Patagonia Turns To Students To Solve DWR Problem

Patagonia Houdini

It’s going to take a highly innovative and unique solution to completely solve the DWR environmental problem. Realizing this, Patagonia turned to the Berkeley-Haas Center for Responsible Business for help. In a student competition run throughout the 2015-2106 school year, Patagonia posed a challenge to 74 different teams, including MBAs and PhDs from some of the best schools in the country–produce an alternative durable water repellent (DWR), strong enough for torrential rains and durable for years, that does not rely on toxic chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds or PFCs.

Patagonia has been testing potential alternative DWR solutions for several years. You may recall that they recently invested in Beyond Surface Technologies, the Swiss company that develops bio-based alternatives to conventional chemicals used in textiles. And like many other brands in the outdoor industry, Patagonia already switched to shorter-chain PFCs that break down more rapidly–the problem remains, however, that those compounds still pose environmental problems.   And alternative water repellents, such as those made from waxes and silicon, have been both less reliable and less durable.

Given the absence of a good substitute, Patagonia and other outdoor clothing firms have yet to commit to eliminate all PFCs in their apparel. Columbia Sportswear recently took a huge step forward by eliminating PFCs without hurting performance in their OutDry Ex ECO jackets.

Announced at the end of April, the team from the University of Michigan won Patagonia’s Eco Innovation Case Competition. The team included Kevin Golovin, a PhD student studying materials science and engineering who has already patented multiple water diversion solutions and had moved on to spray-on coatings for ice-proofing airplanes. Golovin and his team members proposed SoyShield (not to be confused with the diesel additive of the same name)–an entirely plant-based nontoxic solution composed of materials from soy beans, potatoes, rice, and corn.

With a $10,000 prize to put their idea into action, I imagine we will hear more about the use of SoyShield at Patagonia soon.

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