Q&A with Gift Your Gear founder and Rohan Co-founder, Sarah Howcroft
As the co-founder of Rohan, with a deep affection for the great outdoors, what inspired you initially to launch Gift Your Gear?
It really was a lightbulb moment. The appreciation that good clothing lasts many years.
Longevity and reliability are fundamental in the design process of good outdoor clothing. Sadly, most outdoor clothing and equipment does not reach its full life potential. Adding to this, I had noticed a growing trend that many outdoor groups working with young people in the outdoors struggle to equip their kit store due to a lack of funding. This has a big implication on the numbers of young people they can accommodate.
Matching unwanted kit, that still has plenty of good life left in it, with young peoples’ need for good kit to get out on our hills became obvious.
What is Gift Your Gear’s mission?
Gift Your Gear supports community organisations, youth groups and charities working with young people in the outdoors. The outdoor kit you donate makes a real difference enabling life changing experiences in the great outdoors, regardless of circumstance.
What is your proudest Gift Your Gear moment to date?
The day Gift Your Gear was awarded the Gold Sustainability Award by the European Outdoor Industry at 'Outdoors' - the European trade show in Germany. This to me was an indication that the industry I am so fond of was taking sustainability seriously and we could all move forward.
Is there a particular beneficiary story that stands out to you?
There are many but this one certainly stands out. Three Dartmoor ponies enabled 16 teenagers with a range of challenging life issues from both mainstream and special needs schools to take part in the famous and gruelling Ten Tors Challenge on Dartmoor which took place back in 2016.
Many items of clothing donated to Gift Your Gear have been well worn and well-travelled, yet still have many more years’ worth of use. Is there a unique destination or journey in which a particular item of clothing has travelled?
The Rohan Olfio, made in the 80s, worn again in the 00s by the Explorer Scouts. These were donated at Rohan Keswick, the home of Rohan Originals (a comprehensive collection of Rohan heritage garments). Some of the Olfio’s were over 25 years old and were used again on the hills by young men and women half their age.
What’s the most unique item of clothing OR donation that has been made to Gift Your Gear?
Clothing that Paul and I made ourselves in the early 1970s - and I do mean made ourselves. That includes many early jackets, Taiga80 and Starkhorn, and of course the Rohan Salopette which was the garment that started it all.
There is something very special in handling a garment that you made yourself 40 years earlier. That also feeds in to the appreciation of longevity in the design and manufacturing process of outdoor clothing. Some of these garments are now displayed in the Rohan Originals collection in Rohan Keswick.
Why should people get involved in Gift Your Gear?
We all love our outdoor kit. Some items have a very special place in our hearts. For these items to find a new life back out on the hills doing what they do best with young people is a really satisfying thing to do.
Added to this reusing anything is so much better for the environment and thereby us all. Better than recycling!
What do you think the barriers are to effective recycling of outdoor clothing, if any?
Recycling and reuse are totally separate. The barriers to effective recycling are found in design and specification of the products and the end of life collection. In the case of outdoor clothing, this is: “Can the fabric be recycled?” “Are there any fittings on the item that cannot be recycled?”
The barriers to reuse are the lack of projects dedicated to effective reuse. Reuse options must come before recycling for maximum environmental gain. Doubling the useful life of clothing from 1 year to 2 years reduces emissions over the years by 24% [source: Greenpeace].
What does the future look like for Gift Your Gear? Are there any new plans ahead?
As long as there are super people that donate their unwanted kit to Gift Your Gear, and brands like Rohan that help their customers to do this, means the future is good. There is a huge amount of outdoor clothing that could be reused.
In February 2019, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published its final report into the environmental and social impacts of the UK’s fashion sector, revealing that Brits are buying and disposing of clothes at a faster rate than consumers in any other European nation. What are your thoughts on the environmental impact of ‘fast fashion’ in the UK?
The problem is huge. The industry is responsible for a vast amount of environmental impact all over the globe. There is no quick fix, not now. All participants in the chain that produce an item of apparel must play their part to change the way the industry works. All consumers must play their part too.
How did it feel to win the Outdoor Biz Lifetime Achievement Award and The Great Outdoors Magazine (TGO) Extra Mile Award last year (2018)?
Very proud. It was total surprise. An award like this from an industry that I am so fond of was tremendous.
What is your favourite early memory of Rohan?
There are so many. Good, bad, funny and sad. The people that worked so closely with Paul and myself during the early years in Skipton North Yorkshire. The earlier memory of being aware that we might have something was working with the alpinist in the 1970s. They were a unique and very special group of people. Paul and I made the clothing that they wore to the highest and most challenging mountain ranges of the world. They shared their time, experience and lives with us. It was a very special time and a privilege.
What is your favourite Rohan product and why?
The first Rohan Salopette. It was first and so right. One of the first Salopettes is now in the Rohan Originals Collection in Rohan Keswick. Also, Rohan Bags. Simply because they are still right 40 years later. I still wear Bags.