Monday, September 21, 2015

Brand History: Fjallraven

The Essentials:
Founded: 1960
Country of Origin: Sweden
Famous for: Kanken backpack, G-1000 fabric, Greenland jacket, Expedition down jacket, world's first Thermo tents
Social and Environmental Responsibility initiatives: climate compensated backpack production (2008), 100% traceable down across the Fjallraven supply chain (2010), Fair Labor Association member (2013), internal Code of Conduct based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that all Fjallraven suppliers must sign

The Story:
    In the basement of a small Örnsköldsvik home on Sweden's High Coast, a 14-year-old boy began an outdoors revolution. Åke Nordin, an avid outdoors lover, was dissatisfied with his trekking pack. Its unstructured cotton construction hung low and away from the body, causing any load in the pack to be as mechanically disadvantageous as possible to its carrier. In a small shack adjoining his family's cabin in the Örnsköldsvik hills, Åke put together a crude wooden frame, stitched a canvas bag around it, and affixed leather straps. The resulting backpack wore higher, carried weight better, and even circulated air better than its frameless cousins. 

    Åke was on to something, but it wasn't until 1960 (a full decade later) that his business would open its doors. After finishing his schooling, serving in the Swedish armed forces, and finally returning home to his family's flat in Örnsköldsvik, Åke began producing his framed backpacks to sell to outdoors enthusiasts across the continent under the name Fjallraven (Swedish for "the Arctic Fox").

    Over the next two decades, Fjallraven's products garnered international acclaim for their outdoor utility, but never truly transcended Europe's outdoors enthusiasts. While waxed Greenland jackets traveled to the Arctic Circle and back with rave reviews, the average European simply had no daily use for the situationally-tailored Fjallraven apparel offered at that time. Sure, the waxed G-1000 nylon was as durable as can and completely waterproof to boot - but it was also expensive for the time and generally considered too "outdoorsy" for casual wear. The average European didn't know Fjallraven, or if they did, treated it with the same reverence a modern consumer may treat snowpeak: great products, but made for a different lifestyle than their own. In 1978, close to 30 years after his original pack innovation, Åke Nordin returned to his workshop for yet another backpack that would not only expose the general public to the quality and utility of Fjallraven goods, but also solve one of Sweden's largest public health crises of the era.

    In the late 1970's, startling research conducted in the city of Gothenberg revealed that more than 75% of the Swedish population suffered from an episode of severe back pain at least once in their lives. Even more worringly: the data showed an increase in back pain episodes trending toward younger and younger children. This data skew was attributed to the popularity of shoulder bags among Swedish schoolchildren. Åke believed that if Swedish school kids were offered a stylish, supportive alternative to their shoulder bags, they would make the switch themselves (with no parental or governmental prodding) and in turn, straighten out a generation's worth of back pain. With the help of the Swedish Guide and Scout Association (Sweden's equivalent of the Boy Scouts), the Fjallraven Kanken was introduced in the early fall of 1978, just in time for the school year. The Kanken was an instant hit. In over 35 years, the only major change has been the addition of a laptop compartment.

    Since then, the Fjallraven brand has expanded to stores, suppliers, and everyday users all over the world. The introduction of the Kanken proved that outdoors technology and design process could be applied to everyday living, and the proliferation of Fjallraven's jackets and apparel soon followed. The rugged construction, commitment to quality, and muted color palette have since carved a niche for Fjallraven's products in a crowded outdoors marketplace saturated by brands emphasizing quantity over attention to detail. Fjallraven's products harken back to the golden age of mid-20th century exploration - when an intrepid Swedish outdoorsmen could revolutionize an industry from his basement, only to go out trekking the next. Technical membranes are few and far between, but if decades of Arctic explorers thrived with Fjallraven parkas, they'll handle a Michigan winter just fine and look great doing it. 

    How great, exactly? In 2005, a Swedish court classified the original Fjallraven Expedition Down Parka those explorers wore as art. We'll take our Arctic Fox over any Goose.

~Alex R. -Men's Fashion  


Bivouac: Where Outdoor Passion Meets Indoor Fashion.

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