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Choosing to Go Green at the Frost River Shop

Posted by Steph Anderson

Choosing to Go Green at the Frost River Shop

It's that time of year! The snow is melting and the sunshine is ACTUALLY radiating warmth. It seems at this point in the year, Spring brings a new sense of life with it and an exciting energy to the outdoors. Spring is a time to rejoice that we once again made it through another Winter season, and what better way to celebrate than spend more time outside. All of this extra fresh air has us thinking about Earth Day and the decision that we are making as a business to be the most sustainable that we can be and help preserve the beauty of this place that we call home.  Reducing waste and energy consumption begins with a vision that must be shared across the entire company and followed everyday. We do this through practices in our facility such as shutting lights off and using reusable cups, to partnering with vendors that put in the same efforts to care for the planet. 

By the time that our raw materials reach us, so many crafts people have already gathered and worked on them. We work hard to make sure that none of these pieces go to waste.  In the past, all of our waxed canvas was cut by hand. Not only was this timely and inefficient, but it also produced a lot of canvas waste.  We have since invested in an American made cutting table.  It is a whopping 48 feet long and works as a reverse air hockey table.  The surface has thousands of small holes that allows a suction process to occur and secures the material down during the cutting process.  An arm runs the length of the table and has cutting and marking tools that work to slice out the pieces of each of our patterns.  This table has been a huge time saver in the production process, but also saves us on the amount of waste that we are producing. The days of having bins full of canvas scraps are no more and we feel great that we are able to put that saved waxed canvas into gear instead of landfills.

Our leather comes from S.B. Foot Tannery in Red Wing, Minnesota. Being an American Tannery, they uphold strict environmental regulations. All of the leather pieces are cut here at the shop.  As we are clicking out the pieces for packs, we are focusing on quality, yield and efficiencies.  Our leather goes through many stages of sorting.  We use as much of the hide as we can, beginning with large leather pieces like on the front of the Big Manitou and ending with tiny leather circles (pictured above) which function as our reinforcing backer pieces on our hardware.

Something that Frost River and S.B Foot Tannery have in common is our locations. We are both located by important bodies of water. Us being at the shore of Lake Superior, and S.B. Foot down the road from the Mississippi River. The tannery takes extra precaution with the amount of salt that they use during their processes and where their waste water is going.  We do everything we can to keep our area clean and litter free in hopes it will not end up in Lake Superior.

Our sewing machines are designed to only pull electricity when the sewer's foot is on the pedal. This cuts down tremendously on the amount of energy that we are using on the production floor.  Our Frost River gear is also handcrafted right here in our shop. When the products we sell are not manufactured by us, we go out of our way to make sure that they are Made in the USA.  Not importing our materials from overseas keeps our carbon footprint much smaller.

Obviously, we know how to construct a pack- but this means that we are pretty good at deconstructing packs too.  Repairs can be made, components replaced, and patches applied so we can get a damaged bag back into service hauling the things that you need to carry. This repairability keeps our bags out of the scrap pile longer, saves materials, and allows more character and memories to be made with a favorite bag.

Our quality inspection workflow helps too, catching and repairing, instead of scrapping the whole bag or sending it back and forth across state lines and borders.

What is fast fashion? It is inexpensive clothing or goods in general, created rapidly by large companies in hopes to catch the consumer with latest trends.  These retailers are often times taking a stab in the dark as to what style will catch on, and when the wrong choices are made they are stuck with unsold inventory that ultimately ends up in the landfill. The classic form of Frost River's softgoods allows them to transcend the trends and not go out of style.  They've been there, done that, come back, and are here to stay.

It is an ongoing process to update and maintain the shop that we call home in Duluth's Lincoln Park Craft District. Our retail store and entirety of production is in the same building. We house the raw materials in the basement, the shop is on the main level, and the sewing/finishing production floor is located upstairs. A couple years back the windows of the building were replaced to help with heating and cooling efficiencies and bring more natural light to the sewing area. We also have been working to update all of the lights to LEDs. Currently we are adding them to the store (pictured below). Not only are they more efficient, but help expose the vintage tin that adorns the ceiling.

Speaking of the shop, don't forget that you can see all of these changes we have made during a tour! Our tours are always free and available upon request.  You will get to see the entire building and learn more about all of the processes and our techniques to creating Frost River packs. If you are able to make it during the week (9am-3pm) you will really get to see all of the magic that happens as our full production staff is in at that time.

Happy Earth day and happy trails everyone! Thanks for reading!