A Design for Life: if adventure clothing is built to last, how do brands stay in business?

In part 3 of our 10 part foray into the ethics behind adventure gear, Ed looks at design and durability, chats to Tom, the founder of Finisterre, and wonders how it works in a world where everything else we buy seems to be designed to break. Adventure junkie means just that right? Junk gear freaks travelling around the world with duffle bags full of equipment kit cupboards spilling over with eighteen jackets in different colours, fourteen different pairs of shoes and so on.Wrong The guys and girls I know in the adventure community are simple when it comes to kit. If it works, it stays, and this really is the only criteria. The kit we use is built to so high a standard that we can rely on it for a really long time. I have personally pushed this principle into the realm of the anti social with my lucky socks. In many ways we, the adventure sports community, are the worst kind of consumer. How is anyone in business at all? It has been well documented that Crocs got into serious difficulty due to the success of their own product that promised to last forever. Everyone who owns a pair of crocs is pretty well set. The real core of the adventure community is impervious to the whimsical flounce of fashion. In fact, the older your kit and the more beaten the fabric, the better the look. As consumers, our requirements for the product are based around durability, not so much style. So lets not pretend that changing the colour is going to make a huge difference. If it did, then the big manufacturers would have changed their staple colours away from black, blue or red for men and sky blue, fuchsia, or grey for women, five years ago. I want to know why the Ice breaker merino wool tops I own have remained loyally the same shape and size through years of use and abuse, and why by comparison a wollen v neck my Auntie gave to me last Christmas lasted three days before mutating into wind tunnel that would have better suited a well endowed female baboon. The answer is simple, the choice, the cutting, the working and the finishing of the raw material is designed for purpose. And when that purpose is -30 exertion well it has to keep it together as much as we do. Man and woman in perfect harmony with kit.

But I havent had to buy a new jacket for a long time now, so how does that work for a business?

I asked Tom at Finisterre how manufacturers can survive whilst producing such resilient products. His response was simple We have never really discussed the alternatives to be honest. Everything we do is about creating solutions which improve on what is already available, in terms of functionality, transparency, design and durability. Our kit is designed to last, but there is a natural product life too. What is in our favour is that people recognise just how well designed our kit is, and adventure communities can be very loyal, so they will often come and buy a second piece of kit to do another job with. So how do Finisterre design for durability?We are working with a lot of unknowns. We do a lot of scientific research but it can still be very hard to know exactly how long something will last, despite the really tough testing we put our products through. There are always trade-off. For example, we use recycled fabrics, which simply dont last as long as nylons, but have a much smaller environmental footprint in the first place. So is making 2 jackets with a small footprint better than 1 jacket which lasts twice as long but has a much larger initial impact on the environment? You just have to make the best call you can with the facts you have available. Does the consumer have a role to play?

Without doubt. 70 to 80% of the footprint of a jacket happens in the hands of the consumer, so we put a lot into educating the consumer too, providing care instructions and reproofing services to ensure the item lasts. We may be giving the adventure community a hard time in some of our other kit articles, but I am then the very first to say that in this respect of sustainable adventure equipment, the adventure community has got it spot-on. No need to look for radical change here, after all, if it aint broke dont fix it. We already enjoy consumer led behaviour amongst the production of adventure gear. We require the brands to act with longevity in mind from the very first time the pencil hits the sketch pad, to when they select their raw materials, to when the product rolls out of the mills. It must be Durable. Tough. Last. So junkie? No A lot of us might like to say we follow the middle path of Buddhism, but we remain seriously attached to our kit Ive never seen kit in a bin. It just doesnt happen.

This is Part 3 of a 10 part series in our adventure mag – straight to your inbox every month or so. Sign up here.

Part 1 looked at Transparency and why it is important in outdoor clothing

Part 2 looked at raw materials in adventure kit

Next month…you will have to sign up for the mag to find out!

One Reply to “A Design for Life: if adventure clothing is built to last, how do brands stay in business?”

  1. Please let me know when I will be able to buy one set of jacket for winter, shirt, pants, socks and shoes that will last for the life of wearer?

    Also if embedded diodes in shirt and pants with cavaler composition can change colour with temperature of wearer that would be really cool.

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