The puffer jacket you can wear to death – no, really

The toasty chests of puffer jacket owners can swell further with pride as the unofficial uniform of hikers, power walkers and parents committed to morning school drop-offs zips up for the fight against climate change.

Outdoor clothing giant Kathmandu has launched the BioDown jacket, a biodegradable version of its most iconic product, as more fashion brands take responsibility for their designs beyond the cash register and online checkout.

Australian model Jarrod Scott wearing the BioDown biodegradable puffer jacket from Kathmandu.Credit:Jason South

“Puffer jackets is our highest selling category, so they provide the best opportunity for us to make a difference,” says Reuben Casey, Kathmandu chief executive. “We consciously chose to craft a beautiful product in a style that we are known for.”

Thanks to an additive introduced in the manufacturing process, the jackets’ components complete the biodegradation process within three to five years, including the zipper, if they end up in suitable landfill.

“A zipper has to meet durability standards, requires more engineering than fabric and so was the most difficult aspect of turning this dream jacket into reality,” Casey says.

The BioDown jacket was launched in Melbourne, where smaller brands such as Hew, Arnsdorf and A.Bch have been catering to growing interest in clothing constructed from biodegradable materials. An installation at Fed Square by sustainability advocate Joost Baker, containing 6000 kilograms of landfill clothing sourced from garment recycling program Upparel, provided the backdrop for Kathmandu executives and leading Australian male model Jarrod Scott.

Kathmandu chief executive Reuben Casey with Jarrod Scott, wearing the BioDown biodegradable puffer jacker in a pop-up installation by Joost Baker made using clothing destined for landfill.Credit:Jason South

“Every 10 minutes 6000 kilograms of textile waste ends up in Australian landfills,” Casey says. “Creating the BioDown Jacket is one way that we are helping to tackle this societal issue. By creating a very durable jacket we hope that recycling infrastructure has been established to deal with end of life product when it comes time to dispose of the jacket. If it hasn’t, we know that it will biodegrade over three to five years.”

Sydney-based fashion label bassike, which has eight stores nationally and is stocked by David Jones, Net-a-porter and Goop, has been focusing on sustainability since launching in 2006. Last month the organic cotton jersey used in more than 60 per cent of the units produced by bassike was certified 100 per cent carbon-neutral under the Climate Active Standard, “and its end products are biodegradable,” says co-founder Deborah Sams.

“This cotton is produced and certified to organic agricultural standards. Its production sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people by using natural processes,” Sams says.

Lara Worthington wearing carbon-neutral cotton jersey from Australian fashion brand Bassike.

“The fashion industry still has progress to make if we are to meet the target of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” says bassike co-founder Mary Lou Ryan. “Biodegradability, reuse and recycling are all key to tackling the fashion industry’s landfill problem. We are working towards zero waste solutions across our entire supply chain.”

The appeal of wear now, bury later, is an attractive concept for consumers searching for more sustainable shopping options according to Clare Press, founder of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast.

“There’s a lot more awareness that our clothes have a connection to fossil fuels, that these clothes are synthetic and if they end up in the environment or landfill they are never biodegraded,” Press says. “The industry is moving towards finding a bold next gen solution and biodegradable fashion would be one.”

The BioDown jacket’s biodegradation is designed to work in biologically active landfills without oxygen, with customers advised on the Kathmandu website to check whether their local council can meaningfully dispose of the garment.

“We can’t expect consumers to home-compost a hoodie or a fleece or a pair of jeans,” Press says. “I can’t even manage a post satchel. We have to be realistic about what capabilities people have.”

“Ultimately, brands will have to take responsibility for taking back their products at the end. That’s good for the customer but also good for the brand.”

For the New Zealand-based Kathmandu, which owns surf brand Rip Curl where they introduced a wetsuit recycling program, the BioDown jacket is another step towards achieving zero waste with its business by 2025.

“This is one quiver in our arsenal of our sustainability efforts,” Casey says. “More styles will be introduced using this fabric in future seasons. We also introduced a biodegradable fleece in 2021 and expanded this fabric into our best-selling fleece style in 2022. Our brand purpose is ‘to improve the wellbeing of the world through the outdoors’ and one part of fulfilling this is constantly improving the sustainability of our products.”

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