Patagonia El Cap Jacket
El Cap Jacket
Gear Guy

Which gear manufacturers are taking production ethics most seriously?

Are there any outfitters that still manufacture their products in the USA? Do any produce items based on the principles of fair trade or with recycle or natural materials? I’m trying to find a good winter jacket with these pareters in mind, but it seems that it is not so common. Yoni New York, New York

Patagonia El Cap Jacket

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That’s an interesting question, and one that I suspect will increasingly be on people’s minds. In the past 20 years, of course, most outdoor-gear manufacturing has moved offshore, including nearly all apparel manufacturing. A few companies—Nike in particular—have taken grief over allegations that they run “sweatshops” in China, Vietnam, and other places. In its defense, Nike has joined a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Fair Labor Association, which includes other clothing makers and is aimed at improving working conditions.

Patagonia El Cap Jacket

Patagonia El Cap Jacket El Cap Jacket

But with so much stuff pouring in from overseas factories, your search is not an easy one. A company that got ahead of this curve fairly early, however, is Patagonia. Several years back it started using organically grown cotton in its garments and was one of the first companies to make fleece garments with recycled polyester fibers. Patagonia’s El Cap Jacket ($90;, for instance, is made with 51 percent recycled fibers, and itself is recyclable through what is called the Common Threads Recycling Program, through which customers can return old and worn garments to Patagonia, either by mail or to stores, for recycling.

Polartec LLC, maker of that well-known outdoor fabric, also has worked hard to bring more recycled products to the market, while also working to ensure its manufacturing plants meet strict environmental and energy-efficiency standards. So purchasing clothing made with Polartec is something of a step in the right direction. I also suggest purchasing from recognizable name brands—L.L. Bean, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, REI, Sierra Designs, companies such as that—rather than “bargain”-line clothing makers. I think it’s fair to say that those recognizable name brand companies are a little less beholden to the absolute bottom line, so can support fair treatment of the people who make their clothing.

Beyond that, there are a few manufacturers still making stuff in the United States. Feathered Friends, for instance, makes its down-filled clothing in Seattle. So if something really warm is what you’re after, then you can feel pretty good about buying the Hyperion Jacket ($199;

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