How one business is making a stand against climate change, one outfit at a time. Our concierge team sat down with EcoSki founder, Rachael Westbrook, to get under the skin of the company making waves on the slopes.
Q: What was the catalyst for starting EcoSki?
A: The realisation that pretty much everything we use and wear to enjoy the mountains is made out of plastic — our skis, boots, helmets, gloves, backpacks, jackets, pants, even baselayers. I felt such a hypocrite polluting and damaging the very thing we loved and wanted to protect it each time we went skiing. I thought I was pretty switched on about the environment, I knew we could help reduce our footprint by choosing how we travelled, where we stayed, what we ate, what we wasted etc but I hadn't ever considered just how damaging our clothing was. That was the start of my journey of realisation. Everything about the clothing we wear contributes to our glaciers melting. From the oil extraction for raw materials right through to end-of-life, the footprint of our skiwear is huge and much of it an unnecessary contributor to global warming.
Q: How do the two sides of your business complement one another? It seems an ambitious decision to offer the choice of both purchase and rental, especially in this competitive, seasonal, online retail market.
A: Hugely ambitious! We effectively run four different businesses under one roof, all of which carry equal weight because the simple fact is that there isn't one sustainable solution.
I can't categorically say that renting kit is a more sustainable choice to buying. It depends how many times you use it and how you look after it. It's not an environmentally sound choice to rent kit if you ski three or four times a season because it needs to be cleaned, sterilised and transported. But if you're a family of five with growing children needing new kit for your annual ski holiday then renting is definitely better than buying new. It really does depend on your circumstances. Rental also allows skiers to try before they buy — we are happy to sell the kit at the end of the rental period, at RRP minus the rental fee, if customers really love the items they’ve used. We’ve been quite surprised by how many people took this option last season.
Our repair service is vital — repairing needs to be easier and become the norm. We work in partnership with the fantastic ACS Clothing in Scotland and the amazing specialists at Lancashire Sports Repair who can repair anything! The pre-owned arm (EcoSki’d) is also crucial — if someone decides they want or need an upgrade they might decide to buy better, or of course rent. What's crucial is the existing, hard-wearing kit that no longer suits their needs doesn't go to waste. EcoSki’d ensures this is repaired, reproofed and put back in circulation.
Q: This summer we have already seen significant impact on our winter playgrounds with glacier damage and fires – what actions do you believe every skier should consider their responsibility?
A: Simply put, absolutely everything we do, buy and waste contributes to global warming, which in turn dictates the future of snow sports. Food waste, single-use plastic and fast fashion are unnecessarily contributing huge amounts to global warming and melting of the ice caps that cool our climate. Simply producing all three causes catastrophic carbon emissions, let alone when food, plastic and cheap clothing is wasted and ends in landfill to produce methane (which, as a greenhouse gas, is 80 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide). The increased heat in the air also results in increased moisture which ultimately means much wetter weather is on the horizon, too. I predict extreme, unpredictable weather patterns and an increased number of avalanches.
If we all made a conscious effort to cut all unnecessary items out of our lives and really worked hard to waste as little as possible, things could look very different. Taking a re-usable water bottle and coffee cup and using refillables really are the easiest swaps you can make and they all add up. Every fraction of a degree matters and every change counts.
Q: Kitting out children is an expensive task, especially for something they only wear for perhaps one or two weeks in a winter and is then too small come the following season. How can the EcoSki rental service overcome this challenge?
A: This buy-cheap-wear-once-throw-away mindset is exactly what EcoSki has set out to change. Cheap ski kit might cost less in financial terms but the environmental cost is astronomical. Renting is a sustainable solution for a growing family, massively reducing waste and at a similar price (or less) than buying cheap kit.
We also help parents by sending rental items fully cleaned, reproofed, repaired and sterilised — with no need to wash it before sending back. If something goes wrong we will help fix it for you, no catch.
What we rent is high quality, too, so your child is going to be guaranteed warm, breathable, water- and windproof clothing — and surely a better time on the mountain. For example you can rent a jacket, pants, helmet, gloves and baselayers from brands like Picture, Sweet Protection, Hestra, Reima for just £100 for a week’s holiday — this would otherwise cost well over £1000 as a purchase. Plus, the longer you rent it the cheaper it gets.
Q: Logistically, without bricks and mortar shops, it must be a challenge for people to guess sizing and then cross their fingers when ski season arrives. Do you do a pre-fitting or summer trial?
A: Yes we do. You can book your items out for a four-day try on during the off-season. We also plan on having some pop up events if Oxford Ski Company would ever like to host one….
Q: We’ve recently seen Chemmy Alcott going about her day covered in rubbish…is there something we should know?
A: Chemmy cares so much about the environmental cost of skiing and disappearance of the mountains as we know them. We challenged her to wear her rubbish for a week to highlight just how much one person throws away — by the end of the week her new coat (!) was 4.5kg and Chemmy makes a huge effort to live well and waste little. She attracted a lot of attention wearing her fetching outfit during the heatwave — on the red carpet, at a school picnic, at a reception at the Houses of Parliament and even doing SUP yoga. She included her food waste and recycling because sadly more than half of what we send to recycling (55%) goes to landfill.
Q: What is the ambition for the business looking ahead? Where would you like to see things progress to in the next five years?
A: More of the same…we want to continue to raise awareness of how impactful our everyday choices are and hopefully encourage skiers to rethink their daily habits. Our rental offering was an incredible success during the first season and we hope this will grow as renting becomes the norm. We’re also building a great network of partnerships and a community of like-minded brands and individuals, whether that’s with Oxford Ski Company or the little Ecoskischool in Andermatt. These are key for us — your voices help to spread the word and instil change, and we can all learn from each other. There’s no single solution to this — it’s team work!
Q: As you have gone to such great lengths to raise awareness and build a business around sustainability, do you feel that resorts are playing their role in protecting our playgrounds for the future?
A: Ski resorts have a long way to go but they are making change — they realise they have to do things like heat capture, source energy from renewable sources, source only local food and reduce food waste. Even little things like bird scarers to stop wildlife from flying into the chairlift cables all make a difference. There are some brilliant companies in the Alps like Montagne Vert, Re-action, Flocon Vert who reward efforts to change.
What I’d like to see is more emphasis on the way we travel to resorts. It’s the single biggest difference we can make to the carbon footprint of our ski holidays (up to 70 per cent) — I’d like to see resorts and tour operators incentivise travelling by train or failing that, self-drive.
Q: Finally, if you could ask the ski community to make one change in their habits for the coming season, a pledge to do better, what would that be?
A: Cut out unnecessary waste. Hunt down your local refill station and repair café, look at renting or buying second-hand one-off outfits instead of always buying new, stop buying single use plastic and carry you re-usable water bottle and coffee cup. Of course we can’t be perfect, but we can definitely do our bit.
Skiing on a clear day and overlooking the snowy white mountains is unbeatable. Combining this with experiencing new resorts and copious amounts of local food and wine is my idea of perfection.
I am a skier.
Ski seasons: One in Morzine.
Favourite lunch and après: Le Panoramic in Tignes, with its luxurious alpine décor and sheepskin rugs is the perfect mountain lunch spot. The food and service are excellent, and if you are lucky you might meet Igloo, the resident St Bernard!
My tip: Ski lessons are not just for beginners. They are the perfect opportunity to perfect your techniques and boost confidence on the slopes. Remember to book in advance for the best options and availability.