Patagonia and Columbia Sportswear’s Circular Economy

Materials Used by Patagonia

Modern times of environmental crisis and global warming demand for-profit organizations to find ways of sustainable manufacturing to minimize pollution. Corporations started to realize that sustainable, innovative strategies ‚Äúcan deliver a competitive edge that can allow them to increase profits and take advantage of opportunities in new markets‚ÄĚ (Rattalino, 2018, p. 1). Patagonia is one of the companies that implemented the circular economy principles into its development and production process. The company has a 40-year history of producing outdoor apparel of exceptional design (Patagonia Works, 2019). Indeed, it is believed to be one of the most socially responsible firms globally. This corporation donates 1% of its annual revenue to organizations that work on projects to preserve nature and slow down climate change (Patagonia Works, 2019). Patagonia understands the importance of sustainability for the world and highlights quality, environmentalism, and integrity as its core values (Rattalino, 2018). The central goal of this corporation is to build superior products without unnecessary harm to the planet and its inhabitants (Eich, 2021). Therefore, they utilize such materials as polyester, natural rubber, recycled down, and many other textiles recycled from trash to manufacture eco-friendly brands.

Clothing from Recycled Materials

Patagonia is the first apparel firm to introduce a circular economy to develop clothes with zero harm to the environment. For example, it was the first to produce Synchilla fleeces from recycled plastic bottles in 1993 (Rattalino, 2018). Their solution-dyed backpacks made of plastic bottles allow them to save almost two liters of water and produce 96% less carbon dioxide emissions than a similar process in a conventional factory (Patagonia Works, 2019). Furthermore, they utilize polyester fiber recycled from trash to create new clothes. Although Patagonia remains one of the few companies that manufacture clothes from garbage, they continue to follow its mission of diminishing environmental pollution, which enhances the support and loyalty of its clients.

Specific Examples of Innovative Materials

This corporation’s sustainable inventions in the textile industry revolutionized this sector. Patagonia was also the pioneer in implementing organic cotton only for sewing their products, popularizing this trend among other organizations (Ferrara, 2021). In fact, this strategy facilitated the growth of the organic cotton sector, reducing the use of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals in growing this plant. Moreover, Patagonia is famous for reducing the toxicity of water-repellant materials used for jackets by substituting C8 fluorocarbon with the C6 alternative (Rattalino, 2018). This change was less harmful to nature because a shorter fluorocarbon chain fabric could degrade faster. Another innovation Patagonia made in this sector was accepting old clothing in its stores for recycling (Rattalino, 2018). It is one of the firms that encourages repair, reuse, and recycling among its customers, making it a unique circular economy player in the apparel sector.

Patagonia’s materials vary from recycled down to natural rubber and polyester. Since polyester, a fiber synthesized from petroleum is naturally water-resistant, it is used in outdoor clothing (Patagonia, n.d.). However, Patagonia strives to diminish its dependence on this expensive and harmful resource; thus, it is converted to recycling and reusing this material to produce new items (Patagonia, n.d.). Indeed, they plan to entirely remove virgin polyester from utilization by 2025 (Patagonia, n.d.). Another material used by this firm is recycled down, which is a cheap and eco-friendly insulating material. The company included it in manufacturing 47 clothing pieces in 2021 (Patagonia, n.d.). Moreover, Patagonia replaced neoprene rubber with natural rubber from hevea trees in wetsuits for surfers, reducing petroleum-derived materials in production (Patagonia, n.d.). This innovation not only increased the quality of clothing but also resulted in an 80% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions from every suit (Patagonia, n.d.). Overall, Patagonia is one of the few unique corporations in the apparel industry that cares about protecting nature from the negative influence of modern anthropologic activity.

What Is Going Wrong for Patagonia?

Despite this firm’s noble mission to become a carbon-neutral company, Patagonia’s footprint continues to increase since its sales are high. Its products are trendy among customers, demanding larger manufacturing scales (Patagonia Works, 2019). Although the company tries to buy old clothes for recycling, these measures seem insufficient to exceed the damage from production. It appears that despite all the attempts and positive impact of Patagonia, the drawbacks of this industry are still inevitable.

Materials Used by Columbia Sportswear

Columbia Sportswear is a renowned brand that provides its customers with high-quality clothing and accessories for outdoor activities like hiking, hunting, running, fishing, and golf. This multibillion-dollar corporation, with over 450 stores in more than 90 countries, not only aims to increase its sale but plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% by 2030 (Columbia Sportswear Company [CSC], 2020). Columbia has established a partnership with Patagonia in its attempt to reduce greenhouse gas release (CSC, 2020). This firm substantially enlarged the use of eco-friendly materials, including polyester, nylon, rubber, and cotton, in the production of clothes (CSC, 2020). The company constantly works to upgrade the quality and practicality of its products. Columbia’s three most essential innovations in the textile industry were a waterproof membrane, Omni-Freeze Zero, and Omni-Heat technologies, which are also considered elements of the circular economy.

OutDry Extreme Eco Waterproof Membrane

One of its most popular products of Columbia is OutDry Extreme Eco, which is a waterproof membrane. It was a crucial and timely innovation, especially for endurance athletes in low-income countries, because the firm offered favorable fiscal conditions for providing sportswear for these states (Wickramarathne & Al Mahmud, 2021). This waterproof membrane does not include perfluorochemicals, making it an eco-friendly material that is recyclable and allows for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions (McLoughlin & Sabir, 2018). Clothes made from this textile can be wiped instead of washed, diminishing water expenditure (McLoughlin & Sabir, 2018). Furthermore, OutDry rainwear possesses a comfortable design of ‚Äúa waterproof layer on the outside and a soft layer inside‚ÄĚ (Columbia, n.d.). It appears that this unique piece of clothing was part of Columbia‚Äôs plan to implement the circular economy into its business.

Omni-Freeze Zero and Omni-Heat Technologies

Columbia developed a product that allows customers to remain warm even in freezing weather. This technology is known as Omni-Heat, which possesses the quality of heat retention due to ‚Äúthermal-reflective technology‚ÄĚ (Columbia, n.d.). Furthermore, this clothing is made of an eco-friendly material that aligns with the company‚Äôs long-term goals. Moreover, another invention in the sphere of sportswear was the Omni-Freeze Zero textile. Columbia developed and patented it to provide clothes with exceptional cooling capacity (McLoughlin & Sabir, 2018). The material ‚Äúconsists of a pattern of highly absorbent polymers coupled to a base fabric with high wicking rate‚ÄĚ (McLoughlin & Sabir, 2018, p. 347). It means that a person‚Äôs sweat initiates the endothermic process in the polymers, giving a sense of cold to an individual. However, Columbia does not specify the exact material and does not claim that it is recyclable in official sources. Still, the natural assumption is that the company most likely utilizes biodegradable synthetic polymers in this technology; hence, the innovation should be eco-friendly.

What Is Going Wrong for Columbia?

Although Columbia Sportswear strives to follow the modern movement by involving in the global mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it does not prioritize the circular economy. The firm’s primary goal is to produce comfortable, fashionable, and high-quality sportswear for anyone from amateurs to elite athletes (CSC, 2020). They plan to reduce carbon production, but changes are introduced slowly, indicating the inferior role of sustainability for this company.


In summary, Patagonia and Columbia Sportswear are two successful companies in the apparel industry that aim to implement the elements of the circular economy in their production. In fact, Patagonia is built upon sustainable and environmentally-friendly manufacturing that drives it to explore new methodologies. These methods include the use of organic plant-derived textiles, biodegradable polymers, and recycled fabric. Still, even though this firm is against consumerism, its sales rose enormously, requiring more production that exceeds the company’s recycling capacity. Columbia also seems to strive to sell garments that are not harmful to nature, but it is not this corporation’s primary goal; therefore, it is considered to be at the early stages of introducing the circular economy. Overall, it appears that Patagonia has a more focused and regulated approach to sustainable production than Columbia, which mainly aims to produce sportswear of superior quality but not necessarily recyclable.


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Eich, R. (2021). Five lessons from Patagonia, a successful company with a conscience. The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 14(2), 1-4.

Ferrara, G. (2021). Climate crisis & fashion leaders: A Patagonia case study. Research Papers by Undergraduate Students, 1-10.

McLoughlin, J., & Sabir, T. (Eds.). (2018). High-performance apparel. Woodhead Publishing.

Patagonia Works. (2019). Annual benefit corporation report. Web.

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Rattalino, F. (2018). Circular advantage, anyone? Sustainability‚Äźdriven innovation and circularity at Patagonia, Inc. Thunderbird International Business Review, 60(5), 1-9. Web.

Wickramarathne, T. I., & Al Mahmud, A. (2021). Considerations for designing sportswear for low-income tropical countries. The Design Journal, 24(2), 207-230. Web.

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