Clean Clothes is a series examining the fashion industry’s impact on our planet, and the brands, technologies, and people helping us toward a cleaner, more environmentally conscious future.
Norwegian brand Norrøna has made outdoors gear since 1929. It’s a family-run company that employs fewer than 100, and its CEO, Jørgen Jørgensen, is the founder’s great-grandson. It’s also one of the most innovative makers of outdoor gear in the world.
In 1977, Norrøna introduced Europe to GORE-TEX membranes. It was the first brand on the continent to use PTFE laminates, one of the outdoor industry’s true performance breakthroughs. Now, forty years later, Norrøna is – like many Scandinavian brands – leading the global charge toward sustainable fashion. But true to their name (and the name of their founder), they’re doing it boldly.
Case in point: the Norrøna oslo GORE-TEX insulated Parka, a winter coat that aims to radically reduce the environmental impact of high-performance outerwear.
The Norrøna oslo insulated is an all-weather parka designed for cold and wet conditions, and its sustainability creds are impressive. On the outside, the jacket’s GORE-TEX 2L membrane is faced with a recycled polyester fabric which is then treated with a fluorocarbon-free DWR (Durable Water Repellant) coating. On the inside, warmth comes by way of PrimaLoft’s Silver Eco, a powerful insulator made from 70% recycled content.
GORE-TEX is the gold standard for weatherproof textiles, but it’s important to note that the membrane that makes GORE work is itself made from plastics. Norrøna’s use of recycled face fabric and eco-friendly coating compensates for some of that footprint. However, PTFE membranes will not biodegrade. Whether this is a fundamental flaw or a compromise made towards gradual progress I leave up to you.
The jacket also contains fabrics approved by bluesign and Oeko-Tex, two of the textile industry’s coveted sustainability standards. Finally, Norrøna as a company is a member of 1% For The Planet. One percent of all sales (~$7.00 USD on this specific jacket) will be donated to environmental non-profits.
Aesthetically, it’s a clean, thigh-length jacket with sleek lines and an imposing storm hood. This sort of tech-packed barrier coat has become a bit of a trope. Goldwin has the Hooded Spur; Patagonia, the City Storm. They’re big. They’re warm. They’re minimalist. It’s the functional, pared-back alternative to the Canada Gooses and Monclers of this world.
For the brands that produce them, these sorts of jackets are often pinnacle products – the best materials bent towards pure performance, with a price tag to boot. With the oslo insulated, Norrøna created one that checks many eco-friendly boxes.
Despite the risk of climate catastrophe, the fashion world finds itself between a rock and a hot place. Consumer perceptions are most of it. Producers won’t make clothes people don’t want. People want emotional, uncompromised designs. When sustainability stories are told, customers hear that something was changed to make way. The magic is gone.
Green materials are read as compromise. A $700 pinnacle product made with compromise? That doesn’t sound very “pinnacle,” no?
Well, suspend disbelief. Norrøna pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this one. It’s a very good coat.
The first thing you notice about the oslo Insulated is its breathability. Despite being filled with synthetic insulator, it never gets too hot. I wore it comfortably for 2 hours of brisk walking in 40F degree rain without getting chased out by sweat.
The next thing you notice: while you’re not getting sweated out, the weather’s not getting in, either. The oslo’s GORE-TEX membrane has a lot to handle due to the jacket’s less potent PFC-free DWR shell, yet it held up just fine when tested in snow and rain. An hour of sleet left the outside saturated and cold to the touch, but nothing got through to the inside. So yes, you won’t get the party trick where drops bead up on your jacket. Fewer toxins will also enter the water supply as a result.
Now, let’s talk insulation.
The jacket is warm – but it’s not canned heat. For city living, this is underrated. My 30-minute commute splits metro/walking, and I don’t have to shed layers once I go underground. It also means I can wear a mid-layer comfortably underneath. For all the hype on expedition parkas like the Canada Goose Emory, the sheer weight of insulation used can make a thick sweater tip the scales towards… well, thick sweating. With the oslo, I can layer for all environments. Versatility is a virtue.
I tested the oslo in “Indigo Night Blue” and found both the color and the jacket supremely wearable. Styling-wise, it doesn’t get much easier than a minimalist overcoat that still alludes to heritage. Key details include the use of oversized buttons to secure both cuffs and chest pockets, nodding to the seafaring coats of old.
The old world details made non-technical clothing easy to work in, while clever design tweaks (like a magnetic placket) kept the silhouette as understated as the best Prada Sport shells. I also loved the technical tweaks like waterproof zippers on the hip pockets.
Does it do anything new? Not especially. But, it’s an inspired take on one of the more wearable shapes in menswear. If the technical lifestyle look appeals to you, here’s a sustainable alternative that wears as well, if not better, than its contemporaries.
On that subject, let’s compare the oslo to its direct competition: the Arc’teryx Camosun ($649).
Styling-wise, the two are twins. They’re thigh-length tech parkas with GORE-TEX outers. If you’re tall and skinny, the Norrøna will likely fit you better. If you’re all in on futurist design to the point where buttons annoy you, the Camosun is so streamlined that it avoids Soviet radar. Your call.
For sustainability, Norrøna has the edge. Arc’teryx designs products for longevity, and in this case, that means virgin fabrics and a standard DWR treatment. This is not an indictment: as we’ve discussed before, buying ultra-durable products is still responsible shopping. In this category, however, Norrøna is a clear winner.
Naturally, this leads to performance. Spoiler alert! The Arc’teryx – packed with down, coated with regular DWR – wins in a pure gunfight. It feels warmer and keeps more elements off.
Is it impressive that Norrøna could make a pinnacle product sustainable without fundamental compromises? Absolutely. And rationally, a breathable, layer-friendly “warm enough” coat covers most urban conditions better than a pinnacle product designed for the Arctic.
If you’re wanting to forgo seasonal consumption by copping just one versatile, sustainable jacket — and you should — then the Norrøna oslo Insulated parka makes one fine candidate.
For more on the technical garments shaping tomorrow’s fashion industry, read up on 2018’s wildest clothing tech innovations.