Nobody likes to feel too cold or too hot. Feeling a blast of chilling wind down your back isn’t much fun either. And spending an entire day wet to the skin isn’t most people’s idea of a good day out. No, clothing for the outdoors has to actually ensure time in nature is enjoyable – so you want to return, time and again. And, let’s face it, nature can be pretty harsh. Be under no illusions; it’s the dominant partner in the relationship and we must respect it as such. This means our jackets, trousers, tents, sleeping bags – all our gear in fact – have a purpose. And this purpose is made possible with materials and fabrics that have been handpicked for their inherent qualities.
Let’s take goose down for example. When space is tight, the conditions are dry and still, and staying warm is essential, down is hard to beat. As soon as the air gets wet or snow flakes start to fall, synthetic insulation, such as our Supreme Mircoloft, takes over.
What about wool, then? It keeps you warm even when it’s damp. Thanks to its wicking properties, it also keeps you cool and odour-free when it’s warm.
“Functionality and durability are two of the main drivers in the outdoor industry and these help us make decisions on what materials to use. We use a step-by-step approach to choosing a material. First, does it fulfil a function? If not then it’s useless and we don’t use it; we don’t want to use resources in vain. The second step is to look at the impact of that material. Do we accept the impact on nature, resource use and raw-material input? We score our materials accordingly. This helps us to take decisions, one material over another,” says Christiane Dolva, head of sustainability at Fjällräven.
So we spend a lot of time matching material with activity and climate for each of our technical products. This means we use both natural and man-made fabrics.
Natural can mean cotton or hemp, but it can also include materials of animal origin like wool, down and leather. And this is when ethics becomes priority number one.
“Whenever you use an animal-derived product, in any kind of industrial production setting, there’s always an animal welfare risk. That’s because you’re often looking at efficiency and efficiency doesn’t naturally prioritise animal welfare. So we work particularly closely with our suppliers of animal-derived materials.”
It’s not enough that all our suppliers sign our code of conduct, which covers the ethical treatment of animals. We also work with international groups and organisations to introduce international standards; we create our own ethical production standards (such as our Down Promise); we send our own vets and compliancy experts to our suppliers all over the world; and we’re working hard to establish full traceability in all our animal-derived materials supply chains.
“If you say that animal welfare is important and you want to develop strict animal welfare criteria – we don’t want any animals to suffer any unnecessary harm just so we can develop a product – then we need to know where our materials come from. We can’t let someone else take care of it. We need to be able to follow up on it. That’s why traceability is so important. If we don’t have it, we can never check our animal welfare criteria are being met. It’s not traceability just for the sake of it. We want to trace it because then we can start the next step, which is ensuring it fulfils out animal welfare criteria.”
However, it’s not exactly what you’d call a straightforward process. We’re working backwards and against a chain that brands have consistently been at the end of. Under normal circumstances there is always some kind of middleman, the spinners, the tanners and so on, that sources the raw material. Brands, of which Fjällräven is one, then dealt at this level. We trusted that the wool, leather and down was coming from a good source. If it felt good, i.e. the quality was high, that was good enough. This isn’t the case anymore.
“We now place greater demands on suppliers. We want to know where the material has come from, right down to farm level. This means it’s really important to work with suppliers that share our ethics. We’ve had traceable down for a while now; it’s taken a long time with leather and wool. But we think we’re finally there,” says Christiane.
The outdoor industry is naturally competitive. Each brand is trying to develop new and better products than it’s competitors, coming up with ever-more advanced solutions. But when it comes to sustainability collaboration is key. Through global standards, such as the Responsible Wool Standard, brands can work together to find better solutions.
“In a big group with many stakeholders, a lot of work goes into deciding what is animal welfare, how it should be measured and so on. This goes into a lot of detail and draws on large areas of expertise. And brands are really working together on this, which is great. The more brands that request these standards, the more suppliers will sign up. It’ll improve the whole industry. There is power in numbers.”
This work is on-going. We’re constantly reassessing. Our preferred materials list is updated regularly. And we won’t rule out using man-made leather, wool and down alternatives if they provide the kind of quality and functionality we need. But what is for sure: we will do our utmost to ensure the fair and ethical treatment of animals. Our standards are high and we will not make compromises.
Text: Sarah Benton