Is the outdoor fashion industry the founder of sustainable fashion?


Let’s face it, the fashion industry isn’t exactly steeped in a rich history of social & economic morality. It’s original practices, while impressive, are now slowly changing with today’s shift towards ethical consumption. Gone are the dark “don’t ask, don’t tell” days of where fashion is made, how the garment is fabricated and who/what suffered to get it to the shops and in to our consumption-driven hands. Brands, whether they like it or not are being asked to be transparent about their company procedures and practices because consumers are no longer blindly following. We’re now in the business the who/what/why/when/where and the brands that are coming forth with this information are the ones dominating the market. It appears the outdoor sector have been screaming about this for years, but now the mainstream industry is starting to join the conversation, they’re finally being heard.

The Whiteroom team have recently come back from OutDoor Show which involved another amazing year chatting to some great people and being involved in some interesting discussions. Some talks at the event around sustainability really struck a chord with us on both professional and personal levels, and it’s sparked many conversations in the office since.

Icebreaker doesn’t call themselves a fashion company, but they do make outdoor wear that is designed to last through the trends; relevant, but not “right now”. Not just a bi-product of the brand, sustainability is the heart of the company and influences all that they do. It was there 40 years ago when they created the brand and it’s the filter in which all decisions are made still to this day – from the strict animal welfare standards with the merino wool farmers they work with, to the factories where the garments are produced, through to employee engagement and culture. It’s all covered and it’s this sincere approach that has made them one of the biggest players in their game.

Icebreaker also produce a yearly Transparency Report, a report which companies have started to develop in order for people to truly see in to the company and its procedures. This is the ultimate tick of sustainability, with Icebreaker really putting their money where their mouth is. You can check out it out here, it’s 100 pages but it’s worth the read.

Not only are outdoor companies showing all of their cards, but they’re putting their brand weight behind causes that align with their values and purpose. Patagonia, again another outdoor fashion brand that has always promoted transparency in their practices (and also producing a yearly transparency report), is also involved and vocal in a number of environmental and social causes. Telling the Dam Truth is a cause on their current agenda that’s mission is to stop the installation of approx. 3000 hydroelectric dams across Europe. These dams, according to Patagonia, cause more harm than good, disrupting rivers, destroying habitats and displacing hundreds of residents. They’ve created a documentary, Blue Heart, to educate and promote the cause and hopefully bring about some social change.

What we love about both of these brands isn’t just the fact that they’re making a positive impact on the world and their customers, but they’re thinking outside of the box when it comes to their capabilities and reach. We’re moving in to a beautiful era of consumerism that is becoming more conscious with people not wanting to buy into brands that don’t align with their ethics and morality, and the companies that aren’t afraid to loudly align themselves with the causes that are true to their heart and brand are the ones creating a loyal following. As a company, no longer do you have to fear of offending people and ruffling feathers, now it’s encouraged and the barriers of staying in your industry or sector are starting to break down.

But don’t be fooled, this isn’t a cry for brands to scramble to find a charity and hope that the alignment results in sales. These brands are successful due to their humility and genuine interest, consumers nowadays are the first to call BS when it comes to contrived brand engagements, so don’t fake your purpose.