A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP - FJALLRAVEN’S UNIQUE APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY
What does it mean to have a sustainable relationship with your outdoor gear?
It’s a question that I thought a lot about, maybe even too much, ahead of my hike with Fjällräven last month. When I’ve replaced a piece of gear in the past, was it for the right reasons? Was it really necessary? Or did I buy something new just for the sake of it? And how do I establish a better relationship with my gear in the future?
Well, I’d have a full day on the trail with Kaytlin Moeller, Fjällräven’s Brand Sustainability Manager, to help me get to the bottom of it.
We’d hike about 10 kilometres into Half Moon Beach in Golden Ears Provincial Park, before stopping for a quick snack and retracing our steps back to the trailhead.
The day’s objective was simply to celebrate being in nature; learning about local flora and fauna, discussing sustainability, while enjoying the medicinal qualities of time spent outside. Mostly it was eating salmon berries and taking pictures of cool looking trees. And this rings true to a core concept of Fjällräven’s brand: spending time outdoors doesn’t always have to be so hardcore. With more people than ever getting outside, it often seems there’s an underlying feeling of competition —who can travel the furthest, the highest, or the fastest. That’s all well and good, but there’s also tremendous value in walking slowly through the woods, stopping frequently and just enjoying yourself.
But if Fjällräven preaches a more casual approach to getting outside, their approach to sustainability is anything but. Throughout the company’s history, there has always been a strong consideration of their ecological and environmental impacts.
This is very apparent in the company’s focus on material—finding new methods and approaches to lessen their impact, often challenging the norms of the outdoor industry along the way. In 2009, the company rid their products of PFCs, the so-called ‘forever chemical’ that is an outdoor industry waterproofing standard. Unfortunately, it also happens to be carcinogenic. Instead, Fjällräven developed a variety of waxes and finishes to waterproof their products that are healthier to humans, and less harmful to the environment.
But to a certain extent, there will always be an environmental impact associated with creating new products. Particularly when the outdoor industry follows trends so closely. For this reason, Fjällräven has a unique ‘producing on nature’s terms’ design ethos. As Moeller notes “it builds on the concept of durability and emotional longevity, our goal isn’t to hit every trend but focus on timeless, simple, and functional design. This concept also addresses our efforts to limit overproduction and increase efficiency during production to reduce waste.”
The term ‘emotional longevity’ in this context was interesting to me. But it makes sense. You have lived experiences that your gear shares with you. Maybe you’ve worn that down jacket on multiple fourteener peaks. Maybe that backpack traveled across Europe with you one summer. Or maybe those leather boots once belonged to your dad—sure they’re a little heavier than your friends’ modern footwear, but they were traversing glaciers before any of them were even born. In addition to the environmental benefits, this sentimental value is what makes caring for your equipment worth it.
Alright, so what can you do to build and maintain this relationship with your gear?
First off, whenever possible, extend the life of your gear by repairing it, not replacing it. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, you can find countless DIY repair guides online. If that’s not your thing, take your gear into your local sewing and alterations shop. Fjällräven and several other outdoor brands also offer repair services on their products.
Secondly, the importance of appropriate product care can’t be understated. Wash your gear regularly and store it properly. This will significantly prolong the lifespan of just about any product. Again, if you don’t know where to start there are tons of guides online.
Finally, if you must buy new, buy something that will last. Look for things with lower impact materials such as organic cotton, traceable wool or recycled synthetics with reduced chemical use.
We live in a culture that does everything to encourage the adage ‘out with the old, in with the new’. Outdoor gear is now more fashionable than ever, and the temptation to keep up with the trends on your local rivers, ski hills or trails might be pretty overwhelming.
However, this only highlights the need to re-establish our relationships with our gear, and to value it properly. For our own sake, and the sake of our environment. Whether it’s taking that extra step to re-waterproof your jacket with PFC-free wax, repairing that sticky zipper, or just appreciating all the places you’ve pitched your old, familiar tent. Realize that a patina is good. It tells a story. It makes your gear unique.
And as I learned in my conversation with Fjällräven’s Kaytlin Moeller; “if you take care of your gear, it will take care of you.”