Falling For Fjällräven: Outerwear You'll Instantly Love
The previous decade had seen the first ascents of Everest and El Capitan, and those making outdoor gear were largely doing it to outfit their own adventures.
Frustrated by the poor performance and discomfort of available options, Nordin prototyped his first wood-framed backpack as a teen in Northern Sweden. Distributing the load more evenly allowed him to carry the weight of his gear more easily. Nordin’s framed backpack launched the fledgling Fjällräven brand and changed the trekking industry forever.
Fast forward to 1978, when Nordin found himself reworking the casual bags carried by students and young people every day. Heavy, single-strapped shoulder bags were blamed for back pain, and Fjällräven’s iconic Kånken (meaning “to carry” in Swedish) bag was born to address the issue.
“It was an immediate success, and it has proven it is functional, timeless, fun and lasting,” says Fjällräven Marketing Manager Kevin Stayart.
A delightfully retro backpack beloved by school kids and commuters worldwide, the Kånken has endured the test of time and come to define the brand. Year after year, its no-nonsense design and durable materials live up to its name and embody the brand’s dedication to endurance, simplicity and functionality. Though it has only been available stateside for about a decade, the Kånken has become a ubiquitous part of urban outdoor fashion.
“We believe in organic and sustainable growth, and with that, we brought the brand here when we felt it was the right time,” says Stayart. He also points out a split in philosophy when American outdoor brands began pushing toward a lighter, faster and less expensive products.
“Our Fjällräven model has been quite different, and has in many ways been a reflection of the Swedish culture,” he says. “Along with working hard toward our industry-leading sustainability practices and initiatives, we have continued producing many of our products that have been out for decades, and have proven through the years that these are timeless pieces that are still relevant today.”
"Our Fjällräven model has been quite different, and has in many ways been a reflection of the Swedish culture."
- Kevin Stayart
Fjällräven’s design ethos focuses on durability and emotional longevity — two factors that impact the lifecycle of a product. Because it’s well made, easy to repair, and classic in style, you can find gear from their nearly 60-year history still on the trails.
When it comes time for innovation, Fjällräven takes a grounded approach, sticking with what works while keeping an eye out for areas of potential improvement. Their line ranges from comfy tees and tights to technical trekking gear, and utilizes planet-friendly fibers like recycled wool, organic hemp and a plant-based material called Tencel.
They’re working toward greener synthetic fabrics as well, with recycled polyester and their award-winning Bergshell fabric. It’s a waterproof, ripstop material offering expedition-level protection while mitigating some of the environmental impacts of performance fabrics.
Unlike many rain jackets, this eco-shell material is impregnated without perfluorocarbons (PFCs), reducing the amount of harmful residue left in the environment from washing the garment and wearing it in the field.
“With any human effect on the outdoors, there comes a cost,” says Stayart, though the brand believes the tradeoff is worthwhile. “With outdoor exploration comes an undeniable appreciation for the earth. We believe that the more that this is understood, the more humans will be inspired to respect and preserve our planet.”
With their roots in the outdoors, Fjällräven is acutely aware of their responsibility to balance performance and sustainability and protect the landscapes that inspire adventure.
They support research and preservation efforts by Stockholm University scientists helping inch the arctic fox back from the edge of extinction. Though hunting arctic foxes is no longer allowed in Sweden, climate change brings new challenges for the still vulnerable species, and Fjällräven is taking big strides to do their part on behalf of the entire planet — not just arctic wildlife.
“We aim to inspire people to get out into nature and experience the outdoors at their own pace by creating high-quality, sustainable, and lasting products.”
- Kevin Stayart
They aim to reduce their CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020, and to become totally carbon neutral by 2025. As a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and signer of the UN Global Compact, Fjällräven has voluntarily committed to operate under higher-than-required environmental and social responsibility standards, and ensure safe and equitable conditions for factory workers.
They continue to adapt as the business evolves, and acknowledge that there’s always room for improvement. A desire for wellbeing is one of Fjällräven’s key tenets, and it extends into their relationships with staff, customers and nature.
From sourcing traceable down and wool to funding ecologically-minded non-profits, they strive to operate the entire company ethically, and, as they say, “leave basecamp better than they found it.”
The outdoor industry has certainly evolved in the 60 years since Ake Nordin made his first bag in rural Sweden, and brands like Fjällräven are empowering more people than ever to get outside, discover their world, and take care of it for the next generation.
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