When the gear you buy harms the environment you want to use it in

For the past five years, the most popular backpack across the world has undoubtedly been the Fjallraven Kanken. If you want to buy yourself one of the square block-colour bags you have a big choice in front of you: either go to a shop and buy it for £70, or get one from sites like eBay and AliExpress for £12.

The two would look absolutely identical to an untrained eye. But once you start using them, the difference in quality becomes apparent.

Yet Fjallraven’s jaw-dropping price points are justified not only by the high quality of its gear, but also by a deep commitment to the natural world. The brand became a staple for the outdoor community in the 1970s and its commitment to the environment started in 1994.

Climate change had made Arctic foxes (the logo of the brand, and the English translation of Fjallraven) almost extinct in Scandinavia, so the brand partnered with the EU to sponsor research and conservation efforts.

Fjallraven has also recently started applying this eco-consciousness to its production chain. Its Re-Kanken backpack is woven from a single yard made of 11 plastic bottles, which allows it to be recycled, and it has implemented a Code of Conduct for its suppliers that prioritises animal welfare, workers’ rights and sound environmental practices.

But, like any other company, Fjallraven must still make a profit. As much as they can brand themselves as environmentally conscious, their main aim will always be to sell more products. So, are their efforts really having an impact or is just a ‘greenwashing’ tactic?

Lately there has been a trend from outdoor brands to cultivate a more conscious and environmentally friendly image. Another brand that received a lot of backlash for their green marketing campaigns is Patagonia.

On Black Friday 2011 they ran an advert in the New York Times which said in block capitals “Don’t buy this jacket.” The advert explained the company’s green business plan and promoted a consumer ethics focus, championed by the slogan “Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy anything.”

Yet, in the two years following this campaign, Patagonia increased its sales by 40%. They might encourage a consumer not to buy their products, but they have an interest in them doing so and will obviously not stop them if they want to.

Nonetheless, Patagonia has the largest apparel repair facility in North America. They launched a ‘Worn Wear’ campaign, offering to repair decades-old gear. But they have also been capitalising on this anti-consumerist aesthetic, selling a $29 repair kit that looks like it’s straight out of a Wes Anderson film.

Of course, the very existence of these companies is reliant on consumption, and unless we change our whole economic system, we cannot hold companies accountable for saving the environment on their own.

Customers should understand the ethics behind the brands that they buy, and the advantages of this corporate activism. Most importantly though, we should understand the damage that we are doing by appropriating these brands’ identities.

By buying a fake Kanken for £12, not only are you supporting counterfeit products and the working conditions that come with it, but you are also promoting yourself and shaping your self-image around eco-friendly values, without doing anything concrete to help that cause.

Being completely ethical with our choices is not easy in today’s consumer market, but there are three things we can try and do: buy slow, buy smart or don’t buy at all.

Image: Lisa Risager

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