Julien Durant and his friends Jérémy Rochette and Vincent André grew up ripping skateboards and snowboards near the mountain town of Annecy, France.
Even after life led Durant to Paris and a big city marketing job, he still dreamed of making it back to the mountains. When he saw an opportunity to return to his alpine playground to start a clothing brand in 2008, he reached out to Rochette. Rochette liked the idea, with one condition: He would only help start a brand if they used all recycled material.
At the time, it appeared like a novel idea at best, but Durant signed on and brought André aboard to form Picture Organic Clothing.
Fast-forward nearly a decade and the trio currently run one of the most successful organic clothing companies in action sports, specializing in winter apparel like outerwear and base layers made from recycled and organic materials. Building on their snow success, the crew recently expanded into summertime, creating a line of bio-conscious wetsuits that coincide nicely with their love for nearby waves.
To learn more about what it takes to reduce a footprint and create waves in the action sports industry, we caught up with Durant in between runs to the coast.
Organic clothing is products made from sustainable resources, mainly recycled materials from plastic bottles, organic cotton, organic bamboo, and waste products that we can use to make something new.
That's how we started, using 50-percent recovered content and material. Now the big trend is bio-based products, so we have also started working with those with our winter outerwear and wetsuits.
We think the future needs to leave less of a footprint, and that we need to lead that initiative. Consumption isn't going to decrease, so let's adapt to be less impactful as consumers.
What are some of the challenges of staying true to that brand mission?
We want to sell sustainable products at prices of classic [non-sustainable] brands, to give the consumer a choice. To do that we absorb a lot of the excess cost of material and manufacturing, so our marketing budget is super low.
Can you give us an example of that balancing act?
Well, let's use our wetsuits as an example. There are two options in the wetsuit segment. Patagonia is working on a natural-based wetsuit made of 85-percent natural rubber that is 90-percent less harmful than a classic wetsuit. But those suits can cost up to $1000.
We started following that same path, but ended up pursuing another process that reaches a similar price point to an O'Neill or Hurley suit. Classic neoprene uses Carbon Black, which comes from oil. We decided to extract that same Carbon Black from used tires to produce our suit, mixing in limestone to make our neoprene. It's the same formula, but our raw material comes from recycled materials and is 40 to 45-percent less impactful than the classic wetsuit.
That's our compromise, but one we hope opens up the sustainable market to a whole lot more people. We don't want to be niche.
Why is action sports a good fit for your brand?
It's a lifestyle, culture, and a big part of who we are. We're motivated by the people around us. Our brand attracts people that want to do good, and push us to be better. Business is about being social, about reaching people, and we found that with our action sports community.
Patagonia has influenced us a lot in that regard. They have built a company through a strong brand philosophy and the community rallies around their product.
What makes Picture different from other sustainable brands?
There are so many things, but let's focus on cotton. Lots of brands buy organic cotton from an organic cotton farm, but there are seven steps in making cotton into a garment: Extract, spin cotton into yarn, dye yarn, create fabric, sew the garment, and add a print. Some of these bigger brands don't follow that same organic process all the way through, but still market their product as organic. That's greenwashing in order to spin a profit.
We partner with the Global Organic Textile Standard to make sure every part of our process is organic, from the raw material itself, to ethical payment of employees, to solvent-free, water-based prints. We try to be very transparent with every product, so customers can see the whole chain value.
What kind of impact are you guys actually making? What are the numbers?
We use a tool created by the climate impact analysis group ADEME to calculate our footprint and summarize the ecological impact of each part of our business.
Compared to normal apparel companies run through the same process, we create 40-percent less of a carbon footprint. Considering only our product and none of the other parts of our business, we create 50 to 60-percent less impact.
Did you ever expect to be celebrating a 10-year anniversary of running a sustainable action sports brand?
We never expected to have such huge success worldwide. We wanted to do well, but now we're being sold in 40 countries, and only in specialty stores.
We didn't take one cent for ourselves over the last decade, it's all stayed in the company, but thanks to that we were able to innovate and push our product forward.
We've won five ISPO awards competing against companies like The North Face and Patagonia. I'm much more proud for having created something new that can lead to a future of sustainable product development than of our success in stores.
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