It’s 50 years since the first ever Greenland Jacket was made and to celebrate the milestone Fjällräven have released a new modernised version that still retains the timeless charm of the original. 

The story of the first Greenland Jacket, now an icon of the brand, is a fascinating one.

It starts with a boy scout from Sweden’s High Coast called Åke Nordin and, not a jacket, but a backpack.

After getting fed up of carrying a shapeless, loose-fitting backpack during adventures in the mountains, a young Åke decided to build his own one that he could be sure would fit comfortably. With his mother’s treadle sewing machine he fashioned a bag out of a strong cotton material and then fastened it to a wooden frame to distribute the load better across his back.

10 years later and Åke had started his own business in the basement of his family home, making packs that were based on the prototype he had developed as a young scout. It was in that basement that the world’s first ever aluminium framed backpack would be made, and where Fjällräven was born.

In 1966, Åke’s framed backpacks plus another innovation of his, a condensation-free tent, were carried on a research expedition to Greenland by a number of Scandinavian alpinists and scientists who were hoping to gather information on the extensive glaciers there.

After returning home, the expedition members heaped praises on Åke's kit and told him they’d wished he’d made their clothing as well – their jackets and trousers, made out of boiled wool and leather, had proved less than ideal in such demanding conditions. This got Åke thinking... and tinkering.

"It is versatile and works just as well in the outdoors as in your everyday life..."

He had a material which he'd already developed for his lightweight tents that had proven too heavy, but he realised that it could be used to create a durable, functional jacket for the outdoors. He just needed to find a way of making it capable of standing up to wind and rain.

He went about testing a range of materials and impregnations, and eventually had a revelation – the answer lay in a trick he’d learnt as a child. Spending hours on end out at a local ski jump with his friends, he'd realised that they could keep the snow from soaking through their trousers by rubbing the wax meant for their skis onto the fabric.

Fjallraven Greenland at 50

The original jacket, pictured when it first launched.

After a number of experiments with different wax solutions, Åke settled on a mixture of beeswax and paraffin which he then applied to the fabric of his jacket with the help of his wife’s hairdryer.

The fabric became known as G-1000, the beeswax and paraffin mixture became Greenland Wax, and the finished product, ready for the rigours of an expedition, was the Greenland Jacket.

50 years on the 2018 version of the Greenland Jacket maintains the same time-honoured aesthetic, but combines it with an improved fit and with more sustainable materials, including a new blend of recycled polyester and organic cotton.

We spoke to Sarah Isaksson, one of the designers of the updated Greenland collection, who said her team had carefully weighed up the pros and cons of different materials in order to find something that would have a "small environmental impact, but still make for a durable product that would last for generations".

“The most sustainable products are the ones you can use over and over again," she told us. "The longer you use them, the smaller that product’s footprint becomes over time. For us, timeless design is as important as durable materials because even if a product can withstand years and years of use, you also have to want to wear it for that long."

So what exactly gives the Greenland Jacket that timeless look? The key, according to Sarah, is its simplicity: “It is a simple yet very functional design with many pockets." she said. “This design really carries both that vision to create simple and functional clothing and equipment and also the look of the brand. It is versatile and works just as well in the outdoors as in your everyday life."

The updated Greenland Jacket is part of a brand new collection of Greenland items which we’ve taken a detailed look at here.

This article was produced in partnership with Fjällräven.