You may have seen the World Wildlife Fund’s promoted posts on Facebook and on Instagram. WWF South Africa has launched a technical apparel project in South Africa. I’m a huge fan of innovation in the garment sector and the fact that WWF is playing in this space piqued my interest. The organisation’s home page invites you to, “Shop sustainable apparel for the future”.

Well done WWF for “creating the opportunity to push eco-friendly and sustainable goals by creating high-tech, highly desirable apparel that meet the needs of WWF supporters and the environment at large” … with a 100% polyester fabric jacket.

Doh! Gulp! WTF?

How is that sustainable and meeting the needs of the environment at large? The manufacturing of this non-biodegradable fabric is water intense. Ongoing and current research by various organisations shows that plastic micro-fibres are released into the oceans during the washing of synthetic clothes. We should all be concerned with this: plastic is killing fish and entering our food system.

Patgonia, an American clothing company that markets and sells sustainable outdoor clothing (including polyester fleeces) is taking the issue of mirco-fibres seriously. They use recycled polyester in more and more products. According to its website, it “is committing significant resources to learn more about the scope of the problem and develop an understanding of what steps we can take to help create impactful solutions”.

When I reached out to WWF, Neil (from customer services) explained the journey. “Considering the end-to-end environmental impact and complexities in the traditional manufacturing process, this program [the technical apparel project] needs a starting point. For the launch of this project, we’ve put a focus on manufacturing as that’s something that we can influence TODAY.”

WWF’s manufacturing process is safe for the environment. A solar plant and a borehole have been installed at the factory. WWF is creating jobs in South Africa and doing its best to remove foreign imports and to source locally. The team is using some recycled material for the creation of the jacket. The zips are made from recycled car parts. They are trying to eliminate waste, build a healthy culture amongst their staff, commit to training and development at all levels and focus on their customer.

It is indeed a journey. According to Neil there are plans in place for the development of more garments, like eco work shirts and T-shirts.

But, in the name of transparency, should WWF, an organization which exists to protect the environment, not have drawn attention to the fact that the fleece is made from 100% polyester fabric? Although WWF is using good quality fleece which will hopefully result in fewer microfibers being released, should consumers not be made aware the polyester and micro-fibres?

Customers should be informed so that they can make informed decisions.

I’m interested in seeing where Neil and the rest of the team at WWF go with this. They have a responsibility to stay true to what the WWF stands for: “Building a sustainable and equitable future. For nature. For you.”

Picture credit: Wu Jianxiang/Unsplash