The Process of Making the Most Sustainable Hat Possible
It starts with the right raw materials
The materials used to make hats are the first step to creating as sustainably as possible. We have to ask ourselves: what does it take to make this material? Where’s it coming from? What’s the impact? Not just environmentally, but for the animals and workers that are part of the process as well. While not every material used is perfect, they’re all a piece in the puzzle to create with as little impact as possible. The first thing you’ll notice? They’re all sourced from natural or recycled materials. By putting effort into starting with the right materials, the environmental footprint of a sustainable hat is immediately lessened. Along with the long-term impact (but more on that later).
Cruelty-Free Wool Hats
Sure, we commit more to sustainable hat design than "just" making cruelty-free wool hats. But it is one of our favorite sustainable materials to start the process with. So what is cruelty-free wool? It’s wool that’s harvested without mulesing. Mulesing is a practice that removes chunks of skin from a sheep's backside to fight disease. By having assurances that the wool used in our hats is sourced from Australian farms with holistic practices, we are able to track our wool supply to ensure it’s harvested without these unnecessary and cruel tactics.
Cruelty-free wool is a naturally renewable by-product that sheep grow each year. It’s biodegradable, odor-resistant, and is great at temperature regulation. This makes it the perfect material for a year-round use hat. Using cruelty-free merino wool offers a sustainable hat material that’s breathable, durable, and easy to care for.
Hemp is a fast-growing plant that uses a fraction of the water needed for crops like cotton. As a naturally pest-resistant crop, there’s no need to use harsh chemicals in the growing process. Hemp is three times stronger than cotton. This results in a long-lasting material that can handle the wear and tear of everyday life.
Conventional cotton is subject to chemicals, both in the growth process and as it’s cut and prepared for looming. Plus, harsh dyes are often used to create the desired colors. This quickly turns a natural material into one with a large environmental impact. We choose to use organic cotton instead. This cuts out the use of chemicals or harmful dyes at any point in the materials’ life cycle. Sourcing this way supports organic cotton farmers that are helping to shift cotton to a cleaner future. And it results in a material that’s OCS certified organic and free of any toxic dyes.
Repreve© Recycled Plastic
The plastic problem on our planet is huge. Using Repreve helps to divert the plastic waste that would otherwise end up in the ocean or sit in landfills. Instead, it creates a high-quality material from plastic bottles. Repreve is a fantastic material for sustainable sports hats. It’s UPF 50+, lightweight, and breathable.
We test our leather to ensure that it’s free of organic biocides, formaldehyde, flame-retardants, chromium IV, or azo dyes. The use of natural leather results in one of the most durable hat materials out there. (We’ve seen our leather hats in use for 40+ years). Although durable, leather can be a sore topic for many people, especially those who choose a vegan or vegetarian diet- and for good reason. The mass production of leather via the beef industry is not sustainable, and the environmental impact of it cannot be disputed. At Conner Hats, we find value in using a byproduct of this industry that would otherwise go to waste, and by creating change through only accepting leather that is free of harmful chemicals. The toxic process of creating vegan leather with synthetic materials isn’t an environmentally safer option, so we choose the most natural path for this durable hat material. While we use leather in some hats, the impact of materials like leather is also a reason why we’ve created a 1-acre food forest in St. Augustine, FL, and plant 12 trees for every hat purchase.
Grown in Madagascar, organic raffia boasts the biggest leaves of any plant in the world. Harvesting raffia is about as sustainable as you can get- trim back a leaf, and it’ll grow back in the same place. There’s no need to cut down this plant, so we can use a fantastic hat material without contributing to deforestation.
We use partly recycled paper that’s treated with a non-toxic waterproofing resin. This gives new life to materials that would otherwise go to waste.
Bloom Algae Foam
Rather than use resource-intensive, petroleum-based foam, Bloom algae foam is an excellent sustainable hat material. It’s made from just what you’d think - algae. There’s a two-pronged benefit. One, it helps clean up waterways that are being overrun with invasive algae blooms. Two, we end up with a material that naturally plasticizes over time. The plasticized algae makes the perfect material to support sustainable hat brims and crowns.
Crafting The Perfect Sustainable Hat
Turning materials into hats is where sustainable factory conditions come into play. Safety standards must be taken seriously - for you, the environment, and our workers. Our standard? If it’s not safe enough for a baby to chew on it, you won’t find it in any part of our process. Dyes, chemicals, and all materials are third-party certified as non-toxic. Because if it’s toxic to us, it’s toxic to the environment. And that doesn’t belong in a sustainable hat. We use third-party testing to ensure that all factories, both in the USA and abroad, meet high standards for environmental safety.
Sustainable Hat Packing and Shipping
As of 2018, more than 82,000 thousands of tons of waste were created from packaging materials. Only half was recycled. Hat and garment labels, label connects, and packaging might seem like a small part of your daily impact. But they add up. To reduce our impact, we’ve chosen biodegradable string over plastic for connectors. We've eliminated single-use plastics from our packaging. And we've swapped from synthetic to organic cotton labels that will biodegrade. Sustainable hats that are shipped from our main warehouse in St. Augustine are packed using 100% solar power. But creating a sustainable hat doesn’t end when the hat is made, or even when it’s delivered to the customers.
The Most Sustainable Hat Doesn’t Leave a Trace
We create high-quality products that are meant to last the test of time, because the less we create, the less impact we’ll have. But, even the most well-crafted sustainable hat will reach its final use. The most essential part of creating a sustainable hat is the hat’s end of life. What happens once you toss it in the trash? If it’s made with synthetic materials like polyester or nylon, it’ll sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. A truly sustainable hat is created with natural materials that will biodegrade over time. Wool, cotton, hemp, and raffia are all biodegradable materials that disappear when their life as a sustainable hat is over.
The making of a sustainable hat doesn’t have a quick solution, but it all comes full circle. Choose the right materials from the start. Reduce impact along the way. And make long-lasting products that don’t muck up the earth for years to come. There’s still work to be done, and the best sustainable hat is yet to come- but we’ll keep working on it.