If you’ve listened to our podcast, you know that we’re about “conscious living,” but what exactly does that mean? I define it as making better choices; from the food we choose to nourish ourselves with to the companies we choose to support and everything in between. It’s about being more in tune with how our everyday and seemingly innocuous decisions not only effect us, but also our environment, the planet, and all the other beings we share it with. It’s also about taking that extra step and extra time to research something to ensure that animals weren’t harmed or tested on, that it was ethically and sustainably sourced, that the workers that make the product aren’t victims of child-labor or work under atrocious and appalling conditions. It’s about caring a little more.
A few weeks ago, Jeanette and I attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California for the first time. It’s where all the brands you see in stores and online go to showcase their products and new releases for the year. There were 80,000 attendees and 3,100 product exhibitors which I’m sure we didn’t even see half of. One of those exhibitors was The Honest Tea Company which makes “healthy, organic beverages” and is Fair Trade Certified which is right there in the “conscious living” spectrum.
At their activation(fancy industry term for their booth) they were giving out these Patagonia backpacks to anyone who could cycle .38 of a mile in 45 seconds. So Jeanette, whose always up for a challenge, decides she wants to try and win one. In the meantime, I have no idea this is going on because I’m back at the hotel sleeping. Luckily, she had the wherewithal to ask someone to record this amazing feat for her and secure it for posterity on Instagram. I’m for one happy that she did because seeing her go for broke on that stationary bike with her Toms slip-on shoes is a belly-buster. Needless to say, she ended up winning the backpack and hours later when I joined her at the expo she says, “Here, look what I won for you” and hands me the Patagonia Refugio.
I was stoked! It’s a nice looking pack that fits a laptop, it has ‘Honest Sport’ stitched on it, plus she won it and paid the price by seeing spots afterwards for about an hour. I mean, what a story, right? And this was just the first day of Expo, what else was in store for us? When we got back to the hotel, I tossed the backpack off to the side of the room. It wasn’t until we got back home to Miami that I finally got a chance to really check out the bag and start opening the zippers and looking at the different compartments. One of the zippers had the Patagonia tag attached to it and when I opened it up I saw very small, scarcely legible print. It was then when I thought, “Don’t tell me this bag isn’t cruelty-free.”
Here’s what the tag says:
Made with either organically grown cotton, chlorine-free wool, responsibly sourced merino wool, hemp, recycled cotton, recycled nylon, recycled polyester, recycled wool or Tencel lyocell. (Tencel comes from wood and is said to be more absorbent than cotton and softer than silk and cooler than linen)
But their website says that the body and base are made from 100% recycled polyester:
Body: 7.5-oz 450-denier 100% recycled polyester plain weave
Base: 7.85-oz 450-denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop
Lining: 3.3-oz 200-denier 100% polyester
Stretch pockets: 9.4-oz 66% nylon/34% spandex
All treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish
Confused? Me too. Is it made from wool or not? What’s this, “Made with either…” stuff? Is this the standard tag for all of their products? First, let’s set the record straight. There is no such thing as “responsibly sourced merino wool” or any other material that comes from an animal as we learned when we took the Certified Cruelty Free course. Lambs are forced to go through a procedure called “mulesing” where chunks of their skin are cut from their backsides, mostly without anesthesia. It’s a horrific and painful procedure. They also hole-punch their ears, cut off their tails, and are castrated without painkillers. Ironically, Patagonia received hell from PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals) after they released a video showing the cruel and inhumane treatment of sheep on a farm in Argentina that supplies them wool.
I wanted to be sure that no animals suffered in the making of this backpack, but the information on their website and on the backpack itself wasn’t making it easy to determine that. So I got on my computer and chatted with a Patagonia rep. She could not neither confirm or deny that the Refugio Pack was vegan and wouldn’t commit if it was cruelty-free. (The terms vegan and cruelty-free can often overlap. Something might be cruelty-free; meaning no animals were tested on but may not be vegan, meaning it’s not made from animals or any animal by-products. An example of this is a shampoo that is cruelty-free but contains honey) The next thing I did was send them an email hoping to get clarification. I’m happy to report that I received a reply:
Thanks for contacting us! I am showing that the info on our website is correct when cross referencing with the product workbook. My only explanation for the faulty info on tag is that it was the incorrect tag sewn into it by the manufacturing factory. I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Have a nice day!
This my friends, is conscious living. It’s caring enough and being informed enough to make decisions that are in alignment with your own beliefs and ethics. Now, you can argue, “Why support any company (like Patagonia) that still believes in using animals to make their products?” That’s a good question and it’s a personal decision each person needs to make for themselves as only we are accountable for our actions.
For a long time I struggled with whether or not I should support companies like Patagonia knowing that they use animal by-products but that also offer cruelty-free/vegan products like their Refugio Pack. Does is have to be all or nothing? I don’t think so. Take Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream for example. Their whole operation revolves around cows and using their milk to make ice cream, but they now offer seven non-dairy, certified vegan flavors that are made with almond milk. Should we not purchase these flavors because they also sell dairy ice cream? I think that instead of completely banning these companies, we can tell them with our purchasing power what products we want and don’t care for and maybe with time, companies will also start making better decisions.
It’s important to remember that it is us, the consumers, that create the demand and we can vote with our wallets each and everyday, every time we shop. If we buy the non-dairy ice cream instead or jackets, coats, and backpacks made from alternative materials like mushroom leather, sisal, cork, pineapple leather, bamboo wool, hemp, and Tencel, these industries and/or those particular products can disappear because there won’t be a demand for them any longer. With over 120 million socially conscious consumers in the world, this movement is only going to continue to grow stronger and louder and companies will either have to make a change or be left behind.
I think that if we use our voices, our social media accounts, our podcasts, our blogs, our pen and paper, keyboard and internet connections, our influence, we can start to get companies like Patagonia to offer more and more socially conscious products; and the more exposure there is to this lifestyle the more everyone wins. Conscious living means making better choices and it doesn’t mean you need to be perfect. It’s about progress – on both the consumer’s end and the company’s end.
How do you feel about supporting these types of companies? Let me know in the comments below.