Outerwear From Recycled Fishing Nets

Photo: Patagonia

How Patagonia’s new NetPlus program and its innovative partner help pull 1,000 tons of plastic out of oceans every year.

Last fall, Patagonia quietly launched a small collection of clothing that contained a groundbreaking new ingredient. Hidden within the brand’s iconic ballcaps and outerwear were fibers made from recycled commercial fishing nets. It’s something no clothing brand has ever done before, and it’s poised to have a massive environmental impact. 

For one thing, recycled nylon has been something of a holy grail for outdoor companies. For years, various brands have offered recycled polyester gear and clothing but have struggled to find a good source of recycled nylon. That meant they were using vast amounts of water and energy to produce virgin nylon instead. Patagonia’s new fabric, called NetPlus, presents an alternative. As such, it could totally change the landscape of outdoor gear. 

“Nylon is in a lot of apparel in the outdoor industry, and even today, 98% of it is from virgin materials,” explains David Stover. He’s one of the founders of Bureo, the startup Patagonia partnered with to help develop NetPlus fabric. “When we learned that, we realized that the market was ripe for disruption,” Stover says.

Of course, Stover and his co-founders Ben Kneppers and Kevin Ahearn also wanted to make an impact. All passionate surfers, swimmers, and divers, they had each spent a lifetime in and around the water. They understood the effects of ocean plastic pollution first-hand. So, when the three graduated from college, they started looking for a way to utilize that plastic in something useful. 

“We thought, ‘OK, how can we find the convergence of ocean plastics with another big problem that’s not being addressed,’” Stover explains. “That led us to the fishing industry and the products they use.” As soon as the team realized that commercial nets were made out of nylon—a strong, durable, and super-versatile material—they knew they were onto something. 

A factory with bundles of fishing nets Photo: Patagonia

Stover was also surprised to learn that commercial fishing nets are a pervasive source of ocean plastic. When the nets wear out or break—which is often—fishermen cast them aside. The nets end up either on shore, in landfills, or in the ocean itself. Stover realized that collecting those nets and turning them into recycled products could hit two birds with one stone: It would help solve the ocean plastics problem, and it would help alleviate the energy and water waste of virgin nylon production. In 2013, Stover, Ahearn, and Kneppers founded Bureo to do just that.

After a few years of getting supply chains set up in South America and working with local fishermen to collect nets, the Bureo team got a cold call from Patagonia. At the time, they were using their recycled nylon to make skateboard decks and sunglasses. But Patagonia had a different proposition: The brand needed a source of recycled nylon clothing fibers, and they wanted Bureo to be the one to find it. 

“That’s when things started looking interesting,” Stover says. The team spent the next few months doing rigorous research and development. Making nylon fabric, it turned out, was a whole lot harder than making nylon skateboards.

“We had moments of, ‘This is never going to work. It’s too expensive. The color is never right,” Stover remembers. “But when it finally happened, it was like, ‘OK. This could be big.’” 

And it was. This year, Patagonia launched a line of Baggies shorts made from NetPlus fabric. (You can also find the fibers in Patagonia pants, jackets, and sweaters.) In total, the production helped Bureo extract about 1,000 tons of plastic from oceans this year alone. By 2026, Stover hopes to grow that number to 4,000 tons per year. 

That growth trajectory is an effort to support the Biden Administration’s 30x30 plan, a goal to protect 30 percent of land and 30 percent of water by 2030. It’s a goal that Public Lands and Patagonia teamed up to endorse earlier this year. 

“In terms of 30x30, we try to meet those goals on a local level,” says Stover, noting that in Peru and Chile, the organization donated a portion of its proceeds directly to community efforts. “So far,” he adds, “we’ve adopted a mangrove project, worked on solar projects for schools, and started recycling programs.” Like Patagonia and Public Lands, Bureo is also a 1% For the Planet member (though last year their donations were closer to 5%). 

“We get a lot of energy from seeing the transformation on the ground, and helping local people build careers in something they’re proud of,” Stover says. “We want to help everyone be part of the solution.” 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.