Illustration of a tree with people

What is a durable product?

Spoiler: if your big toe pokes a hole through your sock or your tyre punctures within the first few kilometres, they are not durable products.

Sports accessories that wear out too quickly are annoying, and most of them end up in the trash. But what's the real price of their fragile design? Other than giving you a headache, there's also an environmental and economical cost when they need to be replaced. Here's how DECATHLON is putting a smile back on the faces of athletes by creating products designed to last.

Why buy durable products?

We don't get attached to throwaway products. It's true in sports and beyond. On the other hand, we love products like your grandma's old tennis racket that is still ready to rally despite its age.
Or your trainers, always timeless, ready to go and perfect for running, we love them too.
Even that dusty bike that brings back a thousand memories with a single look and just needs to be aired up to take you on your next adventure. And who could forget the trusty T-shirt, faded of course, but which still looks good on your shoulders despite the years. That's how sports products win us over, by standing the test of time. Why? Because they are loyal, they stay the course and we share our lives with them. The key word here is: durability.

Durable goods, circular economy… how decathlon is addressing sustainability.

Sustainability has two meanings. First a global meaning, both complex and essential, defined by the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1987 as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". This definition underpins the idea of economic, social and environmental stability in our lifestyles(↿). This is the political meaning of sustainability. The second, narrower meaning of sustainability coexists and combines with the first through the idea of duration, of the "quality of being durable" if we follow the dictionary definition.
It is from this second meaning that the question emerges that DECATHLON teams strive to answer every day: "How can we improve the lifespan of our products?". The stakes are very high, since the goal is to make the world more sustainable, down to the smallest detail, through products that last.

(↿) Sustainable development is based on three pillars (economic, social and environmental) and yet the circular economy is the solution to achieving all three at the same time.

Durable products: definition

"What we call sustainability," explains Lucile Cazaux, project manager at DECATHLON's sustainable development Hub, "is the durability of a product that cannot be repaired, its strength and its performance over time. We try to estimate a minimum number of uses that a product can endure before the end of its lifespan, with the goal of optimizing this number."

Therefore sustainability at DECATHLON refers strictly to the lifespan of the product. It does not include repairs, rental, second-hand, trade-ins or anything that would keep the product in use for as long as possible.

Here, durability is the responsibility of design teams, who are charged with creating the most sustainable products whose qualities stand the test of time. DECATHLON teams rely on an evaluation method that lets them observe, test, interpret and measure the lifespan of products.

The method for evaluating the lifespan of a "sustainably developed" product

Observing defects to create a long-lasting product

The first step is to analyse an end of life product, observe its eventual defects and reference them according to their type. It's all about making a diagnosis.

At this time, design teams will define the problems raised by users to create a list of defects and their importance. A product that wears out or breaks too quickly will alert design teams and warn them of a production defect, otherwise called infant mortality. In this specific instance, the quality service teams will be responsible for correcting the defect. Once this type of defect has been corrected, we carefully analyse wearout and accidental defects by asking the following questions: how is the product used? What are the causes of a product's end of life? What is the product's end of life? Take a T-shirt as an example, will a hole be the cause of its eventual end? Or will it be a fading colour? Or fraying material? It's not always easy to place blame.

Reproducing wear with tests
The second step involves developing fatigue, abrasion, corrosion and ageing tests so that we can artificially age products and evaluate their durability in the lab. With textile products for example, different knits are tested to age their fibres and evaluate their resistance to wear.
Alongside lab tests, wear tests are also conducted. Testers play their sport with the product and complete a follow-up questionnaire that helps us evaluate the different factors that contribute to wear and accidental defect.
Designers also strive to find a scientific link between, on the one hand, the diagnosis and field tests and, on the other hand, the lab tests
Define a product's lifespan

The final step of the evaluation method is interpreting all the data from the diagnosis and the various tests conducted on the product. As a result, certain product families, like fishing reels, stand up paddle boards and kayaks, will have a lifespan quantification, or the minimum number of uses guaranteed by a product.

"What we want to stress," Lucile adds, "is that we are working tirelessly to improve the durability of our products." The important thing is to use the products as long as possible, to see that they last and highlight all the scientific work that made it possible. This makes us more comfortable with what we communicate to our customers and users. »

Illustration of a sewing machine

A global evaluation method

A good design for better sustainability

This global evaluation method enables us to do two things. First, to identify the feedback that will improve a product's durability so that we can create a better, more efficient design. Second, to obtain a durability indicator for a product, and sometimes even a lifespan. So the sustainability of a product can be compared to other products in the same family. For example, this model of fitness leggings is two times more durable than that model. Additionally, for certain other products, we may be able to calculate a lifespan and set a minimum number of guaranteed uses. Lifespan then becomes valuable information for customers as it represents the manufacturer's commitment to improve and communicate their product's lifespan.

"The goal is to make products last as long as possible," Lucile concludes, "so that they are replaced as sparingly as possible". We are well aware that if we truly want to reduce our impact, we need to sell fewer new products and adapt our economic model to a more circular model to reduce our consumption of resources. It can generally be assumed that, if we sell more durable products for a given use, we'll need fewer products to meet this use and therefore fewer products to play sports. »

We are well aware that if we truly want to reduce our impact, we need to sell fewer new products and adapt our economic model to a more circular model to reduce our consumption of resources.

What are sustainable consumer products?

An example: the durable sock

The durability evaluation method was designed to adapt to a wide range of DECATHLON products. As a result, design teams are able to apply it to their product typology. Amandine Vallantin, sustainable development manager of the Decathlon sock design team, and Lucca Pastorino, testing engineer from the same team, took this approach.

The sock was developed in 2 phases. The first phase found a diagnosis via a survey of 2800 people. Amandine and Lucca created a questionnaire in which they asked users how satisfied they were with their socks, their lifespan, defects they had noticed and their wearing zones to determine users' needs and increase the product's lifespan. They found that there are three main wearing zones: the heel, sole and toe. Users also reported three recurring problems: their sock shrink, pill and tear.

Starting from this information, specific tests for socks were implemented. Amandine and Lucca visited the Institut Français du textile et de l’habillement (IFTH), a specialized external body equipped with specific machines, to carry out a battery of tests. They were able to do an abrasion test on the shape: this is a foot shape that is worn down with abrasive paper on particular areas of the sock. Seventy DECATHLON socks were tested with this process to obtain a representative panel and compare the socks to each other.

"The long-term goal," says Amandine, "is to have all our socks tested".This represents about 200 different sock models. At the same time, we want this process to be replicable with other processes, like T-shirts and gloves, and to be able to support teams in adapting the method to their limitations and expectations. »

Illustration of socks

To find out if a sock is durable, you have to test it

Lucca is coordinating eight tests across eight different sports, with between 100 and 140 testers for each sport, or 804 athletes total, who are working together to detect the strengths and weaknesses of the models in use.
"We test socks designed for tennis, running, skiing, and more while in use," he specified. Thanks to this test, we can give an average lifespan for socks by correlating it with lab tests. In real terms, testers will use the socks for one year at least twice a week for their specific sport.At the end of the test, the product will have been used about 100 times, so we can clearly see the effects of wear. They are sent a questionnaire every two weeks so that we can get details on their training and, for example, find out how many times the product had been machine washed."

The challenges of product sustainability are essential in the practice of sports and, more broadly, are linked to the sustainable use of the planet's resources. The goal of DECATHLON design teams is to design better, not more, so that each product stays with athletes as long as possible.

The environment is impacted less while athletes get the most out of their sports products. We strive to make products that withstand, endure and keep athletes happy so that they can stay focused on their passion and sport without worrying about their gear. In short, we are making the conscious decision to make long-lasting products and goods to encourage the circular economy and make the fun last. And that's good for the world.

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