The rains are back in full force here in San Francisco, which got me thinking about our rain gear. Water resistant clothing is often made using quite a few chemicals, as well as fabrics and processes that aren’t so good for ol’ Mother Earth.
A ton of the waterproof clothing out there is made using PVC, which is made from petroleum, so we’re not off to a great start there. And while PVC is great while you’re using it because it’s super durable, it’s not so great once it heads off to the landfill since it’s not biodegradable. PVC can take decades to break down and even then it’s really only breaking down into smaller pieces, which just become easier for animals to ingest, and that’s a whole other issue.
The production process for PVC is also pretty problematic, as it produces dioxin as a byproduct. Dioxin is one of the deadliest man-made poisons — known cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones. In addition, phthalates are often added to PVC to make it flexible, some of which may cause cancer, kidney and reproductive system damage.
One of the other big players in waterproof clothing is Gore-tex. Again, really, really, ridiculously good at keeping rain out, but comes with a lot of bad add-ons. Gore-tex is made from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE in itself isn’t so bad, but the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) used in its production is quite the troublemaker. PFOA is a carcinogen that persists indefinitely in the environment.
All that said, there are quite a few good options out there. And while they may not all be PFOA free — like I said, Gore-tex is really, really ridiculously good at keeping the rain out and it’s been kind of tough to find a lot of alternatives that are eco-friendly and can keep up with consumer demand — there are some options that are better than others, some that are recycled and some that are recyclable at the end of their life.
First things first, the easiest way to protect yourself from the rain is a good umbrella. For a eco-friendly and oddly cool option, look no further than the BRELLI. The BRELLI is sustainable, handcrafted and made with fair trade practices in Thailand. It was also designed to be biodegradable – from the BRELLIX film which is used for the canopy to the elderberry wood handle to the organic cotton carrying case. And while transparent, the canopy provides protection from the sun (it provides 99% UVA/UVB/UVC protetion), rain and can withstand winds up to 40 MPH. Um, and added bonus, you can use their non-toxic BRELLImarkers (https://www.thebrelli.com/products/detail.php?Markers-8) to doodle your own artwork on the canopy.
If you’re willing to pay a little bit more, Swedish brand Klättermusen is a great resource for a good rain jacket. Klättermusen produces super durable and versatile jackets with cool technical features, and they have several PFOA-free options. They also use recycled polyester in a lot of their styles, which means it can also be recycled once it reaches life’s end.
Launched in 1992 by outdoor enthusiast, Nick Brown who designed his fabric system Nikwax Analogy after observing what keeps animals warm and dry, UK-based Páramo is another good option when you’re looking for a coat to keep you dry. Mimicking what happens in nature, Nikwax waterproofing solutions are water-based, use no harmful solvents or propellant gases and are not reliant on fluorocarbons to repel water. Eighty percent of Páramo’s production also takes place at the Miquelina Foundation in Bogotá, Colombia, which gives vulnerable women training and employment, and helps to care for and educate their children. Their jackets are also recyclable at the end of their life, and if you just want to re-waterproof one of your jackets they also sell Nikwax.
Nau was born out of a need to do better, and their outerwear is just one example of that. Using recycled and sustainable materials, Nau creates highly functional, technical and fashionable clothing meant to go wherever you go — whether that be tromping around the trails or on your commute to work. With that, they also take into consideration every aspect in the life cycle of your clothing – before, during and after you own it. And true to their mission to do better, Nau donates 2% of every sale to their Partners for Change who are creating lasting positive change for the environment, the global economy and people in need.
In true Patagonia fashion, the eco-friendly trailblazer (and one of my go’to’s for ethical clothing) also delivers high performance rain gear that also adheres to their high environmental standards. I will say that Patagonia is the first to admit that not everything is PFOA-free (check out their Footprint Chronicles website), they still do a pretty darn good job. The majority of their rain jackets use 100% recycled nylon with a waterproof/breathable barrier and DWR (durable water repellent) finish that meets their H2No® Performance Standard. They’re all seriously tested for durability and some even use bluesign® approved fabric (which means they offer the highest level of consumer safety by employing methods and materials in their manufacture that conserve resources and minimize impacts on people and the environment).
When you want to keep your feet dry, look no further than Alice + Whittles. Started by two UN emergency relief workers in response to their experiences on the frontline, the footwear brand believes in transparency, ethical manufacturing practices and worker empowerment as a means of long-lasting positive change. The company works hard to create strong partnerships with the best producers round the world and support fair labor standards throughout the supply chain. They also use natural, vegan, sustainably harvested and organic materials whenever possible. And their rain boots are really freakin’ cool, I mean for rain boots.
Family owned and operated in Canada, Kamik has been creating quality footwear made for every outdoor terrain for over 100 years. The company is committed to our “natural playground,” and thus stands behind sustainable manufacturing and is always looking for new sustainable ways to improve. Kamik makes 73% of their products in North America, reducing CO2 emissions. They take a lean manufacturing approach, continuously looking to improve their methods and reduce physical waste, and they have a 0 Waste Target in their plants thanks to hydroelectric, water reuse and a 100% material waste recycling system. Customers can also give their old Kamik rain boots to participating retailers, who then help the company retrieve and recycled them into brand new products.
Last, but not least is Roma Boots. Okay, so these guys may not use recycled materials, but I’m giving them a pass due to their commitment to philanthropy. Roma boots began with the mission to bring impoverished children throughout the world hope, love and lasting change through aid and education. To that end, for every pair of boots sold, Roma Boots donates a pair to a child in need. In addition, 10% of all proceeds fund educational initiatives around the world.