Brewers have an abundance of options when it comes to producing their merch. Coozies, key chains, hoodies, and countless other items carry brewery logos and beer names, all in hopes of capturing the attention of consumers. Many of those would be customers are interested in purchasing things made from recycled materials. Let’s look at how brewers can smartly use recycled materials to create something new and connect with a wider audience base.
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Considering Which Materials To Use
Ben Prater is the sales manager for Recover Brands, a sustainable apparel manufacturer that started in 2010. Recover works with many craft breweries, including Sierra Nevada Brewing, to create custom logoed lifestyle clothing and sportswear.
“We attack sustainability from two different angles,” Prater says. The first element we’ve been using since the genesis of the company is the use of recycled raw material.”
Recover uses three different recycled materials. Recycled polyester in the form of water or plastic bottles, known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are a main material Recover uses for its clothing. “There’s a lot of brands these days that are using recycled PET, it’s become very popular. And performance wise, it’s strong and durable.”
Recover also uses upcycled cotton, which is post manufacturers’ waste, and a small amount of US grown USDA certified organic cotton grown in Texas. “Upcycle cotton is something that’s really unique to our brand, being post manufacturers’ waste,” Prater says. “If you think of a textile mill, once they cut a silhouette of a t-shirt out of a roll of fabric, there’s a lot of little scraps that are too small to make into anything else. So those typically will be sent to the landfill. We’re actually able to salvage those scraps, sort them by color, and then break them down back into fiber form where they’re then blended with the recycled PET.
Recover also uses pre-colored yarn, which it says is unique in the textile world. This process substantially reduces the amount of water, up to 99-percent, usually needed to dye the fabric for a t-shirt. “So not only is that 100-percent recycled with the recycled PET and upcycle cotton, but it’s also very water friendly energy,” Prater says.
Local Supply Chains
“The second element of our sustainability approach which we have created and perfected over the past 13 years is our hyperlocal supply chains,” Prater says. “Essentially we make about 30-percent of our products in the southeastern US within a 250 mile radius of our Charlotte headquarters. So from raw material to finished product, it’s all done within a really small local radius, which really cuts down on carbon emissions, which is huge in the textile space. And then the other 70-percent is made in our factory in El Salvador and that’s actually done from raw material to finished product within a 10 mile radius. We’re not shipping yarn from the US to Asia and back.”
Recover’s core product is its classic t-shirt, which is a 50/50 blend of the recycled poly and upcycled cotton. “With so many run clubs becoming popular at breweries, the sport t-shirt has also been really popular as well,” Prater says. “It’s lightweight, moisture wicking for activity, but it’s also comfortable enough to wear as an everyday product.”
Recover also has a line of headwear, including a trucker hat, runner hat, and camper hat, that launched in the past two years. “There’s not a ton of companies that are using recycled material in headwear because it’s a more difficult process,” he says.
The Sierra Nevada Model
It’s unsurprising that Sierra Nevada is a leader in sustainable merchandise. The brewery has been a Recover customer since the apparel company’s early days. “From the way that organization is run, we’ve always looked up to them as a pioneer in the brewing industry when it comes to just doing everything the right way, and not really taking any shortcuts,” Prater says. Recover has helped sponsor events at Sierra Nevada, including attending farmers’ markets in their parking lots.
Recover and Sierra Nevada have also collaborated on a closed loop program, where the brewery collects old t-shirts made from polyester or cotton, from any brand, and Recover takes the shirts and recycles them into new clothing. Recover offers these local activations as an end solution to avoid just throwing away old or unwanted t-shirts. Recover then separates the items by fabric type and they’re chopped back down into fibers, cotton, or polyester to be blended with the recycled PET or upcycled cotton to be twisted in the new yarn.
There is a lingering impression that recycled materials lead to more expensive items and Prater confirms that Recover’s products are going to cost more than some manufacturers. “We might not be the cheapest t-shirt brand, but we try to stay competitive with the premium t-shirt brand,” he says. “For the end consumers these days, and especially in the brewing space, sustainability is such a prominent and strong initiative. It has really taken off in the last decade and people are more open to spending five or ten dollars more if they understand where the t-shirt is being made, what it’s made from, and the story behind the product.” To that end, Recover works with its customers to provide POS signage explaining the process behind its materials.
Prater compares it to breweries that try to inform their customers about the origins of the raw ingredients in their beers. “There are a lot of great breweries that do a great job of starting from where our hops are grown, how we work as a staff, and how our facility is powered. There are a lot of breweries out there that are doing a great job of telling that story. And so the merchandise is just another extension of their sustainability initiatives for them and kind of ties everything together. It says we’re not taking any shortcuts or skipping out on anything from what we can do as an organization.”
This engaged, informed consumer is willing to pay a little more for an item, according to Prater. “We’ve really found that over the years that the end consumer is becoming more understanding of asking when they’re making purchases and wanting some more information.” Prater notes these consumers think, “I can get a cheap t-shirt anywhere. But if I can get it with a cool story, I’ll be proud and it’ll make for a great t-shirt.”
Recover tries to remain an accessible option for breweries. “So the barrier to entry is really low, you don’t have to invest a ton of inventory upfront,” Prater says. Its minimum order is just 24 pieces so breweries can test the waters before investing further. “I think a lot of brewery partners maybe aren’t so eager to jump in with bigger orders, so they’re able to start with getting their staff some polos or just do a do a giveaway order with a small amount.”
Recover attends the Craft Brewers Conference and encourages interested breweries to contact them. “If you ever see us at a trade show, we’re always trying to improve on how we can help our brewery partners tell the story to their customers.”