Royal Robbins: A Look Back And Ahead With The Original Outerwear Brand
Born in Yosemite Valley in 1968, Royal Robbins makes “versatile apparel for people who bring the spirit of a life lived outdoors to everything they do.” With Earth Day approaching next week, we wanted to take a look at a heritage brand that has one of the outdoor community’s first sustainability stories.
Founders Royal and Liz Robbins were iconic Sierra Nevada rock climbers during the 1950s and '60s. Royal led the first team to climb Half Dome in Yosemite in 1957, and later became to first person to solo El Capitan in 1968. In 1967, the 10th anniversary of Royal’s first ascent, Liz became the first woman to climb Half Dome in Yosemite.
“When we got to the top of Half Dome, a tourist took our camera and agreed to take a photo of us. When we looked at that picture, we said, maybe we’d be better in the clothing business!" - Liz Robbins
The company, founded in 1968, was first called Mountain Paraphernalia, selling gear such as pitons, ropes, and carabiners. But at the time, climbers and hikers sorely needed clothing that could move, that was durable and that fit well and looked good. The outdoor apparel industry started and ended with Army surplus and jean cut-offs, and that wasn’t enough.
So the Robbins’ quickly moved into apparel (under the name Mountain Threads), something then unheard of in the gear-focused outdoor industry, by importing wool sweaters from England.
In 1975, Liz designed the company’s first original piece of clothing — the rugged Billy Goat® Short, which quickly became an outdoor staple and is still sold today.
Though the Robbins’ sold the business in 2000, Liz returned this past December to serve as a senior advisor to the new CEO, Michael Millenacker, a former sales and marketing director for the brand in the 1990s.
“It’s exciting to be back working with the company Royal and I founded. Our guideline – style with mountaineering heritage — is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s when our focus was on Yosemite Valley climbers,” says Liz. “It is with Royal’s encouragement that I’m joining the new team.”
Royal himself was the first major American proponent of clean climbing, advocating in the May 1967 Summit Magazine for using removable nuts for protection instead of rock-marring pitons. That spring, he and his wife Liz made the first ascent of Nutcracker in the Yosemite Valley using only nuts, a first in the US. This was one of the first sustainability stories in the outdoor industry.
“Environmental safekeeping is the core foundation of our brand’s heritage.” - Michael Millenacker, CEO
Millenacker has re-emphasized the Robbins’ focus on sustainability, most recently by signing on as a bluesign® System partner.
Bluesign helps businesses evaluate and reduce the environmental impacts of its textile production and manufacturing chain. They work with factory partners to focus on resource and energy productivity, consumer safety, water emissions, air emissions, and occupational health and safety.
But the sustainability story doesn’t end there. This spring, Royal Robbins is featuring two garment collections that use Sorona® fibers, an eco-conscious, corn-based biopolymer that reduces energy consumption by 30-40% and greenhouse gas emissions by 55-60% compared to nylon production. Sorona blends very well with other fibers, and fabrics that use it are very soft, very strong and dry quickly.
For instance, Royal Robbins has blended Sorona with merino wool in its Go Everywhere Polo, Tee and ¼ Zip to make a softer, stronger merino base layer (they call it MerinoLux). No more itching, better shape retention and the same temperature and moisture control that you want from merino.
The Diablo collection, for both men and women, is designed to provide superior ventilation and performance on your hottest active day. These shirts feature a breathable, eco-conscious fabric enhanced with engineered perforations in focused areas across the garments. The ventilation is heightened with strong moisture wicking and quick drying properties.
The sustainable Sorona fibers give this fabric a soft hand, durability and a hint of stretch, making it ideal for outdoor adventure and active travel with its refined silhouettes.
Today, Royal Robbins still makes enduring, classic, outdoor clothing for people who embody a love for the natural world and want to get up in the morning and “dress once." Their renewed focus on sustainability adds an exciting new layer to this heritage brand.