How do ideas for MEC-label products happen? Sometimes it starts with a challenge from a designer to the materials team, asking for a more breathable or packable or lightweight or all-of-the-above version of an existing product. Other times it starts with a new, exciting material that shows major potential for use by members. Regardless of how an idea sparks, the final product you see has been developed with performance and sustainability in mind.
It usually takes 18 months to two years for something to go from an idea to a real item you can buy. That may seem longer than expected, but MEC isn’t geared toward fast fashion. Instead, we focus on crafting well-made pieces with thoughtfully chosen materials that give solid value to members.
Our materials team goes to textile mills in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Turkey, the US, Italy and Thailand to see what’s new, and have even visited farmers growing the organic cotton we use. Textile suppliers also come to our Head Office, and the materials team is known to bring their microscopes to meetings to get a close look at fabrics.
Performance is key to any fabric we choose, whether it’s being used in a tent or a cycling jacket. Because sustainability is embedded in our processes, we source lower impact options like organically grown cotton, recycled nylon, PVC-free alternatives and bluesign-approved materials whenever possible.
Lab and field testing
The office in Vancouver, is home to our own testing lab with engineers on staff. As part of our commitment to product quality, all materials for MEC-label products are rigorously tested and must meet performance requirements before we use them.
The goal is to make sure all materials can stand up to the conditions of use for the products they’re designed for, whether it’s a jacket for backcountry expeditions or a t-shirt for everyday wear. The lab has more than 100 different tests to choose from to determine material properties – everything from colour fastness, wash durability, and pilling to tear strength, waterproofness, breathability and abrasion resistance.
We also field test new materials in prototype products sent out with MEC Ambassadors and staff to be used in real-life situations. It could be carrying a pack on a ski tour trip in Wells Gray Provincial Park or wearing merino long johns while climbing in Patagonia. Materials can get tested in the field for up to a full year to see how they perform. When feedback comes back from our testers, we compare it with our lab results and see if there are ways to improve our lab testing; this continuous feedback and improvement process makes sure we have the best available info to make material decisions when we create gear.
Who we work with
Collaboration is a big part of the outdoor industry culture. To help us push the boundaries of what’s possible, we work with:
Bluesign to reduce our environmental footprint by sourcing products with specific environmental management standards.
Outdoor Industry Association to work on managing chemicals, the traceability of materials, and worker well-being.
Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which aims to reduce the environmental and social impacts of clothing and footwear. The SAC created the Higg Index to measure these impacts for products, and together we’re creating a standardized way to communicate them to consumers.
Textile Exchange, a non-profit group that works to expand textile sustainability.
Wholesale brands – we want to learn more about what the brands we carry are doing around social and environmental performance, and are asking our key brands to provide us with information on how they deal with issues ranging from workers’ rights to materials selection.