'Refurbished' is the new frontier for outdoor gear retailers

patagonia gear
CC BY 2.0 Revolution_Ferg

Patagonia, REI and The North Face are all jumping on the secondhand bandwagon, which is great for a lot of reasons.

Used gear is becoming a hot new commodity for many major outdoor clothing companies. Patagonia led the way with the launch of its Worn Wear program in early 2017, followed by REI's Used Gear Beta, launched this past October. Now The North Face has just announced a new pilot project called Renewed: Revival of the Fittest. It is also refurbishing old clothing and transforming it into like-new condition for resale.

From a cultural perspective, it's an interesting shift that reflects Millennials' preference for environmentally friendly products. Our parents' generation would likely scoff at the idea of buying someone's used footwear or a somewhat flattened down jacket, but younger adults don't mind so much. As Phil Graves, Patagonia's director of corporate development, told Outside Online, the secondhand market is predicted to account for a double-digit percentage of the brand’s overall business by 2023:

"As with most trends these days, he believes younger consumers will drive that growth. 'Millennials care deeply about environmental and social aspects when making purchasing decisions.'"

Millennials care about quality, too, and associate these brands with high-end products that are built to last. It's a logical, evidence-based assumption, since an item must be well-made in order to merit refurbishment and an extended second or third life. Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's vice-president of environmental affairs, explained to Fast Company that the repair and refurbish model would not work work if Patagonia didn’t also design its clothing to last:

"You couldn’t have a program like Worn Wear without products that are really durable. It just wouldn’t work. This isn’t something that some fast-fashion company could probably embrace very effectively."

Indeed, when fast fashion companies like H&M try to put on an environmentally-responsible front, they talk about things like recycling old clothing and turning it into low-grade products like insulation. Considering repairing and reselling their own clothes would be a preposterous idea, as everyone knows they're made to be essentially disposable.

While the Worn Wear program lists all the various defects that a used item has (stain on the shoulder, faded in places), The North Face focuses more on bringing clothes back to optimal condition.

"First, Renewed gear is professionally cleaned and inspected by our partners at The Renewal Workshop. Then, it’s repaired to its original badassery. Sometimes that means replacing a button or zipper or stitching up a tear from a rough ride. Lastly, it’s quality-checked to ensure it’s up to our standards and then sent back into the world, ready for your next adventure."

REI's approach is a bit less broad-reaching, as it accepts donations of used items, inspects them, and puts only the best up for sale again. It is still better than nothing, but there is no mention of repair, which, in an ideal world, every gear and clothing retailer would embrace.

Patagonia estimates that "if clothing stays in use for nine extra months, it can reduce the carbon, water, and waste footprint by 20 to 30 percent." So, the next time your sporting gear/'athleisure' wardrobe is in need of an update, take a peek at these used sites and see if you can find something you like. You can feel good about your purchase, inside and out.

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