My how you’ve grown… into a monster!

“The thinking and conscious consumer, brought up on a diet of outdoor adventures as respite from urban living, buying sustainable marketing pitches and hanging outdoor brands off the back of the office chair as multi-functional, versatile badges of the outdoors.”

From cottage industry to mainstream consumer goods, outdoor companies are making inroads in the New Zealand retail space. Can they be as green as the land in which they’re based?

Small country, small population and big mountains. Equates to lots of backcountry to explore. World famous for a historical quirk of nature (introduced species that required shooting), Lord of the Rings, and the formative creation of backcountry huts to accommodate said hunters. NZFS combined with pioneer spirit makes DOC a very powerful SOE indeed. And what of the gear? Having got the first good keen man atop Everest in 1953, wearing little more than cords and a woolly jumper, where have we come since?

Cottage industry to mainstream consumer goods and apparel businesses. The historically restrictive nature of imported materials and goods a legacy of political market protectionism methodology. The setting up of multiple businesses in the 1970’s that dominated both specialist outdoor equipment and clothing, and increasingly generalist consumer spending.

Some of the pivotal companies in those days: Macpac, Fairydown, and Wilderness clothing, Alp Sports and Kathmandu, which all contributed in various ways to the growth of outdoor consumer goods, manufacturing and retailing. Garage and kitchen table industries that grew, merged in some cases, and remain a part of the consumer language.

With such a vast playground, a convenient, comprehensive and unique network of backcountry huts, one organisational body to oversee national parks and conservation areas, and a heritage of pioneering exploration in the recent past is it little wonder that backcountry experience is part of the Kiwi psyche.

Like much of modern living, outdoor recreation now comes conveniently packaged to fit in with our urban toil. The outdoor consumer goods we use come predominantly from overseas suppliers, manufactured in the Far Eastern manufacturing powerhouse that both owns the majority of Western government debt, and the knowledge to efficiently produce the products we demand. At a price we dare not compete with for fear of alienating a 1st world workforce used to making stuff to last rather than be thrown away after a season. Some small, local businesses bucking an inevitable trend, mostly due to it working for their niche business models. Take a modest bow: Aspiring Enterprises, Cactus Climbing Equipment, Chalkydigits, Ground Effect.

Larger scale businesses like Macpac work to produce durable and longlasting products that slow the renewal cycle inherent in fabric based products, and use certified organic cotton in some of their pack fabrics. Their repair service maintains and extends the usable life of their (and other brands) products to slow the renewal cycle.

Add value to our local raw materials, as we are exhorted to by industry experts. Companies like Adventure South and HikingNZ, taking the essence of what New Zealand has as raw product and adding sustainable value to the process. Treading lightly, giving authenticity to a unique destination – on the edge of the World. Icebreaker making a Worldwide success of merino clothing, but vast scale necessitating manufacture the only place that can cope – China.

The thinking and conscious consumer, brought up on a diet of outdoor adventures as respite from urban living, buying sustainable marketing pitches and hanging outdoor brands off the back of the office chair as multi-functional, versatile badges of the outdoors. Refugees from the scary temple of urban fashion, happy to wear the modern iterations of outdoor clothing – in fashion colours, but technical fabrics promising protection, warmth, comfort, breathability, adventure. Driving similarly technologically advanced vehicles, in conservative colours, but with bristling off-road four wheel drive ability. Intergalactic capability for the school run and the ski-field.

We, children of the brand age, with disposable to allocate to favoured desirable brands. Living in ‘real estate agent’ beige.

Perhaps our only conscience-salving comes from buying products and clothing we know we will use regularly, for multiple purposes and over a long period of time. Rejecting the ‘consumption is good’ model can only start with making smarter choices, sharing outdoor gear between mates, lending, giving or selling what we don’t regularly use. So, outdoor consumer goods as a green choice? Nope! Just a case of (attempting to) buy less to buy more?

43words ©David Binstead 2011-12. All rights reserved.

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