Save the planet: consume more plastic! If that sounds contradictory, especially in plastic-free July, it's not.
At least two listed retailers are upping their plastic use – but for all the right reasons.
Kathmandu and Hallenstein Glasson both offer clothing made from recycled polyester, a fabric that's essentially spun from clear plastic water bottles.
Why does this matter? People are increasingly aware of plastic's impact on the environment and that's starting to spill over into consumer and investment choices.
Plastic Free July is a global initiative encouraging people to become more aware of just how much single-use plastic they're using – and how they can reduce it. Last year, more than 250,000 New Zealanders participated.
This is nothing new for Kathmandu, which has been making apparel and gear from recycled fibre since 1994, but it is gaining traction as consumers – of both shares and clothing – have a growing awareness of our environmental footprint.
"The use of post-consumer recycled materials and sustainability measures in general are not an 'initiative', but have been a part of Kathmandu ethos from the onset," said Manu Rastogi, head of product innovation and product sustainability for Kathmandu.
However, "sustainability is becoming increasingly important for consumers especially for millennials" and growing demand is "driving us to use more and more recycled materials within our ranges," he said.
"With more recycled products available in the market, customers now have a choice – they can choose to invest in more sustainable products based on their values, world views and try to reduce their impacts or use virgin materials. More and more customers are choosing the former," he said.
It's becoming key on the investment front as well.
"Sustainability has become a driver of consumer purchasing behaviour and is definitely a consideration for many investors," said Forsyth Barr analyst Guy Hooper.
Sonya Williams, co-founder and chief of product and marketing at Sharesies, said they've consistently seen a "real need for people to invest in brands that they love and a big part of that is around investing in companies that align with your values".
ESG funds on the platform – with environmental, social and governance considerations – have proven popular.
Some 13.6 per cent of Sharesies investors are invested in ESG funds. Sharesies now has 188,000 customers on the platform and $535 million of funds under management.
Sharesies investors also own 0.8 per cent of Hallenstein Glasson and 3.2 per cent of Kathmandu. In a recent Kathmandu capital raising, 43 per cent of eligible Sharesies investors took part.
Polyester is normally made from oil, but Kathmandu uses Repreve, a branded recycled polyester supplied by Unifi.
Repreve takes plastic bottles – literally billions of them – and combines that material with pre-consumer fibre waste to eventually spin polyester fibre and fabric.
At Kathmandu, the fabric is then used in a wide range of products from shirts, pants, T-shirts and fleece jackets to packs, bags and packing accessories.
Rastogi said the two most popular items are its Ridge fleece items and the Cotinga daypack.
Kathmandu also uses recycled nylon, recycled spandex and recycled cotton within its ranges.
This year the company achieved 100 per cent sustainable cotton status, which means all cotton products use "better cotton initiative" or organic or recycled cotton, from cut scraps discarded at garment factories.
Still, Rastogi noted it's a very common misconception that natural materials are more sustainable as opposed to synthetics.
"While there is no dispute about the environmental impacts of synthetics, natural material cultivation and processing can also have a high environmental impact," he said.
And while it's not cheaper to produce recycled fabric, Rastogi said "prices will certainly come down" due to growing consumer demand.
Similarly, Hallenstein Glasson has been upping the ante with new products, though managing director Mary Devine was playing her cards close to her chest, saying only that the retailer was "doing a lot of work on sustainability".
Glassons in February released new knitwear items including dresses, pants and tops that are 98 per cent recycled polyester.
"The production of recycled polyester also uses 30-50 per cent less energy and about 90 per cent less water than production of virgin polyester," it said in a statement.
They are also making jeans that are more sustainable – that use fabric made from wood pulp as well as recycled cotton.
It also has its "vintage range" which is pre-loved, recycled clothing that's handpicked from places like Los Angeles.
Hallenstein Brothers, meanwhile, is advertising an all-new recycled puffer jacket – made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles.
Kathmandu's Rastogi estimates his company has recycled more than 30 million plastic bottles back into its products and gear since 2015.
That sounds impressive but it's a mere drop in the ocean given recent estimates suggesting that the world's population is using up to 60 million plastic bottles every hour.