Would you appreciate recycled water and soda bottles in your sweaters? Your shoes? Your underwear? A number of American companies bet you would.
Patagonia, the Ventura-based designer and distributor of outdoor clothing, is one of them. Its fall catalogue--and selected stores--carry a new-generation zip-front Synchilla pullover that replaces the original. The price is the same, $85, but the fleece fabric is different: 80% post-consumer recycled (PCR) polyester, or about 25 born-again plastic bottles in every garment.
The bottles are cleaned, sorted into white or green batches, broken into chips, reduced to their original state--polyethylene terephthalate (PET)--and made into Fortrel EcoSpun, a reborn polyester fiber made by New York-based Wellman Inc.
Wellman is the world's largest recycler of plastics and the maker of a sturdy EcoSpun used in carpets, pillows and mattress pads. But a finer grade, introduced in April, is suitable for apparel fabrics. The first one to surface is Patagonia's PCR Synchilla, made by Dyersburg Fabrics.
"When you look at all the recycling, here's a win-win situation for everybody," says Jim Paine, executive vice president of Dyersburg. "The polyester is a little more expensive, but it gives us a way to meet our objectives of using recycled materials in our operation." And by next spring, the Tennessee-based mill will be making a fleece with a 90% reborn bottle content.
Anthony Mazzenga, president of Wickers Sportswear, based in Commack, N.Y., says consumers "who do environmentally friendly things whenever possible . . . have been asking for any type of products made from any type of recycled materials."
In response, Wickers is knitting thermal underwear from 100% recycled polyester. Mazzenga estimates that each $19 crew-neck top or pants represents five green bottles that didn't end up in a landfill. The underwear appears in the January Lands' End catalogue.
The Deja Shoes line, also introduced in April, is made entirely from recycled materials, including plastic soda and water bottles, tires, magazines and polystyrene cups. Priced $40 to $80, the shoes are sold in selected Nordstrom and Nature Company stores and through catalogues, including L.L. Bean and Seventh Generation.
The Tigard, Ore., company encourages customers to return their worn-out Deja Shoes so they can be recycled yet again. It's just another step in the big green loop, says Bob Farrentinos, a former environmental scientist and Deja's vice president of environmental affairs.
"Recycling is just as the name implies. It is a cycle--a circle. We have to do something in terms of making usable, attractive, functional products. Then the final link in that chain is for people to buy those things. If you're not buying recycled, you're not really recycling. That closes the loop."