Outdoor apparel, equipment and footwear maker The North Face today unveiled the Backyard Hoodie, the newest addition to its portfolio of environmentally conscious products. In collaboration with Fibershed (which supports the creation of local textile cultures that enhance ecological balance), Sally Fox at Foxfibre®, and the Sustainable Cotton Project, The North Face designed The Backyard Hoodie with the goal of sourcing and manufacturing a product within 150 miles of its headquarters in Alameda, California. A limited number of hoodies will hit shelves for the first time in early December.
“We were inspired by Fibershed’s innovative model, which parallels that of the local food movement, to work directly with the local farmer and talent to build a product with local roots,” said Adam Mott, director of sustainability at The North Face. “This was a design challenge we set for ourselves that gave us greater exposure to the existing textile craftsmanship that is still thriving within our local community.”
From Seed to Sweatshirt
In 2013, Fibershed and The North Face came together with a vision for a garment that was designed and crafted locally, within 150 miles of The North Face brand’s headquarters. Harnessing enthusiasm from several The North Face designers, product innovators and sustainability experts, the company sought to apply Fibershed’s model for connecting with the regional textile supply chain.
“We’re excited to see our project becoming a movement,” said Rebecca Burgess, founder of Fibershed. “From the outset, our goal has been to show people that regionally grown fibers, natural dyes and local talent are still in great enough existence in the U.S. to provide this most basic human necessity — our clothes. Collaborating with a brand like The North Face is a huge step towards creating a thriving local textile economy.”
Additionally, The North Face partnered with the Sustainable Cotton Project, which brings together a community of family farmers growing cotton in California’s Central Valley. These growers are changing the way they farm by implementing biologically based practices that protect the land, air and water resources in the region.
The organizations note, however, that, due to the decline of cotton mills in Northern California, the cotton spinning and knitting was outsourced to the Carolinas before the fabric was returned to a cutting facility in Oakland and a local sewer in San Leandro, who constructed the garments.
Environmental and Social Benefits
Local sourcing of cotton and skilled labor for the hoodie highlighted a myriad of environmental, economic and health benefits. Sustainable Cotton Project Cleaner Cotton™ disallows the 13 most toxic chemicals used on cotton in California and is proven to reduce chemical use up to 73 percent, compared with conventional cotton fields in the same region. This leads to improved water and air quality and healthier soil, and reduces chemical exposure for farm workers and rural communities. Using locally sourced cotton, ginners and sewers also keeps skills and infrastructure in the local economies, enabling a diversity of artisans, processors and farmers to remain economically viable.
The hoodie’s heirloom breed of brown cotton, grown by Sally Fox in Capay Valley, also helped reduce the need for synthetic dyes. To obtain a unique color, The North Face used food grade iron (ferrous sulfate), which reacts with tannins in the fiber (similar to the rusting process), causing the fabric to turn dark charcoal in color.
Nature-Informed Design Characteristics
The Backyard Hoodie project reminded The North Face’s design team that fabric is precious. The limited amount of material available inspired a pattern not only uniquely modern but one that also challenged the team to eliminate waste from the pattern-cutting process. Waste-less design characteristics including spiraled cuffs, the cut of the hoodie body and other pattern efficiencies were implemented for a detailed approach to sustainable product design. Sewers also use excess fabric to create pockets and reinforce the cuffs and internal structure of The Hoodie.
“Our design team ended up reversing the design process,” Mott said. “Instead of beginning with the drape or cut, we let nature inform the garment design. The Backyard Hoodie left our design team with a lasting inspiration that we are incorporating into other products.”
The Backyard Hoodie will be available in select retail stores in the U.S.
The North Face’s more efficient approach to garment design and production is also seen in its Denali jacket: In addition to designing Denali fleece to come from 100 percent recycled content, the company uses the scraps from production (for every ten Denali Jackets produced, there is enough scrap to create four more jackets) and put it back into the jackets, reducing byproduct waste from the manufacturing process. The company also uses a new dyeing process that uses up to 50 percent less water and chemicals, and an average of 25 percent less energy than traditional methods.