Fleece Jackets

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 36 brands of fleece jackets

We also look at toxic chemicals, recycled fleece jackets, shine a light on the ethics of Patagonia and give our recommended best buys. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying fleece jackets:

  • Is it recycled? The clothes industry is the second largest polluter in the UK. Fleeces can at least be made with recycled plastic. Help the environment by opting for recycled fleeces or buying second hand.

  • People before profits? Policies on workers’ rights in the outdoor market lag behind other clothing sectors and even the shoe industry. Buy from companies that commit to fair conditions for the person making your fleece.

Best Buys

Fjallraven and Patagonia sell recycled fleeces whilst Paramo's fleeces are Fair Trade.

What not to buy

The sports and outdoors clothing industry lags sadly behind other fashion sectors in terms of both workers and animal rights.

  • Does it use toxic chemicals? Clothes manufacturing often uses numerous chemicals that are then released, seriously damaging the environmental. Avoid companies that use toxic chemicals.

  • Do they release plastic microfibres? This is a bit of a trick question as all fleeces do. These microfibres end up in marine ecosystems, cause enormous damage to animals and plants. Consider opting for another kind of layer to keep you warm.

Companies to avoid

The following brands have a poor record on human rights:

  • Helly Hansen
  • Jack Wolfskin
  • Nike
  • Marmot
  • Jordan
  • Hurley

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Paramo fleeces [F]

Company Profile: Paramo Ltd
13.5

Fjallraven recycled fleeces [S]

Company Profile: Fjallraven
12

Fjallraven fleeces

Company Profile: Fjallraven
11

Patagonia recycled fleeces [S]

Company Profile: Patagonia Inc
11

Sprayway recycled fleeces [S]

Company Profile: Outdoor & Sports Company (OSC) Limited
11

Haglofs Fleece

Company Profile: Haglöfs Holding AB
10.5

Howies Fleeces

Company Profile: Howies Ltd
10

Montane recycled fleece [S]

Company Profile: Montane
10

Mountain Equipment fleeces

Company Profile: Mountain Equipment
10

Patagonia fleeces

Company Profile: Patagonia Inc
10

Sprayway fleeces

Company Profile: Outdoor & Sports Company (OSC) Limited
10

Craghoppers recycled fleeces [S]

Company Profile: Craghoppers
9

Mammut Fleece

Company Profile: Mammut Sports Group AG
9

Montane fleece

Company Profile: Montane
9

Trespass fleeces

Company Profile: Jacobs & Turner Ltd
9

Hi Gear fleeces

Company Profile: Go Outdoors Ltd
8.5

Lowe Alpine fleeces

Company Profile: Lowe Alpine UK Limited
8.5

Mountain Warehouse fleeces

Company Profile: Mountain Warehouse Limited
8.5

Rab fleeces

Company Profile: Rab Carrington Ltd
8.5

Regatta Fleeces

Company Profile: Regatta Ltd
8.5

Craghoppers Fleeces

Company Profile: Craghoppers
8

Quechua recycled fleeces [S]

Company Profile: Oxylane Group (Decathlon)
8

Columbia Fleece

Company Profile: Columbia Sportswear Co Inc
7.5

Mizuno fleeces

Company Profile: Mizuno Corporation
7.5

Peter Storm fleece jackets

Company Profile: Blacks Leisure Group PLC
7.5

Quechua Fleeces

Company Profile: Oxylane Group (Decathlon)
7.5

Adidas fleece

Company Profile: Adidas AG
7

Arc'Teryx Fleece

Company Profile: Arc'Teryx Equipment Inc
7

Salomon Fleeces

Company Profile: Salomon S.A.S
7

Ayacucho fleeces

Company Profile: Outdoor and cycle concepts
6.5

Gelert fleece

Company Profile: Gelert Limited
6

Hurley fleece

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

Jordan fleece

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

Karrimor fleeces

Company Profile: Karrimor
6

Merrell fleece

Company Profile: Wolverine World Wide Inc
6

Nike fleeces

Company Profile: Nike Inc
6

North Face fleeces

Company Profile: North Face Inc (The)
6

Marmot fleeces

Company Profile: Marmot Mountain, LLC
4.5

Jack Wolfskin Fleece

Company Profile: Jack Wolfskin Ausrüstung für Draussen GmbH & Co.KGaA
4

Helly Hansen fleeces

Company Profile: Helly Hansen Holding AS
2

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

There are some excellent ethical choices when you are buying a fleece.

In this guide we look at some of the main ethical issues, including recycled materials, toxics, microfibres, supply chain issues and greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: Fleeces

Recycled fleeces

Patagonia pioneered the idea of making fleeces out of recycled plastic bottles back in 1993. Nowadays, the following companies all make some fleeces out of recycled plastic:

  • Patagonia
  • Sprayway
  • Fjällräven
  • Craghoppers
  • Montane
  • Quechua

As a result, we gave them all a Product Sustainability mark on the score table. 

To transform plastic bottles into fleeces, the plastic is melted and formed into long strands, which is spun into yarn. As well as diverting plastic from landfill, the process uses about a-third-to-a-half less energy than making virgin polyester, and produces about half the greenhouse gas emissions.[1]  
 

Toxics

As we’ve covered in other clothing guides, Greenpeace is calling on clothing companies to phase out the use of toxic substances, including PFCs and phthalates, both of which are frequently used in outdoor gear. Phthalates are plastic softeners, and PFCs are used to make textiles repel water. They have been linked to a range of health problems including asthma, obesity, breast cancer and endocrine disruption.

The fleece companies do not do well in this area. All companies apart from Fjällräven, Páramo and Howies receive our worst rating on toxics. Páramo was the only one that had a clear policy not to use any of them.

Microfibers

Over the last few years microfibers have been starting to raise alarm among marine researchers, although it is still unclear on how serious their effects are. Microfibers are tiny threads shed from synthetic fabrics like fleeces during washing. A city of 100,000 people produces 170-441 kilograms of them a day.[2]

The thing that is bothering everyone is the amount that they are turning up in the bellies of aquatic organisms like fish and muscles. It is thought that they may cause them health problems such as gastrointestinal blockages, and as people eat aquatic animals there is also a danger to human health. Furthermore clothes contain large quantities of unpalatable chemicals, and microfibers may transport them into the environment.

It is a lot harder to eliminate synthetic textiles than it is to eliminate microbeads, another source of plastic water pollution that has hit the news recently. Researchers are assuming that it is just not going to happen, and are instead trying to look at ways to mitigate the problem. Patagonia has been funding much of the research into potential mitigation strategies, which include washing machine filters, or different garment construction. But at the moment nobody is clear on what is going to work. 

Greenhouse gas impacts of different fabrics 

Most fleeces are made of 100% polyester, but as many consumers are choosing between fleeces and jumpers, it is worth comparing its impact to other fabrics. 

Full life-cycle estimates of the greenhouse gas emissions of various fabrics, are given in the box below. [3] The figures include emissions at the fibre production, fabric weaving and end of life stages. 

Fibres

 
Estimated Kg CO2 equivalent produced per KG fabric  

Wool                                         46
Acrylic                                         38
Viscose                                         30
Cotton                                         28
Silk                                         25
Polyester                                         21
Polyurethane                                         20
Flax linen                                         15

Unsurprisingly, given the greenhouse gas impacts of sheep, wool comes out as a heavy emitter. Flax is known as a low impact plant, and so it is also not surprising that linen comes out so well. Polyester and cotton are in the middle, but it seems that polyester has the edge, at least on this metric.  

It is worth noting that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different fabrics do not definitely reflect the amount of energy used to make them. This is because when it comes to agriculture, CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas that matters. For example, polyester is much more energy intensive than cotton, but its greenhouse gas emissions are lower because growing cotton produces nitrous oxide. And while making wool requires little energy,  it is associated with a lot of greenhouse gas emissions because sheep are ruminants (chew the cud) and thus produce methane. 

Supply chain issues in the sector

In 2014 the FairWear Foundation put out a report on the outdoor industry, claiming that the makers of outdoor gear tend to have more stable relationships with their suppliers than is common in the wider clothing sector.[4] If this is true, it is probably because making outdoor gear requires more specialised labour, and also because it is not sold so much on the basis of fleeting fashions so designs change less regularly, and thus it makes more sense to keep going with suppliers who know what they are doing. 

The FairWear Foundation looked at a sample of six outdoor companies, and found that they sourced 90% of their clothing from factories with which they had had a relationship for five or more years, which is very different from the bulk of the clothing industry. The outdoor companies also had fewer suppliers– in many cases just one or two- and used longer lead times.

The Foundation did not suggest that this meant that everything was hunky dory. It still found issues, particularly excessive overtime, in factories making outdoor clothing. But it argued that the more stable supplier relationships found in the industry put it in a good position to lead the clothing industry on workers rights in its supply chain.

Our Supply Chain Management rating only assesses explicit policies, rather than sector-wide issues like these. On that front there has been some improvement since we last assessed fleece companies in 2010. Eight of the companies are now receiving our best rating. However, the bulk of the companies are still doing quite poorly.

The exemplar in the supply chain area, however, is Páramo. Páramo is an explicitly ethical company that does over 80% of its production at the Miquelina Foundation in Colombia, which aims specifically to give training and employment opportunities to vulnerable people.  You can read more about Paramo on their spotlight page.

Company behind the brand

Patagonia is known for its environmental and social credentials. It is a “benefit corporation” which is an American legal category, and means a company whose legally defined goals include having a positive impact on society, workers and the environment.

Patagonia has supported research into environmental issues (see “microfibers”), pioneered a Traceable Down Standard to eliminate live duck and goose plucking, and closed its New York branch during a climate march to encourage its employees to go on the protest. It provides on-site childcare facilities for its staff, and commits 1% of its total sales, or 10% of its profit, whichever is the greater, to environmental groups. It recently gave $1,164 to Bernie Saunders’ campaign for the US presidency.

Despite this, it still received our worst rating for both Environmental Reporting and Toxics due to its lack of quantified future targets. 

In 2015 Patagonia increased its number of Fair Trade products from 33 to 192. After discovering human trafficking in its supply chain in 2012 it also developed a ‘Migrant Worker Standard’ which it now applies to its whole supply chain. 

Patagonia produced a supposedly anti-consumerist ad in the US in 2011 that said “don’t buy this jacket” next to an enticing picture of a cosy-looking fleece. The ad prompted a huge spew of online reactions, most of which, for obvious reasons, were quite cynical. 

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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References

  1.  “Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester”, by Cherrett et al, Stockholm Environment Institute 

  2. Bruce et al, 2016, Microfibre pollution and the apparel industry

  3. Wrap, 2012, A Carbon Footprint for UK Clothing and Opportunities for Savings

  4. FairWear Foundation, 2014, Living Wage Engineering

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