Eco-friendly buildings and 2020 targets sound straight out of Parliament House, but for Kathmandu they’re business as usual. Did you know that they’ve got 8 expert gear testers? Or sustainable practices that are up there with some of the leading brands? Us neither.
Back in May, Kathmandu (the outdoor brand, not the Nepalese city) asked us if we’d be keen to road test some of their gear. Sure we were, but it got us thinking, “Who are Kathmandu?” They’re one of the largest outdoor brands from our region, so what’s their deal?
Buzzwords and flashy media can make it hard to suss out the true driving force behind a company. And if you ask a gear snob you might wind up thinking that you need something expensive, obscure and vaguely European. We weren’t simply going to copy and paste a marketing package – we wanted to talk to some real people behind the scenes.
We Talked To A Few Blokes
To get our heads around Kathmandu, we caught up with Tim Loftus. Currently the Global Brand marketing Manager, Tim previously managed Kathmandu’s sustainability (and a bunch of programs at REI in the States) making him the perfect person to ask about the company’s environmental goals.
But what about the actual gear? We lined up a call with Daan Dijkstra in New Zealand (that’s right, it’s a Kiwi brand). He’s Kathmandu’s resident “gear guru”, making him the perfect person to ask about the design process behind their products.
Sustainability – A Way Of Doing Things
Kathmandu has a pretty tasty one liner on its website: “sustainability is not a department – it’s a way of doing things.” – easy to say right? But what does it actually mean?
“Sustainability is the responsibility of everyone in the company, it’s absolutely core to the brand” Tim says.
This attitude actually has a pretty big impact on how the business operates. While many brands have a sustainability department (often on the same floor as marketing), Kathmandu employs sustainability professionals to ensure the strategy runs companywide.
This means that Kathmandu is combatting sustainability issues that never cross your mind when you’re buying a new jacket. Their new Head Office in Christchurch scored a “5 Green Star” rating, and their their recent flagship retail store in Melbourne was developed in partnership with the Green Building Council of Australia. They’ve even started offsetting the carbon footprint of their business flights.
You probably haven’t heard about this kind of stuff because you don’t read business magazines. I definitely hadn’t. But I reckon that finding environmental solutions everywhere – not just where they’re easy to market – adds some real authenticity to Tim’s claim.
Of course, not all easy-to-market ideas are bad ones – but often companies only commit to keeping it sustainable within a small range of products. Kathmandu has committed itself to some hefty goals that are a huge step forward for a local company. By 2020 they’re looking at a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and 100% usage of sustainable cotton; they managed 100% responsibly sourced down back in 2016.
When I asked why I hadn’t heard about any of this, the response was quite sheepish (not a New Zealander joke!) “It’s kind of been business as usual for us.” I’m not that surprised, at the Australian Outdoor Retailer expo I heard this from heaps of brands, maybe it’s a Southern Hemisphere thing.
Tim was keen to highlight that Kathmandu was the first brand in the Southern Hemisphere to be working with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (awesomely abbreviated to SAC) to adopt the Higg index: a tool for companies to assess their “environmental, social and labour impacts and identify areas for improvement.”
What’s this mean? It means that Kathmandu is not only kicking goals in its region, its approach to sustainability is on par globally with some famous brands that are inspired by regions of South America and the huge walls in Yosemite. I particularly liked Tim’s focus on encouraging the whole industry to lift its game, not just win over customers.
Designed and Tested in New Zealand
So Kathmandu are taking on some big sustainability challenges, and they’re taking a holistic approach, not just focusing on the actual gear. But what about the gear?
I managed to get in touch with Daan Dijkstra, a stoked Dutchman who moved to New Zealand so that he could have an incredible adventure every weekend. On his days off from adventuring he’s Kathmandu’s Product Technical Expert – but judging from the pause while he remembered his title, I reckon he’s pretty used to “gear guru”.
Kathmandu has a massive range, which Daan attributes to the company’s goal to “get as many people out there on cool adventures” as they can. This rings true to the ethos of We Are Explorer’s – refreshing in a world dominated by self-serious brands.
Tim Loftus mentioned that in the early 2000s the company outsourced a range of products, mostly accessories, in an attempt to fill gaps in the market. With the world becoming more connected, they’ve tightened their focus on adventure and travel – and they’re doing all of their designing and testing in-house in New Zealand.
Never Stop Updating
As a company that’s been around a while, Kathmandu’s learnt that you can’t sit still. Daan was quick to reply when I asked if they’d ever nailed a product, “if you think it’s ok, you’re already behind.” He gave the example of their new Transfer Pack – despite being a strong seller – a bunch of frustrations related to overhead lockers came through in customer feedback, resulting in the removable pod in the new model.
Creating high quality and reliable products, even at the lower end of the price range, is very important to Daan. The idea of gear failure being responsible for ruining a trip seemed to literally pain him. Higher end alpine gear comes with an extra level of seriousness, Daan calls this “gear with consequences”, and it’s a driving force behind the Best in Field program.
The XT Range
You probably haven’t heard of any of Kathmandu’s best in field testers because they weren’t chosen for their Instagram following or trophies in the pool room. They’re mountain guides, Search and Rescue professionals, alpine climbers and expedition junkies who give the gear a no compromises beating in real-world situations – then provide feedback for the product team.
Daan assures me that if you get your hands on an XT series product, it’s been through the ringer to make it to the store’s shelves. As for Daan? With a wife and kids the days of dogsledding through Sweden are over, but if there’s a good snowfall this winter he might be sneaking out for a cheeky splitboard in the backcountry.
Kathmandu are a force to be reckoned within the Australasian outdoor sphere; they’re taking a leading approach in sustainable practice and producing gear to handle any adventure. We’re excited to partner with them over the next few weeks as we test some of their products and chat with their ambassador, Environmental Scientist and Mountaineer Tim Jarvis
Check Out Our New Zealand Microadventures:
Tarawera Trail // North Island (NZ)