Trade Talks: The Issue With Plastic Performance Wear


Founded in 1995 in New Zealand, icebreaker was one of the first companies to discover the benefits of merino wool as a natural alternative to synthetic fibres in performance apparel. Nearly 30 years on, they continue to challenge the idea that the category needs to rely so heavily on plastic, looking to nature for the answers to our modern day active needs.   

Given how critical the climate crisis has become, icebreaker’s commitment to sustainability is not only a part of how they source and make their clothes, but a way they do business. As Senior Manager of Global Materials and Sustainability, one of Jordi Beneyto-Ferre’s key roles is to work towards the company’s commitment to be plastic-free by 2023. 

Jordi Beneyto-Ferre

Jordi Beneyto-Ferre

Before joining the icebreaker team, Beneyto-Ferre worked for leading sportswear brands on innovative and tech driven textile development. For him, the focus on synthetics didn’t align with his values. “I had a realisation early on that I wanted to use my skills to find alternatives to synthetic fibres and make a positive impact to the environment,” Beneyto-Ferre said.

With a passion for sustainability, he joined the icebreaker team and used his expertise in innovation to work with merino wool and develop natural or plant-based garments that don’t compromise on durability, function or fit, and aren’t going to add to the world’s plastic problem. 

“Merino is pretty special, for centuries people have been using it to make clothes, and for good reasons. It’s breathable, odour resistant and thermoregulating, keeping you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot, a real win for performance wear,” he said. 

Working with natural fibres is something icebreaker are known for, but many consumers aren’t aware of the issues synthetic clothing can pose. The growing demand of fast fashion means consumers have wardrobes filled with synthetic clothing. This is one of the main reasons why the fashion industry is the second largest polluter globally.  

Beneyto-Ferre explained that there’s a need to shift our perception of synthetic clothing. “We’ve seen how ready consumers are to make sustainable changes to their daily routines. You’d be hard pressed to find someone out for a hike with a plastic disposable water bottle or not using a keep cup at their local café, but so many of us don’t even think twice about having a whole wardrobe filled with plastic.”

With an obvious disconnect between tactile everyday plastic and the plastic in our clothes, icebreaker are hoping to shift the dial and showcase the importance of natural performance wear and the possibility that one day we could enjoy an entirely plastic-free wardrobe.

“One of the things that really sets icebreaker apart from other brands is the fact we can trace every fibre back to its origin and have a really transparent production line. From the beginning icebreaker has worked closely to build long lasting relationships with merino growers in New Zealand to source the very best ethical wool to create our collections,” Beneyto-Ferre added.

icebreaker are already 91 percent of the way to be plastic free by 2023 and have an entire range that’s made entirely from natural fibres. “That last nine percent is our biggest challenge to date, when you consider the need for elastic for stretch in underwear, or nylon for strength in socks, but being so close to this goal is such a big win for the category.”

The team is set to launch their annual transparency report in July. Each year the report opens the doors to the icebreaker business so that consumers can find out how its sustainable clothing is made, and the impact it has on the planet. 

icebreaker is sold in more than 5,000 stores in 50 countries through wholesale, Touch Lab retail stores and e-commerce platforms.