Fjallraven does a great job at making sure you know how they’re keeping the environment and customer in mind when crafting their products. Although the Fjallraven classic Kanken backpack is a pricey item at a stunning $80, you definitely pay for what you get in terms of durability, aesthetic appeal, sustainable practices, and a supportive backpack. I see it as an investment for your own health and the planet’s health since it will last a great deal and is actually made to support your back. Their website was super easy to navigate as I was able to find how their products are supposed to align with their sustainable goals and practices. They showcase their guiding company values through blog posts and direct statements of their goals.
I appreciate how they promote reducing and recycling their products as they remind us that we control the life cycle of what we buy (Fjallraven products at least). They are promoting their customers to reuse their product and take care of it to last forever, rather than trying to hide the secret intention of just trying to make a profit that we see nowadays in fast fashion and other industries. They design with a meaningful purpose and even have a philosophy that surrounds their plan, which includes: the function, environmental impact, recyclability, reparability, aesthetic longevity, and more. With the goal of designing something that is timeless in terms of aesthetic appeal, it is great to hear they are challenging the fast fashion norm of trying to keep up with the latest trends, no matter what. I appreciate how they incorporated how easy it is to repair their products because they reinforce that mission of recycling and reducing. I don’t see this much anywhere else and it makes me feel confident that I’m in good hands and they’re not just trying to swindle me and our planet for a quick buck. They promote this importance of normalizing repairing worn items by posting a guide of how to specifically repair some of their common products, like their tutorial on patching a hole for a jacket. However, there is not a video on how to repair their backpack, which I would argue as their most popular item. Nonetheless, Fjallraven lets you know that they want your products to last and have a life cycle of generations.
What really gained my trust as a consumer was being directly told that their products are made to last, rather than them trying to fool you they care, while selling an overpriced and environmentally harming product. They want you to buy their product once, keep it for a lifetime, and be aware of that. I felt reassured that there were several pockets of sustainable information for customers to browse through on their website, but frankly it’s what all companies should be doing as simply being transparent shouldn’t be something so impressive!
This backpack’s material is 100% Vinylon fabric. It is a synthetic fiber that is water resistant and is supposed to function like a natural fiber. Any time any thing is man-made, you know it’s probably not so good for the environment, right? Well, Fjallraven instead creates their Vinylon fabric from polyvinyl alcohol, which is a fiber that has some properties found in natural materials. This fiber is non toxic and not a microplastic, which is a huge win in terms of preventing plastic being accumulated in landfills or in the ocean. It is an environmentally friendly polymer (chemical molecules) that is even edible, while showing chemical resistance and mechanical properties (explaining the backpack’s sturdiness and greater strength when wet).
Additionally, the backpack is webbed with 100% polypropylene. Fjallraven did not include any information regarding what this was and where it comes from, which made me quite skeptical. Its function is to repel water and be mildew resistant. In terms of sustainability, this plastic is supposed to be more environmentally friendly as it is recyclable, doesn’t release as much toxins, and breaks down more quickly. However, it doesn’t beat the fact that it is still a plastic and will take about 20-30 years to break down. The backpack is known for its water resistant durability, but personally, I would have much rather go through the pain of getting a few noteboooks wet, if that meant I was reducing my plastic use. Fjallraven could be doing better in releasing more information of how their specific polypropylene impacts the environment and how it’s made.
They also adhere to a ‘Fjallraven Chemical Guide’, which lists hazardous and banned chemicals. For outdoor wear companies, it is common to use fluorocarbons to make things water resistant. However, Fjallraven promises to continue their journey of being fluorocarbon free as they recognize its detrimental harm, without any fuss. They do still include them in their zippers for functionality purposes, but are attempting to learn how to remove them completely and acknowledges this challenge.
Fjallraven admits that they don’t have the best carbon emission rates as they’re not completely gone. They are striving to reduce their carbon emissions by 25% by 2020 and become completely carbon neutral by 2025. However, I couldn’t find any published evidence yet stating if they had reached that goal, which would have been a huge indicator to see if they truly are committed to sustainability as they publicly claim they are. This would have been major since global carbon emissions are only increasing and their long term priority is claimed to be reducing their environmental impact. They compensate this unsustainable practice by having products that make up for it like, their ‘Eco- Shell garments’, which are made from recycled polyester and free of Perfluorocarbons (these are a pain to break down in nature and can even make its way into the food chain). However, where they are producing these materials and who makes it, how it is done, and specifically where is not mentioned. It’s great that they are using these sustainable materials, but if sustainability includes largely where and how it’s being made, along with who exactly is making it and it’s not readily available information when their identity is based around sustainability, it makes you question. Another way they offset a large part of their carbon emissions is by supporting renewable energy projects, which I appreciate since I know my money is doing more than just scoring a backpack. It shows that if they can’t realistically meet their sustainable goals, they’re at least putting their money where their mouth is. (They also have special Arctic Fox backpacks that designate 1% of its sales to ‘Save the Arctic Fox Initiative’ and other climate projects. Another option is their Re-Kanken backpack that is made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.)
Fjallraven has signed the UN Global Compact, which is a system of principles for companies to operate under that will advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This shows their commitment to the envisioned sustainable and ethical future they are willing to be apart of. However, how they are progressing and whether they are truly sticking to their goals is up to us to keep them accountable.
When it comes to Fjallraven’s packaging, they source their materials from Eco Enclose, a sustainable packaging company I have personally used as well. They use their 100% recycled and recyclable poly mailers. They emphasize the reusability of these mailers as they include a dual seal sticker in case the customer needs to return or exchange the product with the same packaging.
Fjallraven states they ‘utilize manufacturing facilities in China and Vietnam’ and were ‘high tech’ factories, arguing one of them being the world’s leading tent factory. In this specific one, people are hand sewing, testing, cutting, etc. in tents. In their code of conduct, they state their intolerance to child labor, which is relieving, but don’t give much detail as to who then is exactly producing these items. They mention how the CEOs of the factories emphasize employee welfare, but don’t mention anything regarding a livable wage and aren’t clear about the specific conditions workers are exposed to, let alone provide physical evidence they are living up to their claims. Fjallraven is aware of the reputation that production in Asia was previously equivalent to extreme cheap efficiency. They counter this argument and reassure that the changing times of producing quality goods in these factories have come. Other than their one article explaining a brief and vague snapshot of what it’s like producing in Asia, they do not provide much information regarding the actual workers’ perspectives and other factory conditions, which is slightly concerning, considering their Code of Conduct and Corporate Sustainability Report states they are dedicated to ensuring an equitable and fair working space.
Their commitment to providing an equitable workspace for their workers and our planet is governed by operating according to the Fair Labor Association’s Workplace Code of Conduct which covers ‘human rights, animal welfare, environmental protections, sustainable development, and anti-corruption’. These principles are critical in shaping how they operate and design their goods. In other words, they focus on improving working conditions and try to source ethically by enforcing these rules with their supplier.
In their Code of Conduct, they state how every worker must receive earnings that will cover basic needs, but recommends it should be above the minimum wage. They acknowledge there is a gap between the minimum and living wage and mention they will train employees how to express their grievances, but that’s not really reasonable when the power to change that number is in the corporation’s hands. Ultimately, I believe Fjallraven can also do better in being transparent about employment conditions and whether individuals are truly earning a livable wage. (and if not earning a livable wage, take action to do so!)