Fashion and textile is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Every stage of the fashion and textile supply chain threatens our planet and resources [1
]. For example, more than 20,000 L of water are consumed to produce one kg of cotton, many chemicals are used in manufacturing fabric for dyeing and finishing processes, and large amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted to produce one t-shirt [2
]. Consumers are aware of the importance of sustainability and are willing to purchase sustainable fashion products even though they are more expensive than conventional ones [3
Sustainable fashion is developed through an eco-design approach. Eco-design is defined as a variety of design aspects that relate to a product’s environmental impacts [4
]. Eco-design is an important part of sustainable supply chains and significantly influences the entire supply chain processes, including eco-material selection, process design, production, distribution, and retail [1
]. With the increasing awareness of sustainability, many fashion brands such as Nike, Adidas, and The North Face have incorporated eco-design elements into new products [8
]. The global outdoor sportswear brand Patagonia develops its sustainable product line by using eco-friendly materials such as recycled down, organic cotton and traceable down [9
]. Earlier studies have indicated that design processes influence decision-making in the fashion supply chain; as a result, eco-design is critically important for sustainable supply chains [10
]. However, literature that examines the impact of eco-design on product line development is rare.
In this paper, we conducted a product line analysis for eco-designed products. Our aim was to explore the impact of eco-design on product line development. We collected product line data from a famous outdoor sportswear brand, Patagonia. Patagonia is an American outdoor sports brand founded in 1973 that mainly sells sustainable outdoor clothing. Patagonia enjoys a great reputation for selling sustainable fashion products [9
]. Learning the practices of Patagonia is beneficial for providing managerial insights to other fashion firms and supplementing the theories of sustainability in terms of eco-design. In this paper, we attempted to answer the following questions:
How does eco-material usage influence design elements such as product weight, product fit, pattern design and color choices?
How do sustainable fashion firms manage eco-design in the supply chain?
How will online consumers evaluate eco-design?
To address these questions, we collected the in-season product line data from Patagonia’s official website. We analyzed data through descriptive analysis, factor analysis and correlation analysis to identify patterns regarding product weight, product fit, pattern design, color choices and online consumers’ opinions in relation to fashion eco-design. The organization of the rest of this paper is given as follows. We first show the related literature in Section 2
; Section 3
describes research methods; Section 4
summarizes our results; Section 5
discusses managerial insights; and Section 6
concludes the paper through providing limitation and future research.
Based on the collected data, it is found that six types of eco-materials (i.e., organic cotton, recycled cotton, recycled nylon, recycled polyester, recycled down, and traceable down) are used at Patagonia. The outcome of selected eco-material is consistent with Patagonia’s mission, i.e., reducing the environment impact in the material selection stage [9
]. Eco-material selection is the beginning of the sustainable supply chain management [16
]. Designers select eco-materials to convey the design philosophy and optimize the consumers’ sustainable, aesthetic and functional needs.
shows the descriptive analysis results in terms of the number of eco-materials used in both menswear and womenswear at Patagonia. It indicates that the eco-materials include organic materials, recycled materials and traceable materials. Recycled polyester is the most widely used for both menswear and womenswear development (29.0% and 19.5%, respectively), followed by organic cotton (19.5% and 15.1%, respectively), and recycled nylon (5.6% and 3.1%, respectively) at Patagonia. Recycled polyester can be easily re-melted or reshaped in order to make new products [43
], rendering it a popular choice in new product development [52
From Table 1
, it shows that Patagonia has frequently used organic cotton in its product line. As a matter of fact, the quality of organic cotton is equal to or even better than conventional cotton [9
]. Organic cotton is cultivated without harmful chemicals and the farming methods used to produce it support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, which can enhance soil quality and reduce water usage [1
]. Sustainable fashion designers use organic cotton based on the style and characteristic of the apparel. As organic cotton is soft and healthy, sustainable fashion designers apply this material to products that directly adhere to the skin (e.g., hoodies and shirts) [20
Recycled materials in Patagonia’s product line include recycled polyester, nylon, cotton, and down. The collection line of jackets, vests, and pants is not 100% made from recycled materials, but it is close [53
]. Recycled polyester is the most used material at Patagonia (as shown in Table 1
). Based on the information on recycled polyester on the Patagonia website, soda bottles, unusable manufacturing waste and worn-out garments are used in producing recycled polyester. Recycled polyester is used to develop shell jackets, board shorts and fleeces. Using recycled polyester helps prolong landfill life and reduce toxic emission from incinerators. It is beneficial to build up a more sustainable ecosystem.
Traceable material is an innovative practice at Patagonia [50
]. Transparency is an important part of the sustainable supply chain [54
]. Traceable down helps assure animal welfare by tracing the source of down from parent farm to apparel factory. Using traceable materials hence encourages fashion designers to develop products in a more transparent way at Patagonia.
We separated the product line analysis into three categories: gender difference, pattern design, and product fit, as shown in Table 2
. We concluded that on average less than one eco-material is used in Patagonia’s products except for the products with pattern design. Specifically, we find that menswear uses more eco-materials than womenswear (0.85 vs. 0.78). It implies that Patagonia uses more eco-materials in menswear products. The reason might be because of gender differences in sustainable consumer behavior [55
]. Menswear generally has a simple silhouette, which implies more basic products and leads to a higher use of sustainable material. Moreover, we find that products with pattern design are more likely to use eco-materials (1.04 vs. 0.74). The pattern printing process potentially generates a significant amount of pollution in the textile supply chain [56
]. Using more eco-materials in patterned products can balance sustainability factors. Furthermore, we see that the number of eco-material usage for product fit is similar between regular and slim fit (0.76 vs. 0.76). This implies that both regular and slim fits products are made by a similar number of eco-materials.
indicates the regression results of eco-materials used in product line and color choices/product weight at Patagonia. First, we found that for womenswear at Patagonia, products containing more eco-materials are heavier, even if the products do not include patterns or are slim fit; for the regular fit products, products containing more eco-materials have more color choices.
From Table 3
, we see that designers do not use more eco-materials when developing products with more color choices for both menswear and womenswear product lines at Patagonia. Moreover, designing patterns in new products is an important strategy for fashion designers in new product line development. However, based on the statistical results in Table 3
, we see that it has no statistical effect on the number of eco-materials used or the number of color choices except for the regular fit products. This implies that when Patagonia designers develop a new product with more color choices, they might not be likely to use more eco-materials except for regular fit products. At Patagonia, product fit is critically important for eco-design. We observed that for the regular fit product development, the more sustainable products have more color choices, but for the slim fit products, the more sustainable products have less color choices. For the slim fit product development, products containing more eco-materials are heavier, but for the regular fit products, products containing more eco-materials are lighter. These results could provide many important insights on supply chain management because multiple color choices imply maintaining more stock keeping units (SKUs) in inventory and heavy product weights require extra attention during transportation and distribution.
shows the relationship between eco-materials used and online reviewers’ opinions. The reviewers’ opinions include the number of reviews and reviewer scores. The number of reviews refers to how many discussions are online (the comments may be positive or negative). The reviewer scores imply the reviewers’ acceptance, i.e., a higher score implies the consumers have higher product acceptance. Thus, Table 4
implies whether more eco-materials can increase online discussion and reviewers’ acceptance. We found that the menswear eco-designed products, the eco-designed products with patterns, and the slim fit eco-designed products have less online consumers’ acceptance, respectively.
5. Discussion and Managerial Insights
Through data analysis of Patagonia’s product line, the following four important insights (i.e., eco-material selection, eco-design for functionality, eco-design for aesthetics in product line development, and eco-design and online reviewers’ opinions) are valuable to discuss and summarize for both practitioners and scholars.
● Eco-material selection in product line development
Eco-material selection is the first stage of the sustainable supply chain. Eco-materials mainly include recyclable, recycled and low environmental impact materials [6
]. At Patagonia, designers select organic, recycled and traceable materials in sustainable product line development. Using such eco-materials can lower environmental impact. Recycled materials (e.g., recycled polyester, recycled nylon, recycled cotton, and recycled down) have been greatly used in Patagonia’s product line development. In particular, recycled polyester is popular. This can be potentially explained by polyester materials’ simple adoption in fashion design and that recycled polyester can be reshaped according to new product designs. Eco-material selection is not only critically important for eco-design, but also beneficial for establishing a more sustainable supply chain.
● Eco-design for functionality in product line development
Eco-design for functionality is critically important in product line development. Fashion functionality can refer to product weight, as the more functional products such as outdoor clothing are heavier than less functional products such as t-shirts. We found that for the basic products (without pattern design) at Patagonia, the functional products are more likely to be made by eco-materials. This result provides significant practical insights on eco-design for functional products, which should be promoted by the concepts of sustainability in marketing and distributed in environmentally efficient ways, even though the products are relatively heavy.
● Eco-design for aesthetics in product line development
Aesthetics is now the primary reason that consumers choose to purchase fashion products. In this paper, aesthetics refer to the choices of color and product fit (regular or slim) at Patagonia. Product fits are important for outlook and style. We found that for the regular fit product development, the products containing more eco-materials have more choices of color, but this does not apply to slim fit products. For the slim fit product development, the products containing more eco-materials are heavier, but for the regular fit products, products containing more eco-materials are lighter. This finding provides an important insight to sustainable fashion designers who should implement different eco-design strategies in terms of product fits for color choices and weight. Moreover, regarding product weight, this finding provides insights on logistics and distribution. If the product is aesthetics oriented (e.g., slim fit), logistics incur a higher cost because they are heavier, whereas if the product is not aesthetic oriented (e.g., regular fit), logistics may incur a lower cost because they are lighter.
● Eco-design and online reviewers’ opinions
When online consumers purchase eco-designed products, they might leave comments on purchased websites and give a score to identify how they like the product. We found that the menswear eco-designed products, the eco-designed products with patterns, and the slim fit eco-designed products have less online consumers’ acceptance. Both pattern and slim fit refer to aesthetics in fashion products. Thus, these results imply that when consumers purchase eco-designed products for aesthetics, patterns and slim fit would reduce the consumers’ acceptance. In other words, the consumers may not be satisfied with the aesthetics of eco-design at Patagonia. This may further imply that Patagonia should focus on developing products for functionality instead of aesthetics when developing eco-designed products.
In the product development stage, designers determine how many colors will be available in each product. We find that for the regular fit products, designers are more willing to use eco-materials with more choices of color. This may be due to the following two reasons: (1) eco-materials may not be uniform, which can present multiple color choices after recycling [42
], allowing designers to have more color choices in product design; (2) consumers may be more willing to select products among multiple color choices when they purchase sustainable products [55
]. These results provide important insights on eco-product inventory management. When the eco-products have more choices of color, it implies that the eco-products have more SKUs for each product. More SKUs lead to a higher chance of overstocking for certain colors and sizes [57
]. As a result, more choices of color in eco-products may increase the overstocking risk in the supply chain. Based on these results, we argue that better managing inventory for eco-products is critically important because the regular fit eco-products have more color choices, and consequently more SKUs to manage, which drive the inventory management to be more complex.
6. Conclusions, Limitation, and Future Research
In order to satisfy consumer needs and social development, eco-design is quite popular at present. In this paper, we collected product line data from the famous outdoor sportswear brand Patagonia. We analyzed Patagonia’s product line in terms of eco-design and found that Patagonia mainly uses organic, recycled, and traceable materials in product line design. Moreover, we identified that the number of eco-materials used significantly affects the number of color choices and product weight as well as gender difference, pattern design and product fit. We find that menswear products use more eco-materials than womenswear at Patagonia. This result can be potentially explained by gender differences in sustainable consumer behavior. Furthermore, we identified the relationship between product weight, fit and patterns for eco-design at Patagonia. These statistical results provide many important managerial insights on eco-design in product line and eco-product supply chain management.
Our study is subject to two main limitations. First, we cannot say whether our findings at Patagonia can be completely generalized to other fashion firms. However, our findings can provide some partial managerial insights to other firms and the entire supply chain. In future research, it would be interesting to compare eco-design practices among different fashion brands [58
]. Second, fashion design and product development processes are dependent on other supply chain factors, such as supplier selection process [59
]. In future research, it would be significant to evaluate Patagonia’s sustainable supply chain. Third, various eco-design approaches may influence consumer intentions when purchasing products [62
]. It would be valuable to examine efficient eco-design elements in sustainable fashion for consumers.