With their close ties to the environment, outdoor clothing brands have been fast to adopt and develop innovative, sustainable fabrics and production methods.

EcoSki brings you the lowdown — from the fabrics being created out of spent coffee waste and sugar cane, to recycling nylon fishing nets and inspiring methods of regenerative farming.


Hemp plant

One of the oldest agricultural crops and one of the first plants spun into textiles valued for their strength, hemp is very fast and easy to grow. It needs a smaller area to grow than most crops and is adaptable to most conditions, with little need for fertilizers or pesticides and irrigation. Most crops also deplete the soil they grow in, but hemp enriches and purifies soil, returning up to 70% of the nutrients it takes as it grows. Compared with cotton, it can produce double the yield per hectare using four times less water. Every part of the hemp plant can be used, making food, textiles or building materials.

Hemp fibres are long strands from the stalk that are separated from the bark using a process called “retting” (similar to linen and bamboo linen production). This can be done entirely chemically — but not always

What to watch for: Hemp can be produced using chemicals — creating something called ‘hemp viscose’ — so choosing organic hemp will ensure that no fertilisers or chemicals have been used. Also beware of chemical dyes.

What does it feel like: Hemp feels similar to a cotton- linen blend to wear, getting more comfortable over time.

A brand using hemp: Patagonia uses hemp in its green volley shorts


Regenerative Organic cotton

Cotton buds

While cotton is a natural fibre it is grown at a vast ethical and environmental cost, as we discussed in our story on synthetic versus natural fabrics. However, the Regenerative Organic Alliance has devised a holistic agricultural certification system — which Patagonia has helped to set up — with robust requirements for animal welfare, land management, soil health (ensuring crop rotation to support bio-sequestration, no fertilisers or other synthetic inputs etc) and social fairness, to ensure farmers are paid a living wage, with good working conditions and there is transparency and accountability throughout the process. This is just the start — there is much more to Regenerative Organic cotton as you can read here https://regenorganic.org/our-story/

What to watch for: The Regenerative Organic Standard logo for proof

What it feels like: Cotton, only better

A brand using Regenerative Organic cotton: Patagonia – read more here


Regenerative wool

This is wool that is produced in a sustainable, ethical and fully traceable way — by farmers who adhere to robust animal welfare, environment and community standards. These ensure the health of the land and environment on which sheep are farmed, that sheep are farmed in a way that promotes their physical or mental welfare, by knowledgeable stockmen and free from detrimental practices such as live international transport and museling. Regenerative wool production isn’t just about the wool, it’s actually more about the land and its management with the ultimate goal being to repair any previous environmental damage and rebuild ecosystems.

Healthy, happy sheep produce healthy, quality fibres, and regenerative wool programmes ensure the wool is hand-picked by a farming community paid fair wages within a safe workplace.

Examples of regenerative wool programmes include ZQ, Woolmark and Nativa

What to watch for: Associated logos on the labels to ensure it is an accredited Regenerative Wool

What it feels like: wool, only softer and better (because it’s done right)

Brands using regenerative wool: Icebreaker and Smartwool


TENCEL Lyocell

Tencel fibre

TENCEL is a type of rayon, a bio-based fibre extracted from renewably grown eucalyptus. It is manufactured by transforming wood pulp into cellulosic fibres — the wood pulp is dissolved in a solvent before being pushed through an ‘extruder’ with small holes to create threads that are then chemically treated before being spun into yarn. While this sounds chemical- and water-heavy, the chemicals are less toxic than traditional rayon and TENCEL uses a closed-loop system with a recovery rate of more than 99% so there is minimal waste. TENCEL Lyocell is long-lasting and while neither natural or sythentic (known as ‘regenerated cellulose’) but after use — provided they are not mixed with polyester or an/other synthetic material — the fibres are compostable and biodegradable. And of course the raw material, wood, is sustainably harvested trees.

What to watch for: While TENCEL requires less energy and water than cotton, check how it has been dyed and whether it is mixed with other fibres (eg nylon) which may create end-of-life problems

What it feels like: Soft and gentle against the skin, absorbing 50% more moisture than cotton, but also breathable and less susceptible to odour-causing bacteria growth, making it ideal for underwear and baselayers.

Brands using TENCEL Lyocell: Icebreaker, Houdini and Picture


Bio-sourced polyester (bio-plastic/bio-polyester)

This is a fabric (polyester is essentially a type of plastic) partially or wholly derived from plant material — such as corn, algae and sugar cane. Polyester is normally made from petroleum, but Picture, which uses sugar cane in some of its products, creates a non-petroleum based MEG (called a bio-mono ethylene glycol) through a special process of fermentation after extracting the sugars from the raw material. There is a full explanation of the process on Picture’s website here

Or there’s Spektrum, which manufacturers ski goggles using a range of bio-based materials, including frames made with oil from castor beans.

What to watch for: Bio-based materials are not, on the whole, biodegradable or compostable. Some of the processes can be energy-intensive and crops must be chosen carefully to ensure they are not produced with chemicals and fertilisers. There are questions over durability, because the technology is so new.

What it feels like: Depends entirely on the material, but most feel exactly the same.

Brands using bio-sourced fabric: Picture, Spektrum


Econyl (regenerated nylon)

This is the brand name for nylon that is created from nylon waste — for example fishing nets, fabric scraps (think of the take-back schemes) and old carpets. Unlike, say, plastic bottles created from recycled plastic, which cannot be recycled a second time, Econyl can be recycled, recreated and remoulded again and again — but it is not biodegradable or compostable. Regenerated nylon has a carbon footprint of up to 90% less than “virgin nylon” created from oil and is produced using a closed-loop system. It’s a very durable and water-repellent material, resistant to moths and fungi and also has good moisture-control properties.

What to watch for: Econyl can be blended with other fibres, including synthetic ones, to make it more elastic — which creates problems with end-of-life recycling. It is also highly flammable and sheds plastic microfibres easily.

What it feels like: Soft, lightweight, flexible, water repellent and quick-drying

Brands that use Econyl: Patagonia, Finisterre, Mammut


Spent coffee waste

As they decompose in landfill, coffee grounds produce methane, a greenhouse gas between 25-30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Innovative company S.Café has come up with a way of recycling spent coffee waste — cleaning and then extracting the oils from the grounds before combining it with recycled polyester to create a yarn that has unique odour-control, UV protecting and fast-drying properties, all of which make it an ideal choice for outdoor clothing.

What to watch for: The spent coffee waste makes up only 5% of the finished yarn and the remaining 95% is synthetic (even if recycled PET) and sheds microfibres/microplastics when washed.

What it feels like: Soft, warm, lightweight and wind-resistant. Coffee ground yarn naturally blocks odours and reflects UV rays. The fabric is also quick-drying, up to 200% faster than cotton.

Brands using spent coffee yarn: Protest, Helly Hansen, Peak Performance, Schōffel and Maier Sports — to name but a few.



This is a fibre created out of cellulose (currently wood pulp from FSC and/or PEFC certified tree farms) using a similar process that spiders use to spin their webs. No harmful chemicals are needed and the fibre has a carbon footprint some 65% lower than conventional cotton and is produced using 99.5% less water. SPINNOVA can be recycled several times without losing quality, and can be dyed before it is spun, removing the need for chemicals and water often used during traditional dyeing processes. While SPINNOVA is currently produced using the same wood pulp that is used for making paper, the spinning process can be used with any kind of cellulose, and SPINNOVA is exploring the use of cotton and leather waste, as well as agricultural waste such as wheat straw. SPINNOVA technology is even being used in the production of skis.

What to watch for: The only downside EcoSki can find is that this technology isn’t being embraced quickly enough.

What it feels like: SPINNOVA has the same stretch and strength qualities of cotton, and the same insulation qualities of lambs wool.

Brands using SPINNOVA:  SPINNOVA is working with a number of brands including adidas and The North Face, but excitingly they are working with Icebreaker to develop circular midlayer products that are a blend of merino wool and SPINNOVA that can be recycled time and again, with a minimal environmental footprint. Read more about the Icebreaker/SPINNOVA collaboration here.



Biodegradable and compostable, modal is a form of rayon made by spinning cellulosic fibres in a similar way to TENCEL Lyocell, but using wood pulp from beech trees instead of eucalyptus. It is a very soft fabric, so used frequently in underwear and bed sheets, and often blended with other fibres such as cotton or spandex to increase its strength. Modal is a semi-synthetic fabric, because although the material is derived from plants, the production process involves chemicals. But beech trees don’t need much water to grow, so modal is considered an eco-friendly alternative cotton — using around 20 times less water. It is a fabric that doesn’t pill and absorbs dye well so remains colour fast — another environmental benefit prolonging the life of clothing.

What to watch for: Although modal is made from beech trees, the production process uses sodium hydroxide.

What it feels like: Silky smooth and soft to the touch, breathable, absorbent and stretchable.

Have you read EcoSki’s article about natural v synthetic fibres?

Sign up to the EcoSki newsletter to keep up to date with regular news, features and offers