Almost all the big ski and snowboard brands are represented in Innsbruck. The alpine culture here is so present they just have to have a store here. The quality of the clothes and hardware nowadays is incredible, and every brand tries to compete in this quest for excellence. For this blog I picked out two brands deeply embedded in the Alpine landscape and had a look at what’s “behind the brand”. Highlighting not the products they sell, but what the brand perceives as its values, philosophies and purpose.
I’ve become more aware of the impact we have as consumers and the effect it has on our planet and its inhabitants. Therefore, I think it’s important for industry-leading brands, especially the companies whose products are directly associated with the outdoors, to be an example of how they design, produce, distribute and market products while keeping in mind the social and environmental impact these choices have. Because I personally think that brands who want to stay in business for the long run, will have to do more than sell exceptional products to keep mindful customers satisfied.
At first, I chose multiple brands to include in the blog, but then I changed my mind. During my research there were really two brands that stood out from the rest. The brands I chose were Patagonia and Burton. These brands have made – and are making – steps towards more sustainable products, environmental causes and social issues. I met the managers of the Innsbruck stores and they gave me an overview of the things they knew their brands were involved in. I also went to a few events of both brands to experience it myself. This will not be a comprehensive list of everything they do, but I highlighted what spoke out to me and what I found most interesting.
Throughout the blog you will realize I have a personal love for Patagonia. After reading the book ‘Let my people go surfing: the education of a reluctant businessman’ by Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia, I became hopeful that billion-dollar companies can make an environmental and social impact without sacrificing quality.
Repair is a radical act
The Patagonia store in Innsbruck only recently opened – The official opening party will be in the first week of April. My first interaction with the store was on the weekend of the 24th of January, when the European Patagonia Worn Wear Tour started its journey here in Innsbruck. The goal of the Worn Wear Tour and its philosophy is that we shouldn’t discard our clothes when they are still fixable. That weekend, you could go there with any type of garment from any brand and they would fix it for you for free. It’s that simple. They want to go against our habit of unnecessary consumption.
Different Patagonia stores around the world have a small workshop – or at least a sewing machine – installed in the back of the store, so when a customer comes in with a broken zipper for example, the staff can just fix it themselves without having to ship is back to the main facilities. This decreases emissions while also empowering customers to think about getting it fixed before throwing it away.
Striving for a fair supply chain while reducing environmental impact
The products displaying in the soon-to-open store will be more technical and less lifestyle oriented. The staff working there are all outdoor people with lots of experience when it comes to different sports and disciplines. “Mono-brand stores have more in-depth knowledge about their products and are therefore better prepared to help the customer while giving them insights of the products from a personal experience.” Bertl, the new store-manager, told me.
In its product line, Patagonia goes the extra mile to keep their environmental impact as low as possible. In 1996 they began using exclusively organic cotton in all their cotton products. A major step forward as conventional cotton is a very polluting product and industry. Soil erosion and degradation, the use of substantial pesticides and fertilizers, and water contamination are a huge environmental issue with growing this crop.
I’m not sure if the Patagonia store in Innsbruck will ever sell wetsuits but I just had to share this video!
Patagonia is very outspoken about its environmental impact. Starting in 1986, Yvon Chouinard committed 1% of sales or 10% of profits, whichever was greater, to environmental activism. This initiative sparked the creation of 1% For The Planet in 2002, a global network of non-profits and individuals working together for a healthy planet. In total the organization has already given back over 175 million dollars to our planet.
Protect our rivers!
By opening a store in Innsbruck, Patagonia acknowledges its importance as an outdoor hotspot. The store has a space dedicated to events, film screenings and public talks. In the future it will become clearer which grassroots organizations it’s going to support. On the website I only find one grantee in Tirol so far, but I’m sure this number will grow once the store is up and running.
I knew Patagonia was already having huge campaigns on river conservation in Europe, and in particular the Blue Heart campaign. It’s therefore not surprising the first Tyrolean grantee is WET – Wildwasser Erhalten Tirol. This association is committed to preserving the last free-flowing (un-dammed) rivers and streams in Tyrol and aims to steadily improve the ecological status of the Tyrolean waterways.
During the time I’m writing this blog they were still laying down the floors and decorating the interior of the new store. By now they should have opened! Make sure to follow their Instagram account to stay informed on all their events.
Including a comprehensive list of Patagonia’s actions towards a healthier environment is impossible for this blog. They started a blog page themselves called The Cleanest Line. If you would like to read more about things Patagonia is involved in, I recommend to have a look there.
Burton. A name and icon everybody in the ski and, especially, snowboard world knows. They are the pioneers when it comes to the snowboard sport as we know it. During my visit to the Burton Chill event, Donna Carpenter, co-CEO of Burton, told me that the manufacturing of the first real snowboards actually happened here in Innsbruck while she and Jake were living in Igls! The predecessors of snowboards were called Snurfers. What a brilliant name?! They had no real bindings or edges and the front of the board was held by a rope.
Video on Burton’s history.
Empowerment of women – in sports and within the company
Apart from the manufacturing of great products, Burton has been focusing on empowering women within their company and most of all within the whole snowboard community. This mainly male-dominated industry is making a shift towards more female friendly products and inclusion in competitive tournaments.
When Donna Carpenter established the Burton’s Women’s Leadership Initiative in 2004, the main focus was to increase the women’s leadership within the company. Mentoring women, together with increased maternity and paternity leave, played a key part for envisioning a better future for them at the company. When the WLI started in 2004, under 10% of the women working at Burton had a leadership position. More than 10 years later this number has increased to over 40%. When I was talking to Donna you could see how proud she was for breaking the stereotypes within a company that certain positions should be held by men, while women could do the same or even a better job.
Burton Chill – Ride. Inspire. Lead.
This year, for the 11th time, Burton organized its Chill program in Axamer Lizum – my personal favorite ski resort around Innsbruck. They organize three Saturdays of snowboard fun for kids who are otherwise not fortunate enough to enjoy the luxury of snowboarding. Bringing them to the slopes forms an escape of their everyday lives to experience something new and fun.
Living as an expat in Innsbruck, even I sometimes take for granted the possibility to shred whenever I want. “Seeing the joy on these kids’ faces is why we do it.” Co-organizer Emanuel tells me. The aim of the program is for the children to transfer their successes and shared mountain experiences into their daily lives.
The Chill program started in the United States in 1995. Donna joined the Austrian event this year and was super excited about seeing the initiative grow globally. My good friend and co-blogger Carlos actually had his first snowboard experience ever in one of the chill events in the US. He feels honoured to participate in this event and give back to these children as he was once given the opportunity.
Community is paramount
As some of you may know, Burton has its European headquarters here in Innsbruck. In October last year they also opened a new store in the Anichstrasse. Throughout the lifetime of Burton, the brand has always revolved around its riders, consumers and community. That’s why they needed a store in the city, to be closer to the public. I think that’s awesome.
While talking to marketing staff I could tell they are eager to work with locals and get closer to the snowboard community living in Innsbruck. The store manager Christopher (or “Kenny”) is a really nice guy and will love to help you with any questions you have regarding Burton and it’s products. Go check out their store and follow their Instagram, they post some dope stuff!