Klättermusen is a new name to Oi Polloi that we’re pretty excited about. Maybe best described as a cross between Patagonia and Fjällräven, they make super-sharp, earth-friendly outdoor gear, and they’re very, very Swedish.
Founded in 1984 by an avid climber/biologist called Peter Askulv, their super-tech jackets are ace and their bags might just be the most useful things we’ve ever seen.
Oh, and the name means ‘climbing mouse’ in Swedish.
We pestered CEO Eric Spongberg for more information.
We also went to the beach to stand around in the rain.
First things first, how are you today?
Great. The very last rays of summer are shining on us this week before the winter storms start roaring in from the North Sea!
Klättermusen might be a new name to a lot of people in England, can you explain what it is, and what you make?
Klättermusen is a small Swedish outdoor company, located in Jämtland in northern Sweden. We make hard-wearing outdoor clothing and backpacks from mainly organic and recycled materials and have been around since 1984.
I've never heard of Jämtland before, what sort of place is this?
Jämtland is a county in Sweden where our office is located, a place filled with forests, mountains and streams, bear moose and brown trout.
If my Swedish is right, then the name translates to ‘Climbing Mouse’. This is a pretty good name for an outdoor company. Where did this come from?
The company was started around a campfire in Norway, where our founder Peter Askulv was on a caving trip together with friends. Most of them had already bought backpacks from Peter, who had gotten into sewing backpacks during his paternity leave with his first child.
His friends convinced him to turn the hobby into a company, and as Peter didn’t want the backpacks to be bought for a cool name, he named the packs after a well-known Swedish children’s book character. The reasoning — the packs should be so good that they sell anyway.
Peter was an avid ice climber and cave diver, and didn’t find the right gear - so he created it himself. He is a biologist and chemist originally, and he took the same scientific approach to creating outdoor gear, always working with the microscope on his desk and trying out threads, fabrics and prototypes for maximum safety and durability.
How has outdoor clothing changed since 1984?
The fabrics have gone through tremendous development, but we believe there are also fabrics that have been forgotten along the way. As an example, the shell jacket that’s has almost become the icon of outdoor clothing — the 3-layer shell — is actually a perfect jacket for rain.
In any other weather, there are better alternatives that will keep you dryer by letting wind and moisture through the garments. One of our favourite fabrics is our organic Etaproof cotton. It’s a long staple, high-quality cotton fabric, so tightly woven it actually withstands rain showers, and is soft, quiet and keeps you dry. Originally developed for parachuters during WWII, it’s nature’s own technical fabric.
What was the first Klättermusen product?
A backpack named Flinta (Flintstone in Swedish).
From what I can gather, you lot are all keen outdoorsmen. How important is it that an outdoor company has a real understanding of the places its clothes will go?
Our customers are people who spend their days and nights in the wilderness, and they count on us to deliver clothing that keeps them warm, dry and safe. From sled dog mushers, to foresters, we need to truly understand the needs of the user — being out there ourselves is the only way.
Sweden has a strong history of outdoor clothing companies, what is the reason for this?
One of your trademarks is that sweeping, diagonal zip? Where did this come from? Is there any advantage to having diagonal zips? Or does it just look good?
It began as a technique to keep the garment waterproof by making the water run away from zip rather than along and avoiding leaks. The diagonal shapes found their way to other products as well, and today it’s a way to spot a Klättermusen garment.
In the same way many people who wear army surplus clothes will never go to war, a lot of people who wear outdoor jackets will never climb up a mountain. Why do you think normal civilians want ‘extreme’ clothing?
More than wanting to have ‘extreme' clothing, we believe in versatility and having gear that works for every weather and activity — regardless if it’s a November bike commute or a nine day trekking trip.
You lot do a lot of work to minimalise your impact on the environment. Why is this important to you? What do you lot do differently?
Back when Klättermusen was a one-man company, being conscious was the only way Peter knew how to run a business. Never throwing anything away, and reusing and repairing made sense at the time. With his background in biology, he was also aware of the toxic processes involved in technical fabrics and outdoor clothing and wanted to show the world that there is a different way to do business.
Klättermusen is known as one of the pioneers and have worked with 100% organic cotton since 2006 and phased out PFOA in 2008. We are far from the whole answer, but are constantly seeking out new ways to improve — right now we are launching plant-based nylon made from castor bean oil.
Nowadays it seems every brand is trying to play the green card. Are you sceptical of some of this?
Actually not. In the short run, it might be dishonest, but in the long-run it will raise awareness about the issues. The textile industry is one of the worst polluters in the world, and we still do not have a good way of recycling cotton — a crop representing 10% of the pesticide use in the world, just as an example.
Some of your backpacks are made using recycled fishnets. How does this work? Where do you get the old fishnets from?
The fishnets are harvested from the ocean, meaning that we are removing ghost nets from the ocean. We have used the fabric since 2007, and it has become increasingly popular also with other companies now so we are fighting to keep the fabric. Good news for the planet.
What next for Klättermusen? Where do you see outdoor clothing going in the next ten years?
As outdoor is becoming more mainstream, we will also see a divide with big brands going down-market and also more fashion brands coming into the industry. We will continue to walk our own path in the industry, and innovate with new materials and technologies over the coming years.
We already have some interesting new developments at the office, and working closely with suppliers to find fabrics that are highly technical and at the same time a better choice for the planet.
You mention outdoor activities becoming more mainstream, why do you think this is?
Because we are longing for something more than flatscreen TVs and office cubicles, and nature is a place where deadlines and Candy Crush Saga seems a lot less important.
I think that’s pretty much all I’ve got for now, have you got any wise words you’d like to add?
Buy carefully, and only buy products that last.