As a company that promotes engagement with the beautiful outdoors, Patagonia knows how to practice what it preaches. The outdoor gear and clothing supplier has long supported environmental initiatives, from sourcing wool from farmers with the highest animal welfare and eco-conscious standards, to using 100 percent USA-grown organic cotton, to eradicating synthetic microfiber pollution. Now its latest initiative is working to close another vast waste stream: the disposal of used clothing.
Each year, Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles — about 85 percent of their clothes — accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste. That breaks down to about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, a figure that is rapidly growing. This, of course, is the detritus of fast fashion, the production of which is the second dirtiest industry in the world after big oil, not counting the wasted clothing that following in the footsteps of the production.
One way to combat this, of course, is to produce clothing in more environmentally friendly ways, which Patagonia is already doing. Another solution is to recycle the clothing that would otherwise enter the waste stream. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, in terms of carbon emissions, the amount of clothing already recycled each year is equivalent to taking one million cars off the road.
Patagonia wants to up that number, which is where its latest initiative, Worn Wear, comes in. Worn Wear is an online marketplace where customers can trade, sell and buy second-hand Patagonia goods, as well as find ways to repair their worn-in gear. The initiative is an extension of the companies Worn Wear pop-ups, the in-person resale events they've done for years. After it proved so popular, the company has decided to make the eco-conscious effort a part of their regular offering.
The way it works is like an upscale thrift store: Customers can bring in quality, functional used clothing to their local Patagonia store, and get credit for their next purchase at either a Patagonia store, the classic website, or WornWear.com. The company has standard trade-in values, ranging from $15 to $100 depending on the kind of item, and Patagonia will pay you up to 50 percent of the price they will sell the item for.
The company accepts most Patagonia garments including men’s, women’s and kids' sportswear and technical styles, as well as Patagonia luggage. Once the items are cleaned using CO2, which saves water and energy compared to conventional methods, it goes up in the Worn Wear site and is given a second life, staying out of the waste stream and in use.
Unlike many clothing manufacturers – or manufacturers of anything, really – Patagonia also offers information and guides for clothing repair, so customers don't have to buy new items and waste an otherwise perfectly good garment with, say, a small tear at the seam. On WornWear.com, an entire section is devoted to helping customers care for their used clothing, offering guides and repair kits as well as an open forum for people to ask questions for repair best practices.
"One of the most responsible things we can do as a company is to make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired, so you don’t have to buy more of it," the company's website says. "Worn Wear is a set of tools to help our customers partner with Patagonia to take mutual responsibility to extend the life of the products Patagonia makes and customers purchase."