Sam Challis

25 Nov 2020

Cycling apparel is as guilty as fast fashion for its impact on the environment. But change is afoot

Pictured above: Parietti Bunyola • 90% recycled polyester, 10% recycled elastane • €160 (approx £145) • parietti.cc

Velocio Harvest Ultralight • 84% recycled polyester • £117 • velocio.cc

Unfortunately it can be so easy to get caught up in the performance and style of cycling apparel that other, more important factors are forgotten about or ignored. How often do we consider the impact that the production of cycling kit has on the environment?

The inconvenient truth is that the apparel industry is one of the dirtiest industries of all. Making clothes requires huge amounts of energy, water and chemicals, whose detrimental effects are further compounded by the waste generated from the offcuts of new items and discarded old ones.

One mechanism companies have employed to try to help their environmental impact is external carbon offsetting – the familiar ‘X number of trees planted for Y number of jerseys sold’ construct.

However due to the type of materials used in cycling kit, clothing brands in the cycling industry are better placed than most to incorporate recycled fabrics and ‘greener’ working practices into their business, rather than merely offsetting externally. Several are doing just that.

‘Offsetting is a bit like buying yourself a clean conscience and not addressing the true problems,’ says Paul Skevington, founder of Parietti. ‘Our approach is to reduce environmental impact at source.

Based in Mallorca, we keep production local to the Mediterranean. Our fabrics are supplied by Spanish and Italian manufacturers. Our factory is based in Italy, which produces 175,000kW of clean energy every year through its own PV and solar panels.’

Velocio CEO Brad Sheean says that his brand adopts similar practices: ‘We don’t offset impact with external measures. That’s not to say we’re against it, but our focus has been to reduce impact from the beginning of our supply chain through reduced consumption, efficiencies and by building longevity into the products we make.’

Peter Velits, CEO of Isadore, says clothing brands need to constantly be looking for alternative materials and ways to make production methods more sustainable. Consequently the brand has deployed a number of ways to reduce its impact. It has an ‘Alternative’ range, which is made completely out of recycled materials.

It has a subscription service to rent jerseys, which aims to reduce waste. And it has and a ‘Patchwork’ line, which is made using leftover materials.

Velocio Harvest Ultralight • 84% recycled polyester • £117 • velocio.cc

Isadore Alternative • 87% recycled polyester, 13% recycled elastane • £125, isadore.com

Parietti too has some neat tricks aside from making its jerseys from 100% recycled fabrics: ‘Our current range is made from recycled performance fabrics, which use 40% less energy and 30% less water than non-recycled fabric, but on the delivery side as well, our garment bags are certified home-compostable,’ says Skevington.

‘Our mailing envelopes are made from limestone offcuts using only renewable energy with zero pollution. They are durable, waterproof, reusable and can be recycled, and will in time naturally disintegrate in sunlight.’

Like the others, Velocio’s Sheean says the brand uses as many recycled fabrics and components as it can across the brand’s entire range as a matter of course, and says extending the life of garments by maintaining quality can play a very important part in reducing environmental impact.

A new life

The beauty of cycling clothing such as jerseys is that much of it is made using polyester, whose recycled form is no different in performance to an original fabric of the same yarn gauge and knitting construction.

‘We’ve found this through our testing as well as the testing done in the mills we use,’ says Sheean. Unfortunately, though, there is a significant difference in cost. ‘Recycled fabrics are often 15-25% more expensive, primarily due to the added cost in recovering and processing the recyclables.’

To make the recycled fabrics these brands use, sea-bound rubbish and plastic bottles are collected, shredded and processed into pellets. Those pellets are then extruded into filaments and spun into yarn. While the cost might be higher, at least there is no shortage of ‘raw’ product to use. ‘The UK alone discards over five billion plastic bottles a year,’ says Parietti’s Skevington.

That fact is disappointingly unsurprising, but the consensus is that the increased cost of the material is the main reason working practices similar to those of Velocio, Parietti and Isadore aren’t more widespread among mainstream clothing brands. Yet there is cause to be hopeful for the future.

‘The variety of recycled materials is getting wider from season to season, meaning it is increasingly possible to make different types of kit, like bibshorts and jackets, from recycled materials. The performance properties are identical, if not better,’ says Isadore’s Velits. ‘I believe in future we will see a big shift into recycled materials. It has to happen.’

Skevington adds, ‘It isn’t an insurmountable task for any brand. There is no reason why, with a bit of effort, companies can’t commit to using more sustainable fabrics. They just need to make sure they assess every stage of the production process.’

‘The question should be asked to some of the larger brands that have more influence with mills and the development of recycled fabrics,’ says Sheean. ‘The analogy for why the industry is slow to change is related to turning a big ship. Well, that analogy goes both ways.

‘Big ships have a lot more inertia and influence too. If they want to do it they can, and the industry will be all the better for it.’

Photography Rob Milton

Source: Cycling – Cyclist