In the case of this jacket, the shell, the Primaloft fill, and the sewing thread are all crafted from Parley for the Oceans’ polyester, a material made from plastic collected from beaches and coastlines. All the fastening on the jacket is done using polyester straps. No dyes or finishes are used. The only flash of color is the pale yellow of burnt polyester where the Terrex logo was laser cut into the collar. In theory, you could stuff the whole jacket into a chemical polyester recycling apparatus, which would melt it down and push out pure white polyester fiber.
The question is whether that polyester recycling machine can be built at scale.
While apparel and accessories made from recycled water bottles have proliferated, you won’t find a fashion product made from recycled polyester in any store. One Japanese supplier used to take Patagonia’s old fleeces and recycle them into fresh polyester, but the cost has been declared “prohibitive” compared to virgin polyester. EVRNU, a startup that counts Adidas as one of its high-profile partners, has developed a garment-to-garment recycling process, but the startup is focusing on recycling cotton for now and didn’t work with Adidas for this project.
Perhaps Adidas knows something about recycling polyester that the rest of us don’t, but the company would not share any process details with me. I asked where Parley for the Oceans collected the ocean-bound plastic. (Back when it introduced its first Parley sneaker, the plastic was from the Maldives, the island nation besieged by ocean plastic.) I asked where the recycled polyester is made, where the jacket will go to be recycled, how many times could it be looped through the system before degrading, and how recycled polyester—from bottles or from used polyester—compares in price to virgin polyester. Freundorfer didn’t know. “This is a first concept, and we don’t yet have any concrete information on how often you could recycle the product,” she says.
I followed up with the company directly, but it punted on all these questions, sending me a statement saying, “We have a longstanding network of research and supply chain partners like PrimaLoft in many countries of the world. We have worked with our suppliers to create the structures that make it possible to process recycled materials on a large scale.”
It’s worth noting here that the second generation of Future.Craft Loop sneakers only contain 5 to 10 percent recycled material from the first generation, for performance reasons.
There’s also the question of how Adidas will collect its used clothes for recycling in this brave, new, circular world. “We are looking into how that best can be done,” says Freundorfer. She mentioned QR codes that link to information on sending it back, providing customers with shipping labels, and potentially rewarding participating customers with gifts cards or exclusive content. “And then it can be sent to those reverse logistics networks that we’re developing right now,” she says.
Adidas has a hard road ahead in this regard. Eileen Fisher, which boasts some of the most loyal customers in the industry and gives out gift cards for each piece someone brings in, has managed to collect only 5 percent of what it produces in any given year.
Design-wise, I liked the anorak and was sad when it came time to give it back. It was comfy and warm, like wearing a hug. The pockets were deep enough to hold an entire insulated water bottle for a hike. Someone saw my picture on Instagram and said I looked like a Star Wars character. Sure, the jacket stained quickly due to the lack of stain repellency, which is almost always achieved through a toxic PFAS coating, so good riddance. The straps for the pockets and to tighten the collar required threading akin to cinching a belt, and so were too fussy for me to bother to ever close them. And as soon as the weather got above 45 degrees, I stopped wearing it—I couldn’t undo it for ventilation when I overheated. (Fruendorfer says for the 2022 commercial release, Adidas is looking into adding recycled zippers and snaps made from the same material as the jacket.)
Adidas says with the Future.Craft Loop Anorak it is committing to no less than “ending plastic waste.” That’s likely attention-grabbing bluster from the marketing team. Or perhaps optimism from a company headquartered in Germany, a country with a recycling fetish, prodded on by policies that make companies responsible for proper disposal of their products.