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Product Testing: Hemp and SunTech Tame the Horrors of Okra

Patagonia  /  Dec 3, 2008  /  5 Min Read  /  Design

We test our gear on a variety of levels. Our athletes and ambassadors are responsible for putting the latest designs and fabrics through the paces before we’ll add a new product to our lineup. But just because something reaches our shelves doesn’t mean testing is over. Once a new item shows up in our catalogs, our staff gets busy ground-truthing the latest offerings. They know the questions our customers will be asking, and turn that attention to our gear.


Product Report  –  Caplilene Silkweight T-shirt (aka: Capilene 1), Sun Tech Shirt, High-wire Hemp Jeans, Lightweight Endurance Ankle Socks, and Nomad Boots
Activity –  Championship Okra Wrestling (read: volunteer work for EarthWorks Community Farm)
Tested by –  James Enochs, Environmental Coordinator, Patagonia Pasadena

Enochs3James battling wasps and stickiness in the sea of okra, armed only with his trusty Sun Tech Shirt and High Wire Hemp Jeans. Photo: Sean Carter.

It all started with the crash of the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point in the very distant past, those two tectonic plates smashed together and formed the San Gabriel Mountains, just above Patagonia’s Pasadena store. Sometime later, rainfall formed the San Gabriel Valley, and at the southern end of that valley, right where it meets the Los Angeles River, a smaller fertile indentation on the landscape was formed that would later be called the Whittier Narrows. Much later, LA County Parks and Rec donated four acres of what was being used as overflow parking for the nearby Whittier Narrows Recreation Area to a group called EarthWorks Community Farm.


Patagonia Pasadena’s Manager, Sean, and I met in front of my house a little after six in the morning to head out to the farm as volunteers through our store’s internship program. Munching on some ants-on-logs I had hastily assembled that morning, we chatted eagerly about the upcoming fun day of digging in the dirt and helping provide organic veggies to low-income families, all on the company dime. Both long-time veterans on the Patagonia store front, we were outfitted almost entirely in Patagonia gear. I was wearing a Caplilene Silkweight T-shirt [2006] (ed note: the latest version of this shirt is the Capilene 1 T-Shirt) , a Suntech shirt, High-wire Hemp Jeans, Lightweight Endurance Ankle Socks, and Nomad Boots (so that they could get broken in before I take them on the trail). I also wore a silly orange hat that my mom and sisters gave me.

We got to the farm, stretched and yawned, and got to work. It was CSA day, so we spent the whole day harvesting (CSA = Community Supported Agriculture: people buy a subscription to a season’s worth of vegetables at the beginning of the season, then come once a week and pick up their veggies straight from the farm. It’s a great system, and there’s probably one near you!). First, we were on our knees harvesting mint. Then we walked carefully through the squash patch, avoiding stepping on the squash or getting too near to the enormous spiders that treat the space between the leaves like grizzlies treat a salmon river in spring: easy pickin’s. I was glad to be wearing sturdy boots and burly hemp jeans for this part.

Enochs1James victorious, with a bucket filled with okra, and no bee stings!

Then came the ordeal: okra. Oh, the horror of okra. It’s sticky, and spiny, hard to find, and it attracts the deadliest of all insects…wasps. Sean, who has the ability to grow a beard and is therefore more protected, was only slightly less skittish than I while traversing the long, dangerous rows of okra. Luckily, I chose to wear the long-sleeves of the Sun Tech Shirt, and afforded my skinny forearms a little more protection.

Enochs4The seedling nursery at EarthWorks. On the left are some of their delicious beets, chard and herbs.

After okra, the rest was easy: harvesting chile peppers was fun, and then we weighed everything and bagged it all up. Some of the CSA folks came and picked up their veggies while we were still there, and one of them was actually a long-time customer of the Pasadena store. It was great to see him and joke around (about the dangers of okra, mostly).

My gear all performed great. The High-Wire Hemp Jeans are awesome: tough, but thin and breathable (ed note: Look for these to return in Spring 2009). They seem to be the perfect temperature always. The Nomads were great, and even after hours and hours of toil they never felt too heavy. I wore the Lightweight Endurance Socks instead of my Ultra Lightweight Endurance Socks, thinking that the extra padding would be nice by the end of the day, and I think I was right. But the combination of the heat, the slightly thicker socks, and waterproof boots made for some sweaty feet.

Enochs2Some of the day’s harvest. All photos: Sean Carter.

I imagine that would be the case no matter what, and despite the sweat I was never uncomfortable. I would use one of the fancy new Capilene 1 T-shirts, but my old Silk weight still works fine. It deals well with a sweaty man like me, and keeps me comfortable. The SunTech Shirt is great on the one hand: it’s light, basically sun-proof, and still looks good when wrinkled or dirty. However, it feels a little too warm for a sun shirt (probably to do with the tight weave that helps it block the UV rays), and the hand of the fabric isn’t as soft as this manly man likes.

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