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Interview with Christiane Dolva, Head of Sustainability, Fjällräven

Swedish outdoor equipment company Fjällräven has an expressed sustainability commitment. Watch Christiane Dolva explain more to Dr Maria Sherrington.
I’d like to ask you please to tell us a little about the Fjallraven brand, about the company and about your product range? Yeah, so Fjallraven, is a Swedish company that was established in the 1960s in the northern part of Sweden. And we are still very tightly connected to our history. It started off with our founder, Ake Nordin. He loved spending time out in the outdoors, and was constantly trying to figure out new ways to create equipment that made his visit out in nature more comfortable, or drier, or warmer.
So, that’s kind of has been our driving force all along, is to figure out how to both inspire more people, to spend time out in nature, and then also how to ensure that we can provide equipment that makes that experience enjoyable. So, we have that in our history since the 60s, coupled with the same philosophy of making durable, functional, and timeless equipment. So, our equipment is there to solve problems for people out in nature, but we want to do it in a way so that we know that the products will last for as long as possible, both durability-wise but also timeless design-wise And, so that’s very much affecting how we work today.
As well, we have a product range that is, the core is the trekking product. So, still very much looking at trousers, and jackets, and equipment that’s needed if you want to go trekking, or as we like to say if we want to walk with nature. You don’t need to reach the highest peak or conquer the mountains, it’s just spending time out in nature. Now, we have an outdoor segment, which is a little bit more of the bridging the gap between city and nature, so allowing you to have the equipment that you might choose to use in everyday life, but that would also allow you to just go outside and roam in the forest after work if that’s what you want.
And then we have tents, and backpacks, sleeping bags. And, I guess nowadays if you say Fjallraven, and people are not really sure what that brand is, you could always refer to Kanken, a small square backpack that is found almost around the world at the moment. That was actually started here in Sweden, for Swedish schoolchildren. So that’s a little bit about our product range, and the company’s history, which is very much coupling the want to inspire people, to spend time in nature, figuring out ways to do that. Okay. That’s great.
So, the Fjallraven website articulates a promise of ‘leaving base camp in better condition than we found it’, please tell us what this means in terms of how you operate as a business? Yeah. That one is actually one of the quotes that we really use a lot. And try to live by, and it’s really representing, especially everything we do around sustainability. And, I have to say before I go further on, that like sustainability sometimes tend to become a bit of a separate concept.
Sometimes also regarded as a very complicated concept that is run on the side, but Fjallraven, we don’t really see it as a concept at all, we can embed it into everything we do and let Sustainability guide us in a lot of the choices and decisions we make, both in the products and how we run our business. And, the quote of leaving base camp in a better shape than we found it, is really a picture of our ambitions when it comes to sustainability. It’s not focusing only on doing less harm, but looking at possibilities to also have a positive impact.
So, the better shape than you found it is not just cleaning up your trash, but see if you can even contribute in a positive way. And that goes obviously for how we look at our own environmental impact and those things, but it also is something that we’ve adapted into the relationships we have with our partners, both in retail or if it is in the supply chain. If there’s anything we can do to ensure that, that might become a little bit better, by us being connected and involved in building a relationship. Then that’s the direction and goal we have. Kanken is arguably an iconic Fjallraven product, please tell us the story of how the Re-Kanken backpack came about? Yeah.
So, just to bring the little bit of the story of Kanken first, obviously since it’s like has a global presence now, it’s become really one of the recognisable products and iconic products in our product range. It’s actually protected as a piece of art in Sweden, for its design, because it’s so specific. Started off as a backpack to solve the problems of Swedish schoolchildren who were carrying shoulder-bags at that moment, in the 70s. And then, we developed this by just taking an A4 binder and starting to play around with the shape, and there you have the Kanken. And when we looked at Kanken, we realised that the design features that I talked about.
The things that are simplistic, functional, timeless, durable, all those things are very much present in the Kanken backpack which makes it so unique. And I think, that’s part of why it’s kind of, I mean, it has its ups and downs, but it’s still around, and has been since the 70s. So, we looked at that, and we figured that it ticks all the boxes of sustainability when it comes to timelessness, and durability, and functionality and stuff. But, we would like to experiment to see, can we make it even more sustainable by looking at alternative materials. So that’s when we developed Re-Kanken, which is a couple of years back now four maybe, was launched.
Then, the best option that we found that was durable and hard-wearing enough, was to look at recycled raw material. And, in the world of textiles, polyester is probably the material that has come furthest when it comes to recycled input material. And then, not just looking at the raw material choice, but also looking at the production process. We in the textile industry, the dyeing and finishing of any material is what has the highest environmental footprint. So then we also looked at this solution dye, spin-dye solution, where colour is added already at the yarn-formation level, so you can skip the whole wet dyeing process and thereby save a lot of water, energy, and chemicals. So that’s kind of how it came about.
We decided let’s, I mean, the design, we can keep the design as it is, because it ticks all the boxes but let’s play around with the material. And thereby, we have Re-Kanken. The website describes Re-Kanken, as a special edition of Kanken, what has been the uptake of Re-Kanken and can you see a situation whereby Re-Kanken eventually takes over from Kanken? Yeah. We’ve more and more started to look at making different editions of Kanken, because it’s a really iconic product to test and play around with different things, so we have also more like a recycled wool version, and we have a version with our G1000 material. So, we’re kind of growing the Kanken family to include also different materials.
We have one coming up very soon that I can’t talk too much about, with also a more sustainable material option, which is super-exciting It’s a good vehicle to drive innovation. The uptake of Re-Kanken has been really good. It’s been one of, you know, it’s been in the top of our styles. And, I think it appeals to a user group that are very conscious about the material choices.
Our decision now strategically, is to rather than just change everything into one other material, to use it as a vehicle to test different types of materials. And, obviously that will both in some cases add new user groups to the Kanken. And in some cases, someone might choose one of the others over the original, and perhaps where that lands in the future, depends on how great the other options are as well. But at the moment, we’re letting them live side by side, and we have no strategic goal to change it at the moment. And that’s also because the durability and the way that the original Kanken ages, is still pretty unprecedented.
We have a hard, we have not, it’s not, Re-Kanken is not the same there. It’s really durable. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have put it on the market. But the way the vinyl material ages, and sometimes when we get pictures of people with backpacks that they’ve had since the 70s, that’s hard to match. What opportunities and challenges do you see ahead for the Fjallraven and Re-Kanken, brands?
I think it’s a good question, I mean, who knows these days, sometimes that’s the feeling. But no, I think that, especially from my point of view, working as Head of Sustainability, obviously there is still the ongoing challenge of figuring out how we can grow sustainably, meaning then how can we keep on inspiring people to spend time out in nature and providing them with durable, functional, and timeless products to do so, without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same. So that and that I think is the challenge of our lifetime for not only a brand like us, but for everyone.
And that obviously means that we’re really head on into our climate strategies, and looking at our climate impact specifically, as that’s, there’s very little time left before we really need on a global scale to reach some drastic measures there. So, that is definitely one of the challenges that I see coming. And coupled with that, and connected to that obviously, looking at different ways to inspire people to spend time in nature, maybe by looking at different business models of providing gear, rather than traditional consumption, buy model. We’ll see.
But I think that if we, our viewpoint is that if we stick to what we’re good at, which is to solve problems for people who want to spend time in nature, I’m pretty confident that spending time in nature connecting to nature for someone maybe even reconnecting to nature is going to be important and might even be more important in the future than we see now, and if we can stick to our values, of how we inspire people to spend time out in nature I think that we’ll do fine we just need to understand how we can do it with leaving base camp in a better shape than we found it even more.

In this video, Christiane Dolva, Head of Sustainability at Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven accounts for the brand’s promise of ‘leaving basecamp in better condition than we found it’. We also get the inside story about Re-Kånken, a special edition of their classic backpack Kånken.

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