How the Eco-Shell series was created
When the Keb series was to be expanded to include waterproof hardshells the development team gave themselves a challenge: to create highly functional waterproof shell garments with the lowest possible environmental impact. This is the story of their journey.
Designer Peter Lindblom pulls a zipper on a shell jacket and checks how it glides along the opening. Henrik Andersson, Head of Innovation and Design at Fjällräven, is playing the part of dressmaker’s dummy and patiently lifts his arms and turns around according to Peter’s instructions. The familiar smell of campfires can be detected in the design office.
“Someone must have lit a campfire the last time this jacket was being tested out in the field. This jacket has seen quite a lot of action,” says Peter Lindblom with a smile.
The jacket he is talking about is Fjällräven’s latest addition to the Keb family; Keb Eco-Shell Jacket. It is a modern, minimalistic shell jacket designed for the toughest imaginable conditions in the mountains. But it is also Fjällräven’s answer to the question regarding what the world’s most functional waterproof garment that is also environmentally sustainable can look like.
It is the result of three year’s worth of persistent development work.
The first generation of Eco-Shell garments was released in 2011. At the same time, Fjällräven was working on the technical Keb family of garments for alpine trekking in demanding terrain. The basic idea with Keb has always been to develop a system of garments that work together, and not long into the process the idea came along to design waterproof shell garments as a complement to the jackets and trousers made from G-1000 and stretch fabric.
And these were not going to be just any shell garments:
“We decided to develop the most functional series of waterproof hardshells ever created, without making any compromises what-so-ever when it came to sustainability,” explains Henrik Andersson. “We don’t want our products to have an unnecessary negative effect on the environment and animal life. Achieving the highest level of functionality and lowest level of environmental impact are equally prioritised and it is not until we have achieved both aspects that we are happy with a product.”
With this goal, an intensive period of development work began.
The base for the new garments was of course Eco-Shell – a newly developed membrane laminate with the highest waterproofness and breathability performance, and that is made so it can stretch and thereby give a totally new freedom of movement to garments. But the real point is that all three layers are made from polyester, in part recycled, which gives the garment a fantastic advantage in the future as it can be recycled. In addition, garments are also climate compensated and impregnated entirely without fluorocarbons.
Why do you want to avoid fluorocarbons?
“Fluorocarbons are harmful to the environment, they bio-accumulate in living organisms and remain for an extremely long time in ground water and nature,” says Henrik Andersson. “Fluorochemistry is complex, and it is still legal to use these types of chemicals. But we are not waiting until the law changes – we don’t want to use fluorocarbons in our products.”
What compromises have to be made when choosing a fluorocarbon-free impregnation?
“When it comes to pure functionality, there are no decisive compromises. The waterproofness comes from the membrane, the impregnation is there to keep the outer surface of the fabric as dry as possible. A fluorocarbon-free impregnation is also water resistant – but it is not as resistant to oils and dirt as traditional impregnations and it needs to be renewed a little more often.”
Professional users are testing the prototypes
The jacket that Henrik and Peter are looking at in the office is one of ten prototypes that the development department have let Fjällräven’s test team scrutinise during drawn-out field tests. The group is led by production specialist Johan Skullman and consists of mountain guides, dog mushers and professionals who are outdoors for days on end, and who have taken Eco-Shell garments trekking, ski touring and alpine skiing. As well as on countless other everyday outdoor adventures.
The garments have been up to the top of Mt Kebnekaise (of course, it is after all where the collection got its name), they have been battling through swirling snow and head winds in Lapland’s mountainous expanses, rock climbing in pouring rain, and exposed to freezing temperatures in Svalbard and deep powder snow in Japan. But they have also been used by the development team on their own adventures, both in the mountains and forests closer to home.
“In order for us to understand how a garment works in reality, with everything from material choice and cut to the placement of the pockets, we have to be out there using it – both in extreme environments and in more everyday situations,” says Henrik Andersson. “And we conduct laboratory tests as well of course, where the durability, waterproofness and technical performance of the fabrics are analysed.”
A work without deadlines
This autumn and winter you will be able to see the results for the first time out in the stores. Henrik Andersson explains the process.
“When we work with this kind of project, we don’t have a deadline. There is no pressure to be finished for a certain autumn or spring collection. If it is going to be the best possible product then it has to be allowed to take the time that it takes.”
How did you approach the design of the products?
“Functionality and form are not opposites. If you start on a design of a product based on its necessary features, everything usually falls into place. There is not a single thing on the jacket that is not there for a reason – this is true for every detail from ventilation and pockets to the hood and adjustments,” says Peter Lindblom.
The new collection consists of a jacket, an anorak and a pair of trousers, all in both men’s and women’s models. In addition, there is a longer, lightly padded parka and a pair of bib trousers. The garments are designed to work by themselves and together – and they should be able to be combined with other garments in the Keb family, explains Peter Lindblom.
“The shell trousers are, for example, cut so you can pull them over a pair of trekking trousers in G-1000, as a reinforcement layer when the weather suddenly turns wet. All cuts are meticulously worked through for the best fit – they are snug fitting but still have room for an insulating layer underneath.”
“It has been a challenge to make a jacket as lightweight as possible at the same time as it must be able to handle tough conditions, give maximum freedom of movement and minimum environmental impact.”
Now Keb Eco-Shell Jacket and the other garments are available in stores, they have been shown at trade fairs and got their first early response from the outdoor industry – and the anorak has received an honourable ISPO Award. Are Peter and Henrik pleased?
“Yes, absolutely. We have managed to create garments that have adaptable functionality, and the response from the test team and early users has been amazingly positive. What makes us really pleased is that we have managed to do all of this at the same time as we have minimised environmental impact,” says Henrik Andersson.