively. Big Agnes also states that SD yarn has a higher resistance to UV fade and shade changes, making the tents more durable in the long run.

“We’re consistently trying to innovate our products to offer industry-leading technology – especially when it comes to sustainability," says Bill Gamber, co-founder and president of Big Agnes. "Though we’re rooted in a small mountain town, we recognize that our footprint is global — and even small tweaks can make a giant impact. We strive to offer products that not only perform better, but are better for the environment. Solution dying offers that — a cleaner way to dye tents, that actually also improves the tents’ durability — meaning that less tents end up in a landfill in the long run.”

Eco Cure

A third company experimenting in this space is Hestra Gloves. Founded in 1936, the high-end handwear brand is run by the third generation of Magnussons and based in, you guessed it, Hestra, Sweden. Recently, it has leveraged its experience, longevity and authority in the space to lean in on cleaner dyeing methods, namely with a proprietary naturally tanned leather material, Ecocuir.

men hiking up mountainside

“Ecocuir is a chrome-free tanned leather, which is tanned using a more eco-friendly process, explains Drew Eakins, marketing manager at Hestra. "Essentially, we saturate the leather with a natural grease that repels water and helps [to] develop a beautiful patina over time. It’s pretty fulfilling to see the company really pushing to develop more sustainably-tanned materials.”

The method, which imparts a lovely natural brown hue, is at work in a number of gloves, including the Wakayama ($150, pictured above). Hestra has tripled its use of Ecocuir over the past two years, and this season added the Tarfala, which features a chrome-free tanned goat leather.

Brighter Future

By the standards of many studies, fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world, just after the oil industry, and negatively impacts key areas including water pollution and overconsumption, microfibers in our oceans and waterways, waste accumulation, chemical pollution, soil degradation and more. Meanwhile, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy generates $788 billion in consumer spending.

When those facts are combined, it’s hard to ignore the notion that without real change, our natural environments are going to continue to be used and abused. Although it sounds dark, these three brands are setting an example of small steps that can be taken toward a brighter, more sustainable future.

Take enough of them, and we can only hope one day our biggest problem will be… how to get the stains out of our white gear.

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