Making polyester from biobased materials like plants reduces our dependence on virgin petroleum and lowers our greenhouse gas emissions compared to virgin polyester.
Polyester starts with petroleum. To create this synthetic, plastic-based material, crude oil is tapped, distilled into chemicals like ethylene and then heated to create the basis for polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or polyester. This process creates a literal thread between the clothing industry and the oil and gas industry, and the ties are only getting stronger.
The UN estimates that 60% of clothing is made from these types of synthetics like polyester, nylon or acrylic. By 2030, it’s expected to reach 73%. And as transportation shifts away from fossil fuels, polyester and other synthetic fabrics could be a way for Big Oil and gas to stay on top.
To make more products without virgin polyester, in 2014 we began exploring biobased sources of PET; these would reduce our reliance on virgin petroleum, decrease our environmental impact and cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half compared to those generated by virgin petroleum-based PET. After years of research, the first step on that journey is SugarDown, a 100% biobased polyester sourced from US-grown sugarcane.
More responsible raw materials
Before maximizing other responsible textile solutions, like recycled polyester, we began researching virgin polyester alternatives. That started with our longtime textile partner, Japan-based Toray Industries, which developed a 30% biobased PET using sugar-based ethylene glycol. It also led us to Virent, based in Madison, Wisconsin, that was using innovative technology to turn paraxylene—a sugar-based raw material—into molecules that act like petroleum. When chemically combined, Toray’s ethylene glycol and Virent’s paraxylene create a petroleum-free version of PET that’s virtually identical to its virgin petroleum-based counterpart.
Like every other Patagonia material, this biobased solution had to pass stringent lab and field-testing standards. Responsible sourcing was also paramount. Through extensive due diligence, we found a source we could be proud of—non-GMO sugarcane grown in Louisiana.
This Fall 2022, we’re debuting the first SugarDown products from those years of research: the men’s and women’s SugarDown Hoody with a shell and liner made with the biobased polyester alternative.
Biobased polyester aligns with our broader goal to use 100% preferred materials—including organic and Regenerative Organic cotton, recycled polyester and recycled nylon—by 2025. But we also know that farming crops like sugarcane to produce this raw material has its own environmental footprint.
SugarDown is Patagonia’s first foray into biomaterials. We are committed to using all of this sugarcane-based alternative and are excited to explore other ways of approaching biobased synthetics, including those derived from waste.