The world is full of garbage. Some of it is reusable. Let’s make athletic gear out of it.
Jeff Bradbury (’88 Hosp. Busi. Mgmt.) didn’t come to this conclusion in an instant. It took a lifetime of hiking and snowboarding in his native Pacific Northwest, playing beach volleyball, traveling the world with a backpack, and meeting innovators in Asia and Europe to make the connections. He became a designer of eco-friendly textiles and apparel, specializing in outerwear and technical clothing for athletes and fitness buffs.
In 2016, he and his daughter, Brooklynn Gould-Bradbury, a collegiate volleyball player, and their friend, Allison Wood, started Five12 Apparel, named for the 512 Highway between Tacoma and Puyallup. Now based in Sumner, they make clothing and accessories using coffee grounds, the discarded inner parts of windshields and, beginning this spring, fishing nets.
They started with coffee because, well, it’s so Northwest. Plus, it has wonderful natural properties of absorbing odors, drying quickly, and protecting from harmful UV rays.
In his world travels, Bradbury made friends with Jason and Amy Chen, who manufacture S.cafe fabric in Taiwan. Four years of research and trial and error taught the Chens how to extract the oils from coffee grounds discarded by local Starbucks and other coffee houses, leaving a fine, dry powder. They remove labels and caps from used plastic bottles, clean and crush them, grind them into flakes, then melt them into pellets. The coffee pellets and plastic pellets are melted together to make yarns and fabrics. Bradbury orders the cloth with the right weights and stretchability for the clothing he designs.
Some clothing labeled “from recycled materials” actually may not be, Bradbury says. Sometimes, the plastic is manufactured specifically to be melted down. At Five12, he says, “everything we use is post-consumer,” meaning the plastic bottles are actually used, then recycled. “[Chen’s] patent is not burning anything in making the fabric. He even makes soaps and shampoos out of the coffee oil he extracts.”
Bradbury’s next discovery was a Chinese glass-recycling company that separates the polyvinyl butyl (PVB) film from the center of discarded glass windshields. The PVB film gives the glass resistance to flying projectiles and provides UV protection. It’s chipped and melted to make a thick, waterproof fabric. While not suitable for clothing, it makes tough water-resistant bags. Bradbury admits that hiking and playing sports in the Pacific Northwest makes him prioritize products that stand up to weather.
Five12 has just introduced a new product: hoodies made from old fishing nets. Bradbury is distressed by the amount of discarded and abandoned fishing nets in the ocean—640,000 tons annually, according to the nonprofit World Animal Protection. An Italian company, Aquafil, reprocesses used fishing nets into a tough nylon yarn called Econyl, which is catching on with a variety of companies, including Burberry and Speedo.
Ten percent of Five12’s sales of the new Huntington Tech Hoody and other apparel made from Econyl will be donated to The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit launched by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat to round up plastics and other debris from the seas.
Spreading out a variety of merchandise, Bradbury talks about how even the zippers, cords, and other pieces of trim on the company’s garments are made from recyclable materials.
“It does cost more to use truly recycled fabric and materials,” Bradbury says. “But our overall goal is a sustainable, active life.”