Apparel Company Icebreaker Works Hard Toward Plastic-Free Goals

No more petrochemical-derived synthetics in blended fabrics by 2023.

icebreaker promo image


Icebreaker is a New Zealand-based apparel company known for its comfortable, breathable activewear made from merino wool. While using natural fibers puts the company miles ahead of others that rely entirely on synthetics when it comes to environmental impact, Icebreaker is striving to shrink its footprint even further by promising to eliminate all plastic, even from its blended fabrics, by 2023. 

This is an ambitious pledge. Plastic is often added to natural fibers to improve strength and add stretchiness, but for Icebreaker, even a little bit is too much—hence its "plastic-free by '23" campaign. A company representative told Treehugger that it's had to redevelop most materials in the process, and where synthetics cannot be gotten rid of entirely, new naturally-derived, bio-based alternatives have been created:

"These differ from traditional petrochemical fibers in that they come from an annually renewable source or crop, instead of a non-renewable source like crude oil. This is a big shift in ending our reliance on a non-renewable resource. We’ve found these bio-based alternatives perform extremely well in the new products we’re developing them in."

The International Union for Conservation of Nature states 35% of primary microplastics polluting oceans comes from washing synthetics clothes and textiles, so Icebreaker believes informed customers will prioritize plastic-free clothing. 

The company spokesperson said, "We have noticed a trend in consumers asking for more 100% natural product in the last 24 months, and do believe this could be related to the rise in consumer awareness of microplastics." As certain products have transitioned to fully natural and plastic-free, the company has "also seen a significant increase in orders from our wholesale partners" for 100% natural styles.

Icebreaker plastic-free

Another interesting initiative is Icebreaker's effort to create a plastic-free mannequin made out of paper, aided by a small European supplier:

"Our new paper-paste (or papier-mâché) mannequins are made from recycled paper, cardboard, and newspapers, molded and slotted onto a wooden base. They contain no glues or toxic substances and are undyed. This means they are easily recyclable... In addition, they are both strong and incredibly light. This has further advantages, e.g. reduced C02 in shipping. They are shipped in a cotton bag with a paper seal."

The spokesperson went on to say, "We would love for the rest of the industry to explore this option." Indeed, it would be a big win for all clothing stores to adopt paper-based mannequins.

Since first announcing its plastic-free ambitions in its inaugural Transparency Report in 2017, Icebreaker has managed to make 91% of its product line merino- and/or plant-based. This year it expects to sell 1.3 million units of pure merino product while continuing to tackle that last lingering 9% of synthetics, which includes "elastane in underwear for stretch, nylon in socks for strength, and polyester in jackets for lightweight strength." 

The company appears to be on track to reaching fully plastic-free by 2023, as promised. In the meantime, it urges individuals to spend some time this month—in honor of Plastic Free July—thinking about what's in the closet, and how one can transition toward a plastic-free wardrobe in the coming months and years, without waiting for apparel companies to catch up.

View Article Sources
  1. Boucher, J., and D. Friot. "Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources." International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2017, doi:10.2305/