Case Study

Pearl iZumi removes subjectivity from sustainability with Higg insights

Bike apparel company Pearl iZumi wants to create the best products possible, in both performance and sustainability. 

Before using Higg, Pearl iZumi believed itself to be a sustainable company, and they set standards they believed supported that commitment. For instance, the company decided it would only create products with at least 50% recycled content or organic fibers, and ensured their fabrics were certified by leading bodies such as the Responsible Down Standard, Responsible Wool Standard, and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). But according to Pearl iZumi apparel developer McKenzie Everett, these targets were set arbitrarily. As a company that prides itself in innovating on behalf of its customers and the planet, Pearl iZumi wanted to take a more data-driven approach to how they set sustainability standards, and measured their impact and reporting, removing any subjectivity from the process. To that end, they sought a sustainability insights platform that helped them set data-backed impact goals tailor made to their company’s value chain. 

“We selected Higg as our north star for sustainability measurement. Knowing the company was  used by the leading brands and retailers in the industry gave us faith that the tool is purpose-built for leading companies who are passionate about sustainability, and who want to create less damaging products that are better for people and the planet.” Everett explains. 

Once Pearl iZumi started using Higg, the company had new data to help them understand their products’ impact, and this information guided their refreshed outlook on sustainability – the platform helped them see how they could make their products even more sustainable.

How the Product Tools calculate product impact

Everett, a self-described “sustainability nerd,” recognizes that creating high quality products with a low impact can be fickle. “You can make a product with less water, but then your carbon footprint increases, for example. Sustainability can be based on what you choose to measure.” But Higg is designed to help businesses take a holistic approach to sustainability so that no aspects are left unconsidered – and so businesses can better understand tradeoffs when trying to improve their impact. 

The company added elements from their most popular products into the Product Tools to learn individual garments’ cradle to gate environmental impact. The Product Tools takes into account a bike jersey’s fabrics, trims, and zippers, the amount of yardage used, and any techniques like waterproofing or sublimation, and calculates impact in five different categories – global warming, fossil fuel use, water quality, water use, and chemical use. The Pearl iZumi team was particularly interested in each article’s global warming potential. This calculation takes into account a variety of different greenhouse gasses emitted during production, and then equates impact into kilograms of CO2 emitted.

Pearl iZumi promotes biking not only for recreation, but also as a means of transportation, and Higg’s product CO2 calculation resonated as a way to encourage people to get on their bikes more often. The ability to measure this specific performance indicator inspired the concept for Pearl iZumi’s innovative “Pedal to Zero” program. Pearl iZumi determined the number of miles a customer would have to ride to offset an item’s total kilograms of CO2 emitted, effectively “riding off” the product’s impact.  

In an effort to be more transparent about their product impacts, the company will begin to list the Pedal to Zero number on a variety of its products, starting with their Spring 2022 collection. The company recently launched their Pedal to Zero campaign, calling it the first apparel line designed to be ridden out of existence.

“For each garment you buy that’s measured and assessed within Higg, it will be easy to see the number of miles you have to ride to offset your environmental impact. We’re really excited to see this campaign come to life,” shares Everett.

Using Higg to build a shared understanding of impact

While Pearl iZumi initially used the Product Tools to measure impact after a product was already made and sold, the company is now starting to use Higg earlier in the process. A product’s Pedal to Zero number is now used as a standardized way for the company to consider impact as a part of its feasibility. During a team-wide meeting to discuss product viability, the company now includes a product’s Pedal to Zero number alongside construction, cost and sourcing capacity. 

Higg data has also helped the company take a closer look at their list of sustainability initiatives and products, and press harder on areas to improve.  They’re using Higg data to set parameters for how their materials should perform in terms of impact, and moving beyond static goals and certifications  – if a material doesn’t score well enough based on how the company has defined sustainability, backed with hard data from Higg, Pearl iZumi won’t use it. The company is increasing the percentage of recycled materials that must be used in each garment, and re-evaluating the certifications they use. 

While they had invested in developing recycled trims and zippers, focusing on incorporating more recycled materials into products, they now know there are other areas to focus on that will lead to greater results. For example, the Product Tools revealed that the main body material used for many of their garments accounts for at times 50% of a garment’s global warming potential. With these insights in mind, the team is working hard to test new ways to make this fabric more sustainable.

“Higg’s Product Tools have helped us get even more clear about what that means, and it has helped us narrow our focus on finding more sustainable materials across the company. We learned that even though we had sustainability programs in place, we could still do better.”
– McKenzie Everett, Apparel Developer

Preparing for new regulations

Across Europe and the US, new due diligence regulations will soon require brands and retailers to track and manage their impact across the value chain. Everett is confident that by using Higg to better understand their product’s impact as they move through production, the company will be well situated to comply with emerging policies. In Everett’s opinion, “this should be the future. Some companies need policy-driven incentives to step up to sustainability. It’s wonderful to work for a company like Pearl iZumi that is ahead of the curve, while other companies will be blind sided.” 

The Pearl iZumi team is full of individuals who are avid cyclists and spend much of their time outdoors. As such, they are ready to embrace more regulation that encourages their industry peers to take accountability for their impact. “We can see the effects of climate change in our everyday lives. We are all really passionate about helping our planet, and want to bring our skills to solve this together,” explains Everett.

Higg data supports product innovation

Pearl iZumi also uses Higg to think about what’s possible for the future. The company has always been willing to try new things, and invest in ideas that might have lower impact or better serve their customers without the worry of failure or pressure of a timeline. “We shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good. From a micro to macro scale, we have to keep moving forward, innovating, and trying new things. Companies run the risk of greenwashing by complying with the status quo,” explains Everett. From trying to build net zero products, to exploring the impact of mushroom-based or 3D-printed materials, the Higg has helped encourage a spirit of informed innovation at the company. 

They’ve also used Higg to understand how they could iterate on existing products, no matter how complicated. The tools have been flexible enough to measure Pearl iZumi’s proprietary materials like sweat-wicking foam.

“Higg is at the forefront of measuring textiles and apparel. They helped us measure performance for some of our most complex proprietary fabrics in a way that other LCA tools wouldn’t be able to.”
– McKenzie Everett, Apparel Developer

And the innovation goes both ways. Pearl iZumi has been a valued informant in sharing how the Product Tools could better serve the needs of the industry. Higg is constantly iterating and working with customers such as Pearl iZumi to improve the Product Tools and create the most informed product on the market. 

“I’ve heard it time and time again that you can’t impact what you can’t measure. Our impact is only as good as what we can measure. Higg has been really committed to helping us use our own data to improve environmental impact,” says Everett. By integrating Higg’s trusted accurate impact data into Pearl iZumi’s product design, the company is now better equipped to act on its passion for sustainability.

Listen to Everett’s interview about using Higg with EcoTextile News, and learn more about the Product Tools here.

See Product Tools in action.

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