Lifestyle outfitter Kathmandu has undergone a slow transition over the past few years, from hiking goods to urban staple worn by style seekers who want their clothes to come with a clear conscience when it comes to the environment.

Sustainability has become such a buzzword in fashion that it almost feels tokenistic with little back-end follow up on actual sustainable methods. But at Kathmandu it has become a core detail of their modus operandi. Back in 2019, the company elevated their ethical responsibilities to become a certified B Corp organisation – Australia’s biggest, and New Zealand’s first.

Kathmandu’s General Manager for Product, Robert Fry, explains that this has been an important milestone for the company, especially because their entire product range is created to help you enjoy your time in the natural world. What point is there creating clothes for an environment that is being destroyed by the same industry?

The company has transformed itself from a brand known only for its trekking goods. Image: Kathmandu

“Sustainability – encompassing our social responsibilities as well – is among our most important priorities at Kathmandu,” Fry tells ICON.  

“It does us no good to make great gear for exploring a world no longer worth exploring, right? But we are hyper aware of avoiding a box ticking, greenwashing mentality. We are at the spearhead of several ground-breaking sustainable materials developments that we believe will usher in a new market paradigm.”

Favoured by campers, hikers, bushwalkers and general outdoorsy types, watching Kathmandu make its way into the wardrobes of inner city dwellers has been a fascinating paradigm shift, to use Fry’s own terms.

“Everyone has style, whether they acknowledge it or not,” says Fry. 

“Certainly social media has helped all of us recognise our individuality, our own personal brands, if you like. Which has changed how we dress and how we decide to show up in the world.”

As a brand, you know you’re onto a good thing when the kids at the local skate park or attendees at Fashion Week are sporting your goods. The appeal for this sector is two-fold – comfort and quality.

Consumers are also smartening up to the fashion industry’s unnecessary pace of seasons and trends, especially younger generations who are more informed and more conservative about what brands they support. Buy less, buy better has become a mantra for the new consumer, and it fits Kathmandu’s philosophy perfectly.

“Traditionally, performance and technical brands lacked style, simply because it was thought to somehow undermine performance,” adds Fry. 

“But we know that to be untrue – one can have their cake and eat it too! At Kathmandu, we design beautiful, stylish, durable product that will out-perform expectations when it comes to keeping you warm, dry, and comfortable in the outdoors – no matter what the weather.”

One such new piece that the brand is particularly proud of is their new SUN-Stopper – a hooded shirt made from 100% recycled materials that also offers SPF50+ protection from the sun. According to Fry, the SUN-Stopper is set to change the game with sun smart clothing which has, traditionally, lost its protective coat over time and washing.

Kathmandu, sustainability
The SUN-Stopper. Image: Kathmandu

“Most sun protection fabric relies on chemistry to achieve performance,” says Fry.

“This isn’t the direction we want to go, and chemicals eventually wash out which means performance changes over the lifetime of the garment. We figure, if you’re going to make something, make it last. So we developed a sophisticated, high gauge knit that is soft, dry and comfortable against the skin in warm weather, and we managed to do this without relying on harsh UPF chemistry. Which means your SUN-Stopper will keep working season after season, and look fantastic all the while.”

This focus on improvement could also be the key to Kathmandu’s creeper success. In spite of slight disagreement with the New Zealand government recently over COVID support, the brand’s circular approach to sustainability has put its values at the centre of what it does as a brand: be good for the environment, be good to your team and be good to your community. Doesn’t get much simpler than that. 

“We are investing in new ways of working with our supply chain, where the factory worker’s voice is a critical part of our resource planning. In short, we are carving a new path in our industry that we believe to be the best way to treat people and planet, full stop. Are we perfect? No, and we may never be. But we are dedicated to doing good in the world. Our B Corp certification testifies to this, but so does our passion, and our compassion.”

And that’s why it’s Kathmandu and not Kathmancan’t folks.