As a whole, the UK outdoor industry has a long record of looking inward and resolutely ignoring societal trends. Despite the pressures of use and abuse on the outdoors, only a handful of companies have demonstrated more a passing commitment to protecting the environment. Mostly, the exceptions have been driven by individuals.

Worried about missing the boat, micro-ranges are bolted on and flagged as core to corporate philosophy. Paralysed with indecision like rabbits caught in headlights, efforts become redirected into marketing spin. It’s easy to imagine –  “Our new sustainable eco-immunity range is made from sustainable yarns hand spun by well-paid orphans (rescued from a life on the streets) from wing fibres of eco-farmed butterflies and made into sustainable fabrics woven on FSC-certified wooden looms, fuelled by sustainable solar power and waterproofed by sustainably harvested cuckoo spit.”

A few fabric and material suppliers have allowed a fair number of manufacturers to coat their ranges with a thin veneer of respectability. Expect the next raft of sustainable clothing and equipment to be built from recycled grass cuttings and leaves.

Faced with the uncertainties and challenges in exploring the intricate dimensions of sustainability, many suppliers are rediscovering function and durability as key elements in outdoor product design and development. Some companies were built on such foundations with the added dimension of flair.

Bags of flair in the case of Rohan. Bags I bought in the late 70’s were passed on to a friend when the waist became far too snug (I could hardly bend) and then passed on again. Some thirty years after unpacking them for the first time, I understand they are now being worn as cut-offs for work on a youngster’s community project gap year in South America.

Those Bags have seen many corners of the world and still have the heady scent of innovation clinging to them after decades of use. For me, durability and reliability are essential elements in the theory and practice of sustainability. I hope to maintain my sceptical guard against the seductive claims of “Made from recycled carbon emissions” on swing tickets.

As with most things, the way forward will be a compromise. Between sustainability’s twins of manufacturers treading lightly on the planet and product lasting a lifetime on the one hand and the harsh realities of market competition on the other. Happily, the elements aren’t mutually exclusive.

By the way, the legs from the cut-offs were used to make a travel document pouch, a stuff sack and to patch a tent storage bag. The Rohan Belt bought at the same time now helps to hang my son’s mountain bike from his garage ceiling after over half a lifetime of flexible use.

We are very grateful to John Traynor for this thought provoking guest post.

A keen lightweight traveller, John Traynor has been a fan of Rohan for over 40 years and is a reporter/commentator on the global outdoor industry through international trade media. 

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