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Blast from the Past #3 – Karrimor

Someone, somewhere needs to research then write an account of the birth of British gear. Bruce Johnson has done such a sterling job on the stateside scene and its lineage, via his History of Gear site but there’s an under-rated history here in the UK too.

In the absence of someone taking up that baton, we’ll continue to share bits and bobs from our own little archive, focusing on brands that carved out their rightful place at the top table of UK outdoor brands.

Karrimor is a name most will recognise. Though today it’s owned by the giant that is Sports Direct, or Frasers Group as it seems to now be known, its heyday coincided with the golden age of gear in the UK, a 30 year period between 1960 and 1990.

Karrimor began making bags as far back as 1946, when a bicycle shop owner called Charles Parsons and his wife Mary set up shop in a small corner of Lancashire. Their focus started on pannier bags for cyclists and remained that way for a decade. By around 1958 it really began to make its name as a force in outdoor gear, manufacturing backpacks.

Through experimentation came expansion, particularly during the 1960s and at one time, 80% of the UK’s backpacks were made by Karrimor from their Lancashire base. Chris Bonington’s team chose Karrimor for their 1975 ascent of Everest.

Like a lot of UK manufacturing, a decline came when factories in the Far East appeared on the scene and despite its success, the brand spent a couple of unsettled decades before finally coming into possession of Mike Ashley’s group of sportswear, fashion and outdoor companies.

Always outdoor at its core, Karrimor continues to make gear for those who like getting out and up mountains, albeit with a different business model than before. As ever, fashion follows function and in the shape of Karrimor there are a few examples of clothing and equipment that do their job and look great at the same time.

I had pizza for tea.

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