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What does “sustainability” mean in golf fashion?

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November 15, 2022
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Image via Ocean Tee Golf

Richard Johnson

When we pick out our golf apparel, we often think about style, fit and performance. These factors, of course, relate to the fabric and technology woven into the DNA of the clothing. But they should also, as these designers look to encourage customers to keep at the forefront of their minds, include sustainability. And by sustainability, in this article, we mean a clothing’s environmental footprint: a holistic measure of how much impact, negative or positive, a garment has on the people and resources that went into creating it, as well as its effect on the world and the wearer throughout its life cycle.
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Most golf apparel—over 95 percent—is crafted using materials derived from virgin plastic. Think: polyester, nylon, and elastane. These fabrics have become so popular over the years, in part, because of their durability. But this also means that they are not biodegradable, meaning they will take centuries to break down. Polyester, for example, is fabricated from petroleum (yes, that petroleum), a non-renewable resource that is harmful to the environment throughout its life cycle as it releases toxic chemicals and microfibers as it wears—especially alarming when you think about how the largest organ in your body, skin, absorbs roughly 30 percent of what it comes into contact with. And once it’s thrown away, the fabric refuses to break down. These plastics get trapped in landfills, and oceans, harming people, animals, plants, and landscapes. In golf, a sport predicated on nature, knowing where your clothing comes from, and how it’s affecting the course—the plants, animals, and waterways that comprise it—and the player, is an important consideration too often overlooked. These designers consider sustainability a key factor when it comes to performance and style. Because, if an article of clothing is releasing microfibers that harm the greens and the wearer’s health, that’s not conducive to the longevity of the sport.

The following brands do more than aim to negate their impact when it comes to golf apparel. These brands seek to be stewards of a healthier game, meaning they look to use their platform to educate players. Many of these brands create clothing out of renewable and recycled materials (think old windshields, bamboo, plastic bottles, and coffee grounds), invest in innovative factories and manufacturers that are making strides to pay and treat their workers fairly—as well as reduce water and energy consumption—and compensate the environment for their production in some way, whether that means planting 10 trees for each purchase, or donating a portion of proceeds to environmental non-profits.

In a holistic, mental sport like golf, these brands believe that purchasing thoughtfully, and caring about the environmental impact of our sartorial actions, can only improve the lives of the players and therefore, their games.

Ocean Tee Golf

“I’ve been sort of fascinated by the ocean for as long as I can remember,” Edward Sandison, the founder of Ocean Tee Golf, said. While he wasn’t raised on a coastline per se, he grew up in the heart of England, practically smack dab in the middle. Still, he joked, living in a small island country, you’re never really that far from the water.

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Sandison leads his brands using his twin identities as both a lifelong sportsman (an avid athlete, he started playing golf in his 20s) and a marine biologist. For the brand’s first product, he decided he wanted to work with bamboo—a bamboo tee seemed like a good choice. Surprisingly, the most difficult part wasn’t transforming the highly renewable plant into a sturdy tee that, if left on the course, will biodegrade and leave fauna and flora unharmed. (Unlike other “sustainable tees,” it’s not varnished or coated, so it will actually break down and not pollute the greens). The most difficult part, he said, was finding a sustainable way to package the product. Luckily, Sandison found an ingenious solution: a matchbox. Reusable and recyclable.

For the world of golf, Sandison said, the “scope to have a huge environmental impact is enormous.” Sandison uses his platform to educate others (at tournaments, he runs educational programming to inform players and fans about climate change, and even produces a newsletter emphasizing these goals). Clothing is sewn from upcycled plastic, often actually removed from the oceans—and 1 percent of all profits go back to protecting our world’s waters. In a new line of caps, QR codes are sewn into the sides, so you can scan your hat with your phone and trace its life cycle, from littered virgin plastic water bottle to fabric to garment.

“I’m quite a positive person generally, I try to be optimistic,” Sandison said. But maintaining hope that small changes can have a big impact in stewarding a better world takes a certain amount of resilience; when we spoke back in July, Sandison cited the War in Ukraine, the difficulties that still arise globally from Covid, and the growing distrust in science as a few hefty issues that capture the state of our world today. Sustainable living, as Sandison and others see it, touches on all of these issues.

“The brand ethos has always come down to positivity,” Sandison said. “We’re not going to be the brand that uses negative imagery. We like to use our products to celebrate [positive change]. Within golf you can see lots of things that are changing. One of our mottos is that small changes can make a big difference.”

Sustainable pieces from Ocean Tee Golf

Ocean Tee Golf Men's Earth Polo
Ocean Tee Golf Men's Earth Polo
$80 | OCEANTEE Golf
Ocean Tee Golf Pacific Cap
Ocean Tee Golf Pacific Cap
$35 | OCEANTEE Golf
Ocean Tee Golf Women's Reef Polo
Ocean Tee Golf Women's Reef Polo
$100 | OCEANTEE Golf

Radmor

“There’s this incredible opportunity to welcome in and usher in change,” Scott Morrison, Radmor’s co-founder, said. “This is so big, so much bigger than me.”

Morrison was always into golf and clothes. He played golf in college—which is where he met his friend and fellow co-founder, Bob Conrad (Radmor is a snazzy amalgamation of the pair’s last names) and made a name for himself as a denim designer. Eventually—like so much of the (not fast-) fashion industry—he grew disenchanted with the constant churning of product, and the dizzying feat of creating for ever-changing fashion seasons. So, he called it quits and moved from New York back to the Northwest, where he and Conrad teamed up to create Radmor, a sustainable golf wear brand that takes its time, introducing conscious consumers to the highest technology in environmentally-forward design.

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Coming from the fashion industry, Morrison is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to production and the pros and cons of different fabrics, and Radmor’s selective, high-quality products reflect that (our conversation ranged from topics like why “Egyptian cotton” has become a misnomer, to the economics of fashion today—did you know the average American purchases 80 pounds worth of clothing per year, which is 14 million tons, 85 percent of which ends up in a landfill?). No detail has been taken for granted: for example, the clothing tags are cardstock and can be deconstructed and used as both a practice putting cup and a ball marker.

Especially exciting is the brand’s new recycling program that helps consumers actually recycle their clothes, a particularly arduous task in the world of golf apparel, which is often constructed with a variety of fastenings and zippers, in metals and plastics, that have to be broken down and recycled separately. Linings made of different materials have to be unpicked and removed, to be handled separately. Their RAD-Cycling option does all the work for customers.

For Morrison, headlining a sustainable brand isn’t about perfection—and if anyone tells you it is, they’re probably full of it. Sustainability is about a dedicated commitment to improvement and innovation, to constantly thinking and asking yourself, how can this be better?

As Morrison put it, “focusing on ‘better’ leads you on a pretty interesting path.”

Sustainable pieces from Radmor

PERKINS BOBRAD Sweatshirt
PERKINS BOBRAD Sweatshirt
$110 | RADMOR
Radmor Men's Taylor Polo
Radmor Men's Taylor Polo
$115 | RADMOR
Radmor Women's Olivia Long Sleeve
Radmor Women's Olivia Long Sleeve
$115 | RADMOR

Tentree

The name says it all: with every athletic gear item purchased, this conscious brand plants 10 trees in its place. Yep, you read that right. As of writing this article, they’ve planted a whopping 86,419,476 trees so far.

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Like many of the brands on this list, Tentree relies on responsibly sourced fabrics from manufacturing partners like Tencel and Repreve. Their collection of clothing fit for the modern day adventurer ranges from leggings and sports bras, perfect for sweating it out on the course, to knits and trousers for the driving range or post-round plans. They’re also a Certified B brand (which means a third party has evaluated their practices to ensure the “highest standards of social and environmental impact”), in addition to being Climate Neutral Certified. It’s extra steps like these that speak to the brand’s transparency; the leadership team is very open about the competitive (and often phony-laden) space of “sustainable” activewear and the difficulties in, for example, making sure those trees actually get planted. As you navigate through Tentree’s website, at the bottom of every page is an acknowledgment of the indigenous peoples whose land they live on, another reminder of how vast—and crucial—the question of sustainable living is: “We acknowledge that our company is based on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Coast Salish Nations.”

Sustainable pieces from Tentree

Tentree Women's French Terry Crew
Tentree Women's French Terry Crew
$78 | Tenttree
Tentree Women's  Sweatpant
Tentree Women's Sweatpant
$78 | Tentree
Tentree Men's InMotion Jogger
Tentree Men's InMotion Jogger
$118 | Tentree

Galvin Green

Tomas Nilsson founded Galvin Green, the brand known for its large line of all-weather golf layering pieces, in the 90s, in a Swedish town called Växjö—fitting, as the quaint locale was actually ranked “the greenest city in Europe” not too long ago. So producing garments with the “least impact possible,” as Tom Romano, GG’s general manager for North America, said, is built into the DNA of the designs, and has been, since its early days. He describes walking the line between sustainability and actually creating usable clothes as a balancing act of “maximizing performance but neutralizing a carbon footprint you produce.”

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As the brand expands, particularly growing across America and outside Europe, they’re looking to become carbon neutral sometime soon. Right now, about 80 percent of the GG line is 100 percent sustainable, based on Romano’s estimations. The “Upcycled” jackets below have been crafted from leftover materials, so the collections are constantly changing and limited in quantities—one example of how innovative production techniques can lead to exciting new products.

Sustainable pieces from Galvin Green

Galvin Green Women's Adele Jacket
Galvin Green Women's Adele Jacket
$379 | Galvin Green
Galvin Green Men's Alex Jacket
Galvin Green Men's Alex Jacket
$290 | Galvin Green
Galvin Green Men's Apex Jacket
Galvin Green Men's Apex Jacket
$360 | Galvin Green

Five12 Apparel

Founders Brooklynn Gould-Bradbury and Allison Wood both played volleyball in college, so they know what to look for when it comes to performance wear. The longtime friends launched their brand, Five12 Apparel (named for a highway off Tacoma, Wash., where the brand began) in 2016. They specialize in technical fabrics constructed from post-consumer recycled materials like castaway fishing nets, used coffee grounds, recycled windshields and plastic bottles. Their athletic range includes everything from tees to windbreakers to shield bags and comes shipped in biodegradable packaging. All of their apparel is hydrophobic, quick-drying, UV-protecting, four-way stretch, and (thanks to those coffee grounds) odor-controlled.

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“I wish the future of fashion could increasingly grow more sustainable,” Gould-Bradbury said. “We’re discovering a lot of materials that can be recycled, but there’s so much more untapped.”

Sustainable pieces from Five12

Five12 Women's Mosa Shirt
Five12 Women's Mosa Shirt
$55 | Five12 Apparel
Five12 Unisex Mission Long Sleeve
Five12 Unisex Mission Long Sleeve
$58 | Five12 Apparel
Five12 Men's Panama Technical Tee
Five12 Men's Panama Technical Tee
$20 | Five12 Apparel