Producing tents – an economical and ecological view

This is not the Fling Tent story! This is about what we learned – it is our motivation at Fling Tent to do a better job. I wrote this article about 5 years ago in the Dutch language. Since this article was published I recede numerous mails from people asking me what can be done to make a change. That’s exactly why Sheltercare and Fling Tent were started.

Ain’t it strange? About 30 years ago Carrington developped a fabric for tent flysheets with an extremely high quality. Hardly any of the new fabrics ever since even came close to this. It all had to become cheaper. Yes – a high quality trekkingtent using this fabric would cost around 700 Euro’s. Like an Iphone for example.

In 2010 – unfortunately – Carrington stopped producing those fabrics.

Let’s analyse how producing tents is done. Let’s start in the shop. It does not really matter which brand you buy – what we write concerns most brands.

Let’s buy a 70 Euro tent – a bargain. Most of such a tents are being used during music festivals and will not be used for more than 14 days before they become garbish. Burning this nyon or polyester – usually bounded with a PU coating – is not good for our environment.

The state earns – depending on the country – around 20% on the VAT. The shop wants to earn something too. And apart from that there’s an agency supporting this brand, the local transport, the transport between the far east and Europe, import duties and some more costs before we enter the actual factory where those tents are being sewn together.
This factory sell thats tent – very very vague – at around 17 Euro’s to Europe. Of course – not as a single tent, rather by container-loads.

The factory that is producing these tents is probably owned by a rich Chinese owner who wants his part of the share.
In the factory most work is handwork. Even cheap tents are being putted together by hand. Of course they are using modern sewing machines. But still there’s no full automatic tentmachine (I whish there were – I would have one over here). The fabrics from the flysheet and inner tent are to be sewn together, the labels, the zipper, the vents, … And then eveything has to be putten together: Flysheet, Innertent, pegs, poles – neathly packet in plastic, tentbag, another plastics bag, boxed by 5.
We have to guess what the employees in the factory earn on this 17 Euro tent. Knowing that the factory is not going to produce without making any profit.

This part can be – with some effort – controlled. For sure top brands can force the factory to follow some kind of a charter concerning the rights and quality of life of the employees. As far as no subcontractors are being used of course.

Apart from that – the factory has to buy it’s machinery and all fabrics. So, not only cutting tables and sewing machines – but dozens of woven fabrics, zippers, buttons, buckles, thread, labels and a lot more – for this cheap tent. I wonder what they are paying for all those fabrics? They still have to pay their employees. And make profit….

About 10% of all woven fabrics are lost. The rolls of fabic a re ususally 150 wide and cannot be used the full 100%. What is left – well, I guess it’s just waste. What do they do with it?

So now we’re entering the grey zone. Most of the material needed is made from Nylon or Polyester. Both oil products. Onto the flysheet there’s even a PU or silicone treated layer.

In the oil producing countries they pump up raw oil out of the ground. This oil is – for a 90% – used as fuel. About 8% is going to the plastic industry. That’s the way our tent will follow.
A refinery in the Far East, Europe – and increasingly in the oil producing countries themselves – breaks the crude oil into various components. We need specific Hydrocarbons.

In fact we can produce hydrocarbons out of biomass. Rapeseed for example. The main reason for not doing so is the price. At present, petroleum is still a lot cheaper.

At this moment our tent is still some kind of powder. Now it’s going to yet another factory which adds different additives to this powder. They give different specific qualities to the plastic.
The material is now some kind of a pasta which is going to another place. After the necessary threatment here – the yars is spun.
In the next operation – in a mill – the uncoated fabric is made.
Coating is the appilication of a liquid substance onto the fabric. Sometimes in multiple layers.

We could ask ourselves if – due to ecological reasons – it would not be better if we woud be producing tents  in cotton. As we did long time ago. The answer is mixed. Most Cotton fiels are heavily sprayed with chemicals. Those chemicals come from… the oil indsutry. With the exception of organic cottons. But as far as I know – they’re not used for tents. Cotton however does have it’s other advantages! The life expanse of such a tent is substantially longer comparing to it’s synthetic alternatives. So, it will take a lot longer before moving it to the waste disposal.

Moral of the story. A moral for our entire sales behavior is valid. Buy only what you really need. For everything we buy comes one day at the dirt lot. Choose quality. Choose a product – as before – With a 20 years life expectancy. We are responsible ourselves!
And also all intermediaries are co-responsible. Because they do not promote higher quality. Because they do not opt for renewable sources of hydrocarbon. Often out of narrow self interest, or purely for the profit of shareholders. They often hardly know what they’re putting their money in.
In different areas and levels men is already experimenting with alternatives. For example, the plastics industry is hard at work to find alternatives. But we need to be willing to pay the price!

Jakob De Proft