I do a fair amount of product development work at RedWhite Apparel. Some products have a clear path to production and eventually end up available for sale on our website.
Some products on the other hand are developed without any clear production goals. One such idea is a bibshort made from recycled fabrics, with mesh and lycra from recycled plastic bottles and recycled elastane (from industrial waste).
The reason I started this project is because RedWhite Apparel is on a multi-year path to becoming an environmentally sustainable company. Producing a bibshort made using recycled fabrics is a critical first step on this journey. I am aware that the idea of "being sustainable" is trite. However, it is still an important attribute to strive for.
A prototype Recycled Bibshort. The white mesh and black lycra are made of nylon yarn recycled from plastic bottles and reclaimed elastane from industrial waste
The prototype bibshort above is excellent. I had no issues with the fabrics and it performed just as well as our popular bibshorts. My current bibshorts use fabrics produced to Bluesign® and OEKO-TEX® environmental standards. I think these standards are important, but we have a long way to go to make the entire garment industry have a low-to-zero environmental impact.
Fabrics made of recycled plastic bottles and recycled nylon / polyester fabrics are an integral part of the multi-year plan to make RedWhite a more sustainable company. It is the lowest hanging fruit on the "tree of sustainability" and the first step that I should take in my multi-year approach toward making RedWhite Apparel more sustainable.
Eventually, I not only have to produce bibshorts made from recycled material, but must also change the way RedWhite Apparel operates. Here are two examples of our current unsustainable practices.
- Our bibshorts are produced in Romania and get flown to Singapore before being shipped out again via DHL & FedEx to customers worldwide. The logical solution to this is to produce in the EU and ship from a central warehouse in Romania to shorten the net distance travelled by each bibshort and reduce overall carbon emissions. However, the biggest challenge right now is EU VAT compliance. With customers located globally, zero rating VAT and paying VAT on individual orders becomes complicated. It is simpler & cheaper to ship everything to Singapore and reship to customers, even though it isn't the best way from an environmental perspective. As RedWhite Apparel grows, we will be able to afford the additional expense of VAT compliance and open a warehouse in Romania or the EU to serve North America and Europe.
- We don't have a mechanism in place to recycle customers' bibshorts. RedWhite customers typically replace their bibshorts every year. Most of these worn out shorts get tossed into the bin. Very little is recycled. In fact, most recycled fabrics use material from recycled plastic bottles and industrial waste rather than from old fabrics. Lycra in particular is really difficult and costly to recycle because it is nylon blended with synthetic rubber. These 2 materials have different physical, thermal, and chemical properties which add to the complexity of recycling them. This has to change and unfortunately we can't do it alone. We need access to an affordable garment recycling solution.
Ultimately, making RedWhite Apparel a zero-carbon, low environmental impact, sustainable company is going to be very difficult without structural changes elsewhere in the world. Here's what I believe needs to happen :
- A low-to-zero carbon emission way to transport inventory from the factory floor to customers. This currently doesn't exist but I do believe humanity will eventually get there.
- A scalable and affordable way to recycle fabrics. Resource requirements should ideally be lower than the resources required to produce fabrics in the first place.
- Hardier stretch fabrics need to be invented. Because lycra is woven with elastane fibres (synthetic rubber), it is less durable than non-stretchy fabrics. Ideally, if a bibshort's optimum usable life can be extended to 5 years, you could meaningfully reduce the number you need to own.
Less about Recycled Bibshorts, more about Sustainability
I understand that this article only touched briefly on the Recycled Bibshort prototype. There isn't much to talk about that since it is pretty unremarkable. I think having access to recycled fabrics is not a luxury but a necessity, and I foresee RedWhite's entire product line eventually being made with recycled lycra. It is a fabric that costs almost the same as our current fabrics, performs just as well, and is lighter on the environment.
The only reason I haven't made the change yet is because I am still evaluating the long-term durability of the Recycled Bibshort and can only know this after 1.5 years of use.
The bigger idea is Sustainability. RedWhite Apparel cannot achieve this alone and we need help from our vendors and suppliers while also ensuring customers don't pay a premium for it.
A difficult idea to achieve, but something to aim for.
What are your thoughts about sustainability? Is it trite? Would you be interested in purchasing a bibshort made from recycled materials? Leave your thoughts below.
@MILES GRIPTON : I think the sailboat is a good idea, but until it scales, it still isn’t a good enough solution. In many ways, it is a step backward technologically and not a direction we should be heading in. Rather than bringing in bibshorts by air, I could reduce the carbon footprint by using traditional cargo sea-shipping. I don’t use sea-shipping because it is pretty slow and doesn’t allow my supply chain to be as lightweight and as nimble as I need it to be. The easiest way would be to have a warehouse in Romania itself. I do need to become a larger company to afford this and it is something i’m working on.
@CHRISTIAN DE LUCA : The certifications are definitely a right step forward. Kudos to the Swiss and the EU based fabric suppliers I use for coming up with these standards and adhering to them.
@JOHN MARSHALL : Ideally, the recycled material stuff should cost the same or less. This is important to enable more people to buy it, allowing the idea to scale. Scale is critical to have meaningful impact. I’m also really glad you found the washing article useful! I think there isn’t enough concrete educational material out there that tells you how to take care of your lycra garments. For those reading this and are interested, John is referring to this article : https://www.redwhite.cc/blogs/bibshort-care-guides/how-to-wash-and-dry-your-cycling-bibshort
Yes, I would pay a premium for your shorts made more sustainably. I agree that reducing the flights involved in moving the items is one of the best ways. Not to be lost is that doing a better job of taking care of the shorts I do have and reducing the need to replace is a great way to go too. Your washing blog post really opened my eyes. I do a much better job rinsing out right after a ride now. Thanks for doing your part to make a difference.
Love the idea of recycled bibshorts. One of the reasons I purchased here was because of the two environmental certifications. Not every company is sustainable right now, but I respect and admire those who recognise their shortcomings and are actively working to better themselves. Keep on going!
Yes, definitely interested in more sustainable bibshorts. The air cargo is worth cutting down on. This coffee company in the UK looked to using sailboats to move coffee https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/14/carbon-neutral-coffee-comes-to-uk-via-sail-boat-from-colombia-to-cornwall . Hopefully there are other new ways to help avoid air cargo (until zeppelins some back in!)
Having goods delivered around the EU straight from Romania is got to be key here!