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The Fjällräven Way - Swedish style & sustainability


Founded in a small Swedish town over 50 years ago, Fjällräven have always had an unchanging mission: to make it easier for everyone to get out there and enjoy the outdoors. With this mission comes a commitment to protecting nature to ensure that this generation, and future generations, can continue to enjoy it.

 

We caught up with Ralph White, the Managing Director of Fjällräven in the UK, to find out more about the great work that Fjällräven are doing to protect our planet by creating durable and timeless products.


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How do you tackle sustainability as a business?

As a company, we’ve chosen the compass as a guidance tool as it makes a lot of sense for us – as an outdoor company – to approach sustainability and our business holistically. The compass guides us in all decision making. For every decision we make, we consider all four cardinal directions:

 

N stands for Nature - our love and passion for nature, but also for our environmental efforts to protect it and reduce the impact of our business.

 

stands for Economy - the responsible and sustainable ways we earn money and the types of mutually beneficial relationships we foster with our suppliers and customers.

 

stands for Society - the responsibility we have and take when operating abroad, and the pro-active measures we take to improve the lives of those who work for us.

 

W stands for Well-being - of our staff, of the workers in our contracted factories and of the animals who provide us with some of our core materials.

Given that Nature is one of your guiding principles, how does it impact the design and production of your products?

Nature is hugely important to our decision-making processes, and we think about it before we even start designing a product. We want to produce clothing and kit that lasts for generations, and that means looking at everything, whether that’s choosing one material over another or deciding where to produce our clothing and equipment. Our impact on the natural environment is a key consideration.

 

It’s not always easy, and there are times we have to reject good materials because they don’t align with our values. We’ve also made plenty of mistakes and will continue to do so, but we try to make sure we learn from them and continue to evolve and improve.

You're known for producing durable outdoor kit. How do you improve the longevity of your products, and why is this so important to you?

Longevity is part of our corporate DNA. The longer a product lives, the smaller its environmental footprint. We design products to be functional, durable and timeless, so quality and material longevity are always priorities.  

 

Wherever possible, we try to source materials from the environment, materials like wool, cotton and down. Where natural fibres don’t provide the best solution, we draw on nature to create synthetic materials that are up to the task.

 

But there's another aspect to the longevity of products, and that's timelessness. Our designers strive to ensure that our designs don’t go out of fashion and that consumers want to use, care for and keep the products for years. Many of our products even get passed on to the next generation and our “Grandma jacket” story is a good example of this.

What’s the “Grandma jacket” story?

In 1982, a lady named Gerd Dolva purchased one of our staples, the Fjällräven Räven Jacket. Gerd wore the jacket for 20 years, enjoyed lots of adventures and created many memories in it.

 

In 2002, Gerd passed the jacket on to her granddaughter Christiane Dolva Törnberg, who had just started as the Head of Sustainability at Fjällräven. Christine still has the jacket today, and it continues to be well-loved and well-used.

 

This story speaks volumes about the durability but also the longevity of Fjällräven products. Let’s face it: what good is a durable garment if it’s totally out of fashion a year later and you don’t feel comfortable wearing it? It’s where our design principles come to the fore, because by avoiding trends, we can keep our products in use for generations.

 

It’s the same with our Kånken backpack. We have countless stories where customers have passed the backpack down through generations.


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“We love Fjällräven’s sustainability message and commitment to working in a responsible way. Not only this, but their clothing combines functionality and durability with timeless designs and premium fabrics. Everything they make really is made to last.”
 

– Samantha Crouch, Clothing Buyer for Cotswold Outdoor


The Kånken is probably one of Fjällräven’s most well-known products, tell us a little bit about it…

The Kånken is iconic and remains one of our best-selling products. Launched in 1978, Åke Nordin, our founder, wanted to create a stylish pack for school children that wouldn’t cause back pain.

 

Since its launch, it has gone from strength to strength, because not only is it practical and stylish, but it’s incredibly hardwearing too. The Vinylon F material we use is made from a fibre called polyvinyl alcohol. It swells when it gets damp, making the fabric denser and able to withstand moisture without needing a polyurethane or silicone coating.

 

We’ve got loads of different Kånkens now, so there’s something for everyone, from laptop-specific packs to hip packs as well as more environmentally-friendly Kånken’s like our Tree-Kånken and Re-Kånken. 

 

The Tree-Kånken is made from Pine Weave, an alternative to fossil-based raw materials that is produced from certified Swedish trees grown close to Fjällräven’s hometown of Örnsköldsvik. When waxed, it delivers enhanced durability and water resistance.

 

We’ve also developed the Re-Kånken, which is made entirely from polyester recycled from eleven plastic bottles and is dyed with SpinDye technology to reduce the amount of water, energy and chemicals used. It has a lower impact but looks as good as the original.

You’ve told us a bit about how you’re making your products more sustainable, but does being a well-established company make it more difficult to prioritise sustainability?

To prioritise sustainability is not something we chose to do just because it is nice to have, it's a “must”. It's an integrated part of our long-term business development. We take long-term sustainability considerations in design, material choice, production, transportation and distribution, sales, the user phase and end of use (we use the Higg index).

 

However, you will always face difficulties in setting some objectives and achieving goals, and it's these areas you need to analyse and address. So, it is neither easier nor harder; it's just a question of moving consistently on the path to a more sustainable world and always being prepared to actively contribute.


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Why is wool one of your core fibres?

Wool is integral to many of our designs for good reason. As well as being renewable and biodegradable, it’s soft to the touch, warming when cold yet cooling when warm, odour resistant and wicks away moisture. It’s the perfect performance fabric when you’re facing changeable conditions. In fact, wool can outperform many ‘high-tech’ synthetic fibres. Plus, as different sheep produce fibres with different properties, we can incorporate wool into our designs in so many applications.

 

However, wool is far from perfect, which is why we’ve put a lot of effort into traceability, so we know where our wool comes from and understand its impact on sustainability concerning animal welfare, society and the environment.

 

The bulk of our wool comes via The New Zealand Merino Company, which holds ZQ certification. This ensures the wool is produced on farms that meet strict animal welfare, wool fibre quality and environmental, social and economic sustainability criteria, with every certified farm undergoing regular inspections to ensure compliance.

 

We also utilise recovered wool which is discarded wool that would ordinarily be burned or have gone to landfill as padding and insulation in some of our garments. We only use mulesing-free surplus wool from sheep farmers’ seasonal shearing.

 

The other type of wool we use is recycled wool, which comes from pre and post-consumer sources across the globe. We colour-sort, shred and then re-spin the wool to make new garments and gear.

Does your reliance on natural materials pose difficulties around animal welfare? What are you doing to ensure that you don't cause animals any harm?

As a company, we use quite a few materials of animal origin, but that doesn’t mean we support the mistreatment of animals. Animal welfare is part of our Code of Conduct for suppliers, and we’re constantly looking to improve in this area.

 

We aim to have full traceability and control of the sourcing of any animal-derived materials so that we can strive to ensure and implement animal welfare criteria down to the farmer level. We take full control and also regularly visit sites.

 

Our down products have been fully traceable since 2014. Our Down Promise is currently regarded as the best in the industry by Four Paws, and our supply chain is one of the most transparent.

 

We’re also taking measures investigating  best practice in animal husbandry for wool and have even opened our own sheep farm in the north of Sweden to learn from our first-hand experiences.


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You've also been fluorocarbon-free since 2012. Why did you decide to make that change?

As a company, we use quite a few materials of animal origin, but that doesn’t mean we support the mistreatment of animals. Animal welfare is part of our Code of Conduct for suppliers, and we’re constantly looking to improve in this area.

 

We aim to have full traceability and control of the sourcing of any animal-derived materials so that we can strive to ensure and implement animal welfare criteria down to the farmer level. We take full control and also regularly visit sites.

 

Our down products have been fully traceable since 2014. Our Down Promise is currently regarded as the best in the industry by Four Paws, and our supply chain is one of the most transparent.

 

We’re also taking measures investigating  best practice in animal husbandry for wool and have even opened our own sheep farm in the north of Sweden to learn from our first-hand experiences.

Eco-Shell is one of your core non-fluorocarbon materials, tell us more about it…

A functioning shell garment is essential for any outdoor brand because the weather is always unpredictable. But we wanted to do this without causing unnecessary harm to the environment, which is how Eco-Shell was born.

 

We chose recycled polyester to reduce our reliance on raw resources and improve recyclability at the end of a products life. We chose PFC-free impregnation as this is integral to minimising harmful pollutants. Finally, we decided to climate compensate for all Eco-Shell garments too.


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Another fabric that you’re well-known for is G-1000. What is it and why is it so special?

G-1000 is our cornerstone material; we've been using it since 1968 in everything from our backpacks to our jackets and trousers. It’s a densely-woven blend of 65% polyester and 35% cotton. When used with Greenland Wax, it becomes water-resistant and even more wind-resistant making it highly adaptable to a range of different conditions. With the right care, it will withstand the rigours of many adventures.

 

Like everything, we’re always looking to improve, and we now have variations of this fabric to suit different requirements. They’re all hardwearing, ventilating, wind-resistant and offer protection from UV rays, but are designed to perform slightly differently. We even have Eco options that use recycled polyester and organic cotton.

Finally, we’d like to know how you’re helping support customers to reduce their impact on the environment?

We’re trying to take some of the onus off customers by creating more sustainable, hardwearing products that last, so they can buy our products knowing they’re making the best possible choice.

 

But we also try to advise them on how to treat our products to make them last longer and ensure that the care of our products (e.g. reproofing) has no major negative impact on the environment. 

 

Ultimately, if we can help people find the right tools and information then everyone can make informed and conscious choices. We want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors and to leave our planet in better shape than it is now.


Posted By
Ralph White, Managing Director of Fjällräven in the UK

Founded in 1960, Fjällräven have worked for nearly sixty years to craft innovative, functional items of clothing and kit designed to allow more people to enjoy the great outdoors. Popular with outdoor enthusiasts worldwide, every piece that they sell has been put to the test, to support you when it matters the most.

 

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