Clothes for the ‘apocalypse’: how to design for a climate crisis

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How to dress for a climate crisis? Floods, droughts, storms and heat waves are increasing thanks to climate change. Brands operating in unpredictable climates can offer lessons in how to design for extreme weather conditions, with sustainability in mind.

Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, more intense and happening in places they wouldn’t normally affect – from the unprecedented flooding on the Australian coast to the deadly heat wave in South Asia earlier this year. According to the 2021 State of the global climate report by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the years 2015 to 2021 were the seven warmest years on record. The town of Lytton in British Columbia reached highs of 49.6°C on June 29, 2021, breaking the previous Canadian national record of 4.6°C. Forest fires broke out the next day. In contrast, Oklahoma City hit -25.6°C and Dallas -18.9°C, their lowest temperatures since 1899 and 1949 respectively on February 16 this year. The WMO forecasts that 2022 will bring above-average rainfall to Southeast Asia and Australasia, and an extreme hurricane season in the Atlantic. And the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says human activity is responsible.

This presents two – often opposing – challenges for performance apparel brands. They must design for the unpredictable and more extreme weather events of tomorrow, without increasing their own environmental impact by relying on synthetic materials and harsh chemicals. There is also an existential question: what are these clothes for? Designing for extreme weather means prioritizing function over form, but consumer behavior suggests both are necessary. The “gorpcore” trend is driving sales of performance apparel (named after the “good old raisins and peanuts” backpackers’ mix, referring to outerwear worn purely for aesthetics). This is even the case in more stable or mild climates, with brands focusing on researching sustainable fabrics and finishes, unlocking sustainability and circularity, and creating multi-functional garments that can be worn every day, but that also adapt to extreme weather conditions, if any.

Material difference

As heavy rains and floods become more frequent, finding long-lasting, high-performance alternatives to traditional waterproofing is a priority. Many brands are phasing out perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) used for stain and water resistant finishes. Also known as the “eternal chemicals,” PFAS feature prominently in performance apparel, but have drawn criticism for their environmental damage and alleged effects on human health. Scientists are increasingly condemning their use in food packaging, furniture, fashion and beauty.

“PFAS have made waterproof and windproof outdoor gear possible for decades, but when these substances escape into the environment, they don’t break down. We are committed to finding a solution that is both durable and performance by our standards,” says Woody Blackford, Canada Goose’s Chief Product Officer. This solution does not yet exist on a large scale, but the brand is phasing out PFAS in its signature Arctic Tech fabric. Canada Goose is one of the most of 700 companies now using the Bluesign sustainability certification system to find less harmful materials, treatments and suppliers Aims to use 90% Bluesign approved fabrics by 2025. products that work Consumers now demand for brands to do it sustainably,” says Blackford.

One potential solution for waterproofing is durable waterproofing, a chemical treatment that minimizes condensation and maximizes breathability, says 66° North clothing designer Gudbjorg Jakobsdottir, but this requires the customer to reapply it regularly, a big demand. for customers accustomed to low-maintenance garments. Certified outerwear brand B Corp is based in Reykjavík and was originally created to help Icelandic fishermen survive freezing temperatures and heavy rain. It works closely with producers such as Gore-Tex and Polartec to test new materials, and also uses Bluesign certification, but CEO Helgi Oskarsson says its choices are limited without developing its own materials, which it doesn’t have. not the time, resources or technical expertise. TO DO. Bluesign has just launched a Sustainable Chemistry Index with Sustainable Chemistry for the Textile Industry to help brands and manufacturers meet these challenges.

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