How Kathmandu turns bottles into bags

Outdoor clothing and equipment retailer Kathmandu has released a new range of backpacks just in time for back to school. But these bags are cleverer than they look. They are made out of Repreve, a polyester created from recycled plastic bottles instead of fossil fuels.

Kathmandu has been working with Unifi, the company that makes Repreve, since 1994. Besides backpacks, the retailer also uses Repreve fibre in its fleece jackets and t-shirts.

With around 17 plastic bottles going into each backpack made out of Repreve fibre, 15 bottles going into every fleece jacket and six bottles that go into every t-shirt, Kathmandu has given many millions of plastic bottles a second life.

One aspect that sets Repreve apart, according to Kathmandu’s responsible materials manager Manu Rastogi, is its use of standards that allow Kathmandu to track where the plastic bottles come from.

“All recycled fibres are not alike. Repreve uses a standard that means we can trace the material to make sure it comes from post-consumer waste,” Rastogi said in Kathmandu’s 2018 Sustainability Report.

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“Repreve makes it easy for us to keep track of how many bottles we are recycling in our ranges, which also helps us to keep improving.”

Kathmandu aims to recycle 7.5 million plastic bottles through its use of sustainable polyester in 2019. Last year, the retailer recycled nearly 6.7 million bottles, well above its target of 5 million.

And it isn’t the only retailer using recycled polyester to meet this demand. Patagonia claims to be the first clothing manufacturer to turn plastic bottles into fleece, having started doing so in 1993, and recent years have seen the likes of Nike and Adidas follow suit.

A more recent addition to the list of retailers turning post-consumer plastic waste into clothing is US-based shoe startup Rothy’s, which launched in 2016. Its rapid rise to fame online – and backing by the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle – has already helped it recycle nearly 23 million plastic bottles.

There is a commercial aspect to all of this feel-good recycling, of course. Polyester is the most in-demand fibre in the world, having surpassed cotton in the early 2000s. Global demand for polyester is now twice as high as cotton, so finding ways to increase supply beyond fossil fuels is important.

Second in the world for responsible sourcing

Kathmandu’s work with Repreve is just one aspect of its broader efforts to use ethically- and responsibly-sourced materials across its range, such as recycled cotton and synthetic down. The retailer has ranked second globally for three years in a row in the outdoor and sports category for the Textile Exchange Preferred Fibres and Materials report.

“At Kathmandu, sustainability isn’t a department, it’s a way of doing things across the organisation,” Oliver Milliner, Kathmandu’s sustainability coordinator, told IRW.

“Kathmandu will continue to adapt and develop industry-leading sustainability initiatives across our key business components: workers’ rights in our supply chain, product materials and design, waste and carbon, community engagement and team learning and development.”

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