Much of the coverage has centered around the Canadian gearmaker's performance chops. Function-first fashion is widely-touted, but for a host of reasons, few seem to nail it like Arc’teryx.
However, as a wave of new “Deadbird” fans discover Arc’s offerings, even the most style-skeptic outdoorsmen can’t help but feel like the secret’s out.
Those searching for the next big thing in cutting-edge tech fashion should look to a 90-year-old brand from the suburbs of Oslo, Norway. The brand is Norrøna. And for all the reasons that Arc’teryx has captured imaginations today, the family-run performance brand has the potential to be the next big name in tech fashion.
Europe’s First GORE-TEX Jacket
Lysaker-based Norrøna was founded in 1929 by Jørgen Jørgenson, a Norwegian outdoorsman who set out to make high-quality gear for his own adventures. In 1977, under the leadership of Jørgen’s grandson, the company made Europe’s first GORE-TEX jacket (Jørgen's great-grandson, also named Jørgen Jørgenson, is CEO today).
While the original “trollveggen” line of performance jackets won acclaim from athletes, external competition kept the brand from widespread growth. Between 1969 and 1991, Norrøna would revise its logo four times. It even made garden furniture. The brand didn’t release a ski collection until 1995 — a miss, given the size (and resources) of the sport’s following. Just look at how skiwear boosted the fortunes of its Norwegian neighbor Helly Hansen.
Among ice climbers, polar explorers, and proud Norwegians, Norrøna was a known quantity. But compared to Europe’s more established outdoors brands — the Mammuts and the Fjallravens, for example — it was just too niche to register.
“The Ultimate Performance Products”
What made Norrøna niche back then is the very thing that makes it one to watch today. Like Arc’teryx, its gear is hardcore.
Norrøna kit is defined by function and designed for its end use, almost to the point of frustration. Lofoten ski gear is cut for movement, with zips and pocket placements that only make sense on the slopes. Falketind hiking garments are built with long-distance trekking in mind, featuring stretch and reinforcements that will raise eyebrows anywhere outside of a mountain hut. And then there’s Recon, the everything-proof GORE-PRO kit Norrøna designed for the Norwegian Special Forces that (surprise) is as rigid as a monastery.
Regardless of the form or use case, two things stay constant: a devotion to minimalism and indifference to price. Waterproof shells start around $400. A GORE-PRO ski jacket clicks right under $700. And that’s not counting the brand’s ACE line of small-batch projects (i.e., a waterproof wool snowboard jacket - only $1299 with free shipping).
Like with Arc’teryx, it’s hard not to feel an arrogance to it all. Behind the spaceship aesthetics and marketing copy lies the very simple idea that Norrøna is not for everyone — either because they can’t afford a $700 parka, or because they’re not extreme enough to actually use it. While it may make for cool products, it can also make for an icy — even elitist — presence that, compared to the inclusiveness promised by the Patagonias of the world, can feel at odds with the times.
While aspects of Norrøna may feel standoffish, there’s a decidedly social (and characteristically Norwegian) bend to it all.
Norrøna’s sustainability practices are Patagonia-level good.
Yes, sustainability can be a usefully vague marketing buzzword — but the proof is in the pudding. Beyond the fact that they’ve got every cert that matters, a comparison between Norrona’s highest-performance shell and the similar from Patagonia reveals many of the same touches: recycled nylon face, PFC-free coatings, and more. The brand was even selected as a launch partner of Primaloft Bio, the first-ever biodegradable synthetic performance fiber.
If you believe all consumption is inherently unsustainable, then you’ll take issue with the idea of any brand creating anything. But, to those who believe in the messy middle of creating less, but improving on the worse, Norrøna is, in some regards, taking the Tesla approach. High-tech, desirable luxury product that’s better than the old ways. It might not be for everyone right now, but as demand grows, things can get cheaper.
Deadbird or Viking?
As Arc’teryx dominates the headlines, trailblazers (both literal and figurative) should give Norrøna a look. Its high-function design vision mirrors much of the Arc’teryx aesthetic — and in fact, many of the brand’s products have direct Arc analogs (trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro vs. Beta AR, lofoten Super Lightweight vs. Cerium SL, etc). Then, of course, there’s the sustainability focus.
While the Viking may never replace Arc’s “Deadbird” logo in the fashion spotlight, those looking for the next hot brand in technical fashion have a dark Norse candidate.