We rely on shell layers to protect us from nature’s elements, but what about protecting nature from shell layers? When Houdini set out to make environmentally sustainable shell layers five years ago, it proved to be a big challenge.
Surrounded by drawers full of fabric samples, zippers and drawcords, Houdini designer Sanna Bodén explains the initial idea.
– There are plenty of great shell layers on the market. At least when it comes to performance. But we realized that they were lacking something that is crucial for us: a serious idea about sustainability.
Katarina Grönhaug, head of production, continues.
– Textile production is complex, especially when it comes to sustainability. It’s easy to just focus on one part of the lifecycle, but for us it’s very important to have a holistic approach. We never compromise. For example, a sustainable production process is one thing, but you also have to have an end-of-life solution. Can the fabrics be recycled or do they end up in the trash? This is something many brands forget, or choose to ignore.
When Houdini started making shell layers, the team had been making base layers and mid layers for a while. The same concept for sustainability was applied to shell layers.
Sanna Bodén continues.
– We didn’t want to lower the bar just because the product was more complex. Finding the right fabrics was a real challenge. And it still is. Most fabric manufacturers don’t think about things like recycling. We looked at hundreds of fabrics that in the end didn’t meet our high standards of perfor- mance and sustainability.
The solution to the fabric challenge was a Japanese textile manufacturer called Teijin. The company has developed a process for recycling worn-out polyester clothing and turn it into new fibers. The result is a closed loop system, where garments can be born and reborn in infinite cycles. Teijin is now Houdini’s biggest supplier of recycled polyester fabrics and an important partner in developing new fabrics.
Sanna Bodén shows her latest creation Corner, a workwear-inspired shell jacket.
– Corner is new for this season. It features a really cool waterproof and breathable fabric made from recycled polyester with a beautiful look. But what makes it really exciting is the water repellent. Most jackets on the market still use fluorocarbon based water repellents that are far from ideal from a sustainability perspective. Corner’s water repellent performs without any fluorocarbons, which is a huge step forward.
The Corner Jacket won the ISPO Gold Award, a prestigious trade award. The shell layer range started out small, but as people test and gain trust in the products and awareness about sustainability issues increases, the line is growing. For this fall and winter season, Houdini has a complete range of shell layers.
– What we’ve accomplished is really exciting, says Katarina Grönhaug. But we still feel that we’re only getting started. We’d love to develop the recycling system further. The ideal situation would be if every market had a local production and recycling facility. There’s so much to do and we’re making progress every day.”
The image show W's and M's Corner Jacket and Pants.
The outer fabric is 100% recycled polyester. It is a 3-layer fabric, which means that a waterproof breathable membrane and a protective inner fabric is laminated to the outer fabric. As each layer is made out of pure polyester, the entire 3-layer fabric is recyclable. Most 3-layer fabrics on the market are made from a mix of different fibers and chemicals, making them impossible to recycle.
The thread is pure polyester and can be recycled with the rest of the fabric.
All the small components like zippers, drawcords, cord endings, Velcro and eyelets. Durability and making them replaceable is crucial from a sustainability point of view. Badly placed or low-quality trimmings can ruin an otherwise fully functional garment.
DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent and is a finish that prevents the outer fabric from getting wet. Most shell layers on the market use fluorocarbon-based DWR (not good for the planet), but the Corner Jacket and Pants feature a brand new DWR based on hydrocarbons (much better for the planet).
To make the jacket fully waterproof all seams are taped. The tape is manufactured in the same material as the jacket to make it recyclable
This is a tricky part. An exact level of stretch and recovery is required in order for it to perform and there are no recycled and recyclable fabrics that meet our demands. Not yet, but we’re working hard on it. (Using a recycled fabric that doesn’t perform well enough or last long enough isn’t a sustainable alternative.)
The production of the garment is only part of the total impact. At Houdini we don’t like creating waste. Our shell layers are made out of recycled fibers and can be recycled again, at the end of their lifetime. In the recycling process, buttons, drawcords and such are removed and if possible recycled as well. In total our recycling process saves hugh amounts of energy and recudes CO2 emissions dramatically. So, hand in your worn out garments to us and we will make sure to recycle them. Recycle units can be found at your Houdini retailer.
”We buy most of our shell layer fabrics from Japan as this is where the best fabrics are made. Then we manufacture most garments in Europe,” says Katarina Grönhaug, head of production at Houdini. “Considering the shipments this involves choosing sustainable means of transportation is important. We transport everything by boat. Never by air. Right now we’re investigating if we could run shipments by train in the near future.”