Winter’s Downside


Last fall, I received a Lidia Parka from Patagonia for review. Free stuff is awesome. Things that I’d never pay for (Cajun-spiced goji berries, washable maxipads with smiley faces) are 100% more appealing when gratis. For every dozen or so strange eco-freebie that a magazine or blog is sent in hopes of a favorable review, there’s that one package about which, upon opening, an editor feels Christmas-morning cheerful, then immediately concerned. The Lidia was one of those. First, it was the size and color I would have ordered, had I ordered it. Second, I would have ordered it, had I been able to justify the purchase ($199), with a perfectly useful and cute winter coat from the year before waiting in my closet.

For planetary and budgetary reasons, I’ve taken something of an oath to buy only second-hand clothing. Although I eschew animal products as a rule, I’ve bent that rule for some previously worn things, including said winter coat, that contain down. The duck inside it is long-dead; the only way to justify its suffering—and it did suffer, and there’s no justifying it—is to extend the life of its parts, if not its life. And most down is indeed procured from dead or even live waterfowl. (Only a tiny and expensive—like, $2,000 to $12,000 for a comforter expensive—percentage, called eiderdown, is sourced from the nests of ducks who’ve naturally molted.) Calling it a byproduct of the food industry doesn’t make me feel any better, when I know how that animal is treated from birth to electric bath. And anyone who thinks feathers can be “hand harvested” humanely should get his chest waxed and report back on how cruelty-free that felt.
I won’t apply this reasoning to fur. I don’t care if that fox was killed with a muzzle-loader and gunpowder; if you aren’t Inuit, wearing fur from any era says it’s OK to kill for plain vanity. No one is eating the meat and carving tools from the teensy bones of the 150 chinchillas it takes to make one coat.

Between vintage online stores and my local Goodwill (which, living in an affluent suburb, sells stuff nicer than what I’d be able to buy new, anyway), this has been an easy commitment. The exception to this rule is gifts. A review sample is most certainly not a gift, so when it feels like one, a reviewer best recognize their inherent bias and proceed with caution—which is why I gave Patagonia’s foray into recycled-content parkas a season-long tryout and waited a full year to write about it.

Even now I’m resigned that this will read like a promotional piece, because there is nothing not to like about this coat. They got all the details just right—invisible zipper pockets located more toward the coat’s front than sides make for easy hand-warming and a flattering fit; falling to just north of the knees, the length works with skirts but isn’t cumbersome. The padded collar adds protection when zipped all the way up and lays flat when not. Recycled polyester inside and out, the Lidia is lined with Thermogreen insulation where plucked-duck feathers would otherwise be. It is water resistant—the inside (which is a fun contrasting color) stayed dry through both a sudden downpour and several hours of snow shoveling-slash-snowball fighting. It’s machine washable and dries quickly. It is lightweight—so wears well and looks good from pumpkin picking through mud season—and skinny fitting and squishes down to nothing in a bag, yet it’s really warm, but never in that poly-infamous way where you feel like you’re slow-roasting in your own sweat.

The Men’s Antecedent Parka by Columbia actually makes good use of that body heat, with a new-fangled thermal reflective technology, to boost its warmth factor by 20%. It also uses 50% recycled poly in place of down fill, and comes with mountain sport perks like goggle pockets, an internal waterproof audio pocket and a waterproof (yet breathable—I just don’t understand how that works, but bless ‘em) removable shell. There are complementary bottoms with the same technology and recycled content.

For smaller family members, Patagonia’s got the newborn-through-kindergarten market covered, literally. The Puff Ball jacket and snow pants come in sizes three months to 5T, are reversible and come in groovy prints like owl and dandelion. There’s a one-piece baby bunting/snowsuit in the same color schemes, sizes zero to 3T with an angled zipper that starts mid-thigh for easier diaper changes. With far cheaper options available, these are pricey duds for rapidly growing people, no doubt. However, they’re truly made to last, whether as hand-me-downs, for resale on eBay or a consignment shop, or as donations to a local thrift store or family shelter. And, if and when the time comes to retire them, or if they just need some repair, they can be sent back to Patagonia for repair, reuse or to be recycled, through its Common Threads Initiative.

Unlike pricey outer gear for your little ones, you can’t expect to stretch your expense by passing these grown-up snowsuits on once they’re outgrown (well, hopefully). But they are exceedingly well made, in keeping with the reputation of these two brands (exhibit A: a practically pristine Columbia waterproof shell I’ve had since the early ‘90s).

And both Columbia and Patagonia spearhead admirable environmental conservation and education programs. And no one bribed me to say that.