Minnesota clothing store Askov Finlayson’s climate-focused business model is keeping the North cold.
By Caroline Royce
November 18, 2018
It started with a hat, and has since snowballed into an organized movement to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and invest in sustainable solutions to climate change.
Andrew and Eric Dayton would pass two neighboring Minnesota towns, Askov and Finlayson, each year on the drive to their family’s cabin. In 2011, the brothers decided to channel their childhood memories of snowy car rides and cabin vacations into their own store, to sell merchandise fit for the North. Askov Finlayson, located in Minneapolis’ North Loop, sells clothing, accessories, and outdoor gear such as blankets, canoe paddles, and compasses.
This Northern identity has become inseparable from Askov Finlayson’s brand. One of the first products that the company designed is the North Hat, a simple knit beanie emblazoned with the word NORTH. The Dayton brothers found that their love of the North resonated with others when in 2013 their first batch of hats sold out within less than two days.
They realized that they wanted to do more than represent the North through their merchandise — they wanted to preserve the landscape that they grew up in. In 2015, Askov Finlayson launched their Keep the North Cold campaign, making a commitment to combat climate change.
“Keep the North Cold really came out of the idea that the North is becoming a movement, and we want to make sure that it is a movement for good,” said Adam Fetcher, Askov Finlayson’s Vice President of Environmental Impact & Policy. “Climate change was central to the idea, because our cold winters, I believe, are at the heart of the people here. It’s coming together around cold winters and our ability to embrace them that really makes us who we are.
“What’s putting our cold winters under threat? Climate change, and in a really severe way,” continued Fetcher. “Minnesota’s winters are warming faster than anywhere else in the country; Minneapolis is ranked number two in terms of climate change impact across the entire country. A lot of people don’t realize the extent to which climate change is threatening every aspect of life here in the North, in particular our cold winters.”
As part of the Keep the North Cold campaign, Askov Finlayson began donating a portion of their proceeds to Climate Generation, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to building climate literacy, creating solutions to climate change, and enacting climate-positive public policies, founded by legendary polar explorer Will Steger. Eric Dayton was a member of Steger’s 2004 Arctic Transect Expedition, and the voyage forged a friendship between the two centered around a shared passion for fighting climate change.
A few years after launching the Keep the North Cold campaign, Askov Finlayson decided that there was still more that they could do to combat climate change. At the beginning of 2018, the company introduced their Give 110% business model.
“Last year, we took a step back and we asked ourselves, ‘What would it really take to keep the North cold?’” says Fetcher. “We decided that just giving a portion of our proceeds wasn’t enough; that we really needed to turn our business into a climate-positive business, so that we could really say that we’re contributing meaningfully to solutions to the climate crisis, not just doing less and less harm.”
Giving 110% means that Askov Finlayson measures the climate cost of their entire business, from manufacturing their products to transporting them and operating their offices and retail space. Then, the company calculates the social cost of their carbon footprint and donates 110% of that amount each year through a self-imposed climate tax to organizations that are on the cutting edge of solving the climate crisis.
Askov Finlayson has three main focus areas for the types of organizations that they support: education, energy, and agriculture. Each year, the company writes grants to these organizations, like Climate Generation and iMatter Youth, an organization that empowers youth to become leaders in enacting positive climate policy. Askov Finlayson made a one-million-dollar commitment to the business model, meaning that they will donate $1 million to these organizations over the next five years.
Many of the grant recipients are nonprofits, and depend on individual donations and support from business like Askov Finlayson. “The sustaining support Climate Generation has received from Askov Finlayson has allowed us to invest more deeply in our work with high school youth leaders,” said Nicole Rom, Executive Director of Climate Generation.
In addition to giving back to organizations in the North and beyond, Askov Finlayson is also examining ways that they can make their own operations more environmentally conscious. This year, they redesigned their North Hat to use 100% recycled yarn. The original North Hat used virgin acrylic, which Fetcher says is one of the most “carbon-intensive materials” that the company could be using. The new recycled yarn is a blend of up-cycled cotton and recycled plastic bottles, which means that the new North Hat is responsible for almost 40% fewer carbon emissions than its predecessor.
“We’re really proud of the fact that the hat, in the first year of our Give 110% model, really matches our mission. It’s really a manifestation of what we’re doing with our business model and proof that it’s working internally,” said Fetcher.
Now, Fetcher says that sustainability is a key element in all of Askov Finlayson’s products. He says that the company’s design team is not only “thinking hard about what it means to support the outdoors form a Northern point of view, but they’re also making sure that sustainability and this idea of reducing our environmental impact is reflected in every product that we make from here on out. While that wasn’t a part of our thinking in the past as much, that’s really core to our DNA now.” Designing sustainably means using recycled or reclaimed materials when possible, producing less waste, and using fewer resources like water and electricity.
Even with policies like sustainable design and investment in climate-focused organizations in place, combating climate change can feel like a daunting task. However, Askov Finlayson believes that instead of trying to tackle an entire environmental crisis at once, most effective change is enacted at the local level.
“Climate change impacts are inherently local,” said Fetcher. “People source their electricity, the energy required for heating, transportation is local, so there are a lot of aspects of climate change. It feels global, but it’s actually local, or regional.”
Many recipients of Askov Finlayson’s grants operate in Minnesota, or other regions of the North. Others are located around the country, but utilize open source business models that allow their strategies to be customized and applied locally.
“Climate Generation’s focus on solutions stems from our understanding that [the climate crisis] is multi-sector,” said Nicole Rom, Executive Director of Climate Generation. “True progress towards a resilient world with equitable solutions to climate change is only possible through collective action at the local level. We need everyone. Most importantly, we need the voices of people of color and low-income communities who experience disproportionate impacts to be present at the table.”
This local perspective resonates throughout Askov Finlayson’s business, from the yarn used to produce the North Hats to the organizations that the company partners with. “Our community here in the North is everything. Really, the whole brand is based on the idea that we want to grow and foster a strong sense of community here in our region,” said Fetcher.
“While we’re growing and hoping to continually be a more national or even global company, our goal is really to bring the story of the North to the rest of the world. And we want to do that in a way that has this climate positive aspect to it, because that’s ultimately what threatens our identity the most— climate change.”