Nick Brown founded the waterproofing brand 40 years ago

Nick Brown founded the waterproofing brand 40 years ago

In 1977, a young outdoors enthusiast who had just left university found himself in need of two particular things: a means of making a living; and dry, comfortable feet when he was backpacking in the mountains.

Forty years on, Nick Brown says he has succeeded in both, and what’s more, the chief executive of Nikwax says by the end of this year his company will have completely restored the CO2 it has produced in its operations by a programme of tree planting.

Brown’s first product was a boot treatment that didn’t soften the footwear’s leather, hence the Nikwax name. After this early innovation, he went on to introduce a number of firsts in the outdoor industry. Since its inception, Nikwax has not used perfluorinated chemicals in its waterproofing treatments.

PFCs are used to repel water, grease and stains, but are viewed as persistent, both in the environment and the human body. There are also questions about whether they have health effects.

The Nikwax founder is adamant environmental concerns will become more important to outdoor enthusiasts.

He said: “As consumers become more aware of the environmental challenges, they will become selective about which brands they support.

“They will want the brands they choose to have a history that they can be proud of, combined with the ability to invent new and greener solutions to the practical problems of life.”

Nikwax is now one of the top companies providing environmentally safe aftercare and waterproofing solutions that extend the life and performance of technical footwear, clothing and equipment. Its products are distributed to 50 countries and it says it is the only major aftercare company to have never used aerosols or fluorocarbons.

Nikwax TX Direct can be used in washing machines without additional heat treatment

Nikwax TX Direct can be used in washing machines without additional heat treatment

Among the innovations claimed by Nikwax are: the first water-based waterproofing product that can be used in a washing machine with no need for heat treatment; the first whose full range never used aerosols; the first PFC-free hydrophobic down that passes a 1,000-minute shake test; and the first to develop a tent cleaner that revitalises water repellency and provides ultra-violet protection.

Nikwax products are fluorochemical-free, use elastomer technology, are not tested on animals, and are non-persistent in the environment.

The brand has received several awards including the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development; Sunday Times Best Green Award, and the Green Apple Award.

In 1987 Nick Brown introduced a new fabric system called Nikwax Analogy which uses the principle of waterproofing directionality: actively moving liquid water, as well as moisture vapour, away from the wearer’s body. The Nikwax Analogy waterproof system requires no PFC chemicals to function effectively. The system has primarily been adopted by the clothing brand Páramo, which has won awards in Britain for its waterproof jackets. Páramo supplies, amongst others, the British Antarctic Survey.

The recent global awareness of serious environmental problems with PFC-based products has stimulated Nikwax to refocus on the development of a PFC Treatment Free industrial standard for outdoor brands, and to promote the concept of waterproof directionality internationally.

Nikwax works with the European Outdoor Conservation Association and World Land Trust to balance its operational carbon emissions.

Nick Brown said: “We recognise that climate change is going to be one of the greatest challenges for future generations, and is already destabilising the outdoor industry, influencing snow and rainfall, and bringing extreme and unpredictable weather.

“Ten years ago, Nikwax decided to balance the carbon emissions coming from our manufacturing and operational processes by restoring forest cover in partnership with the World Land Trust. The forest we restore sucks the CO2 we emit back out of the atmosphere, and additionally protects endangered species and promotes bio-diversity.

“At the same time, we decided to balance our historic emissions, going back 10 years.

“In 2017, we achieved 20 years of carbon balancing. We then looked back at the sum of our sales for the first 20 years of Nikwax, and found that it was equivalent only one year in 2017. So, this year we are carbon balancing the remaining operations from day one to year 20, by re-growing more forest.

Nikwax is an advocate of environmentally responsible operations. Photo: Lucas Canino

Nikwax is an advocate of environmentally responsible operations. Photo: Lucas Canino

“By the end of 2017 our operations will have been carbon balanced for 40 years. We would like to show other companies how easy it is to take this step. If all companies balanced their operational emissions, the world would be carbon neutral.

“Naturally, we expect people who spend a lot of time enjoying the outdoors to look after the environment. There is no perfect behaviour, but we would like to encourage our customers, and our colleagues to think hard about how they can best protect what they care for.”

Nikwax’s 2017 development centres on a range it describes as Sweatproofing. It said: “Outdoor comfort is not just about repelling water away from your clothing system, it is also about making the best use of the water we produce through our skin.”

It said its range of products marketed under the Sweatproofing banner make fabrics dry faster and therefore cool you more efficiently, reducing the need to sweat. At the same time, they reduce odour build up in the fabric, extending the useful life of garments.