Vaude has been moving toward its target of making its entire apparel range without poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs) faster than expected and decided to become part of Greenpeace's Detox campaign, aiming to phase out the use and release of toxic chemicals in its entire supply chain by 2020.
Rotauf, an apparel brand from Switzerland, which is already selling products entirely without PFCs, joined the Detox campaign at the same time. That adds up to three outdoor brands on board with the Greenpeace campaign, starting with a commitment in January from Páramo, the English outdoor apparel brand that is ethically produced.
Vaude started working earlier than many others to eliminate PFCs, but Antje von Dewitz, the German group's chief executive, said that it was tough for a medium-sized family business to influence mighty suppliers in the chemicals industry. She therefore welcomed Greenpeace's involvement, saying that it provided impetus for more interests in the industry to push for alternatives.
Vaude's previous target was to do without PFCs in its apparel by 2020, but it has already reached a share of 95 percent for next year's spring/summer range and has moved its zero-PFC apparel commitment forward to 2018. The group says that, for most products, it has found alternatives that perform well in terms of durable water repellency (DWR). The 5 percent that are not yet without PFCs do not pertain to any particular category – they are apparel products raising challenges for a variety of reasons. The company now also aims to completely remove PFCs from its hardware products by 2020.
But the Detox commitment goes way beyond PFCs in finished products, as it requires the elimination of toxic chemicals in the entire supply chain. This means that Vaude will have to get all of its suppliers actively engaged, which is a tall and costly order for a company of its size. Vaude says that the most challenging aspect of the commitment is the use of the Manufacturing Restricted Substance List (MRSL), which imposes strict rules or prohibitions on the use of many chemicals.
Vaude has already moved ahead with a pilot project, Environmental Stewardship in the Textile Supply Chain. The group said that companies in China and Taiwan delivering about 80 percent of materials for Vaude have become part of a program to raise awareness and information about toxic chemicals, through training by Vaude specialists and external resources.
Separately, Vaude is also supporting the trend toward sustainable consumption. The company found a global study by Havas Worldwide on the sharing economy, which suggested that 52 percent of consumers would be happy without most of the things they own, and 68 percent admire people who cut back on their consumption.
The German outdoor group is thus creating an outdoor equipment sharing platform, where consumers will have access to tents, backpacks and bike carriers, which they use only intermittently. As part of the pilot phase for Irentit, starting in October, about 30 of such items are to be stored at the Vaude warehouse and may be reserved online or in Vaude stores. Another such initiative is to work together with Ifixit, an online platform that provides consumers with instructions to repair their products. Ifixit will take Vaude products on board after the summer.
The German group's approach is apparently resonating with consumers, as its turnover advanced by 11 percent in 2015. It was up by 12 percent in Germany and 9 percent in other markets, driven by double-digit sales growth in Austria and Switzerland and ample gains in Spain and the U.K., among others. Vaude's turnover for mountain products was up by 13 percent, compared with 9 percent for the cycling business.