Sustainable Outdoor Clothing, A New Wave: Wildness Brand
Table of Contents
Surfings Toxic Footprint
Why is it important to see a new wave of sustainable outdoor clothing brands coming on the scene? Let’s take a closer look.
Surfing, for all its grounded, earthed, back-to-nature vibes, is, unfortunately, a pursuit that internally battles a toxic footprint. It is a sport where technology just cannot keep up with the mindset of the participants. Surfers are renowned for their love of the ocean, as well as the animals residing in the coastal shallows and deeper regions. Surfers are environmentalists by design; however, we practice a unique level of hypocrisy.
The overwhelming majority of our surfboards are made from petrochemical-based materials, with minimal recycling opportunities. I believe that environmentally friendly boards make up around 10% of global sales.
The CO2 footprint of a typical surfboard, through its manufacture, use, and disposal, is more than 270kg. This is comparable to many of the consumer electronics that are rebuked for their environmental impact.
Wetsuits have historically been made from oil-based, and more recently, limestone-based neoprene. Both of which have a significant environmental impact and limited recycling/upcycling options.
Most surf wax is a bar of chemical sludge. Accessories including traction pads, leashes, and board bags are usually no better, .
Surfers burn vast quantities of oil-based fuel. We drive to surf spot after surf spot goose chasing for waves. Flying around the world, often numerous times a year, in the pursuit of waves is common. Fume spewing jet skis adorn lineups, offering safety or wave catching assistance.
I feel like Jock Sorong made a fascinating and pertinent point in his Guardian article entitled “Are we trashing the places we love? The toxic truths at the heart of surfing“:
“Surfers burn vast amounts of petroleum in search of waves, in pursuit of an experience which, ironically, requires no propulsive fuel.”
Jock Sorong – The Guardian
Surfing is fashionable. Surfers like to identify as surfers. As such, surfwear is mass-produced and shipped globally. Over the years, even identifying as a surfer via the clothes you wear has contributed to the environmental calamity we now face.
In 2018, the fashion industry, which surfwear is a part of, was more impactful on global energy consumption than aviation and shipping combined.
“The global scientific consensus is clear – we have until 2030 to reduce our collective carbon footprint to avoid passing a catastrophic climate tipping point.”
Surfings Sustainable Future
Let’s take a second to consider that. We are weeks away from celebrating the start of 2022. According to the scientific consensus, we only have eight years to make a significant change. Wave riding, in its purest form, is not only in touch with nature. It is literally enveloped by nature. In essence, surfing is not a toxic sport. Still, mass participation, surf travel, progression of performance, global competition, fashion, and “the business of surfing” has resulted in impactful, inexcusable levels of harm.
Surfers must take responsibility for their own personal practices. Every surfer can make moves towards reducing their individual impact. It is fantastic to see surfers advocating and partaking in beach cleans, second-hand surfboard up-cycling, and awareness-raising events.
Surfers can also make the decision to purchase long lasting sustainable outdoor clothing rather than throw away fashion items.
Surf brands must be held to task regarding the processes of equipment manufacture and shipping.
I’m not saying that surf brands currently do nothing to reduce the level of harm. I will, however, say that I personally don’t believe the majority are doing enough, or everything they can, to make the changes required by 2030.
Some initiatives point brands in the right direction. Many research hours have gone into sustainable alternatives, which can replace the impactful materials and processes. The development of plant based Yulex neoprene is changing up the production of wetsuits. Ecoboards are high performance surfboards with reduced toxicity. Organisations are also offering verification standards for fabrics and cloth production processes.
But is enough being done by the established surf brands?
I realise the statement I just made might not sit too well. You guys, I’m sure, lean towards eco-friendly brands and practice sustainability as best you can. I am sure you, as surfers and earth-dwellers, appreciate the efforts being made across the surf industry.
Good On You Ratings
Let me build some context using the fantastic website Good On You. They have created a platform that rates clothing brands based on their environmental impact. They score out of five on the effects a brand has on People, Planet, and Animals.
The “big four,” most established surf brands currently score “Not Doing Enough” or “We Avoid.”
The difficulty is that many of the brands established for years are essentially trying to mitigate their impactful historical practices. This is an expensive turnaround and challenging to communicate to a board of directors whose primary concern is the bottom line. Such companies have pursued the cheapest possible manufacturing processes, thus creating a market expectation regarding recommended retail prices. Announcing that the same logo on a pair of boardshorts with eco credentials is twice the price often goes down like a lead balloon.
The international surf brands that we as surfers consider the most ethical, sustainable, and environmentally aware reach a score of “It’s a Start” or “Good.” This is positive to see, and Outerknown is leading the charge of sustainability for an international brand.
The New Wave of Sustainability
While Outerknown is setting new industry standards, a new batch of start-ups is coming on the scene with their sights firmly established on maximising sustainability. Influenced by the turnaround that Kelly Slater’s flagship company has influenced, these brands are focused on using processes throughout their range that the “not good enough” international brands use for a tiny percentage of their overall production.
While Outerknown, Patagonia, and Finisterre lead the way, the future of our sport/planet relies on the next generation of brands coming through in their wake and redefining the surf industry.
One such brand is Wildness.
Wildness – A Sustainable Outdoor Clothing Company
I was initially excited by Wildness because I consider myself to be a cold water surfer and adventure lover. Wildness is an Icelandic brand set to burst on the scene with a collection of stunning, high quality and functional apparel.
An Icelandic Surf Brand?
Those of you reading this from the warmer parts of the world might be wondering why a company from Iceland is entering the surf market. Trust me when I say the country has world class waves and an enthusiastic, tight knit surf community. Iceland is at the top of my travel bucket list.
Some of the most incredible surf photographs of the past decade have come out of Iceland. Renowned cold-water surf explorer Chris Burkhard is a fan of Icelandic waves.
Who are Wildness?
The team behind Wildness are surfers, skiers and snowboarders, constantly exposed to Arctic conditions. This garnered a healthy knowledge and understanding for the needs of those who love the outdoors, mountains, and ocean.
A good day starts in the mountains… and ends in the water…
Over the years I tended to lean towards brands like The North Face and Mountain Equipment for the kit I use to battle the elements in cold surf destinations like Scotland, Ireland and further afield.
I find limitations in most of the traditional surf brands when it comes to extremely cold, tough weather conditions. I am so excited to think that Wildness will be producing gear that is honed from personal experience, with a surfing theme. I cannot wait to wear their incredible kit during my next winter surf trip.
Riding the Wave of Sustainability
It would’ve been easy for Wildness to dine out on their exclusive status as an Icelandic surf brand. But they have gone a whole lot further than that.
Spending so much time in the frigid ocean, founders Filip Polach, Lucas Polach, and Víðir Björnsson witnessed all manner of plastic pollution encroaching on their beloved Icelandic coastline. It motivated them to take action.
We thought there must we a way to get rid of this plastic and use it for something good, and there is.
Wildness have set out from the very beginning to build the company from a sustainable and ethical foundation, ensuring that each and every process is set to exacting and regulated standards. Wildness create outdoor clothing from recycled fishing nets, plastic waste and organic materials. Their products are stylish, comfortable and suitable for all weather conditions. Too many items of clothing are “throw away fashion”. Wildness clothing is made to last for a long, long time.
Creating Sustainable Clothing From Ocean Waste
The first official Wildness clothing collection will be released in conjunction with Healthy Seas, using mostly ECONYL®, a fabric made from regenerated abandoned fishing nets and Repreve®, a fabric made from recycled Ocean-bound plastic. The fabrics will be combined with organic materials to further reduce the microfibres which damage our waters. All Wildness products will be OEKO-Tex® rated.
Being naked is the #1 sustainable option. We are #2.
In Iceland, and around the world, fishing gear constitutes a significant portion of ocean plastic debris. Approximately 10% of global marine plastic pollution comes from “ghost gear,” or discarded fishing equipment. These massive knots of woven fibre can remain adrift for substantial amounts of time and are often responsible for the accidental capture of many types of marine life including whales, seals, fish, birds and turtles. Plastics are indestructible and only break down into smaller and smaller particles, never truly disappearing.
Our philosophy is to use less, waste less and design responsible, ethical products that are built to last. By wearing Wildness we hope to inspire others to think responsibly, consciously, while carrying on our message through our clothing.
Wildness are determined that shipping is minimised during production, ensuring their family run, mountain based workshop is located close to the ECONYL® production facility. In fact the workshop is in the home town of two Wildness founders, twins Filip and Lucas Polach.
Wildness have teamed up with Kolviður to offset their import footprint. Kolviður are a Carbon Fund dedicated to planting trees across Iceland.
Interview with Wildness Founder Filip Polach
I was delighted to spend a bit of time chatting with Filip Polach, the founder of Wildness. Filip established the brand alongside his brother Lucas Polach, and Víðir Björnsson.
Hi Filip, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hey Nathan, I’m originally from Czech Republic and I grew up in a small mountain town where I was raised in a deeply rooted skate and snowboard culture. Every chance we got, we would go into the mountains to search for some good shred.
This background eventually guided me to surfing. About 9 years ago a few friends went for a road trip to France – Hossegor – to experience some real waves. Right there on that massive beach break where I was getting smashed by heavy barrels I realised that all I wanna do is to be close the ocean.
I decided to move to Iceland about 8 years ago because I fell in love with the island’s potential of combining surfing (ocean) and skiing (mountains), because I love both worlds.
Climate change has also a big role in my life. In my local mountains, where I grew up, winters were getting shorter and shorter and we got less and less snow each season.
So me and my brother made a pretty bold move back then and decided to move as far North possible to never run out of snow and waves. Hahaha. Iceland it is, here I found good mates, who share the same values, opinions and love of nature and here we started our sustainable outdoor clothing brand called Wildness.
A lot of our readership would have no idea about surfing in Arctic conditions. What’s it like being an Icelandic surfer?
It’s mostly about the dedication and endurance in the weather conditions up here. You have to fight with the weather constantly and be on the lookout for short windows where you can score some waves.
It took us years to find out how some surf spots work and in what conditions they´re at their best. We have no webcams or forecast sites that can accurately say if the waves work or not so you have to combine your local knowledge with 4 different forecast predictions to have a chance to score.
Sometimes you end up travelling for hours and hours, but then when you hit the jackpot it feels so much more rewarding. Surfers here love the fight with the weather and it becomes a massive part of the surfing culture here, the adventure of it all is remarkable. The cold does not bother you much here, everybody is used to it.
Line-ups are usually empty but there is more and more surfers each year, especially in the spots close to the capital.
Wildness is an intriguing brand for so many reasons. What inspired you guys to start the company?
Thank you, super happy to hear that.
We struggled to find a fully sustainable outdoor clothing for local conditions, which combined the proper technical features with good design and cuts which suit the environment we are exposed to everyday. I studied design and I have been passionate about outdoor clothing and the environment ever since I can remember.
But to make a real change in the clothing industry, which is one of the most polluting industries in the world, we have been using different materials, cuts and designs which are fully sustainable yet technical from the beginning.
We are using organic materials and fabrics made from regenerated old fishing nets, nylon and other ocean plastic, so basically by using the fabric for our clothing we are removing pollution from the ocean ecosystems which we care about so much while at the same time creating pieces that are built to last and fit for conditions in the mountains or by the coastlines.
I learned about climate change the hard way, in the mountains where I grew up where we lost our snow. That’s why I always wanted to do something that helps the environment and makes a positive impact on the outdoor clothing market. From the beginning we decided not to be part of the problem but part of the solution.
Here at Surfd.com we love the fact that Wildness is built on a foundation of sustainability. How important was it for you to build that foundation before launching your first official range?
We truly believe that there is a better way for everybody who cares about the environment and at the same time wants fully technical features and quality made clothing which lasts. That we can create environmentally minded and movement focused technical gear for both worlds – the ocean and the mountains.
The way we see it is that the only possible future is the sustainable one and building that foundation was extremely important for us. This isn’t about putting our logo on more products, it’s about bringing new cutting edge clothing which lasts, is ethically made out of ocean waste plastic and organic materials, so when you purchase one piece of clothing you are automatically helping the environment.
We want to be an example to all other brands and show it’s possible to participate in the circular economy, work on preserving our environment and inspire people to do the same. We want people to wear Wildness clothing proudly and spread the message.
It is so impressive to see a start-up company focussed on implementing practices that the big, established players in the surf industry seem to be slow to uptake. Do you think we will see a time when surfing becomes sustainable?
I’m sure that the surfing industry will be sustainable sooner or later, big names are already in the sustainable game and I mean, at the end of the day it’s the consumers who decide what those big companies will do.
Surfers are on the front line of why we need sustainability in companies, to preserve the oceans and nature. Honestly that is the power which drives us all and if you just look around it’s unquestionable that change needs to come and it will.
We need to take care of water in all its forms and support current sustainable companies to push the big ones to do the same, we are all in it together.
I know you guys are super busy preparing for the exciting launch of your first clothing range. What will be the next steps for Wildness following the launch?
We would love to scale up, right now we are a start-up making small amounts of stuff, trying to make a difference but in order to make a bigger impact we need to be bigger.
Most likely we will be looking for investors or looking for bigger deals to get some more capital to operate and create more clothing out of ocean plastic waste.
Do you see a time when Wildness moves towards surfing hardware such as wetsuits and accessories?
Yeah, for sure, wetsuits are still a kind of clothing apparel so if we find the right materials and production which aligns with our values we will for sure.
We don’t want to make accessories which we don’t know much about , but we definitely want to sell some sustainable leashes, wax, fins and surfboards on our web just to support the sustainable companies who make them.
Filip, thank you so much for your time, we cannot wait to see the new range. Any final comments for our readers?
Thank you very much Nathan, super stoked that you guys reached out.
It’s up to us to make the change, then the rest will have to follow – so why not to be amongst the first.