Gear for the trip? No, for life

Posted by Jackson Delaney on

Fjällräven has a long-term approach to product development, where durability – both physical and emotional – is key. Sustainability Manager Johanna Mollberg explains how we don’t just create gear for your next trip, but for a lifetime of use.

Johanna Mollberg

Did you know that the longer and more often a garment is used, the lower its carbon footprint is? In fact, according to a 2019 Swedish study, it can be reduced up to 50% if used twice as often during its lifetime.

Lengthy and frequent use of products encourages more reasonable consumption habits. Buying with care, instead of often, is the obvious and most environmentally feasible way forward. To achieve this however, products not only need to withstand the wear and tear of frequent use over time, but they also need to be repairable and maintain their relevance in our lives.

Durability doesn’t often come to mind when we think about sustainability. But it should.- Johanna Mollberg. Sustainability Manager, Materials.

According to Johanna Mollberg, Sustainability Manager for Materials, that’s precisely why Fjällräven focuses on durability: “Durability doesn’t often come to mind when we think about sustainability. But it should. Making our gear usable long term is how we can generate the biggest environmental benefit.”

As such, durability plays a considerable role in our future circular design model. As Johanna says, “The goal is zero-waste products, which we can achieve through design for longevity and recyclability. Longevity is top priority though, because using gear longer has a lower impact than recycling.”

So, what makes something “durable”?

Hardwearing materials and construction

This is familiar territory, says Johanna, because “Fjällräven has always prioritised durability, so we don’t shy away from substantial materials when needed.”

That’s not to say all gear must be heavyweight to be durable. True durability means selecting the materials, seams and components proven to last for their intended use. To do this right, says Johanna, “Product development teams must identify where wear and tear happen, ensure there are no weak spots between seams and where different materials come together, and apply reinforcements where needed.”

All these decisions are made with real-world use in mind, because as Johanna explains, “Context is tricky.”

Fjällräven demands high lab test results to clear materials for production. We test fabrics for pilling, abrasion, tear strength, colour fastness, shrinkage and more. But all these need to be applied based on their intended use. For example, we know pilling can be worse for a cotton t-shirt than it would be for a polyester mid layer. That’s an okay trade-off for us because the t-shirt isn’t worn for, say, ski touring.

Furthermore, a professional user, such as a Swedish mountain guide, could wear out even our toughest trekking gear within a season. All these different contexts make durability complex. It’s all about the setting, the frequency and the intensity of use. That's why we have a dedicated team for field testing. By rigorously testing our prototypes, this diverse group of users ensure our gear holds up in the real world.”

Timeless design

Emotional durability is achieved when a product looks and feels as good now as it did decades ago. Rooting straightforward design in functionality with unfussy forms, clear lines and lasting colours ensures our gear ages well.

It also means we learn a lot from products that have been beloved for decades. Design that has worked for a long time will continue to do so. Take Kånken. “There are people walking around with Kånkens from the seventies that have been passed down generations,” says Johanna. “It’s the ultimate durability win!”

Repairable functionality

Gear should be made so it can be mended and have its components replaced with relative ease. According to Johanna, Fjällräven’s Claims Department plays an important role here:

“Claims provides the rest of us with reality checks, because user feedback is the most accurate insight we have about the real-world durability of our gear. They show us where things wear out and what the most common issues are. It’s a continuous part of improving durability.”

However, in Johanna’s experience, achieving durability through repairable functionality requires balance. “Sometimes, making a product durable with sturdy fabrics, seams and reinforcements makes repair difficult. Designers, product developers and pattern makers use their judgement to determine what’s best for the context.”

That’s why proper care and repair are important topics to communicate. “It’s simple to maintain the durability of your gear, but it’s a task and requires education,” says Johanna. “Common mistakes include not maintaining the PFC-free water repellence of an Eco-Shell jacket, washing gear instead of airing it out and improper storage.”

“It’s also important to use products properly in the conditions for which they’re made,” concludes Johanna, because in the end, durability isn’t just about gear lasting a long time. It’s about using it, enthusiastically, for decades (hopefully more) to come.

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