February 5, 2020 Unfashionable by Design
Many outdoor companies know how to create durable clothes and equipment. But how sustainable are these products if they feel outdated a year later and end up in the closet? Not so much, if you ask Christiane Dolva Törnberg, Head of Sustainability at Fjällräven.
Fjällräven has been proclaiming the same decree over and over since 1960: “We make functional, durable, timeless clothes and equipment that make great outdoor activities even better.” Functionality and durability are given traits, of course, and any company claiming to be an outdoor company will most definitely be using these words to describe their gear. But “timeless”? How is that relevant to us outdoor enthusiasts?
“It’s extremely relevant,” explains Christiane Dolva Törnberg, Head of Sustainability at Fjällräven.
“At least if you care about sustainability. When we develop clothing and equipment at Fjällräven, we don’t only focus on minimal environmental impact from our material choices and production processes, we are also deliberately staying clear of design trends that happen to be fashionable at the moment. The definition of fashion is ‘a style that is popular during a particular time.’ In other words, the opposite of longevity,” says Christiane.
By longevity, Christiane doesn’t only mean durability in the ordinary sense, but presents us with a new perspective: emotional durability.
“What good is a garment made with the world’s most durable fabric, if it feels outdated a year after you buy it? The carbon footprint it took to produce it is in no way compensated for by the number of times it was used. It needs emotional durability to be a garment you want to keep and use for a long time, perhaps even pass on to the next generation.”
How to cut impact in half
A recently published study by Mistra, The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, did some serious number crunching regarding the correlation between a garment’s lifecycle and the carbon footprint of its production. Among other things, it confirmed that a design policy with longevity at its core, something that Fjällräven has been applying since the early 1960’s, has a major effect when it comes to the sustainability of a garment.
“If you measure the carbon footprint of, say, an average jacket, and state that ok, the average jacket comes with a carbon footprint of approximately 20kg CO2 eq., you can divide that sum by the number of times that jacket is worn to get a measurement of how that carbon footprint came to good use. According to Mistra’s research, the average Swedish person uses an average jacket about 140 times. So that’s its lifecycle. But if that person uses the jacket twice as much, the carbon footprint is almost halved. This confirms the value of what we do at Fjällräven, and why we strive to create products that become long time favorites.”
A long-term investment
Christiane believes that the outdoor industry as a whole has the possibility and the responsibility to educate their users about the complexities and broad scope of the S-word that everyone is so fond of using these days.
“There are so many companies, in so many different industries, that are in a hurry to gain competitive advantages by focusing on a message of sustainability. There’s a lot of good that comes from that and progress has been made, but sustainability needs to be so much more than simply a marketing tool. It needs to be a very real and all-encompassing thing that makes a difference and changes the way we think and live, like starting to regard every product we choose to buy as a long-term investment,” explains Christiane, who continues:
“The outdoor industry has a lot of credibility in this area, partly because of our genuine passion for and devotion to nature, but also because the industry is dependent on nature thriving and standing strong. So, instead of competing with the exaggerated rhetoric, we all need to take a really comprehensive and competent approach, and educate ourselves and our users about what makes products truly sustainable.”