The Outsider: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Refuse

A few years ago I worked at a retail store in Whistler, selling the latest and greatest in backcountry gear and apparel.

I enjoyed sharing my gear passion with customers, nerding out on all the new gadgets, fabrics and materials that we learned about as retail clerks. I also had access to what I began to refer to as “greasy deals,” huge discounts on new gear directly from the distributors themselves that’s really only available to retail staff. If you’ve ever worked retail or know how much those clerks get paid, you’ll understand that deals are one of the more valued and well-deserved perks.

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The purchases piled up quickly. My old ragged jackets and touring setups were replaced with high-quality, lightweight gear, some of it with a lifetime guarantee. I tried to offload some of it on the second-hand market to make room for even more gear, but after a while I found myself attached to a lot of my favourite garments. My perk of discounts on new gear was starting to exhaust itself, my limited storage in my basement suite notwithstanding. My tenure as a retail clerk eventually came to an end not just because I wanted to move onto greener pastures, but also because I couldn’t store any more gear. The closet, under the bed, the crawlspace, everywhere was stuffed with equipment and apparel. I couldn’t bear to send it to the Re-Use-It Centre or sell it for pennies in the saturated second-hand gear market we have in Whistler. So I just kept using it, treating my outerwear for water repellancy and repairing busted zippers and buckles on my ski boots.

The snow sports industry wants us to buy new stuff every year — that’s obvious with all the gear guides and full-page ads coming out this month in ski and snowboard magazines. But do we really need all that stuff? If you spend less on your gear in the first place it may not have been built to withstand years of wear and tear, so consider upping the standard of gear you buy. It may just work out to be cheaper in the long run.

If you have perfectly good gear, do you really need to be donning the latest colours and styles in the lift line? It certainly doesn’t make you any better of a skier or snowboarder, but may give other people the impression that you are.

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, has gone as far as buying an ad in the New York Times that read “Don’t buy this jacket,” encouraging his customers to not just reduce and reuse, but also “refuse” to buy gear that they didn’t need. Fabrics take a substantial amount of resources (including fossil fuels for nylon waterproof fabrics) and energy to manufacture, so why not spend the extra money on gear that lasts?

The investment may take a couple of years to pay off, but if you buy clothing that has a lifetime guarantee (a lot of them now do) you can always warranty a fault down the track and even get your stuff repaired for free, or at least cheap.

Vince Shuley has owned the same Arcteryx Alpha SV jacket for six years. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email or Twitter @vinceshuley.

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