Jack Wolfskin, the German outdoor apparel and functional gear brand, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Founded by Ulrich Dausien during an expedition in Western Canada, the label has remained faithful to its origins and tied to open-air activities and love of nature. While constantly developing new protective products, Jack Wolfskin has also taken new directions, like the recently launched lifestyle-oriented and younger-minded collections “Pack & Go” in 2020 and “365“ this year, while keeping its focus on two key aspects–innovation and sustainability.
Melanie Kuntnawitz, head of vendor control at the brand, explained how it is looking at the future while keeping in mind its own identity and environmentally friendly roots.
Jack Wolfskin is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. When did the brand start caring more about offering products that impact as least as possible on the environment?
Sustainability played an important role in the founding period of Jack Wolfskin and is still an integral part of the company’s DNA today. Already in the early ’80s, the company produced a “Naturhemd,” a “nature shirt” from 100% cotton that used no bleaches or dyes. In the ’90s, we offered “Joschka,” the very first backpack made of recycled materials, and in our apparel collection we offered a full series of Polartec products made with recycled materials. Since the very beginning, Jack Wolfskin has maintained excellent and trusting relationships with its production partners abroad and works towards appropriate environmental standards.
What was the consumer’s response to it?
Jack Wolfskin was founded at a time when environmental and sustainability issues received increasingly more attention, and consumers developed an awareness of the need to protect the environment. The company responded to the needs of consumers for products manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. This is also one of the reasons for the company’s early success. It had its finger on the pulse of the time and offered outdoor enthusiasts products they were looking for.
Jack Wolfskin, archive picture
Through which strategies, projects, products and initiatives is Jack Wolfskin caring for the environment today?
Sustainability is more important today than ever before. In terms of environmental sustainability, we have reached important milestones, such as the development of our recycling technology Texapore Ecosphere. We disclosed our entire supply chain in 2014, or the Leader status of FWF (Fair Wear Foundation), with which we were awarded in 2020 for the sixth time in a row.
Since s/s 2019 we offer our 100% PFC-free clothing, backpack and bag collection and since s/s 2020 also all of our accessories and tents is entirely free from it.
Last year, we published our Sustainability Book and Social Report on our sustainability activities that explain more detailed information about our commitment. For instance, we use no real fur for our products and never used angora wool as we cannot be certain if these rabbits are suffering when having their wool extracted.
Jack Wolfskin does not approve the use of nanoparticles. It’s not clear how our bodies react to these minuscule particles which equip textiles with special properties, for example, water-repellent or antibacterial functions. And as long as we do not have conclusive long-term studies available on this, we will not use nanotechnology for safety reasons.
Jack Wolfskin’s current product range includes Ecostride sneakers made of hemp
Since 2012 we have banned the use of PVC from our products as this material is practically non-degradable, and our 100% mosquito protection uses zero chemicals, as we have developed an innovative, particularly densely woven yet breathable fabric, which no stingers will be able to get through.How is the consumers’ attitude toward these aspects?
Consumers are now making even more deliberate and considered purchases, and sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor for consumers in choosing a brand.As part of its next aims, the company is focused on new projects aimed at recalling younger consumers. Are these projects also part of any environmentally friendly strategy?
Our sustainability path is the guardrail. All new projects and innovations should be in line with our requirements on sustainable materials. For this, we have defined for ourselves which materials we consider as more sustainable, and all our new developments are first checked against these requirements. The same is valid for our new potential suppliers. We first check if they are already working with higher sustainability standards, like, for instance, Bluesign Approved, or if they are ready to walk in this path with us. Only if these preconditions are followed, we are ready to take the next development step.
Since the beginning we offer a specific strategy: we want to offer only high-quality products that last as long as possible. We also support our products’ longevity by offering, for instance, a repairing and a refreshing service. In fact, for DWR (Durable Water Repellency) products, we provide a re-impregnation service. Customers can send their products to a specific center where water repellent products are washed and their DWR function is refreshed by a professional service provider. Customers can get advantages by using our washing and re-impregnation services as they can get great results for their items and all detergents and DWR-finishes are used in the exact right concentration so that almost no substance or resource get wasted.
Jack Wolfskin: archive picture
We also push forward the use of natural materials, dyeing substances and finishing processes that require less water, energy and chemicals.
Among the technology we use there is “Future Dye.” By dyeing the yarn during the spinning process, the fabric doesn’t need to be dyed. This saves a production step that would require a lot of water, chemicals and energy. In addition, we reach an excellent color fastness not only from washing or rubbing but also from UV light. In fact, many colors fade badly when exposed to UV light, but not with Future Dye because the dye is spun directly into the fiber and not only around it, guaranteeing higher color fastness.
We are also replacing conventional synthetic fibers with reused or recycled synthetic fibers–mostly recycled PET but also waste material generated during the manufacturing process–in order to operate according to a more circular perspective.
What are the brand’s next projects in terms of sustainability and responsible innovation?
Circularity is definitely one of the most important sustainability innovations that we have to address. Real product-to-product circularity would only work if we as an industry manage to work together and to include new partners who were not yet in our supply chain such as clothing collectors and recycling companies.
Jack Wolfskin archive image
In fact, we already conducted a very successful trial in which we collected the off-cuts that occurred during the production of our famous Gecko fleece pullover. We brought them to a recycler, produced a new fabric and finally new fleece pullovers from it. The next step will be to scale this up and include already produced garments into the cycle.
There are still challenges on the way, but we consider this as the most important mid-to-long term innovation that we have to solve. Key to success is cooperation and the urgent will to transform the way we are working.