Drummond Lawson, an Environmental Chemist at Arc'teryx, has spent the last 5-years at the global design company in Canada, helping them work toward one big goal: recommerce. While Arc'teryx has been in the technical, high-performance apparel, outerwear and equipment market for more than 30-years, this most recent pivot is akin to the times we live in, where consumerism is shocking and longevity of products is fleeting.
Skipping the Landfill
The term recommerce, coined by Arc'teryx, identifies the brand's commitment to sustainable design. The launch of their recommerce program, called Rock Solid Used Gear, is meeting global waste head on, with goals to:
Keep their high quality products in service as long as possible.
Lighten their own environmental footprint.
There were generations before us who set the consumerism tone, and it isn't all bad, but the details are sketchy. Buyers wanted to buy right now, at the lowest price, where they shopped, putting extra pressure on retail stores to source cheap, massive quantities, and from wherever they could. This lack of regard for a sustainable source or high quality materials has landed us in the global marketplace that struggles with forced labor, high amounts of waste, products with short life spans, and goods that place materials together preventing a secondary life or use after it dies.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Clutter, overflowing "junk drawers", stacked to the ceiling garages and crawl spaces, storage units and full basements- we can see the materialistic nature that is normal to our society right now , if we simply look around at what we own, or what owns us. Storage units are the fastest growing segment of commercial real estate over the last four decades, with one in ten Americans renting storage separate of their home. Some reports indicate that we consume twice as many material goods today than we did fifty years ago. Consumerism isn't the big issue here, it's the amount and lack of sustainability we need to continue having conversations around.
Problem Solving Economy
The good thing is it's not all bad. Arc'teryx is one of many we've seen who have decided that sustainability will be their goal, and problem solving will be built into their business model. Their recommerce program offers:
buying back used gear in good condition;
cleaning and repairing products with plenty of life left in them;
reselling the items at a lower cost.
The prolonged lifecycle allows customers to access supremely technical gear for less while keeping their goal of a reduced footprint at the center of what they're doing. Also, as a side note, these brand efforts are a great marketing and selling point for the brand itself and often build loyalty with buyers, who believe in what the brand stands for as much as they do the products offered.
Sustainability As A Design Problem
Arc'teryx General Manager and President Jon Hoerauf pointed out that, on a company-wide level, they are framing sustainability as a design problem, by strictly applying the same beliefs around broader social and environmental issues, to their design process. This allows Arc'teryx to build gear that will survive through multiple life cycles, an approach that would benefit plenty of other brands and product designers out there.
Redefining the Designers Purpose
With the growth of technology and AI-assisted design, we've caught ourselves questioning the roles both tech and humans will excel in. When it comes to design, we can see the massive benefits to teaming with technology to maximize our design sustainability. As we shift more into this recommerce economy, we might also see designers lean heavy into education on sustainability as well as design, to offer what the global consumer community needs most: longevity in products and way less landfill.
Sustainability for Every Season
Putting durability and performance at the beginning of the design process is the responsible thing to do, but that's only one part of the process for Arc'teryx. From the materials they choose, to where they build their products, to their repair process and the services they offer- everything is intentional and in a constant state of scrutiny and growth. It will be brands like this, focused on meaningful innovation, that will help bring us to responsible consumerism and change the way we buy, own, and discard our material goods.
It's Not About Perfection
One last important point to highlight is that perfection isn't the goal... goals are the goal. Working towards solutions is better than not, so don't shy away from renovating your own process because you don't have the perfect solution yet. Arc'teryx points out that, in many cases, they do not have perfect solutions yet, but they are fully committed to the journey ahead, and motivated to continue the growth process. It doesn't have to be perfect to begin.