Prepping for, talking about and anticipating winter is a trusted Canadian pastime. For good reason—most of the country experiences extreme dips in temperature for a decent part of the year, we consistently sit at an average of -15 degrees Celsius in the coldest months and in places like Ottawa and Montreal, the dead of winter can feel downright arctic. So yes, we take our winter outerwear pretty seriously. But the emerging trend in cold-weather coats—even more than floor-length puffers and faux fur-trimmed hoods—is sustainability.
“We see through search analytics that people are looking for sustainable outerwear,” says Mayer Vafi the co-founder and creative director of outerwear brand Norden. “People want their clothes to represent their beliefs.” For a long time, it was difficult to do this on a mass scale with any type of clothing (thanks to traditional machinery, a desire for wider profit margins and environmentally-unfriendly processes like water usage and plenty of waste), never mind the technically-specific and temperature-rated outerwear that needs to perform in the Canadian north.
The good news is, the times they are a-changing. Now, consumers are demanding alternatives to down fill (until recently, the gold standard of warmth) and looking to companies who work hard to prove their sustainable practices, all while delivering a product that actually keeps you warm and dry—and won’t drain your bank account entirely. And we haven’t even gotten to style, which is also key for so many of us who can only afford to invest in one winter coat. Sustainable outerwear isn’t yet the norm—but if this season is any indication, we’re getting there.
So, how can you tell if a brand is taking sustainability seriously, and if it’s worth investing in a sustainably made winter coat? Look for a few, or all, of the points below.
Look for brands that are eliminating animal products
Down, typically sourced from geese or ducks, is considered the best insulator, but as more of us turn to cruelty-free and animal-byproduct-free lifestyles, down isn’t cutting it even if it is extremely warm. And fur? Most people now lean in the faux fur direction when considering a coat. But when going cruelty-free it’s also important to note that replacement materials, while kinder to animals, might not be much more sustainable. “A lot of brands speak to ethical practices such as not using fur or down in their products,” says Vafi. “But they neglect to mention the negative environmental effects of materials like faux leather, by far one of the most polluting processes known to humankind.” (Faux leather doesn’t biodegrade and releases harmful chemicals into the atmosphere during production.) There are, however, brands who are working on sustainable alternatives to materials like down.
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Everlane launched their ReDown collection this year featuring winter down-filled jackets recycled from comforters and pillows. Fjällräven is using recycled and recovered wool in more and more of their products, including some winterized pieces like the like the Singi Wool Padded Parka. And brands like Joe Fresh and The North Face are replacing down with the material PrimaLoft which in addition to being more lightweight and *not* made from animal products has the added bonus of being waterproof, unlike down.
Additionally, down, because it’s difficult to obtain, is often expensive—if you’ve ever stared in disbelief at a $1000-plus winter coat, you know what we’re talking about. This isn’t to say that PrimaLoft is always less expensive, but there is a wider range of prices available to consumers as more mass brands hop on the sustainable insulation bandwagon. For example, fast-fashion retailer Joe Fresh offers a PrimaLoft puffer that retails for under $100 (plus, it’s cute).
Seek out innovative materials
One of the more impressive turns in sustainability is that single-use plastic water bottles—a major polluter—are now being used for clothing construction. And using recycled materials like these in the production process is a key tenet of sustainable outerwear. Frank And Oak’s latest coat collection is made from recycled polyester sourced from plastic bottles, the fill on Noize’s offerings is 100% derived from plastic bottles and the yarn used in Norden’s coats is—you guessed it—made from recycled plastic. Not only are some brand’s not contributing to the world’s enormous garbage heap, they’re taking steps to reduce it, too. But it isn’t always easy. “The biggest challenge we face is our source of supply because everything is made to order from our yarn to our insulation,” says Vafi. “We haven’t yet reached the point where the raw materials are being kept in stock and are readily available.”
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Consider packaging and processing transparency
More and more we want to know exactly what our clothes are made from—and how, and where, and if possible, how much did it cost? Perhaps this is why Everlane’s “radical transparency” is so popular, offering up all these details and letting you know that the true cost of your winter coat might be $80 (what it costs to produce it), though at Everlane you’ll buy it for $200-ish. Which seems a lot until you consider that Everlane also offers up a retail price you’d likely find elsewhere ($400ish). (Surprisingly, most sustainable brands that offer winter coats are comparable in price to their traditional counterparts. While some are definitely investments at $400 or $500, there are quite a few that sit at the $200 mark, which is often about as low as you can go for a durable, warm and waterproof winter coat.) At Norden, the brand tracks the bottle count per garment. This desire for transparency carries over to the packaging where less is definitely more. Eliminating single-use plastic garment bags and opting for recycled materials is key. “The technology exists to offer eco-friendly alternative and we think brands have the access and means to make a positive environmental change,” says Vafi.
Think about what happens at the end of your coat’s life
While you may decide to ditch your purchase in a few years for an upgrade, we know that a garment’s life cycle doesn’t end there. More and more brands are integrating donation or buy-back programs to help extend the life of a product outside of the landfill. Norden has an end of life program where jackets returned after a couple years will be reused, repaired or donated to those in need, as well as a buy-back program where when you trade in your unwanted coat you’ll receive a discount for a new one from the brand.
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Looking to buy a sustainable winter coat? Here are five cool and functional options (including three under $300):
Norden’s Tova Parka is a utilitarian’s dream. Water-resistant shell, deep pockets, on-trend army green colour—and it’s made from 45 recycled plastic bottles.
Norden Tova Parks, $445, nordenproject.com
Everlane’s arsenal of classic wardrobe staples continues with the brand’s ReNew Long Puffer, which comes in an unexpected cobalt hue. It’s made from 60 renewed plastic bottles and 100 per cent recycled PrimaLoft.
Everlane ReNew Long Puffer, $231, everlane.com
Frank And Oak’s Expedition coat is the puffer of your dreams, that also happens to feature a removable hood, cozy ribbed cuffs and media pockets for great attention to detail. It’s packed with PrimaLoft and recycled water bottles as well.
Frank And Oak The Expedition Puffer, $299, frankandoak.com
For a less basic take on the trend, Noize offers up designs featuring fun flourishes like faux fur, animal print and metallics. The London Midweight Bomber is certified vegan (as is the whole collection) and recycled polyester-filled.
Noize London Midweight Bomber, $230, noizeoriginal.ca
For the times you won’t be braving a snowstorm and the parka just doesn’t work with your outfit, there is a sustainable option that’s a bit more polished. Reformation breaks down the environmental impact of every garment and this one saved 664 gallons of water and 49 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Hudson Coat, $530, thereformation.com