The Best Way to Buy Used Outdoor Gear? From Outerwear Brands Themselves
Clothing designed to endure such harsh conditions as sub-zero temperatures, damp romps in rainforests, or icy traipses through the snow typically calls for high-quality materials. But keeping bodies warm and dry often comes at a cost: Gore-Tex, the ubiquitous weatherproof fabric made from a synthetic resin, is nearly impossible to break down, and studies have linked manufacturing runoff from the chemicals covering most rain jackets with neurological and immune system damage, and cancer. That’s not to mention the fashion industry’s many other contributions to environmental, economic, and humanitarian damage, as journalist Dana Thomas discussed on Ep. 69 of our At a Distance podcast.
In turn, a handful of outdoor-gear companies have launched recommerce (reverse commerce) programs, with the aim of creating a more circular approach to product development, production, and retail. In the midst of a pandemic, with its lockdown-fueled demand for outdoor equipment and broken supply chains, outerwear brands’ efforts to buy, repair, and resell gear have become an invaluable part of their business models—and an affordable way for fans to access designs from previous collections and, in some cases, one-of-a-kind pieces.
Arc’teryx, a Canadian purveyor of top-line climbing and outdoor apparel, introduced its Used Gear program in 2019. It buys back, sanitizes, and repairs worn but functional garments, then puts them up for sale at a fraction of their original price, which determines the store credit given to the seller in the form of a gift card. Last year, the company introduced ReBird, an ongoing line of clothing made from cast-off garments and end-of-the-roll fabric, so no two pieces are alike.
The California company Patagonia has been mending and selling used clothes for years, but it wasn’t until 2017 that it launched Worn Wear, an online marketplace for trading in and purchasing second-hand goods. The site, which the brand anticipates will eventually account for a double-digit percentage of its overall revenue, also features items from the ReCrafted collection, which is made using beyond-repair apparel that’s been sorted in Patagonia’s Reno Repair Center—the largest outdoor-gear repair shop in the country—and deconstructed, reimagined, and sewn into something new. (Womenswear designer Eileen Fisher, a close friend of former Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario, detailed her company’s like-minded initiatives, Renew and Waste No More, on Ep. 44 of our Time Sensitive podcast.)
Other resale programs worth exploring include The North Face’s Renewed arm and its Remade collection, made from creatively repaired upcycled garments, as well as REI’s Good & Used digital shop, where members can buy or trade in gently used clothing as well as tents, bicycle parts, sleeping bags, water bottles, and other equipment. By fall 2020, sales from the two-year-old effort had nearly doubled from the same time the year prior. “It’s an opportunity to introduce our members to more outdoor activities through lower-priced products [...] and helps reduce the co-op’s overall impact on the environment,” Ken Voeller, REI’s manager of new business development and recommerce, said in a statement about the initiative. “Buying a piece of used gear is one of the best ways you or I can reduce our carbon footprint.”