Review: We Tested Tentree’s New Fully Compostable Fall Jacket
The Treeline Canvas Jacket is touted as 99% compostable. We spoke with designer Natasja Parlee about what, exactly, that means.
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Whenever I see a piece of new clothing marked as “sustainable,” the red warning lights in my head start flashing. I wish that wasn’t the case, as any brand at least attempting to change from the status quo — which starts with an unsafe, polluting factory halfway around the world and ends (not terribly long after) at a landfill near you — should be commended, especially as plenty of companies and customers just don’t really seem to care. But the truth is, “sustainability” doesn’t mean anything anymore.
So imagine my surprise when the fall fashion season brought with it this eco-conscious gauntlet on the desk of InsideHook HQ: “The first ever fully biodegradable, unisex jacket made from all compostable materials.”
The garment in question is the Treeline Canvas Jacket from Tentree. If you’ve never heard of the Canadian company before, they’ve been around for ten years and get their name from their main mission: planting 10 trees for every single item purchased. To date, the brand says they’ve planted over 66 million with a goal of 1 billion by 2030. The thing that caught my eye wasn’t necessarily the tree-planting promises or the inspirational story (they even appeared on Dragons’ Den, the Canadian precursor to Shark Tank), but that the company makes this claim about the jacket on their website: “Once you’re done loving it, remove and recycle the screw buttons, and return your jacket to the earth.”
“Return it to the earth”? Really? If that sounds like hyperbole, here’s what Natasja Parlee, a senior lead designer at Tentree, told me when I asked her about this by email.
“In an ideal world this jacket has a long life ahead of itself as it is built to last. When the first owner is ready to part from the jacket we recommend handing it down so this pre-loved item can be worn again,” she wrote. “If it is ready to be returned to the earth, all shank buttons can be unscrewed and re-used or recycled. The jacket can be placed in your compost bin, your green bin or you can dig a hole in your backyard, bury it, cover it with soil and plant a tree on top.”
That’s right, Tentree wants you to bury their jacket. Well, maybe not you, but your kids or your grandkids, after you’ve beaten the crap out of this cotton and kapok layer. (More on what that is in a second.)
I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to spook my neighbors by digging up my backyard and burying my clothing, but I did get a hold of a Treeline jacket to figure out what a compostable jacket feels like on a daily basis and whether it holds up against all the non-compostable fare in your closet, and then ask Parlee all the questions that are surely popping up in your head as they did in mine.
First, the style and functionality. Both the Fox Trot Brown and Olive Night Green canvas, the latter of which I’ve been wearing, are everything you could want from rugged autumnal outerwear, with complementary flannel lining that’s both super soft and super warm. (Trust me, I live in Minnesota.) The superior toastiness is thanks to a mix of kapok and cotton batting insulation, kapok here being the name of the fiber that’s derived from the non-food fruit of kapok trees. The shank buttons are definitely beefier and clumsier than you’re used to, but that’s a small price to pay for being the only trim you’d need to remove before disposing of a piece of clothing.
One element I don’t personally care for is the fully flannel-lined sleeves. That extra bulk makes this an ideal jacket to wear with a T-shirt, but less suited for layering with my fall sweaters (most of the time in lined jackets, the sleeves are lined in something slipperier). And the unisex design may have let them down in terms of pocket size, as the hand pockets are smaller than most men will be used to.
As for its environmental credentials, those become crystal clear after getting some insight from Parlee. Tentree does note the amount of water, CO2 and waste “saved” on product pages, but tabulations like those aren’t necessarily the best way to look at this because you know what saves water, CO2 and waste? Not buying something and simply donating money to plant trees.
In terms of the kapok insulation, Parlee says that the material used to be a part of products like bedding and comforters but fell out of favor due to the rise of synthetics. Here, they’ve worked with a company called Flocus to bring it back. But beyond even that, the design team had to figure out a different scrim (a type of lining) that would hold the insulation together, as those are usually made at least partly from polyester; they settled on an organic cotton muslin. Even the water-resistant finish on the canvas exterior is vegetable-based and approved by Bluesign, a sustainable textile oversight group.
If this feels like too much information for a $178 fall jacket, Tentree did do this to themselves. They’re the ones who purported to offer a 99% compostable jacket without any official certification that it will, in fact, compost. As Parlee says, “A proper biodegradability and compostability test takes between 6 and 12 months and costs between [$15,000 to $25,000].” They decided to forgo that process, but they’ve obviously got the receipts nonetheless — including on the tree-planting front.
“In order to verify our impact, Tentree has created a sister company, Veritree,” Parlee says. “We need to ensure that each tree is being planted in the right place, that the survival rate is being monitored and that the impact of the trees can be measured.”
Now, there’s only one thing left to do: take my jacket, bury it out back and report a year from now how the composting is getting along.
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