When it comes to the outdoors in the UK, our 15 National Parks are undoubtedly the jewel in the country’s crown. From the misty mountains of the Lake District to the soaring peaks of Snowdonia, these are some of Britain’s best-loved landscapes, playgrounds for outdoor activities which attract over 75 million visitors every year.
In recent years however, several of the UK’s National Parks have suffered from cuts to their government funding as the Conservatives’ austerity policies have taken effect. Which is what makes yesterday’s big announcement by Columbia Sportswear doubly exciting.
"Columbia will outfit the country’s 300 park rangers and more than 2,000 staff in their latest gear."
At a launch event in London’s Greenwich Maritime Museum, the American outdoor brand unveiled a five-year partnership deal with the UK’s National Parks worth £2.5 million, which will see them outfitting the country’s 300 park rangers and more than 2,000 staff in the latest Columbia gear.
For Columbia, the partnership offers a perfect way to get their gear tested in the toughest of conditions - something they’re known for. “What we really want to get from the rangers is the honest feedback on how the product works," Robbert Hersman, Columbia’s European director of apparel marketing told Outdoors Magic. “That's why the UK National Parks are so great for us because you need to have gear tested in the bad weather, the cold, the mud." Park rangers will be outfitted in the new Columbia OutDry Extreme Eco jackets, made from recycled materials.
Rangers will be asked to give feedback to the brand, and also to try out new bits of kit before they go to market. “We want to provide them with some new products which are not in the standard kit and just say: ‘Hey, give this a test and let us know’," said Hersman.
Columbia are also obviously hoping to benefit from the association with the parks and rangers. Although the company is massive in the US, it’s not as popular in Europe, something Hersman hopes this partnership will change. “In Europe we seem to have lost our way a bit, although we've now coming back over the past couple of years, but the UK is a very important part for us because it's the closest thing to the US market. Normally American brands tend to do really well here in the UK. We're quite behind.
“So what we're focussed on is getting the brand back on track, getting people focussed on the brand again as a true American outdoor brand."
"If we’re getting this great gear for free then it means we can spend that money we spent on uniforms on other things."
For the UK’s National Parks, the investment is welcome and the partnership will free up chunks of their budgets that were previously spent on kitting out their staff. “If we’re getting this great gear for free then it means we can spend that money we spent on uniforms on other things," said Anna MacLean, director of communications for Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
The rangers seem stoked about it too. Fiona Thompson, who works in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, told us: “I don’t know all the ins and outs but it sounds like a really good partnership. They’re a really good company to be pairing up with. They've got the right methods and a good ethical background and their products look good."
The partnership is the first deal done by National Parks Partnerships LLP, a new body formed by the 15 parks, who’ve joined forces to try and attract partnerships and investment from businesses. According to the chairman of the they’re “very choosy about who they partner with," but they’ve been “hugely impressed by Columbia’s environmental and ethical commitments, as well as their genuine enthusiasm for the UK’s National Parks and their plan for support over the next five years."
The deal seems like a total win-win, but it apparently started out as something of a happy coincidence. Columbia, who had created a National Parks collection for the American market, were looking to do something similar in Europe when the wife of their UK communications director got chatting to the wife of someone from National Parks Partnerships at a barbeque. “It felt like it was meant to be, because we'd been talking about it already," said Robbert Hersman.
Here’s hoping that more of these kinds of partnerships come to fruition, helping keep the UK’s stunning natural spaces free and open to everyone for generations to come.