Laura and Liza had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Dayton from Askov Finlayson on our Good Together Podcast. Here’s a transcript of the interview, edited for clarity.
Laura Wittig: Hey, Eric. Welcome to Good Together. We’re so excited to have you!
Eric Dayton: Thanks, Laura. It’s great to be here.
Liza Moiseeva: Super excited to have you with us, Eric. I know when Laura first told me about your company, and I saw the parka [your company sells] I was like, “Yes! Let’s do the interview tomorrow.”
Eric: Wonderful. Great to be with you, thank you.
Laura: Yeah, we’re very excited to talk about all things climate positive outerwear today. This is going to be an interesting episode for anyone because we all need a jacket for the winter. I think there’s been a lot of chatter recently about innovations and textiles from companies that are B corps who are really interested in providing more climate positive solutions. So, Eric, I wonder if you could introduce yourself and give us a little bit of information about your company.
Eric: Sure. Well, as you said, we’re a climate positive outdoor apparel company. We specialize in winter parkas. We’re based here in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the need for good winter outerwear is a very real thing. We also try to offer a really great value by bypassing the retail markup and offering our products directly to the consumer through e-commerce. We have a flagship store here in our neighborhood of Minneapolis. So, that’s who we are.
Laura: That’s awesome.
Liza: I was very impressed with your mission statement. I was just reading it last night. Can you tell me a bit more about climate-positive [outerwear] and how your company offsets carbon emissions?
Eric: Yeah. We try to keep it pretty simple. I mean, this was an idea that evolved over the past few years. We started making our own products in 2013 and as we started to experience some success, we began a program that we called in 2015, “Keep the North Cold”. We began a giving program, we had a nonprofit partner, we felt really good about that and we were definitely having a positive impact. We really wanted to challenge ourselves and to ask ourselves if we were actually keeping the North cold on a net basis and it caused us to do a pretty thorough self-audit. We took the intention of the giving program and this idea of “Keep the North Cold” and saw this as a promise we were making to our customers. We wanted to be able to back that up and show our math in a transparent way and hold ourselves accountable to our customers and also to the planet. The program has evolved into a yearly carbon footprint self-audit. We’re doing everything that we can to reduce our negative impact through our operations as a business, but then quantifying that impact and turning it into a 110% net positive financial commitment to organizations that are leading solutions to the climate crisis. So, it’s a self-imposed carbon tax and it’s a way that we can hold ourselves accountable and be able to stand behind the promise to our customers that we’re actually contributing on a net basis to the solution, rather than being part of the problem.
Laura: What would you say is the number one ‘offender’ in your business right now as it relates to carbon emissions? Where have you guys tried to focus?
Eric: Well, I’ll give you a couple of examples of what we’ve done. One was just in our operations here in Minneapolis, we’ve switched to 100% sustainable power for all of our offices and our operations here as a business at our headquarters. Our power now comes from wind energy, actually, all produced here in Minnesota. The other big area of focus has been our supply chain and especially materials. We looked at some of the products we were already making and looked to see how we could switch over to the lowest impact materials possible. We switched some products to recycled materials that previously had been made from a virgin acrylic, which is now made from 100% recycled material. When we introduced our parka this past year, it gave us a chance to really start from scratch on a new product. We embed all of the best decisions with climate impact in mind into the materials, the manufacturing, and the partners we were working with. If you look at our parka it’s 100% recycled outer material, it’s 100% Bluesign certified lining, which will become 100% recycled next year and we found the fabric to be able to achieve that. The thing I’m probably most proud of was a material, really an innovation, that we were able to achieve through a partnership with 3M, which is a company based here in Minnesota. It’s the first time ever that they’ve offered 100% recycled featherless down insulation. To have a real material innovation in terms of sustainability and 100% recycled in our first year was an accomplishment we were pretty proud of.
Laura: Yeah, that’s amazing. I didn’t know that 3M was based out there, that’s good to know. I know in the past they’ve been major innovators in various sorts of chemical engineering and things like that. One of the things that you mentioned that I want to kind of dive into is talking about the materials specifically that make up the parka. One question that we get often on Brightly is around the usage of animal-based materials. Oftentimes for parkas, this equates to feathers being used and down. I wondered if you could speak to why you guys chose to not go the feather route and maybe what your point of view is on that?
Eric: Yeah, so there’s sort of two parts. There’s the ethical question that you’ve raised, which relates to the insulation choice. Do you use a feather down insulation versus a featherless? We’ve chosen to go with the featherless. There’s also a number of companies that use fur ruffs. We’ve also chosen not to use fur in our materials and that very much is an ethical choice for us. And I would say on the down, it’s a combination of the two. There’s the ethical impact of how those feathers are sourced. But also for us, it was really just actually a performance question. When we began our research on this product, we went to the person who I know that knows more about winter outerwear and surviving and thriving in harsh winter conditions and his name is Will Steger. He’s a legendary Arctic and Antarctic Explorer, based here in Minnesota, someone I’ve known many years. He led the first confirmed dog sled expedition to the North Pole, the first crossing of Antarctica. We went up to his homestead in northern Minnesota and went through his expedition archives and went through all of his gear. And he’d actually always used 3M synthetic insulation in his parkas. And back then, of course, it wasn’t available 100% recycle, that’s new to us this year. But he’d always chosen not to go with down so we asked him why that was. And he felt that the risk of down especially when you’re in those types of conditions and environments, is that as soon as it gets wet, it loses its loft and it stops being as warm. And so for him, it was very much just a performance question that he felt that synthetic insulation was every bit as warm and actually was more versatile and served his needs better. And so that’s really where we went down the path of making that choice based on just our research of what performs the best.
Liza: So, I have a follow-up question on that. So, you definitely do the very heavy research-based approach creating this parka and your product. But in general, what should consumers be thinking about or looking for when buying outerwear? It’s a big-ticket item for most consumers. Ideally, we want to have this piece last us for many years to come. We’ve been mentioning on the podcast for quite a while about the 30 wear rule. I think hopefully, with an outerwear piece like a parka it should be like 130 wears if not more. So, what are some key questions that consumers should be asking and looking for when buying that outerwear?
Eric: Well, I think to your point it is an investment piece. And it’s a category that I think of and I’ve actually done a good amount of expedition travel, including an expedition across the Canadian Arctic with Will Steger. And so I draw on my own personal experience when I think about this category. For me, it’s certainly not a fashion category in my mind. It’s almost not even an apparel category, it’s really an equipment category. I mean, you’re purchasing gear and so you think about 30 wears, I mean, I’ll get 30 wears out of my parka this month alone. When you’re in Minnesota, in December, you’re wearing [your parka] every single day and I think it is worth making an investment. We feel that there’s an opportunity to offer customers a higher quality and a higher value for the price than currently exists through retail channels. For a lot of customers to access really high-quality winter outerwear was sort of a luxury purchase, it became a luxury category and I don’t think it needs to be that way. But it’s still not inexpensive to buy a high-quality piece of gear. Now, you’re going to use it a lot, so hopefully, you’ll get some value out of that. I think you need to look at it in a couple of ways. One, is it designed and manufactured, constructed to last, will it hold up over many wears? But then you think about longevity in terms of design [you need to think] about the aesthetic of it. Is this a sort of a trendy fashion piece that you’re going to feel good wearing one year but then maybe you’re going to feel silly the next year? I know we’re going to talk about the Amazon coat, I think that’s a prime example of something that was kind of obsolete by design in terms of its aesthetic appearance. And if you’re not going to be excited to wear it the following year, then I don’t care how little you paid for, you didn’t really get your money’s worth, and not to mention, and probably more importantly, the impact on the environment of all the resources that went into producing that just so it can end up in a landfill.
Liza: So, how would I know if the parka or outerwear is constructed to last? Do I look for some specific textiles, materials names, the feel of the piece? How does that work?
Eric: Well, what we offer is what we call a one winter guarantee. So, I think people are maybe looking for different features or trying to inform their decision, but ultimately whether it performs or not is the ultimate question. And so we offer people the chance to wear it for a winter and if it doesn’t live up to their quality expectations, if it doesn’t keep them as warm as they thought it would, we’ll happily take it back. Now, luckily, that hasn’t been an issue thus far and we’ve primarily had people very happy with their purchase, but we want to stand behind it because ultimately, the real question is does it perform at the level that you were hoping and there’s really only one way to find out.
Liza: Yeah, that’s a great value prop. Do you know any other brands [that] do that? Because companies like mattress companies, sheets companies I’ve heard do a 30 nights sleep trial, I’ve never heard of a one year guarantee?
Eric: Well, I’m not aware of anyone else doing it in outerwear in our category. But for us, especially being a relatively new company and not giving customers (unless they’re here in Minneapolis) the opportunity to touch and feel and try it on in person, we wanted to try to take some of the risks out of it. But also really stand behind the quality because we have a lot of confidence in it, but we want to inspire that confidence in our customers as well.
Laura: I think there’s been a classic tension with consumers between wanting to treat outerwear as a fashion piece versus as a piece of gear. I think back many years ago, I had a roommate, she and I would just go crazy buying cute outerwear pieces. Now, they weren’t necessarily performance-based, they’re a bit more like wool, fashion pieces. I want to talk a little bit about the Amazon coat. I don’t know if [you know this], Eric, I used to work at Amazon in fashion and I actually used to work to recommend things to people. I remember we would have people asking us about the most quality pieces of outerwear or really other pieces of fashion on site. Amazon is very much a nightmare to shop from, in many ways, especially with searching. So, we had to throw our hands up and say, how do we, as Amazon, evaluate things? But specifically the Amazon coat. Listeners, if you’re not familiar with this, it is a coat that basically went viral last year, well at least the virality started last year. I think it’s been around for many years and it’s under $100. I think it’s 89.99. It’s very cheap for outerwear and it is made in China. It is made of a lot of duck, duck feathers, duck filling and it’s made in China. I think we can probably draw some conclusions there around the supply chain and ethics. I wondered, Eric, if you’ve been following that story, and if you had thoughts there.
Eric: Yeah, I followed the rise of that coat and now the fall of that coat. The part that makes me sad was reading this article in The New York Times about all of these people who’d bought that coat and worn it for one year and now it was sitting in their closet, and they felt like the moment had passed. The coat was over as this sort of flash in the pan trend. I don’t know anything about the supply chain that went into making that jacket. The cost of it and especially the cost through a retail channel, then the cost that went into making it has to [have been] even lower. I imagine you would have to cut a number of corners to achieve that low, low cost. Again, I don’t know the details, but it does make me suspicious. Whatever the process of making that jacket was, it could [only] be worn for a handful of times and is now either going to languish in someone’s closet, they’re going to buy something new and then that is more resources expended, and likely it’s going to end up in a landfill somewhere. That cycle is a big part of the reason we’re in the situation we’re in when it comes to the environment and specifically, the climate and we’ve got to figure out how to break that cycle.
Liza Moiseeva: Eric, how do you see yourself as the leader of the more ethical sustainable brand? What do you think about going against those trends and everyone’s excitement about them? How do we as people who are trying to be more conscious of our purchases, how do we go against this need for buying trendy pieces and being fashionable, and updating our wardrobe all the time whether it’s an accessory, fashion or outerwear?
Eric: Well, I think that’s a choice for each consumer to make, whether they need to follow those trends. I think for people that do want to maybe rotate their wardrobe more often, they’re now rental services for that type of thing [and] there’s buying vintage. But I would sort of separate what I consider fashion categories from a good winter coat. In a cold-weather climate [a good winter coat] is not a want, it’s a need. It’s something that you need to be outside and be active and to be comfortable and I think it’s something that’s worth investing in. Buying something that is going to last in terms of the durability of its construction, but also that you’re going to be excited to wear 5-10 years from now, it’s not going to have gone out of style. Not to say that there’s a choice between things that look good or things that perform, but we like to think that what we make looks good as well, you’re not going to look like you’re about to climb Mount Everest. In the past maybe been a bit of a false choice between sort of technical function and fashion and I think you we can hopefully get people both of what they’re looking for and at a price that’s accessible while still knowing that we stand behind all the decisions that went into the making of the product.
Laura: Yeah. And one thing I wanted to touch on as well as talking a little bit about prolonging the life of your outerwear. So, I know that your products are designed to withstand many winters. And I wonder if we could talk a little bit about different tips we might have for consumers who have invested into a quality piece of outerwear. So, one tip that I can share is I invested in back when I used to live in Seattle, I needed a very heavy-duty raincoat. And I looked all over and actually ended up finding something from a brand called Penfield. And they’re based here, I’m sure Eric’s familiar with them. But I purchased a jacket from them, I have literally worn it for gosh, probably going on six years now. And last winter the zipper started to malfunction. The jacket itself actually has two different mechanisms to close it so it’s got the zipper and it’s also got some buttons in the front. So, I was pretty lazy, didn’t feel like going to the tailor. I went a whole season by just using the buttons. And finally, my husband was like okay, let’s take [it], we have a few jackets that need to get repaired. So, we found a tailor and we literally went into the tailor and he took a look at my zipper and said first off, this is a really high-quality zipper. He [said], it’s so high quality that I don’t even think I could replace it with as good of a piece just based on what he had there. And so he said, give me one second and all he did is he took out a pair of pliers and bent something back into shape. And there we go, my jacket was as good as new. And I like to tell that story because I think we, especially here in the US, we don’t place enough of a premium on getting things repaired, even getting like shoes resold. I do think it’s a challenge sometimes for people to find quality craftsmen that repair things. So, I feel like that’s a pretty big market opportunity. We’re going to have to kind of go back to our roots. But Eric, I wondered if you had any other tips on sort of prolonging the outerwear that you have.
Eric: Yeah, [our parka] is designed and constructed to be pretty low maintenance. This is not something– I mean, I think something people don’t realize is for a lot of garments, up to 50% of the environmental impact of the garment happens in the use phase and in the washing and drying or if it’s dry cleaning. I mean, that’s all the environmental impact that the garment is having. And so for our products, we designed them to be pretty low maintenance. They don’t require, they shouldn’t require lots of washing and drying. In fact, I would suggest trying to avoid that. You can just sort of spot clean if needed, but it’s certainly, they’re constructed to hold up in terms of the quality of the different materials, the zippers, the snaps. That’s all backed by a lifetime guarantee in terms of the quality of the construction. And then it’s really just hopefully, you get a lot of us how you wear it hard and then hang it up to dry. If it gets a little wet, that’s fine. It’ll still be warm, but then when you get home, hang it up, air it out, let it dry, don’t store it damp. But these aren’t fussy things that require a lot of care. It’s just treating it well and it’ll serve you hopefully for many years to come.
Liza: Cool. So, I want to go back to textiles. We kind of covered down a little bit. Are there any other textile innovation, new things coming up and especially in the outerwear section that you are excited about? And that we should be on the lookout for?
Eric: Well, we’re learning a lot about this category as we go, we’re a relatively young company. We’re really excited about the partnership with 3M. There’s a lot of innovation happening there and we’re trying to stay at the forefront of this. I mean, I think that the thing that we’re trying to achieve even just the lining material going from this year 100% Bluesign to what will have next year which is 100% recycled is really trying to take the virgin plastic, which is a petroleum product out of our products. We’re telling you these are products to get out and enjoy winter, to celebrate winter. Our mission is to Keep the North Cold. We don’t want to be supporting the fossil fuel industry and using new petroleum in the products that we make. And for a lot of the outdoor apparel industry at least historically, a lot of it’s been made from plastic. And so trying to get away from plastic as the input for these products and at least getting to 100% recycled and then where we go from there, what the next generation will look like will be exciting to see. But we don’t want to be making a product that runs in the materials counter to the mission of the company and actually contributes to imperiling the season that we’re trying to get outside to celebrate and enjoy. So, we want to make sure we’re as aligned as possible.
Laura: That’s a great point and I love that we are seeing more and more brands rise up to use recycled plastic. We field a lot of questions from listeners around the impact of recycled plastic and whether or not it’s the perfect material. But one of the things we like to talk about on Good Together and really with Brightly, in general, is that there’s no perfection required to make a difference. And I think there’s always going to be a spectrum of whether or not something is extremely harmful to the environment versus not at all. And so we like to try and support brands who are making a difference in ways that are innovative, ways that we think are contributing to less waste. The more and more we do research in this field, the more I think we have to keep hammering home the point of less waste in general. So, no matter what you’re doing, we should always be thinking about cutting down on trash and plastic. And I think, in general, anything that helps support that is a great piece of advice.
Eric: I would just add to that. I mean, I think that’s a really important point is no matter what materials innovations happen in the future, no matter every good decision we can possibly make as a company by operating, by existing, we are having an environmental impact and we’re creating a carbon footprint. We’ll do everything we can to reduce that as much as possible. That’s where the model that we’ve come up with of giving 110%. However a company wants to think about that, taking accountability for the negative because it’s there and of course, reducing it [is important] but making sure that you are at least having a counterbalancing positive impact, if not, hopefully, a net positive impact. That’s where to me the accountability piece really comes in. It’s not enough just to do less bad, you got to make sure that the amount of good you’re doing is hopefully, tipping the scales in the right direction. Otherwise, we’re still all contributing to the problem.
Liza: Yes, exactly. So, what we always talk about on the podcast is we always promote mindful consumption. But in the end not buying [something] is always a better environmental impact, no matter what we sell. I have a company that sells things and obviously, as companies, we need to survive. But ultimately, I think, all ethical business founders, we’re going to struggle with that. And yes, don’t buy a new thing if you don’t really have to. And if you want to have to buy something, definitely choose quality pieces that will last forever. Laura, you want to get into our favorite three last questions of the episode?
Laura: Yeah. So, as the listeners know, we’re trying to ask all of our guests three questions that we think would be useful for people to understand. So, Eric, I wondered if you could share one or two tips with our audience around living ethically. And this can be related to what we’re talking about today or if there’s like interesting life hacks that you’ve come across, we’d love to know.
Eric: Well, I mentioned the transition that we made here at work to 100% renewable energy as the source of power for our business and our offices. For my family, we made the same switch at home recently. And actually, at least here in Minneapolis, it was incredibly easy, it was through our utility, Xcel Energy, and we could just go online and make that change. So, think about not just reducing maybe your personal energy consumption, but also where that energy comes from, and maybe see if that’s an option to choose a renewable source of energy. But the thing that I always say when I’m asked this question because there are lots of good guides online of ways that individuals can reduce their impact. This is a problem that has been caused by businesses, that’s been caused by companies, so I think the two most powerful actions an individual can have are the choices they make with their dollars, the decisions of what companies they support and don’t support. But then the biggest one and it’s especially relevant the year ahead is to vote. And individuals will not solve this problem if companies and if governments are not doing their part and ultimately leading. They’re the ones that have the impact at a macro level that solving this problem in the next 10 years, which is the window of opportunity that I believe we have to really turn the corner on this; it’s not going to happen if it’s not led by companies and if it’s not led by governments. And so, use your power as a voter, that’s one of the greatest powers we have.
Liza: Yeah, that’s a great point. So, use your power as a voter and then vote with your dollar. So, talking about voting with your dollar, can you share with us one of your favorite ethical brands or products, maybe something you’ve discovered recently and why?
Eric: Well, I thought about this a little bit. A company that I have really admired in a different category than what’s been doing some really impressive things is the company Allbirds, the footwear company, both in their sourcing of materials. They’ve got this great innovation in the soles of their shoes to move away from petroleum products. I believe it’s made from sugar cane. And then also that they’ve sort of similar to how we think about giving 110%. They’ve launched a carbon fund to really hold themselves accountable for their climate impacts. So, I think it’s seeing companies that are doing both actions to reduce the negative side, reduce the environmental impact, but also then the accountability piece, I think is just so critical here to take accountability and ownership for what impact you are having and showing that you’re having a net positive impact through, in their case, the dollars that they’re spending through this carbon fund. So, definitely, a company that I admire. I like their products and I like the people there and a company I’m proud to recommend.
Laura: Yeah, we love Allbirds.
Liza: Yeah, I think my favorite part and I think like every other episode that we’ll be saying that. I like the open-source technology, right, of making that technology accessible to other brands.
Eric: Yeah, that’s a great point. They made this innovation, this breakthrough, but now they’re trying to make it available because it’s not about just owning it as a proprietary thing. It’s about helping other companies improve their practices, too. So, I thought that was a great move on their part.
Laura: Yeah. And I personally love the transparency in the supply chain that we’re starting to see. I think there have been so many questions around whether or not brands are truly making a difference when they say they claim to be. And so I think we talked a little bit about this with one of our past guests. But there’s been a few companies that have come out that have said, hey, let’s all start publishing our wages, that we’re paying our factory workers. That type of information is usually a pretty closely guarded secret by brands. I know some founders that we know that are starting up their own physical product companies, oftentimes have a rough go at it trying to find new producers of products because those are held close to the chest. So, I love that companies more and more are starting to come together to realize that the vast majority of change is going to come from companies and corporations. So, the more we can all do it together, the better. So, yeah, so the last question that we have for you is we’d love for you to tell us really what excites you the most about the ethical and sustainable movement right now?
Eric: Well, I view the environment and specifically climate in the next 10 years as the great challenge of our time, of our generation, of our lives. And what whatever I could be doing, I would want it to be contributing to that solution. And so whether someone is working in the apparel business or whatever your business is, I can’t imagine a more worthy cause than contributing to trying to solve this challenge in the time that we have to solve it. I’ve got three little boys at home and they’re my number one inspiration and motivation for trying to have a positive impact and do whatever I can in my lifetime, especially in these next 10 years. And so I think we have to be optimistic and we have to have a can-do spirit and we’ve got to all work together to try to figure this out because the stakes couldn’t be higher, and we don’t have a lot of time. But I believe we can do it or I guess I have to believe that we can do it. It’d be too depressing not to and it’s just fun to be in a fight that I think is big and challenging but also exciting and hugely important.
Laura: Eric, we’re so thankful that you took the time to chat with us today. It’s been quite a privilege. I think this is just such a pressing matter for most of us around wanting to shop for good, shop better and shop for less. Treating what we buy as gear… I love that mentality. My husband’s a huge gear nut, and I always would just claim that he is. But I think maybe we should all become gear nuts.
Liza: Yeah, my marketing brain is thinking how do you change consumer minds to that?
Laura & Liza: Thanks so much, Eric.
Eric: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.