Q: Where can I find a fashionable, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, affordable coat that's still warm? Am I just chasing a dream?
A: Deep in the grip of a Canadian winter, the tug of war between warmth and fashion can be struggle enough for most, without throwing in an extra element like sustainability. But we can't hide our heads in the snow forever, people. Yes, winter coats can leave the planet out in the cold.
Just ask the maker of some of the greener winter coats around, Patagonia. The do-gooding company did a footprint assessment of some of its jackets and confessed that while many of them contain high recycled content, they're still, in 2010, coated with some sketchy finishes.
The Nano Puff Pullover, for instance, might be fully recyclable (if you send it back to the company), but its shell and zipper are treated with a durable water-repellent finish (DWR) that contains dreaded PFOA - that now infamous non-stick chemical polluting bloodstreams the world over.
Patagonia actually had to remove the word "eco" from its Eco Rain Shell Jacket after it came clean on the fact that it, too, contained PFOA. A company rep says the lack of PFOA-free waterproofing finishes is a massive industry-wide problem right now. Patagonia says it's pressuring its manufacturers to develop PFOA-free alternatives but that in the meantime the maker of its Rain jacket recycles 99 per cent of its solvents.
Looking for something with more pizzazz? While there are way more eco designers stitching lightweight spring/fall jackets, the good news is that your options for earth- and ego-friendly winter outerwear have improved since the last time I covered the topic precisely five years ago.
For one, more wool coats are sheared from sheep that haven't had a flap of their hiney painfully sliced out to prevent flystrike (maggots). That's because over the last couple of years, H&M, Nike, Hugo Boss, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and Pierre Cardin joined about 60 other companies in a boycott of all Australian merino wool (although several retailers lifted the ban as long as the sheep were given pain relief).
Too bad other sheep-shearing countries continue to treat their sheep with polluting pesticides (over 14,000 pounds of insecticides were applied to sheep in the U.S. in 2000 to control pests, according to the Organic Trade Association) and feed them groundwater-contaminating antibiotics as a growth booster. Luckily, you can score guilt-free Canadian-made organic wool coats on sale from sites like greenisblack.com and organiclifestyle.com (though stock is low).
Aritzia's Community line actually has a couple of Canadian-made jackets made from recycled wool. For toasty sass, Aritzia also has cool green parkas made of hemp and recycled fibres (vegan alert: most are stuffed with real down. Keep your eyes peeled for a microfibre fill made from Primaloft Eco, which is 50 per cent recycled fibres).
And five years after I plugged it as the only chem-free eco model on shelves, Hemp Hoodlamb still makes the perfect stoner coat, complete with a rolling paper dispenser, music pockets with earphone loops in the neck and secret pockets, all in a water- and wind-resistant hemp/organic cotton shell with snuggly hemp fur lining. You can score men's and women's models from hemp shops like Toronto Hemp Company and Friendly Stranger.
If you're happy to cross-border shop, Nau makes more fashionable high-performance jackets with 100 per cent recycled shells (nau.com), and Chicago's Vaute Couture offers a selection of trendy throw-back styles out of partly recycled Polartec.
But for the biggest, widest selection of toasty/trendy and oh so green jackets at the best prices around, go to Craigslist. Seriously. You'll find pre-loved coats from brands like Zara, Mango, North Face, Armani, Hugo Boss and, last checked, even a hemp Aritzia coat - all deeply discounted and the deepest shade of green you can find, since you're reducing, reusing and recycling in one fell click.
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