Through one the hottest weeks of summer, our crew was indoors at the Anián warehouse, sorting through cardboard boxes and thinking about winter coats.
The boxes were piled all around us, and each one opened to a new burst of colour as we unpacked the 35 decommissioned skydive parachutes we’d be using in our new Parachute Collection. With names like Skymaster, Manta and Stratostar, many of the parachute canopies had been made in the ‘80s, with colour schemes that matched their time—bright blues, neon greens, blaze oranges, flame reds. For us, the story doesn’t quite go back back four decades—but it does go back a good few years.
When we first started Anián in 2013, we knew we wanted to make great garments that were better for the planet. Working from our headquarters on Vancouver Island, we prioritized quality, durability and longevity, and eventually started making our most popular products, like the Twill Overcoats and Modern Melton Shirts, from recycled cotton and recycled wool. As we learned more about the concept of a circular economy—where resources like textiles are re-used, instead of thrown away—we became more and more committed to using recycled materials to change the fashion industry for the better. Since then, it’s been a slow but steady progression—we stopped making conventional cotton shirts, for example, until we were able to replace them with our organic and recycled Circular Cottons. Now, almost every product in our line is either recycled or a recycled blend.
With the support of our community, we were able to keep growing and expand our line. Last year, we introduced our first cold-weather coats, the Field and the Loft, which have quickly become Anián favourites. We also started getting requests for lined versions, so we sat down and began exploring ideas for designs and materials. Adding a lining to a wool coat gives it more warmth and wind protection, as well as a smoother feel against the skin. And since we’ve always been inspired by the garments of the past, we were excited to make something like the handsome, silk-lined Eaton’s jackets that used to hang in our grandparents’ closets.
Silk is incredibly hard to come by these days, though, so we knew we’d have to find a synthetic alternative. To stay true to our ethics, however, we didn’t want to use the virgin nylon or polyester that’s found in most contemporary lined jackets, and the mills we work with don’t recycle synthetics. Happily, we had a backup option inspired by our friends at Elvis & Kresse in England, who make beautiful bags out of repurposed fire hoses with parachute cloth linings. Since parachutes were originally made from natural silk, we knew that contemporary parachute fabric would share many of the same attributes. Plus, using parachutes that had been retired from active service would keep them out of the landfill and perfectly embody one of our guiding philosophies—waste isn’t waste unless we waste it.
Getting our hands on decommissioned parachutes, however, turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. They’re not the sort of thing you can find at the recycling depot down the street. We Googled as much as we could and called everywhere we could, and found ourselves consistently turned away by manufacturers, skydive operations and aviation companies all across the country. We even called the Royal Canadian Air Force at Comox, and then called them again—after which, in sternly military fashion, we were told they had a disposal contract they couldn’t break and we should stop calling. Finally, just before giving up, we found someone in small-town Alberta who had a supply of old parachute canopies stashed away on their property. After multiple assurances that we wouldn’t be using the parachutes to leap out of airplanes, they were ours to experiment with.
And so there we were, in the heat of summer, pulling yard after yard of vibrant fabric out of cardboard boxes.
We found that the parachutes were mostly in perfect condition, and the ripstop nylon fabric was as light and smooth as we’d hoped. The ones with minor damage still had plenty of flawless, like-new fabric to spare. And better yet, the canopies came in a rainbow of unique colours, meaning the lining of each jacket would be entirely unique—Anián’s technicolour dreamcoats.
Once we knew the parachute fabric would be fit for purpose, the more intensive work began. It took us about a month to figure out how to process the parachutes properly—cleaning, washing, ripping out the patches and cutting out the usable panels between the seams. It was a challenging but constantly exciting project for us—though we’ve been converting post-consumer recycled textiles into built-to-last garments for years, this was the first time we’d been doing the salvage work ourselves.
When the parachutes were deconstructed and processing was finished—with big thanks to our staff who helped—we brought the rescued fabric over to Vancouver. There, in the same space where we make the rest of our clothes, we started sewing it into prototypes that paired it with the same warm, durable and weather-resistant recycled Agnello wool you’ll find in the Loft and Field coats. After a few more months of experimentation, we finally settled on two designs—the Garibaldi, with a sleek, minimalist outline that reflects its origins in aviation, and the elegant Britannia that takes inspiration from the classic, long-cut overcoats of days gone by.
Now, with the salvage, sewing and production processes complete, we’re excited to be introducing the Parachute Collection to our community. Saving as much fabric as possible, we were able to turn those 35 parachutes into a few hundred coats—a truly limited run, with each coat hand-sewn and hand-numbered. In the grand scheme of things, saving that amount of fabric might seem inconsequential. But we’re dedicated to turning trash into beautiful and durable treasure, and we believe that acts of circularity, no matter how small, can be a lifeline for our planet.
We’re hugely proud of how these coats turned out, and we hope they keep their future owners warm for many years. More than that, though, we hope they inspire others to find new and creative ways to re-use, recycle and repurpose. Doing something different isn’t always easy, as we found out with this colourful collection—but we’ve been reminded, once again, that it’s always worth the work.