Oi Polloi

An Interview with Anthony from Páramo

Published: Tue Nov 13 2018

Any fans of real deal outdoor accoutrements will probably be familiar with Páramo, but for those unacquainted – this lot make serious jackets with the less-than-ideal British weather in mind.

From their unique waterproof fabric to their dedication to the environment, there’s a lot more to this stuff than just that nifty logo – in fact, there’s so much going on with this gear that a few quick sentences would nowhere near do it justice.

To get the full story, we hounded Anthony King, Páramo’s resident fountain of knowledge, with some questions…

Páramo was founded back in 1992 by Nick Brown – the man behind Nikwax. How did it come about?

After coming up with the idea for Nikwax waterproofing products, Nick decided that there was also a gap in the market for fully breathable, windproof and waterproof garments that didn’t leave you feeling damp on the inside and didn’t leak.

Nick was disillusioned by the waterproof garments on the market at the time, so he went back to nature and started looking at how mammal fur pumped away moisture and how leaves evaporate water in the trees… and after lots of experimenting and testing, Páramo was born.

What set Páramo apart back in the early 90s? What were you lot doing differently?

Páramo has always been proud to be different; we believe in running the business to the highest ethical standards possible and are committed to producing products that have a minimal impact on the environment. We were one of the first outdoor clothing companies worldwide to eliminate the use of PFC’s in our supply chain and we produce products designed to last. We also recycle old garments and offer repairs and alterations to add to the longevity of our product life.

“Not having the right clothing can result in serious consequences!”

Páramo clothing relies heavily on something called 'directional fabric'. What is that?

We make our waterproof clothing in a different way to any other brand I know of. Rather than using a barrier technology such as a membrane to keep water out, we use two fabrics that interact with each other to make a moisture management system. It’s the interaction between the different layers of fabrics we use that keeps the wearer dry — and this allows us to make waterproof clothing that is significantly more breathable than our competitors.

Impressive stuff. What’s the most important thing to think about when designing for the outdoors? It’s not like you're just making this stuff for walking around town in. 

Functionality is first and foremost in our design process. We first identify what the product needs to do for a particular activity and customer and build the product around this.

Putting the focus on function is critical when designing products for activities such as mountaineering and hill walking as these activities put people in to situations where the weather can be extreme and not having the right clothing can result in serious consequences!

We use this to drive our product innovation and it can be seen in the some of the features of our award-winning products such as clever vent designs that allow wearers to cool down without removing layers and hoods that allow full mobility whilst keeping the wearer dry.

Páramo clothes have a definite British outdoor flavour to them. How does designing for the British countryside differ from making clothes for California or other, drier environments?

The main difference in designing products for damp humid climates like the UK is that the clothing has to be able to stop moisture getting in, whilst allowing moisture to escape. This is difficult as higher humidity will make it more likely to rain whilst also making people sweat more. In drier climates products usually only have to do one of these functions and many of our competitor products are either good at keeping moisture out or good at allowing moisture to escape and struggle to do both at the same time.

By mimicking a natural solution such as animal fur, Páramo’s directional clothing manages to do both at the same time. The great thing about the Directional fabrics we use is that they will work anywhere regardless of climate so they perform just as well on a rainy hill in the UK as they do on a sunny mountain in California.

You lot do a lot of work to minimise your impact on the environment. Why is this important to you?

We see minimising our impact on the environment to be something that is important to everyone and our long term survival on this planet. As a species our scientific understanding of the world around us is increasing at a fast pace and with it we have begun to understand the impact we have on it.

Unfortunately much of this impact at the moment is negative — we face a number of large scale problems of our own making such as the increasing level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, habitat destruction, increasing pollution, and plastics. If we as a species do not work on finding solutions to these problems we face a rather bleak future with huge losses to biodiversity and an increasingly inhospitable world. We believe that it is our obligation to do as much as possible not to add to these problems and where possible work to alleviate them. 

How do you go about doing this? 

We work towards this in a number of ways, we were one of the first outdoor clothing manufactures to eliminate PFC’s from our supply chain and sign up to Greenpeace’s detox campaign. Our products are designed to last a long time, therefore reducing the amount of material that is used in the long run.

We also provide a repair service and the option of recycling old Páramo products in return for a discount. Currently we’re working on producing fabric that is made from the clothing we recycle with the hope that soon any new Páramo product will be made from old ones.

“Advances in technology mean that people can do activities that were the preserve of professionals just 30 years ago.”

Páramo works with an ethical factory over in Colombia. Can you tell us a bit about this? How did this come about?

The Miquelina foundation was set up in 1977 by a Columbian nun, Esther Castano Mejia, with the aim of giving the opportunity of training, stable employment and good working conditions to vulnerable women who are at risk of becoming, or have been part of the drugs and prostitution trade. The foundation runs a factory where approximately 80% of Páramo products are produced and the profits are used to provide homes and child care. It’s very rewarding to think that what we are doing is changing people’s lives.

Páramo’s founder Nick Brown was looking for an ethical way to manufacturer products and made contact with the foundation in 1992. Since then the Páramo and Miquelina have grown together allowing Miquelina to help a large number of women and Páramo to continue making high quality outdoor clothing.

Amazing. On a slight change of subject - how has outdoor clothing changed since Páramo first started?

Advances in technology mean that people can do activities that were the preserve of professionals just 30 years ago. These days customers can walk in to a shop and buy bikes, skis and other equipment that allow them to do things that simply weren’t possible for anyone except the dedicated few. This has meant that clothing has had to evolve at the same time and has led to lighter weight, more packable clothing and features that help keep our customers comfortable in more extreme climates. 

The other big shift which is linked to the availability of better technology is that people are doing a much greater range of activities rather than being committed to just one or two. This has meant that a lot of the products we produce have to be multi-functional and perform well for a large variety of activities in lots of different weather conditions.

Maybe a tough question to answer, but what do you think the future of outdoor clothing looks like?

Our hope is that there will become a greater focus from all companies on producing products that are more environmentally friendly, sustainable and ethically manufactured. We hope that customers who like spending time in nature will become more conscious of the impact their choices have on the places they like to visit.

Both Paramo and Nikwax have some of the best logos in the outdoor clothing world. Where did these come from?

The Nikwax analogy logo is based on temple inscriptions of an Inca rain god. The Páramo logo is the Andean Condor, a bird found in the Andes Mountains and Pacific coasts of western South America, home to where Páramo began. This was chosen as it had a great link to the company name.

That was something I was going to ask actually... what does Páramo mean?

The name comes from an area in the Andes that’s above the tree line but below the snow. That’s where Nick started testing the very early Páramo fabrics and it seemed a fitting name for the company.

Makes sense to me. Click here to see the Páramo stuff.