The jacket arrived in perfect condition: no gaping seams, snarled zippers, or any of the other backcountry inflicted wounds that would typically trigger someone to return a piece of Arc’teryx’s hard-wearing climbing, skiing, and outdoor gear to its Vancouver headquarters. But there it was, a pristine jacket in every way—except for the distinct scent of curry.
To most retailers, it would mostly likely have been chalked up as damaged goods. But to Arc’teryx, it represented an opportunity to further evolve its already significant sustainability efforts. Those efforts have come to fruition this summer with the launch of Rock Solid (which also happens to be the brand’s original name), a buy-back and resale program that aims to extend the life of Arc’teryx product.
“The lowest impact product is the one you don’t have to make,” states Drummond Lawson, Director of Sustainability at Arc’teryx. Lawson and his team had been running assessment studies, so they knew that raw materials and manufacturing accounted for 65 percent of a jacket’s lifetime environmental impact. But they wanted to go further, to understand what happened after after purchase.
So they enlisted the help of a Ph.D. student, who conveniently was also a rock climber, to perform a “cradle to grave” lifecycle assessment. The conclusion was that initiatives like Arc’teryx’s repair service weren’t enough on their own; the brand needed to further extend the lifetime of its products in order to spread the impact over many years. The question became, “How do we use more of the jackets we already produced?” says Lawson.
“For brands looking to enter into the resale space, getting a program up and running can be costly and time-intensive,” explains Andy Ruben, CEO of Yerdle, a “re-commerce” service located just south of San Francisco. Yerdle launched Patagonia’s successful Worn Wear program, so it was an obvious partner to help Arc’teryx enter the resale business. When a pre-worn piece of clothing is returned via the Arc’teryx website or one of its retail locations, the owner receives a credit for new or used gear. The piece is then sent to Yerdle, which grades, washes (no more chicken tikka masala smell), and performs basic repairs.
If the item requires a more advanced repair, it heads to Vancouver, where the same Arc’teryx technicians who possibly built it the first time around bring it back up to speed. It’s then photographed and posted on Rock Solid, and its life begins anew. “Any future and any brand who is really leading in sustainability efforts needs to be expanding into models of buy-back, resale, and possibly rental,” says Ruben. “This is the leadership frontier in sustainability.”
Sites like Grailed and Rent the Runway have already proven that consumers will engage in the circular economy, if the selection and quality is there. Arc’teryx is betting that vintage and rare, or “snowflake product,” will draw consumers to Rock Solid, along with those just looking not to pay retail for one of its rain shells. As for Lawson, he already knows his grail. “There is a eggplant colored, one piece zip-up Gore[-Tex] suit from 2003 that’s still in service. If one of those ever came in I’d work very hard to be the first person on the site to buy it.”
Lawson, who exudes an obvious excitement for his role, hopes that Arc’teryx can continue to balance sustainability with growth. He won’t rule out a rental business in the future, but says that for now he’s focusing on shifting consumer perceptions away from the notion that product quality and experience require newness. “I love the idea that [Rock Solid clothing] is midstream in its adventures, you are its new lease on life,” says Lawson. “I think there’s something really desirable and really human about that.”