Outdoor entrepreneur sells Nikwax and Páramo brands to employee ownership trusts to safeguard their ‘guiding principles’ 

The EOA welcomes the transition of Nikwax and Páramo to employee ownership, with founder and outdoor entrepreneur Nick Brown making the move to safeguard “the guiding principles” of the two brands. 

Back in 1977, Nick Brown was living in London and had just finished university; he was both unemployed and in love with the outdoors – specifically long-distance walking and backpacking.  

Nick also had a flair for chemistry and he utilised this talent to create his first product – Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather, which he supplied to the 1980 Royal Geographical Society Karakoram Expedition, and which went on to sell in more than 50 countries. 

Nikwax, a global leader in environmentally safe aftercare and waterproofing solutions that extend the life and performance of technical footwear, apparel and equipment, has grown to be an international company and has branches in Mainland Europe, North America and South America. 

The brand, which has a range of water-based products for waterproofing aftercare that are both free of solvents and persistent chemicals of concern, has been recognised for its innovation – having won multiple Queen’s Awards and Sunday Times Best Green Awards since it began. 

Meanwhile, 15 years after setting up Nikwax, Nick set up Páramo Directional Clothing with a vision to provide high performance outdoor garments that would last a lifetime. The goal was to create waterproof clothing designed to be renewed, repaired and recycled.  

Páramo set up a repair workshop 25 years ago which now services 4,000 garments a year. Optimum use of each garment is ensured through a trade-in and re-sale second-life system. When they are beyond repair and cleaning, old unwanted garments are sent to be recycled into new polyester, ensuring nothing goes to landfill as waste. 

Páramo, which Great Outdoor readers recently voted the Outdoor Clothing and Equipment Brand of the Year, is the clothing of choice for mountain rescue teams and expeditionary workforces, such as the British Antarctic Survey, and was the first outdoor company to join the Greenpeace Detox commitment in 2016, eliminating PFC treatments from its entire range. ​ 

Employee ownership ‘is our best shot at avoiding losing our soul’

Nick is now 67, and whilst he hasn’t hung up his boots, he has been preoccupied for more than a decade with how to achieve a smooth succession for both his brands.  

The legacy of both brands is one of trying to do business in a responsible way and taking the planet and people’s future into account.  

Four years ago, the idea of an employee ownership trust (EOT) was suggested by Nick’s HSBC Bank manager and that started a project that has now come to fruition, having been delayed by Covid-19. 

Nick is now passing control of both brands to his employees, on three continents, by selling his two businesses to their newly formed Employee Ownership Trusts with the aim of maintaining the continuity of values and staff, and future development. 

Nick said: “By passing on the businesses to the employees, now partners, I feel that I am not only looking after them, but also looking after the interests of our loyal customers. 

“Outdoor people have come to have high expectations of Nikwax, at many levels, and I would not want them to be disappointed.  

“Furthermore, Páramo users have huge affection for the brand and for their clothing, and I want this to continue. What we started 30 years ago, and was radical, is now the new goal for manufacturers the world over. 

“So many companies end up being aggressively taken over and broken up, and lose their soul. This is our best shot at avoiding that and continuing the guiding principles of both brands.” 

Making an environmental and social impact

Part of both deals, meanwhile, is a “watertight undertaking that 1% of yearly turnover will be forevermore dedicated to environmental and social projects”.  

A statement added: “The 1% for people and planet is about giving back. In doing this, we will show the world that ethical companies can succeed and make a difference. 

“Nikwax and Páramo will be here for many more years to come, which is why we want to do our best to protect the great outdoors for generations to come.  

“To ensure continuity, Nick and his family will be involved in choosing the social and environmental projects and organisations we support, giving us the chance to preserve our founding values into the future.” 

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