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Nikwax - 40 Years of Waterproofing

Ruby celebrations for waterproofing’s finest 

Forty years ago, we were all celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, driving around in Ford’s latest creation, the Fiesta, and watching Star Wars in the cinema. But in his North London flat, Nick Brown was busy cooking up what would become one of the outdoor industry’s most trusted brands – Nikwax.


Back in 1977, Nick was just 22 years old and an avid hiker who had grown up trekking the Peaks with his father and exploring the Scottish highlands on foot. But there was always something bugging him – his feet. 

After years of living with clammy, rain soaked boots that would quickly lose their rigidity after just a few applications of waterproofing, he decided he needed to create his own treatment system. And with one trip to a local hardware store, together with a discarded tea urn, a Primus stove and a jug, he formulated a recipe termed Nick’s wax – or Nikwax! 

And it didn’t take long for success to arrive. After driving around Britain in a Morris 1000 van selling his new product to the outdoor trade, he bought an Inter Rail card and headed off to Europe. The quick rise in commercial interest led to him buying a workshop in Clerkenwell to enable him to fulfil orders in eight countries. And so it began. 

The secret to Nick’s success was creating an effective waterproofing treatment that not only worked against the elements, but also protected the life of the leather boot by ensuring they didn’t soften, or lose their supportive structure. In fact, Nikwax worked so well it set a new standard for protective aftercare products in the industry and gave itself a competitive advantage.

But there were always improvements to be made and Nick had another challenge to focus on. He wanted to ensure his waterproofing products protected not just the consumer, but also the environment. And in 1983 he turned his back on harmful, flammable solvents and discovered a way to produce Nikwax products using water.

Not only would this new manufacturing regime help to avoid emitting harmful chemicals into the atmosphere but; at the same time, it meant his products could be used in the home, in a washing machine. This ensured they were not only incredibly safe to use but also incredibly easy. Even now, Nikwax remains the first and only outdoor company to win the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development. 

At the same time, the range of products offered by Nikwax grew at a rapid rate as Nick realised a need not only for proofing shoes, but all kinds of apparel, including ropes, tents, clothes, shoes and goggles. Nick wanted to keep walkers and adventurers comfortable all over, not just in their shoes. Nikwax treatments work by coating the fibres. They bond to anything that is not water-repellent, but leave the spaces between fibres open and breathable. That means they’re very effective with lots of different fabrics including cotton, suede, nubuck and wool. 

New this summer Nikwax launched a Tent & Gear SolarWash which protects against the wearing effects of ultraviolet light – which, together with dirt, is the most significant source of damage for a tent. 

And now Nikwax has developed its own hydrophobic down. A safe, high performance, fluorocarbon free water resistant down fill for insulating clothing and gear that’s used by big brands like Rab in their sleeping bags. 

Nick’s attention to development means Nikwax’s market has grown from eight countries to 50 in a relatively short space of time. The company is still owned by Nick (although he has since moved out of his North London flat). And Nikwax remains the only significant supplier of waterproofing aftercare to have  avoided the use of aerosols or PFCs, and the first and only outdoor company to have carbon-balanced their operations for 40 years. 

Nikwax is now the global leader in environmentally safe aftercare and waterproofing solutions which extend the life and performance of technical footwear, clothing and equipment. It’s a philosophy Nick and his team are very proud to have built up over the last forty years.  


 

 

 

 

This piece has been provided by Nikwax, the global leader in safe, high performance waterproofing, cleaning and conditioning for outdoor gear.