Billabong has a proud history in the development of innovative and functional product for its target boardsports markets. This same commitment to improvement is applied by the Group’s sourcing and design teams and has led to the testing and commercial production of a range of more environment-friendly apparel products. These include t-shirts made from organically-grown thread, t-shirt prints using water-based inks, boardshorts using a fabric made from recycled plastic soda bottles and other apparel made using materials including hemp. Improved production techniques and a growing demand for these alternative products have seen them progressively introduced into the Company’s product range. Importantly, these technologies are rapidly evolving and greater awareness is driving heightened demand.
The key technologies now in commercial production within the Group include:
Cotton is a natural fibre, so the reference to organic cotton relates more to the way it is grown rather than the fibre itself. The organic cotton is grown using techniques that have a lower impact on the environment. This is achieved through the elimination of artificial pesticides and fertilizers, the use of systems such as crop rotation that help retain the integrity of the soil and the use of less water intensive strategies. In short, organic farming relies more on biological processes rather than chemical-based techniques to nurture and grow the cotton. For a harvest to be termed organic, a certification agency must verify that the correct growing techniques have been applied.
Beyond the growing and harvesting of organic cotton, there are further techniques such as the dyeing and printing of garments where environmentally-sensitive techniques can be used. These include the use of water-based inks and dyes, rather than synthetic or chemical-based techniques.
Products made using these technologies include t-shirts and jeans and they are each marketed under the Organics banner.
Billabong continues to participate in the trialing of recycled materials for use in various apparel products. One of the more unusual products that has made it into mainstream production is the use of a 100% recycled polyester material made from old plastic soda bottles. Billabong is using the material, an exclusive fabric called eco-supreme suede, for a line of boardshorts that were introduced to the market in 2007.
Put simply, the creation of the fabric begins with the collection of used plastic drink bottles. The bottles are then each inspected and appropriate bottles have their caps and labels removed before being granulated. The small plastic flakes are then dried and, through a process known as polymerization, are made into a polyester fibre. The benefits of using such a fabric to develop apparel products can be measured on multiple levels, the most obvious being an easing of the pressure on landfill.
Approximately 10 plastic bottles are used in the manufacture of a single pair of boardshorts. This is calculated based on the weight of the plastic bottles and assumes an average weight per bottle of 36 grams. The top part of the bottle is removed at the start of the process, leaving about 23 grams of plastic. The recycled fabric weighs about 230 grams per yard and it takes about one yard of fabric to make a pair of boardshorts. Therefore, we conclude 10 bottles per pair of boardshorts.
The recycled plastic bottle boardshorts are just one of a number of tangible examples of Billabong’s move towards the development of recycled product that retains comparable quality and functionality as traditionally-made product.