Last night I went to the Aspen Social Club, a fairly swank watering hole below the ultra-contemporary Stay Hotel in NYC. Free drinks were on Merrell Apparel (hey it rhymes), the performance outdoor clothing maker. It's perhaps not surprising that I appreciate outdoor apparel, so it was fun to meet and greet some real gear geeks.
I talked extensively with a Merrell shoe designer, in from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. He was critical of companies that try to reposition themselves as green by launching one or two green products, then marketing those heavily. "At Merrell we've never been comfortable with creating, say, one super green shoe and then saying, 'Look how green we are now,'" he said. "We've always tried to do things as green as we can along every step of the way. I mean we're an outdoor products company, so the environment is obviously really important to us."
He talked about all the thought that goes into every aspect of each shoe. For example, he pointed to what looked like a relatively simple item, a woman's flip flop, and said they had engineered it to reduce stress on a woman's tarsals, which he said can be a trouble spot because of women's wider hips. He said he was constantly trying to fine tune which Vibram soles to order from Italy for each line, finely balancing the carbon content, durability, stickiness and flexibility. He showed me the siphon lines on the bottom of water shoes, designed to push liquid out of the way and maintain traction, or the raised heel of a hiking boot to reduce impact stress when loaded with a pack.
He told me Merrell has switched to water-based glues and has always tried to reduce waste. The company uses EVA (a less-toxic alternative than many other plastics), but the designer said he was opposed to using vegetable-tanned leather because it simply didn't last as long, and that their primary goal was making products that lasted. (Others have complained that vegetable-tanned leather doesn't last long enough for shoes, and that it also isn't that much less toxic than chrome-tanned leather.)
The big environmental story this year for Merrell, at least according to their PR team, is their relatively new NADA line (Not Any Dye Applied). They showed me some jackets in the style. They looked about as white as white gets, which is a cool look, yet they said competitors would have used harsh chemical dyes in order to get to the same place (or even "whiter," though it was hard to see how that would be possible).
According to the company, producing a single size small womens NADA jacket saves 1.6 kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide, 115.2 liters of water, 0.18 kg of chemicals and 2.47 kilowatt-hours of energy compared to the same jacket made with dyed fabrics. They're available in men's and women's styles, and should retail around $229.
They did look warm, although it was too hot in the club to adequately give it a try.
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