A couple of years ago, Smartwool Apparel Development Director, Paige Fink, was touring our base layer factory in Vietnam—looking for more efficient ways to create our apparel. She had just gone through one of the buildings where they create the insulation for our Smartloft wool jackets and reviewed the process with some of our partners at the factory.
Paige was leaving to tour a different part of the facility when her guide told her they could save some time if they cut through one of the buildings. They popped the door open, started walking, and then Paige noticed something.
Piles of plastic bags stuffed full of Merino wool scraps. The stripes, colors and patterns were unmistakable. These scraps were leftover fabric from our Merino base layers.
Making Merino Base Layers
During the labor-intensive process of creating a Merino 250 base layer, large sheets of fabric are spread out on a table. A skilled worker places several layers on top of each other, capping it off with a sheet of paper stenciled with all the necessary panels for each garment.
As the fabric travels down a conveyor belt, a laser precisely cuts around the lines of each pattern, creating a back sleeve, a shoulder panel, a front piece or another important part of the garment to later be sewn together. While the entire sheet of fabric is maximized, there are small scraps around each panel cutout, extra pieces that don’t have a use in those particular base layers.
Those scraps were being placed into dozens of bags accumulating in an outside alley between two of the myriad buildings at the factory complex—patiently awaiting their fate.
All that unused, discarded Merino got the wheels turning. Where others may have seen trash, Paige saw opportunity. Even in the most efficient facilities, Paige knew there would be trimmings and scraps left over from products, but when she saw the scale of the industrial bags brimming with our precious Merino wool in person, she was inspired to act.
She immediately started collaborative discussions with our partners in Vietnam on what to do with all these Merino wool scraps, to create a more sustainable process that reduced waste and maximized materials. Paige thought, can’t we just chop it up and use it again? And that’s exactly what we decided to do.
Sustainable Wool is Our Foundation
Our Merino 250 base layers are already made with 100% sustainably sourced ZQ-certified Merino wool, but now they will leave even less impact on the environment. When the Merino base layer fabric panels are cut, all of the excess scraps are collected and sorted in order to be blended into Smartloft insulation.
“Our Fall 2017 Merino 250 production generated our insulation for our Fall 2018 Smartloft,” shares Paige. “We have this incredible Merino 250 product, we take its scraps and create different weights of really powerful insulation, and we put it back into our Smartloft. Merino wool comes off of a living animal and its fiber is so beautiful and carries so many performance benefits, we want to use as much of it as we possibly can.”
We pride ourselves on having sustainable partners, contract farmers, and long-standing relationships at factories—and now we’re looking in greater depth into every nook and cranny to find ways to reduce waste and create even more sustainable practices.
“It took two years for it to go from bags of scraps to recycled materials, but this truly was a win-win for everyone involved,” says Paige. “We repurposed excess waste while still creating a product that was not only as good as our older version of Smartloft, but performed even better and has a higher loft. And the factory we worked with is super proud to have found a way to create better practices that will lessen their impact on the environment.”