Dr. Regina Henkel
Dr. Regina Henkel

Fjällräven: How the Outdoor Brand is Combining Sustainability and Growth

Fjällräven is investing in sustainability. Thomas Gröger, member of the executive board and Country Manager for Germany, talks about sustainability, urban outdoor, and what he thinks of an ever-faster pace.

The Greenland collection by Fjällräven is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2018. For its anniversary, it’s coming on the market in the vibrant colors of the houses of Greenland for the first time.
The Greenland collection by Fjällräven is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2018. For its anniversary, it’s coming on the market in the vibrant colors of the houses of Greenland for the first time.

They’ve long since had their own down cultivation, sheep farming is being established, and they’ve been PFC-free for some time now. Fjällräven focuses on timeless, long-lasting products, and has thus created classics that are well received even beyond the outdoor world.

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ISPO.com spoke with Country Manager for Germany Thomas Gröger about sustainability and urban outdoor.

Thomas Gröger is responsible for the German market and, since its beginning, also a member of the Swedish brand’s executive board.
Thomas Gröger is responsible for the German market and, since its beginning, also a member of the Swedish brand’s executive board.

Interview with Thomas Gröger

ISPO.com: Fjällräven has a special position within the outdoor market: no extreme mountain sports, no racing for the lightest materials, no innovation for the sake of innovation, no constantly changing styles. So why does it work?
Thomas Gröger: We’re not part of the “higher, faster, further” faction, that’s true. Of course, you can take our products into the mountains, but we don’t define ourselves through extreme sports, nor as fast-moving, but rather as long-lasting.

Innovations have to be timeless

For us, innovations must always also be long-lasting and timeless; we’re not interested in short-lived trends. For us, enjoying the outdoors and being in touch with nature have priority. Those are very important points for us. Customers and retailers appreciate this approach.

In your opinion, what are the trends in the outdoor sector right now?
For me, there’s one major trend topic above all: sustainability in outdoor sports. For us that isn’t just a trend, it’s a goal. We’ve already undertaken a lot in the past few years to get better, and have also received numerous awards for doing so.

Micro-traveling as a new trend

All of our new G-1000 products are made of G-1000 Eco, which is made of organic cotton and recycled polyester – we’ve also been completely PFC-free for years. But that’s not enough for us. Another trend I’ve heard about is the topic of micro-traveling.

The stressed office worker wants to take a short, spontaneous trip into the outdoors after work or on the weekend – without any major planning at all. But that doesn’t sound new at all to a Swedish company, since the Swedes have been doing it that way all along.

Greenland collection celebrates anniversary

The next round of orders is coming up soon: What topics are you focusing on?
Our highlight for next summer is the Greenland collection. It’s been reworked and reissued with new colors and details for its 50-year anniversary.

The Greenland collection is our first clothing collection ever, and has been part of the program continuously since its premiere 50 years ago. It’s been constantly further developed, with only the details changed. Today we still use our G-1000 material, that is, a blend of cotton and polyester that is water-repellent through a wax film.

Nothing about that has fundamentally changed. Today we also only use organic cotton and recycled polyester, and manage without PFCs as ever.

One product stays available an average of 14 seasons

Is that also a kind of sustainability, the fact that you’re not driven by trends? 
I’m glad you brought that up. One of our products will stay available an average of 14 seasons. Our oldest jacket is 50 years old and still continues to be worn. We make timeless products that stay on the market for a long time. For us, that’s also a component of sustainability.

We have two seasons and no collections in between, unlike many competitors, and not at all like fashion, where you launch new collections every couple of weeks. If you keep up at that rate, you’ll become short-lived.

Then the old stuff isn’t worth anything anymore. A piece bought in April would already be outdated in May. We don’t want that. It’s better for specialty retail, and especially for small retailers who only stock up on their sizes and don’t have to reduce.

Fjällräven combines sustainability and growth

Is the market joining in? The sports market right now is adapting to the pace of the fashion market, which some could find anachronistic.
Yes. If you’re striving for strong growth, of course you can’t do that.

How do you aim to generate growth?
We want to continue to grow with outdoor and sports retail. In international markets like Eastern Europe, for example. We’ve shifted organization there and founded the Fenix Eastern Europe GmbH, which takes care of the region.

We’re also seeing strong growth in Asia and the US, where we now have over 19 stores – however, the retail structure there isn’t comparable with Germany. We don’t want to open our own stores in Germany.

But now Fjällräven is quite in demand with the urban outdoor topic. How are you reacting to this development?
We’re chuckling a bit about the hype. Our Greenland collection is, for all intents and purposes, urban outdoor! But we didn’t develop this collection just to fit this trend – as I said, it’s been around for 50 years.

“We could sell the Kanken backpack everywhere now”

We don’t have to delve into the archives to be able to represent the topic. We’re not trend-oriented, and we’re not fashion either, and of course we’re happy if other target groups get interested in us. But in no way do we force it, rather the opposite. We say ‘no’ more than we do say ‘yes’. We could sell the Kanken backpack everywhere now. Lots of fashion stores would love to have it, but we’re not going to do it.

Our distribution strategy is outdoor and sports retail, and specialty bag stores. That’s where we come from, and those are the partners we want to continue to support.

Fjällräven already PFC-free

On the Kanken: By now it’s ubiquitous! Could you tell us how many of them you produce per year?
We won’t disclose that. We’re already being copied enough. We could even sell more, but our product is more than at capacity. 

With the Re-Kanken, you were the first company to use the SpinDye technology, whereby the synthetic fibers are already dyed during the spin process. This way, classic dyeing is no longer necessary. Do you now do the same with other products?
We also use the technology with our fleece pieces, for example. We started doing that two or three years ago.

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You’ve also been PFC-free for years. The majority of the industry has only set this as its goal starting in 2020. How can you implement this more quickly?
Four or five years ago we said, ‘We want to be PFC-free, we’re switching. That took a lot of work, and in some cases a lot of revenue, since some products could no longer be produced. But we didn’t want to wait until someone had found the alternative for the chemicals, we wanted to drop out immediately, and so some products had to be canceled.

We were always very consistent in the sustainability sector. For example, we also started early with our own down cultivation in China, when it became clear that obtaining down is very problematic and difficult to control.

Now we can document everything, end-to-end, from the breeding of the mother animals, to the chicks and their demeanors, all the way up to slaughter. The down comes to the laundry in sealed bags, and come back that way, too.  

Fjällräven makes a down promise

Why in China, specifically?
If you want to keep ducks or geese in a way appropriate to the species, you need space, and that’s easier to get in China than it is in Europe. We tried it in Europe, but unfortunately we didn’t pull it off.

Do other brands also purchase your down?
Other brands were very interested, and we would have been happy to produce for others, as well. But what would be good for everyone is if the reputation of down could improve! When down is denounced as animal abuse, it affects all down products – regardless of how they were actually produced.

Our capacity is unfortunately limited, but with our “down promise,” we’re happy to demonstrate how it can work. We’re also currently expanding the project to our own sheep farming. We want to achieve the same thing with wool.

We raise approximately 50 of our own sheep in Jämtland in Sweden, and produce sweaters from their wool. The entire production process takes place in Sweden, and that’s where we want to manage to show this path transparently, too.

Who are your customers? How does revenue break down into men and women?
At approximately 65 percent, men are more represented than women, who sit at 35 percent. However, we do see that women represent a heavily growing market. Traditionally, the outdoor market is more male-dominated.

Evergreen: The Kanken is one of Fjällräven’s best know products.
Evergreen: The Kanken is one of Fjällräven’s best know products.

Germany the largest market for Fjällräven

Which countries are the strongest?
From an international perspective Germany is the strongest market, followed by the US, Sweden and Scandinavia, and China.

And why especially Germany is so strong?
Many Germans love Scandinavian brands and have a very positive attitude towards Scandinavia. Of course, specialty retails and consumers also appreciate our competency, with pants for example.

We have 150 different styles – almost like a pants manufacturer – and offer them in various lengths, etc. We’ve just opened a pants store as a shop-in-shop with Globetrotter, and there can show our entire spectrum.

We have over 80 shop-in-shops with our retail partners in total. That can easily become more, but what also applies here: we aren’t revenue-driven. It always has to fit.

Crisis? Fjällräven has “grown very well every year”

The outdoor market finds itself amidst a crisis, as has been the story the past few years. How do you see it?
It never really affected us, we’ve grown very well every year. Many retailers opened more stores during the boom years – that’s over now, and now comes about the stagnation. In my opinion we’ve plateaued at a good level, and the topic of outdoor is more in demand than ever.

Nevertheless, we are also observing the issue in a differentiated way. Many a retailer might see it that two brands aren’t doing so well anymore, but Fjällräven is, so they buy twice as much Fjällräven without knowing whether their customer base will allow it.

Or a specialty sports retailer suddenly wants to become an outdoor retailer and purchases more with us. At first we’re pleased, but it’s also a matter of commercial skill. We won’t fit in every store.

Amazon and Zalando not in the business model

What, in your opinion, are the outdoor brands and retailers doing wrong?
We in the industry need to watch out for what we’re offering. Naturally, discounters are now also getting their hands on parts of the market. A clear positioning towards outdoor, sustainability, and quality will help against that.

The industry can no longer build up pressure with intermediary collections and special items. You also have to give retail the feeling that they’ve purchased the right thing. Trust plays a big role. Specialty retail has to position itself in exactly the same way.

For example, it’s impossible for a retailer to entice 100 more customers into their store to catch discounts. They have to look for holes, develop a concept, and see it through. We’re happy to help with that.

And how do you regulate the online business? More and more retailers also want to become marketplaces.
In contrast to some of the big guys, we don’t have selective distribution. Everyone who has a stationary business can also sell online. We don’t supply our own online platforms like Amazon and Zalando, but we are still sold there. That happens through retailers.

I don’t like that, that’s not our business model. If we liked that, we would supply the platforms directly ourselves.

What direction do you think the outdoor industry is developing in? Stay on top of the sports business with ISPO ACADEMY >>>

VIDEO: These are the 2017 outdoor trends

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Dr. Regina Henkel
Dr. Regina Henkel

Dr. Regina Henkel
Dr. Regina Henkel