Interview with Manu Rastogi

Manu Rastogi
Manu Rastogi
Textile R&D and Responsible Materials Manager

We want to recycle everything that we can
New Zealand -based Kathmandu is one of the leading outdoor and sporting goods companies founded in 1987. With Kiwi ingenuity, and an open mind, Kathmandu adapts its gear to endure different weather conditions, diverse terrains and the ever-changing needs of travellers. Textile research and development (R&D) and responsible materials manager Manu Rastogi talks sustainability and closing the loop in an interview with Fibre2Fashion.

Outdoorwear and gear industry uses a lot of polyester. How does Kathmandu manage to keep its product offerings?

Our intent is to increase our usage of recycled polyester as much as we can without compromising on performance. Kathmandu in fact started using recycled polyester way back in 1996, when we launched our first recycled polyester fleece. Our recycled portfolio has been growing ever since and currently we offer a lot of recycled polyester options to our customers, ranging from fleece, shirts, pants, jackets, sleeping bags to packs and bags and other equipment products. We were also recently awarded the inaugural Champions of Sustainability awards by Unifi for the breadth and depth we offer using Repreve recycled polyester.

We have also been setting targets for quantifying our usage of recycled polyester fabrics in the form of bottle counts that we are preventing from going to the landfill and repurposing into our products. This year our target was to recycle five million plastic bottles and we reclaimed 6.7 million plastic bottles from going to the landfill. Our target next year is to recycle 7.5 million plastic bottles into products.

What is your approach to sustainable materials? Which material is more sustainable? Down or polyester, cotton or wool, polypro or viscose?

If there was an easy answer, our job would have been simple. All materials have trade-offs and there are no easy answers. Life cycle impact assessments tell us that about 85 per cent of the impact of a product comes from the material we choose. So it is important to look closely at each material's impact on climate change, water use, pollution and resource depletion.

Our approach is to analyse materials according to the size of their impact and how much influence we can have. As such, we have ranked them in order of importance into a list that we call our Preferred Fibres and Materials (PFMs); preferred because they are ecologically or socially progressive. It is also a fluid list for us that changes according to global impacts and customer feedback as well as our internal priorities as our business evolves. 
What is your approach to sustainable materials? Which material is more sustainable? Down or polyester, cotton or wool, polypro or viscose?

Which other raw materials used are recycled at Kathmandu?

We want to recycle everything that we can. Our current recycled portfolio includes not just recycled polyester but also recycled nylon, recycled cotton, recycled TPU membrane and recycled spandex. These materials are being used in fleece, tees, shirts, pants, insulation, softshell, hardshells, packs and bags.  And we are constantly striving for incorporating new recycled materials within our range.

Do you believe in closing the loop and offer disposing services to consumers? Is this available across all your markets?

Definitely. Donating used outdoor gear is just one way we support the work of our long-time partner, Red Cross. Our work with Red Cross goes back 19 years. It started with the simple act of giving fleece blankets to support their work getting warm clothes to people in need.

Red Cross uses its second-hand clothing store network (Red Cross shops) as an ongoing fundraiser to help cover overheads. This means that donations collected from the public can go directly to support humanitarian work.

A few years ago, we learned that the New Zealand Red Cross had a shortage of high-quality second-hand clothes. As a partner, we decided we could help. We put our existing infrastructure to work and created Red Cross clothing donation boxes for each of our 164 stores. This low-cost solution has not only solved a problem, it has activated our stores and our customers to be more involved with our community partner in a day-to-day way.

The Red Cross Clothing Donations programme has also helped us find one solution to our end-of-use impact, which, we know from the Higg Index assessment, is an important part of our aim to develop a more sustainable business.

Which are your top three sustainable items?

Our top three PFMs are responsible down, recycled polyester and sustainable cotton.

We were one of the first global brands to achieve 100 per cent RDS (responsible down standard) status across all our apparel and sleeping bags range ensuring all our down is traceable back to farm and meets stringent animal welfare guidelines. As mentioned earlier, recycled polyester range is growing significantly for us and we are setting targets to increase our usage every year. On cotton, our target is to achieve 100 per cent sustainable cotton by 2020 and we have already reached 78 per cent that uses a mix of BCI, organic, fairtrade and recycled cotton. 
Which are your top three sustainable items?

What are the challenges in making sustainable clothing/gear affordable?

It is all about pace, scale and depth within the supply chain. Sustainable materials that have been able to achieve all three have become more mainstream now and as such more affordable for consumers. The biggest challenge is therefore scaling new sustainable technologies so that they become more accessible for everyone. And you can't do this alone. This involves the entire industry to work together-from retailers, brands to all supply chain partners from tier 1 to tier 4. Being part of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and the Textile Exchange (TE) has helped us achieve that in bringing up pace, scale and depth on sustainable technologies within the supply chain

What are the sustainability goals set for the next few years?

We have done a lot of growing up in the last 30 years. What would it take for us to move beyond sustainability towards being a business that puts back more than it takes out?  Big dreams like these can only be achieved if everyone plays a part. We have been building a culture of sustainability that helps everyone understand the impact of their role-from the factory pressures caused by a late purchase order to the waste we produce every day. As such, we have set strategies for addressing human rights in our supply chain, product stewardship, minimising our environmental footprint, community engagement on a local and global scale, developing our team and growing our brand. And this will remain our goal for the next few years.

Kathmandu is committed to ensuring that our products are produced in a humane, ethical, legal and a socially responsible and sustainable manner. In fact, sustainability is not an afterthought to price and quality; sustainability is our priority at the highest executive levels. For more information about how we engage with people close to our brand and prioritise environmental and social impacts, visit https://kathmandu.co.nz/corporate-responsibility. (HO)

Published on: 30/10/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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