Arc’teryx + Nicole McLaughlin: Circular by Design

How often have you stopped to consider the concept of waste? It’s something we at Arc’teryx wrestle with daily.

It’s no secret that the fashion and apparel industry are major polluters. Over 100 billion garments are produced annually, with three out of every five of those pieces created ending up in the landfill. So, how do we change that? What does it look like to transition to a more circular way of operating? By definition, circularity means designing waste and pollution out of systems to respect the limits of a finite planet.

On October 1st and 2nd, we hosted the first ever Circular by Design event in New York City, tackling these questions and more.

The sustainability roundtable discussion featured Arc’teryx ambassador and upcycling guru, Nicole McLaughlin, designer and repair aficionado Makayla Wray, Arc’teryx VP of Recommerce, Dominique Showers, and Arc’teryx Senior Manager of Sustainability, Katie Wilson — all powerful and insightful voices within the sustainability sphere.

In an era that feels like a never-ending storm of bad news, each of these women have made a conscious decision to choose optimism and pursue positive change through their work.

“For me, I really like waste as a resource,” says Nicole. “ Discovering what the possibilities are with the things that we have. Unpacking that and seeing what if I start from scratch, what if I take this apart and remake it, what happens if I reevaluate this? By doing that I feel like I’ve discovered so many amazing things and possibilities in things what people deem as useless.”

Thinking outside of the box, Nicole’s waste-less projects are always a conversation starter — be it a vest made of broken climbing harnesses, tennis ball slippers, or plant holders from a delaminated GORE-TEX women’s jacket. Her work is rooted firmly at the intersection of utilitarianism and art and serves as a reminder that just because an item may no longer serve its original purpose, doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

This mentality lines up perfectly with the Arc’teryx circular ethos. In May 2021, we launched ReBird, our circularity platform. This is the core for all our efforts to reduce waste and launches our declaration that “waste is a problem we must solve collectively” as we migrate towards net zero.

“Working with people such as Makayla and Nicole [to] de-stigmatize the word waste and move it into a new form is a really beautiful concept,” explains Showers.  Her day-to-day work ladders into the umbrella of Arc’teryx ReBird — a hub of initiatives in upcycling, resale, care, and repair.

Used Gear, our resale program, is a buyback system that allows guests to trade in products that aren’t being used to their full potential. Since 65% of the impact from one of our jackets comes before it reaches the rack, the longer we can keep that piece in service, the more we spread the impact across time.

Another one of our initiatives involves creating upcycled products using end-of-the-roll and “worn beyond optimum” materials sourced from our Arc’One manufacturing facility.

Day two of the event gave guests an opportunity to be involved in said initiatives through workshops where attendees created their own waist bag, tote bag or pencil case out of these cast away. Want to try for yourself? You can download the pattern here.

Sustainability may be the latest buzz word de jour, and making a real lasting impact can often feel daunting. Is full circularity even attainable?

“There are days when I think if pretty much anything is possible, when we put our minds to it, says Katie “I’m a glass half full kind of gal. So more often than not, I feel we’re going to get there one day.”

As a brand, we know we’re far from perfect. There is ample work to do to change the linear take-make-waste mindset into an endless loop of possibilities. 

For McLaughlin, it all starts with intention.

“I think a lot of brands actually shy away from [this conversation] because once they touch the word sustainability, they feel like they have a spotlight on them versus being like, ‘look, we don’t have all the answers and we’re going to figure this out over time.’ Let’s make a conversation, let’s work together instead of being stuck.”