Refurbished Revival: How Three Brands are Changing Outdoor Clothing

by Carissa Stanz

rei used gear north face renewed

Wishing you could get a Patagonia puffy or classic The North Face fleece at a discounted price? Your wishes are about to come true.

Three big timers — The North Face, REI, and Patagonia — are breathing new life into old garb by launching used resale sites. Each offers a large selection of good-as-new outdoor gear and apparel for a fraction the cost. Basically, it’s like a thrift shop, minus the smell.

The whole thing essentially works like this: unwanted goods are returned, sorted through, and then put back online for sale. You get the product you’ve been eyeballing at a significantly discounted price while it goes to a good home. It’s a win-win.

The Backstory

Right about now, you’re probably wondering if you can finally score a good deal on an Arc-teryx jacket. Spoiler alert: you can. You’re probably also wondering, why? Why would these companies choose to sell a mended plaid shirt over increasing their profit margin with the latest fashion? The answer is waste.

According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, the average American throws out 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year. That adds up to a whopping 85 percent of our textiles filling up the landfill instead of our closets.

“Keeping our clothing in use just nine extra months reduces the related water, waste and carbon footprints by 20% to 30% each,” claims Patagonia.

The idea behind these resale sites is to prevent otherwise unsellable, still usable gear from turning into just another piece of trash piling up in the landfill.

This business model approach is rather intriguing. Instead of purely focusing on concept-to -creation, these companies embrace a circular model which takes into consideration the entire life-cycle of the product.

By doing so, they increase product longevity, decrease the need for new manufacturing, and ultimately make the whole process more sustainable.

“If you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking to reduce your environmental footprint, you can approach this from both ends: by looking for more sustainably made products at the outset, and by getting more life out of existing products by purchasing used gear,” says Greg Gausewitz, REI’s manager of product sustainability.

Patagonia Leads the Charge

If you put your money on Patagonia as the first to unleash this new online circular model, you were right.

One of the first to turn plastic soda bottles into wearable clothing — a fleece jacket — Patagonia is always at the forefront of innovation. The creation of their site Worn Wear is a natural progression.

Launched in September 2017, Worn Wear had already made its rounds on pavement, so to speak. Named after their pilot program, Worn Wear began at their Portland, Oregon store, offering returns on gently-used clothing for store credit. After incredible success, other stores adopted the model. They even took their show on the road with the Worn Wear “if it’s broke, fix it” mobile tour.

Keeping in line with the program, the used-gear site works on a trade-in system. You, the trader, can send your gear in and receive up to $100 worth in Worn Wear Merchandise Credit. And while they do clean all your dirty goods with a waterless CO2 technology, they ask you please remove the trail grime first.

A quick glance at Worn Wear site and you’ll notice a range of one-off items including everything from the Torrentshell jacket down to their Arbor Pack. If you happen to purchase an item and aren’t satisfied, you can return it at any time, as long as it’s in the condition you bought it.

REI Launches Used Gear

REI’s Used Gear platform, launched right after Worn Wear, works similarly but with some notable differences. First, they only offer a 30-day satisfaction guarantee without warranty. Not exactly the year-long policy we know and love with new gear, which is completely understandable, but still offering the potential for a full refund as long as you’re within their return time frame.

And since it’s REI, you’re able to purchase more than just Patagonia products. Marmot, Prana, Toad&Co, Big Agnes, Mountain Hardware, and Arc-teryx are a few of the hundreds of brands they stock.

All their gear receives a condition rating from “excellent” to “well worn” and is discounted accordingly. Among the most highly impressive finds: MSR Freelite Tent and Salmon X Ultra 3 GTX Low hiking shoes at half price.

“At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived, but we know that the cost of brand-new gear can be a barrier to access,” says Peter Whitcomb, REI’s director of strategy and leader of the co-op’s used gear efforts. “We launched Used Gear Beta online last year with the belief that we could help get more people outside by finding new homes for pre-loved gear and apparel.”

Basically an online version of their Garage Sale, customers can now find more brands and categories with products discounted up to 65-percent off new prices.

While REI will still continue with their beloved tradition of the Garage Sale, Used Gear will give members living far from a retail location access to sweet deals.

The North Face in the Mix

Continuing the journey for renewal, The North Face launched their own used gear site this past summer called The North Face Renewed. To find their answer to eliminating waste, The North Face turned to upcycling clothing company The Renewal Workshop for help.

Experts in patching up threads, the Oregon-based company takes unsellable outdoor clothing and puts it through a rigorous six-step process to make it good as new again. The certified RENEWED clothing is then put back into the market for sale.

The process works like this: all gear is sent to The Renewal where it’s washed, inspected, and repaired. Then it’s quality checked to ensure it meets The North Face’s stamp of approval. Once it gets the green light, it’s ready for purchase.

“At The North Face, we take a holistic approach to sustainability,” said James Roger, Director of Sustainability at The North Face. “As we address the impacts of our products over their entire lifecycle, recommerce is an important next step in opening new markets and minimizing our impact on the planet. We are furthering our sustainability goals without sacrificing durability or technical standards. Ultimately, as we work to scale Renewed, we will be proving a larger, circular model for the industry.”

Click through their inventory and you’ll find some old favorites as well as new gear. Like REI and Patagonia, they offer competitive pricing with serious discounts. A couple stellar examples: the Cashmere Pullover Hoodie and Morph Hoodie both at 50 percent off. Additionally, The North Face backs all performance-ready Renewed gear with a one-year warranty.

There’s no denying The North Face, REI, and Patagonia are influential figures in the outdoor industry. Inspiring adventure and sparking a wave of innovation, this transition toward renew, reuse, recycle can potentially revolutionize our outlook on outdoor gear.

As this trend continues, it will be interesting to see who else gets in on the used gear online resale game. For now, the question is: what deal will you score first?

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