January 27, 2009

Patagonia’s Organic Cotton Negril Trench Coat: Something Hot for Cool Spring Days

With the arrival of spring (ok, maybe not quite yet, but soon. Soooon.) comes the need for freshness, for something new. A desire to reinvent myself, if only on the surface, and just a little bit. Target #1: My closet.

Just one teensy problem. Despite the fact that I’ve purged by wardrobe of everything old and undesirable, putting it all back into vintage circulation by selling the best stuff to Buffalo Exchange (Boulder’s local second-hand palace) and donating the rest to Salvation Army, I know it’s still not particularly eco, or mindful, to buy something new unless I really need it.

Solution: Patagonia’s Negril Trench Coat.
A new coat—which I did need—is an essential item that’s hard to argue against. If it’s the right coat, you just might wear it everyday. I’ve already worn this one at least three times in the last week, and as the weather warms up this spring, I know it’ll get its fair share of use. Which is to say, the energy that went into producing this coat was well spent, especially since its planetary impact was softened by Patagonia’s high eco standards.

The Negril is a warm-ish weather coat, perfect for those in-between days in March and April (or November) when you’re itching to shed layers but still need a bit of outdoor protection. The fabric (2% stretch spandex and 98% organic!) is thick and durable, which means that it’s a perfect shield against wind and chills, and is water-resistant enough for drizzle and dampness, but not quite able to withstand full-blown rain without an umbrella.

The design—double-breasted collar and waist tie—is sophisticated (I actually closed my eyes at one downtown Boulder intersection and entertained a quick fantasy that I was waiting at a Parisian metro stop, sans cigarette), but the fabric definitely keeps things casual (this is Patagonia, after all, and I do live in Boulder). My only design complaint is that the back inset (the waist tie is attached at the side seams, and doesn’t reach all the way around—see photo below) kept the waist tie from holding firmly in place, a bit annoying as I obsessively tightened it while walking around. My favorite feature is the perfectly placed pockets, deep enough to stash sunglasses and keys without an unseemly bulge, and just the right height for my hands to hide.

Organic Cotton
Patagonia pioneered the Organic Cotton movement, so it’s fitting that this little number is 98% pesticide free. This is a big deal. Ten percent of all agricultural chemicals in the U.S. go towards growing cotton, even though the crop only takes up 1% of agricultural land. That translates into a high concentration of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and additives—6.9 million pounds each year in California alone—which then seep into ground water, spread through the air and wreak havoc on the health of farm workers, local residents and native ecosystems. Believing that it’s just as important to wear organic as it is to eat organic, Patagonia converted their entire sportswear line to organic cotton in 1996.

Fair Labor
I’ve always trusted that Patagonia’s heart was in the right place in terms of environmental responsibility, but a red flag went up when I saw that the Negril is made in Thailand. Southeast Asia usually means sweatshops, and sometimes child labor. But Patagonia is reassuringly straightforward about their manufacturing practices, pointing out where they’ve made mistakes and how they’re working to improve this aspect of the garment industry. Patagonia works with international non-profit Verité to train all employees who have factory contact in the importance of corporate social responsibility, and contracts with third-party auditors who keep an eye on working conditions. So I feel confident that the hands and humans that manufactured my jacket were treated well, but I still do look forward to the day when more clothing can be manufactured domestically, which would drastically cut the carbon emissions involved in shipping materials and finished products.

Waste-proof and Guaranteed
And finally, a major bonus for the fickle and/or waste-conscious shopper: Patagonia guarantees all of their clothing. If something’s off or it just doesn’t work, you can always exchange it for something else—including a full refund—saving it from the deep recesses of your closet. And if you’re wearing it perhaps a bit too much, Patagonia will repair all wear and tear at a reasonable price.

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