Performance Corn

Apparel makers embrace wicking coconut shells, beech-wood shirts, and other miracle materials

Mar 26, 2007
Outside Magazine
Our Little Plastic Problem

Unfortunately, many hard goods in the outdoor industry have long incorporated polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic—found in everything from home siding to backpacks—that releases dioxin and other toxic chemicals when manufactured and burned. But in recent years PVC-free alternatives have been found for PFDs, drybags, surfboards, and more. FIND IT: Astral Buoyancy, Blurr, Fletcher Chouinard Designs, Lafuma, Patagonia, Timberland, Timbuk2

Another reason to love Hawaii: TrapTek's Cocona fabric is made with activatedcarbon particles salvaged from discarded coconut shells. It wicks well and absorbs odors naturally.
FIND IT: Cannondale, Champion, GoLite, Marmot, Royal Robbins, Sierra Designs

Apparel made from this much-maligned plant has come a long way since Deadhead reunions—you can now find it in malls. Fast-growing hemp requires no pesticides, and the resulting fabric can take a beating. Hemp blended with organic cotton makes a soft, durable material; an infusion of polyester improves wicking and drying.
FIND IT: Gramicci, Holden Outerwear, IPath, Livity, Patagonia, Prana, Timbuk2

The original all-natural performance fiber has more green cred than ever, thanks to merino harvested from sustainable sheep farms in New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere. It's warm, wicks well, and is naturally antistink.
FIND IT: Ibex, Icebreaker, Isis, Merrell, Patagonia, SmartWool

Ethanol gets all the buzz, but corn may fill your closet before your tank. Ingeo is made by fermenting corn sugars into polymers called polylactides, or PLA. When woven into fabric, it's soft and breathable, and wicks almost as well as synthetics. The catch: It's preferable to use organically grown corn to keep the whole process green, but as yet there's not enough organic corn to supplythe textile market.
FIND IT: Fox River Mills, Nau, Teko, Wickers

Wood Chips
Money still doesn't grow on trees, but shirts do, thanks to fabrics like Tencel and Modal, made with eucalyptus and beech wood, respectively. Austria-based supplier Lenzing uses sustainably harvested wood to create soft, comfortable alternatives to rayon.
FIND IT: Ailin, Horny Toad, Indigenous Designs, Patagonia

Recycled Synthetics
After more than a decade of trial and error, textile makers have found the magic formula for producing recycled synthetics. Plastic bottles and postindustrial plastic scraps are cut, ground, and melted into polymer chips, then extruded into yarns that are turned into everything from wicking base layers to backpacks. Polartec recently introduced more than 20 new recycled polyester fleece fabrics; suppliers Toray and Unifi have also developed their own lines of eco-synthetics, and PrimaLoft's PCR recycled insulation is expected next fall. In January, Patagonia announced that it will take back any company's Polartec garment and recycle it.
FIND IT:Ailin, Lafuma, Mission Playground, Mountainsmith, Nau, Patagonia, Planet Earth

Wearable tofu? Almost. Fabric made from soybean stock—which otherwise would be used in livestock feed—is ultrasoft and durable. It's heavier than synthetics and dries more slowly, but works well for travel.
FIND IT: Ex Officio, Nike, Of the Earth

Clean Your Sole
The latest technology solves some of the footwear industry's dirtiest problems
1. Hemp, jute, natural latex, merino wool, and even sea grasses are alternatives to materials made from PVC and other petroleum products. As in apparel, the recycling revolution has brought us greener forms of EVA, midsole foam, polyester linings, and rubber.
2. Today's most progressive leather tanneries don't dump pollutants into rivers or fix dyes with chromium-3, a metal that turns into carcinogenic chromium-6 when burned. Some manufacturers opt for vegetable tanning, which uses fewer chemicals but more water and energy.
3. Traditional solvent-based adhesives release toxic chemicals into the air when they dry. Solutions include stitching shoes to eliminate the need for glues and using water-basedadhesives, which require more precise formulations but emit fewer chemicals.
4. Some manufacturers are greening up the good old shoe box, using recycled cardboard, less material, and soy-based inks. Footwear from Timberland and Mion features "nutritionallabels" that rate shoes in terms of the environmental impact of their production.
FIND IT: El Naturalista, Etnies, Keen, Merrell, Mion, Nike, Patagonia, Simple, Terra Plana, Teva (coming this fall), Timberland, Vans

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