Bear | Q&A With The Co-Founder Oscar Boatfield

Here's a British outdoor brand making mental health and sustainability big parts of their mission

With the year we’ve all had, it’s fair to say that the nation’s mental health is at a real low. Even at the best of times, of course, the early nights of winter makes it a challenging time for many. Combine that with the lockdown, brought on by a global pandemic, and there’s nothing surprising about this downturn in mood across the population.

With all that in mind, we fired over some questions to Oscar Boatfield; co-founder of Bear and a UK company that puts mental health and the environment at the heart of their ethos.

Hey Oscar… tell us about how Bear came about?

Although we now cater to a more general outdoors market, when the idea for Bear first started to form back in 2018 we were more focused on fly fishing. It all started shortly after I met my wife and co-founder of Bear, Nell. We both love the outdoors and nature.

I have a background in competitive in fly fishing, and Nell is a veterinarian who has worked on conservation projects around the world. However, at that point in time were focused on trying to increase participation in fly fishing.

We came up with this idea for a small fishing bag that would just take the bare essentials. The idea being that it would help us promote the more simple, and adventurous side of fly fishing that we enjoy, and also allow us to get some funds together to run workshops to introduce people to the sport.

“Without her, Bear probably wouldn’t exist”

We taught ourselves to sew, very badly, and started making prototypes. Fortunately, it didn’t take us too long to find our master bag maker Amy. She took our prototypes and made them into something that looked great and worked really well. Without her, Bear probably wouldn’t exist.

We didn’t want to add more to the throwaway culture, didn’t have the money to place large orders with bag factories in the UK, and we didn’t want to make them anywhere else. We were super lucky to find her!

Another important thing to know is we both suffer from mental health difficulties. Whilst we were starting Bear, I was actually having a particularly hard time. I was having a bit of a breakdown really.

“We both found that being in nature… is extremely good for our mental wellbeing”

We both found that being in nature, with purpose, is extremely good for our mental wellbeing. So we decided that this was something we wanted to incorporate into our mission with Bear and share it with others. We finally launched Bear to the world in February 2019.

Very long story sort of short, it didn’t take us long to realise that there wasn’t just a lack of participation and inclusivity in fly fishing, but more generally a lack of access to the outdoors. So we changed tack, and started making bags for people who love the outdoors, and can use our resources to help people access nature.

What’s unique about the products you make? 

We want to prove that it’s possible to make something in the UK that will last a lifetime, made from as many locally sourced parts as possible, and still compete on price with something produced halfway around the world. Our ultimate goal is for our bags to never see an air mile. We just need someone to start growing cotton in the UK. Apparently, they very excitingly are but it’s going to be a few years before they are producing enough to sell.

We believe transparency is key. It’s definitely something that makes us unique. We share our cost breakdowns, everything about our materials and probably more than we should about ourselves. We are building a community with Bear and we think in order to do so, you have to be honest with people.

“We put aside funds to offset the carbon of the equivalent of 50 Bear bags for every one sold”

Another thing that’s pretty cool is that all our bags are carbon negative. Whilst we are as responsible as we can be with our material choices, we know that making more of anything isn’t good for the planet so we put aside funds to offset the carbon of the equivalent of 50 Bear bags for every one sold.

Our in-house conservationist, Matt is busy finding us interesting initiatives that we can support. Although we want customers to use their bags forever, we know that people don’t always want to use something that long. So if people find they are no longer using their bag we encourage them to sell it back to us. We will then take that bag apart and turn it into something new. This process is otherwise known as circular manufacturing.

We pride ourselves on keeping our bag prices low in comparison to the competition, we simply don’t believe in charging more just because we can. We think any ethically and responsibly produced item should be attainable for as many people as possible.

Pictured: Oscar Boatfield, co-founder of Bear

You’ve spoken about how you and Nell suffer from mental health difficulties, do you think the year we’ve all had has made getting out into nature even more important?

Absolutely, nature is the best way for us to relax and reset especially when we’re feeling stressed. It’s the main reason we moved to the Yorkshire Dales. We have found that whilst being surrounded by nature is great, being in nature with purpose is much more immersing and powerful in bolstering mental wellbeing.

That purpose could be be as simple as noting all the different types of birds you see on a walk. For me, this immersion will often include taking photos, fly fishing, and off-road cycling. These activities provide a level of concentration that give my mind the time to rest and heal.

“Nature is the best way for us to relax and reset”

We’re going to be starting online workshops providing people with ways in which they can be more immersed in the outdoors, starting with a UK diving workshop in February.

It’s also really important to us to contribute to de-stigmatising mental health difficulties. For that reason we started an online journal during this latest lockdown, which our community members can read. In it we share our enthusiasm for the outdoors, and are open and honest about our own mental health.

Tell us more about the wild workshops you’re running. What do they involve, and how can people join in?

It’s always been a big part of our plan to use a significant portion of our profits to run workshops helping people get outdoors, amongst hill, forest, and river. We really want to introduce people to things that they might otherwise not do, and inspire them to explore more.

“We really want to introduce people to things that they might otherwise not do, and inspire them to explore more”

Our first workshops should launch in the summer. I am keen to share my passion for fly fishing and we work with a number of outdoor professionals, from a range of disciplines who would like to share their passions too. If you want to be one of the first to know when they are announced, you just need to join our community by signing up to our mailing list.

While we can’t run these events we have been donating 10% from every sale to The Outward Bound Trust, an amazing organisation that helps get young people outside.

Do you think we should make more products in the UK?

Yeah, for sure. As far as I am concerned, one of the only ways to make something responsibly is to make it locally. Often clothing and accessories will have travelled around the world a couple of times before they make it to the customer.

“We don’t mass produce so we can implement any changes quickly”

Working in the UK allows us to produce small batches creating lower material waste and it means we can constantly refine our products. We don’t mass produce so we can implement any changes quickly. This is particularly useful as I love to tinker. I am constantly trying to find ways to improve our products and find suppliers that are closer to home. It’s mad how hard it is to find some of the suppliers though.

The only item we’re keen to keep importing is our Austrian made, AustriAlpin Cobra buckles, which we use on our Gouthwaite Backpacks and our Angram Messenger – they are the best buckles out there. But they don’t have to be delivered by air, so we are still on for our zero air mile long-term goal.

Our ultimate goal is to produce products that have zero air miles by 2022.

What’s the vision for Bear moving forward?

We are excited to start running our events and meet and inspire the Bear community. The wonderful thing about this journey so far is the amazing people we have met, and through that the incredible opportunities that have surfaced to make a positive change.

Recently we have spent time designing new products which will be dropping throughout the year. Including a limited edition collection, which I am really excited to share.

“That’s the dream”

We’re passionate about continuing the promotion of the wellbeing benefits of getting outdoors and exploring some of the more scientific stuff behind that. It is at the core of our plans moving forward. There are also some events in the pipeline with a major health organisation.

One day we would love to have a larger HQ, an in-house manufacturing unit, a creative outdoor hub and a team of awesome people working in it. That’s the dream.


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