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Back in time: Kathmandu

Kathmandu has been New Zealand’s go-to outdoor retailer for 30 years. The company prides itself on durability, a good reputation and its growing sustainability efforts.

Kathmandu came about in Christchurch in 1987, founded by Jan Cameron and John Pawson. The two had previously sold their ALP Sports Clothing label and used the profits to start up Kathmandu.

Originally, Kathmandu was only sold in Australia, with the manufacturing side remaining in New Zealand. In 1992 Kathmandu entered the Kiwi marketplace, purchasing Alps Sports and bringing in Bernard Wicht in as the third shareholder.

Kathmandu since coming to New Zealand has made efforts to trade ethically and operate sustainably. The company has set a goal to be 100 percent sustainable by 2020 and to have a zero-waste landfill by next year.

In the last four to five years, the company has worked towards achieving global best practice and has recently opened a new five-star green building in the Christchurch CBD.

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Kathmandu is re-designing some of its iconic pieces, and over the year-long celebration is encouraging customers to share their stories online of their adventures with Kathmandu items over the years.

Tim Loftus, marketing manager – global brand at Kathmandu, says the company’s core values have not changed since many years ago, and now the company is slowing down its rapid growth to focus on investment and its customers.

“We’ve spending a lot of time expanding and growing, and now it’s nice to kind of slow down our growth and focuses on what our brand actually means, and what our role in society is actually about.”

Loftus says that for the 30th, a lot of old styles and retro gear have been brought back into the spotlight.

“We’re spending time looking back into the archives and old catalogues, and really kind of getting to know the heritage of the businesses. And it’s cool, we were doing eco-fleece before people even knew what sustainability was all about.”

Kathmandu is committed to sustainable and ethical practices, even scoring as one of the top ethical brands in New Zealand for the 2017 Ethical Trade Report.

“We often say to the team that sustainability is a team sport, we can’t do it alone, so most of the great efforts and the wins that we’ve had is from working hand in hand with suppliers and competitors to raise the bar,” says Loftus.

“Whether it be waste management, green buildings or the human rights of our supply chain, we have to work with the whole industry to make sure the standards are being met.”

In the last few years, Kathmandu has been focusing on digital transformation within the company, a sign that the 30-year-old company is adjusting well to a change in consumer culture.

Even as Kathmandu continues to grow as a reputable brand, Loftus says its customer base doesn’t change.

“We have a unique customer base, as it goes through all generations. When it comes to adventure and travel and those kinds of segments. One thing that has changed for us is we have focused on customising our message, we speak to younger people much more on social media, and older customers on more traditional approaches.”

Kathmandu is encouraging customers to share their journey with the gear for the 30th-anniversary heritage campaign. The #Kathmandu87 tag is a celebration of the company’s long-running success with the adventurous side of New Zealand.

This story originally appeared in the June / July 750 issue of Retail NZ.

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Courtney Devereux is a Communication Consultant at Clear Hayes and freelance business writer.