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A Dutch spring is the hardest season to dress for. The whimsical weather seems to never be able to make up its mind: One minute I am biking cheerfully along the canals, bathed in glorious sunshine, and the next I am soaked in a shower. And the wind seems to always blow in the wrong direction, rendering umbrellas useless. A proper rain jacket and rain boots are the answer.
So here’s what to look for in eco-friendly rainwear:
The most commonly used water repellents are what are alternately known as PFCs, PTFE, or the most common designation that we will use: PFAS. They are a group of toxic “forever chemicals” that don’t break down and bioaccumulate in our body and the environment. Overwhelming scientific evidence has proved that when these chemicals leach into the air, soil, and drinking water, they can have devastating effects on the human liver, brain, and immune system.
Many conscious brands are switching to alternative waterproof membranes that are free from PFAS, like the recently-reformulated coating Gore-Tex. Unfortunately, they might be switching to a similarly dangerous but less studied chemical in the same family, so advocates are pushing to ban the entire class of PFAS chemicals. Until we have more research, we’re going to say these alternatives are better than the original, but not perfect.
I recommend choosing products that are free from PFAS, PFC, or PTFE. If you can’t find that, look for products that come with an OEKO-TEX or bluesign label. If the brand has membership in ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals), that’s a sign they’re addressing the issue, but it’s not a guarantee it’s PFAS-free.
Most rain jackets and rain boots are made from petroleum and chlorine. More sustainable versions use recycled or renewable materials like recycled polyester, recycled nylon, waxed organic cotton, Tencel, or sustainably harvested rubber. Look for brands that can substantiate their claims with third-party verifications such as Global Recycled Standard (GRS), which verifies recycled content.
Take Back and Repair Programs
Rainwear is usually made from multi-layer materials or finishes to balance water protection and breathability, which makes recycling particularly difficult. So I recommend prioritizing brands that offer take-back or repair programs to maximize the useful lifetime of your rain jackets or rain boots.
The following is a list of rainwear brands that swap out toxic materials and substances with sustainable ones. Many also strive to ensure ethical production and give back to the community:
Nisolo’s commuter collection is a nice-looking alternative to typical waterproof boots. It features a water-resistant leather upper and waterproof rubber soles that keep you in style even in wet commutes. (The pointed toe shape gives the boots a narrow fit, so the company recommends ordering a half size up if you plan to wear thick socks.)
Nisolo is a certified B Corp that meets the highest verified standard for ethical and sustainable production and is well known for its classic, comfortable, high-quality leather footwear and accessories. Nisolo sources 95% of the leather from tanneries certified by Leather Working Group, and has taken on extended producer responsibility by establishing a Shoe Reclamation Program, which incentivizes consumers to bring back used shoes for upcycling and recycling. Nisolo has also partnered with Ecosphere+ to implement a carbon “insetting” program, which protects the Amazon Basin and mitigates carbon emissions within its own value chain. So far it has offset 100% of its carbon emission, covering raw materials use, manufacturing, and shipping, verified by Climate Neutral Certification.
On the social side, Nisolo ensures 100% of the people working in its factory and throughout the rest of its supply chain is paid a living wage. The brand also partners with third parties such as WageIndicator and ACCOUNTABLE to evaluate its wage and working conditions. For example, the lowest wage of its Peruvian workers is 47% higher than what they earned prior to joining Nisolo.
I got a pair of waterproof Chelsea boots from Will’s Vegan last winter and they have kept my feet warm and dry through the heavy shower and snow in the Netherlands. Switching thick wool socks with thin cotton ones, I can smoothly glide into the wet spring season with the same boots without worrying about walking into puddles. The boots are made from plant-based vegan leather that meets OEKO-TEX standards and the company has become carbon-neutral at both the product and company level.
Kamik is a family-owned Canadian footwear company with over 120 years of history. The company has developed RubberHe, a proprietary material that offers superior traction and flexibility, and is lightweight and 100% recyclable. Kamik produces rain boots from recycled rubber and has established a take-back program to recycle old rain boots. The company also recycles 90% of the cooling water used by its Canadian factory and strives to reduce carbon emissions in manufacturing and packaging.
The Alice and Whittles ankle rain boot is made from natural rubber from sustainably managed forests in Sri Lanka and is certified by the Fair Rubber Association. It’s lightweight and uses 80% less energy to produce. The boots have a narrow fit, so you might want to order a size up if you plan to wear them with thick socks in the winter.
MAIUM was founded in the rainy, bike-loving city of Amsterdam. The rain jackets all have chic, classic silhouettes, with side zippers that easily convert the jackets into bike ponchos.
MAIUM uses recycled PET bottles, organic cotton, and PU coating for waterproof protection. The company claims that all materials used in their products are free from PFC and other harmful substances, with certification from OEKO-TEX and GRS.
This teca half-zip windbreaker from Cotopaxi uses leftover fabric panels from other company’s productions, so each colorway is limited edition. The windbreaker is made from water-resistant polyester taffeta, and is packed with handy pockets for all purposes, like a kangaroo pocket, a front flap pocket, and an internal phone pocket that doubles as a stuff sack for when you are not wearing it. The company has also launched a repair project that employs refugee sewers to repair used products from customers. Cotopaxi is a certified B Corp and donates 1% of its annual revenues to nonprofit organizations that work on poverty alleviation.
AEANCE is a German functional apparel brand that focuses on simplicity, technical performance, and sustainability. This designer raincoat is made from recycled polyester from Sympatex with PTFE-free membrane and PFC-free water repellent coating that are certified by bluesign and OEKO-TEX. Ninety percent of the fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles (GRS certified) and can be fully recyclable. Not only does the company disclose the full composition of materials used for different parts of the jacket, but also lists sourcing countries of the main fabric, pockets, and final assembly.
Ecoalf was the first B corp certified fashion company in Spain. It is famous for making stylish, versatile, high-quality clothing from mostly recycled materials. I particularly love this oversized trench-style raincoat. The jacket uses recycled nylon made from pre-consumer waste. It is water-repellent, PFC-free, and bluesign certified. The raincoat also includes a recycled drawstring and zipper with an adjustable waist and is available for the current spring/summer 2021 season.
The company has established an “Upcycling the Oceans” project, working with more than 3,200 fishermen to collect marine debris. So far, Ecoalf has recycled over 700 tons of waste from the ocean, such as plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets, and is working with the mills to transform ocean plastic into high-quality yarn. The company also collaborates with partners to use post-consumer coffee-grounds finish that make the garments fast-drying, odor-minimizing, and protect against the UV rays, which otherwise would require chemical treatment. (Read our explanation of coffee ground fabric.)