Patagonia is one of the most well-known brands in the outdoors industry for their reliable products and commitment to sustainability, and I was excited to explore the legitimacy of their sustainability initiatives. Their backpacks are used for camping, hiking, and casual wear, with the Refugio backpack being one of their popular bags. The Refugio Backpack 28L sells for $89 through their main website, although Patagonia has a used product exchange program with more competitive prices.
Patagonia has great transparency about what their commitment to sustainability looks like and their plans for the future, but where they fall short is that they depend on their outside manufacturers to enforce these sustainability standards, and they do not disclose how they source their recycled materials. They are clear about the progress they’ve made and where they want to be and it gives me hope that they will be able to make their products more sustainable in the future.
The body of the Refugio backpack is made of 50% recycled nylon with a polyurethane coating and a durable water repellent finish. The lining is made out of 100% recycled polyester with a polyurethane coating. Patagonia used 84% recycled polyester fabrics in the spring 2021 season, and 90% of their nylon fabrics contained recycled nylon. In addition, Patagonia is committed to making their durable water repellent products fluorine-free by fall 2022 and lessen their dependence on petroleum. Patagonia states that 64% of all materials they are using for spring 2021 is recycled, however, Patagonia does not specify where they source these materials from and there are no outside certifications about their materials being recycled.
Patagonia’s recycled nylon comes from post-industrial waste fiber and waste from clothing mills and fishing nets. Patagonia also has a plan to reduce the amount of virgin nylon they use in their products, using blends of what they call pre consumer (industrial waste) and post consumer (recycled waste) nylon, and switch to plant-based alternatives. Patagonia uses recycled polyester made from plastic bottles and is looking at using chemical recycling and ocean plastics long-term. Although these are great steps toward becoming more sustainable, the manufacturing process for both nylon and polyester is energy and water intensive and emits a lot of greenhouse gases. Patagonia is reducing their footprint by trying to use virgin materials as little as possible. The exact manufacturing process for the Refugio backpack is not published but I appreciate that they have detailed information about where they are at in the sustainability process and what their goals are for the future.
Patagonia is very transparent about where each product is made, and every item on their website has a section for manufacturer information. The Refugio Backpack is made by Kanaan Saigon Co., Ltd. in Vietnam, which has 2725 employees. Kanaan is a global bag manufacturer and also makes products for The North Face, Adidas, IKEA, and REI. Patagonia states that they pre-screen factories they work with, and their Supplier Workplace Code of Conduct encourages factories to comply with child labor, forced labor, discrimination, and safety standards, but it is up to the supplier to self-report violations of these regulations to Patagonia, which makes it difficult to discern if these standards are being followed or not. Since Patagonia does not own this manufacturer, it is also hard for Patagonia to control how closely these standards are followed. Additionally, Patagonia claims that 35% of their apparel assembly factories pay their workers a living wage.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear program allows customers to buy used Patagonia products, trade in used products for store credit, and fix their damaged products. Not only is buying Worn Wear items typically cheaper than buying directly from the website, Patagonia claims that buying their used products reduces each item’s combined carbon, waste, and water footprint by 73%. Patagonia has also committed to donating 1% of their sales to grassroots environmental organizations.