‘You can’t compete your way out of a climate crisis’ – Gavin Fernie-Jones

MY IMPACT CAREER: In the face of environmental meltdown, we need to build something different, says Gavin Fernie-Jones. People don’t need expensive jackets to go skiing, so his social enterprise and the collective he co-founded are making outdoor sportswear sustainable – as well as accessible to everyone.

You could say Gavin Fernie-Jones’s career went seriously off-piste. From selling ski boots to wealthy clients on their luxury holidays in the French Alps, he switched to founding first a social enterprise to repair and reuse outdoor sports kit, then co-founding a network of similar organisations across the world.  

His experiences running a boot shop near the famous Les Trois Vallées ski area and seeing evidence of the climate crisis every day led to Gavin founding his social enterprise, One Tree at a Time, in October 2020.

One Tree at a Time has a shop in a village called Bozel selling ex-warranty, sample and excess clothing from business partners and second hand clothing from the community. The shop has a kids’ clothing rack which people can take from for free and runs repair workshops for the local community. 

Skiers in kit repaired by One Tree at a Time

Skiers in kit repaired by One Tree at a Time

 

Following the success of One Tree at a Time, Gavin co-founded Re-Action with friend Heather Davies. Re-Action is an international collective of organisations like One Tree at a Time, which are all committed to making outdoor sports more sustainable and accessible. 

To join Re-Action, organisations must fulfil the collective’s manifesto, including encouraging people outdoors through affordable access to kit, helping people maintain and repair outdoor clothing and equipment and enabling community-based circular economy solutions.

The Re-Action collective now includes more than 30 organisations, which use the network to share expertise and amplify a message of sustainable outdoor sports. From its roots in a small village in the Alps, Re-Action is now delivering impact across the world, but always through community-focussed organisations and in a spirit of collaboration, not competition.  

 

 

I want to change the outdoor sports sector so it’s no longer built around exploitation. The industry now is based on exploiting nature, exploiting people that make clothing and exploiting communities through greenwashing. 

When we’re looking at circular economy stuff, we tend to miss the really simple, impactful things that could be integrated everywhere, which is basically: use your stuff for longer, repair it, share it out to other people. 

Brands which say they want to make the outdoors more accessible and inclusive need to stop advertising and selling several hundred quid jackets and certainly stop making a whole new set of colours every year, putting their sponsored athletes in them and sending them all out to make films. Because then it isn’t about the outdoors any more, it’s about ‘what am I wearing?’. 

We’ve tried to bend nature to our terms, the ski resort isn’t really like nature any more. You’re not going to see any wildlife during the winter when the lifts are running, we shape the slopes, fire fake snow all over it, then there’s a restaurant there and a spa over there. Ski resorts are tamed space, like a theme park or a golf course. Then we chuck on all this plastic clothing and try to insulate ourselves from the elements. Then, if it’s a really wet day, or if it’s cold, a lot of people will just go to the restaurants or spa.

Gavin Fernie-Jones boot shop

What first inspired me to make an impact was working in my boot shop (pictured), seeing the sheer volume of crap that was being generated. That made me start to question the system. We’d been working with brands to try to cut down waste and had successfully removed roughly 10,000 pieces of single-use plastic from our supply lines. 

Around the same time, the impact of the climate crisis on nature in our community started really catching me. For example, because it’s not cold enough in the winter any more to kill off beetles that burrow into pine trees, lots of the woodland is dead. I think that is extremely frightening. 

I grew up in an outdoor education centre in the Peak District National Park in the UK. We had these thick old waterproofs that got given to people in torrential rain. They were to stop you getting cold, not stop you getting wet. My mum repaired them all on a Singer sewing machine. In the 12 years I was there, those waterproofs didn’t change once and they’d been out thousands and thousands of times. 

One Tree at a Time repair day

One Tree at a Time started from a repair day we ran at the boot shop (pictured, Gavin right of picture). We asked people in the community to bring secondhand clothing which we could sell and use the money to plant trees. That’s where the name came from. After a few of those events we’d raised €9,000 and local businesses got in touch to ask how they could support us. It snowballed from there. 

Now we’ve got two employees and four people who are doing repairs and patching as they want for an hourly rate. The company that runs the local clothing waste sorting centre lets us take discarded clothes. The other day 44 tons of chucked-away clothes went through there and so much of it was new with tags on, or barely worn. It’s all really poor quality, so even if people did wear it I’m not sure how many washes it would last. When you see the problem is that size, you know that recycling isn’t the fix. We just need to make less clothing, make better clothing and repair it.

 

 Bio in brief

  • Born: Peak District National Park, UK
  • Education: Degree in art from Huddersfield University
  • Personal life: Lives in Le Grenier, a small French village close to Les Trois Vallées, France, with wife Sara and their two children 
  • Career milestones: Co-founder of Re-Action, founder of One Tree at a Time and business owner at The Boot Lab

 

I was asked about scaling One Tree at a Time when I appeared on the Circular Economy podcast. I spoke to Heather about it and realised I didn’t want to do that, but I wanted to spread the impact by creating a kind of commons for the outdoor community.

I consider myself a ‘Re-Action citizen’. What I say has no more importance than what anyone else in the collective says. Just because I’ve got an idea about how to keep something out of landfill in the Alps, doesn’t mean it’ll work in Bolton. I don’t love the word ‘solutions’, because how can you say something’s going to work in a certain place if you don’t know the demographic and the needs of that community?

Kit repaired by Re-Action

Kit repaired by Re-Action

 

I did an art degree at uni, so that’s probably where my love for creativity comes from. I look at big brand shops and they’re just so sanitised. To me, they just feel really bereft of you, us, people – it’s just, ‘here's a trainer; here’s a slightly different trainer.’ 

I find big brands really boring, but I love to walk into any of the different Re-Action members’ shops, because there’s a different story to be told and it's a different space.

If we’re going to build something new and something different everybody’s voice needs to be involved. It’s the antithesis of competition. For people that run businesses now, I think one of the key things that they can do is collaborate, even with their competitors. We’re not going to get anywhere meaningful unless we collaborate on a huge scale, and stop looking at each other as competitors, because you can’t compete your way out of a climate crisis. 

 

Gavin's impact inspiration

 

Top image: Gavin Fernie-Jones skiing in kit repaired by One Tree at a Time

Images courtesy of Gavin Fernie-Jones

 

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