Sustainability has never been a “tick the box” kind of exercise for us. It’s not an isolated initiative or a short-term fix. It’s a way of doing things. A way of designing not just a product, but a company and a way of life.
In this series, we’ll take you through the many lenses with which we approach the broad concept of sustainability.
Our first look is at versatility. When your gear does more, you can own less. Ultimately, we started Topo Designs because we didn’t want a separate section in our closet for “outdoor”. It meant twice the number of items we had to buy, and half the number of uses. It meant not feeling completely ourselves in either environment.
So we vowed to make products that work just as well in the “life” section as the “outdoor” section, and vice versa. Sure, you lose out on the ability to tailor your gear to a specific purpose, but we were happy to do that, and not just because we wanted to make room for our sneaker collection.
We want to have less so we can make less and waste less. And we want to invite others to consider investing in fewer items with more use cases. If we can’t come up with three or four (or more) use cases for a product, then we don’t make it.
We have versatility in mind when we choose colors each season. If you love color as much as we do, this internal dialogue will feel familiar: Do I go with the color I really want, or choose something more practical? We make this question slightly less agonizing by repeating colors throughout our line and choosing colors that naturally play nice together. So you can go with the color you want and trust that it’s practical, too.
We find this question gets tougher when it comes to outerwear. Outerwear is always an investment and needs to go with most things in your closet in order to be useful. At first glance, our bright clay Global Jacket may seem like an impracticality. Until you start pairing it with other pieces in our line: olive Dirt Pants, blue 5 Pocket Denim, clay Boulder Pants or clay Global Sweater.
Versatility means a product works here and there, but also now and then. If a piece is truly versatile, you want to wear it while working from home and while traveling, today and years from now. We solve this by starting with gear that has stood the test of time and updating it for modern times. Western shirts, five pocket pants, Klettersacks, sherpa fleece - all come from a rich (and long) design history that we know will continue well past the present moment.
We’ve been wearing our Sherpa Jackets for three years now, and they’re still one of the best things about the arrival of fall for us.
There’s a reason why most of our packs have both laptop sleeves and DWR treatments. Why the pants we make for climbing or fishing have both quick-dry fabric and an on-trend fit. Why our outerwear is waterproof or reversible, but in a classic trench or bomber jacket silhouette. And it’s this: when your outdoor gear is designed to be your streetwear, too, you need less of both.
Our team swears by our Rover Pack for exactly this reason. Back when offices were a thing, you could take it to the office every day, and then when the weekend came, you could take out your laptop and replace it with a hydration bladder, fill it with food and a second set of clothes, clip your sleeping bag to the outside, fit your snowshoes neatly in the gear straps, and hike up a 13,000 ft peak to stay the night in a hut during the winter. And... be the person with the lightest load, hands-down. Not that we’re speaking from experience.
Finally, and most importantly: versatility requires restraint. As avid outdoor-lovers, it’s tempting to include every feature that would make our favorite sport more convenient. But we don’t do that for several reasons, not least of which is because we’re never designing for just our favorite sport. We’re designing for our four favorite sports, travel and everyday life.
Take our Boulder Pants, for example: one of our simplest designs, and that’s why they work. An elastic waist means they’re comfortable on an office chair, on a bike or on a plane. The relaxed fit, mechanical stretch, and quick-dry fabric make them suitable for climbing, fishing and hiking as well. Clean, simple lines and a ⅞ pant leg make them look good no matter where you are or what you’re doing. One pant to rule them all, so you don’t need quite so many.
When our pants, packs or puffers work anywhere and anytime, we can practice minimalism without even trying. We can save our money and reduce our impact on the environment. Sustainability begins with design, and our design begins with versatility.