Since a year now I have interviewed quite a bunch of people in the sport industry (I happen to write on other ‘pages’ besides managing this blog) and it is nice to also move on with entrepreneurs and executives in the same field. So you get a broader and more accurate understanding of how do things works. I am learning a lot as I dig into this world too which is what writing and ‘running’ a blog are all about I guess. And it is nice (and actually no wonder) that it happens when I have been back to some more ambitious although smoother sport routine ‘racing’ official half marathons as often as I can. Boulogne Billancourt’s Semi Marathon and Semi Marathon de Paris so far but I hope to join forces for more in the upcomings months. The thing is that the more I am personnaly involved in sport the more knowledgeable I want to be when it comes to fabrics and design of sport apparels. I have the privilege of testing some great running shoes and sport tracksuits and the truth is that it is not only the shape that enables you to feel confortable and more capable. The fabric is at the core of the design of any great apparel. I have long been a fan of wool, the kind of person looking around for the Woolmark label on clothes. And generally speaking I love wool, ‘laine sèche’ as we’d say in french. And Merino being one of my favorite, something that I love to feel on my skin, totally allergic to the common sayings that wool is scratchy. Not at all according to my own exeperience ! So when I heard about an entrepreneur whose idea adresses sport needs with Merino wool I bumped off my chair and felt I must have a chat with him. I give you Jeremy Moon, founder of Icebreaker.
Business Madame : What is your background Jeremy ? What is it that led to the creation of Icebreaker?
Jeremy Moon : I created Icebreaker after a discovery that changed my life. I met a merino wool farmer who gave me a t-shirt out of merino wool, and I was so shocked at how beautiful it felt against my body and how great it made me feel when I was running and mountain biking, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even wore it to sleep, and it was the first thing that I put on when I woke up. I thought, if I can get other people to experience this, I’m onto something. I was only 24, so my background before that was pretty limited. I did entrepreneurial things as a kid, for example importing computer discs and trading motorbikes, but the only job I had had was designing research for a big research company, which was a reflection of my passion around what I studied – consumer behaviour and cultural anthropology. I had always been interested in the products people bring into their life and how it reflects their self-identity or their aspirations for themselves. I try and make Icebreaker something that reflects people’s values around authentic products that are natural and sustainable and keep people healthy.
BM : People (let’s say beyond the man in the street) tend not to think about innovation when it comes to fabrics unless it is high tech non-natural concept.
JM : Yes, this was our big opportunity, applying innovation to a very old fibre – merino wool comes from the merino sheep that lives high in the mountains of New Zealand and creates a superfine fibre, much more than regular wools which is why it is so soft, and it is also incredibly strong. The challenge for us was to create highly technical performance fabrics out of this luxurious ancient material. That’s why Icebreaker became a world first – applying new thinking to an old concept.
“We just turned 20 this year, and I feel like it’s the same as being an adult – when I turned 20, my whole life was in front of me and I just wanted to be true to myself and find my potential. “Jeremy Moon
BM : How does Icebreaker gets is share of voice in this global conversation ? How have you been welcomed by the sport apparel industry?
JM : It comes from the fact that we have always set our own path. Most of the other outdoor companies use synthetics which are all made from plastic. It always seems so ironic to me wearing plastic when you are in nature, when the whole purpose of being in nature is to get away from the city and all it represented. I wanted to offer a natural alternative in this age of plastic synthetics and that’s the new category that Icebreaker created. Before the merino wool layering system that I launched in 1995, merino wool was unheard of in the outdoor industry. Since then, our awareness has mainly been fuelled by passionate users – we sell in 50 countries around the world and have millions of customers. The real meaning of Icebreaker is new relationships between people and the environment, and the type of people that adopt new products like us are the type of people that share it with their friends – that’s how we have grown.
BM : Your approach is very much disruptive and at the same when we think it over it is like ‘OMG, this is so simple and smart, how come nobody tried to do it before ?’
JM : Because it was such a crazy idea, using a natural fibre that was previously only used for $3,000 Italian suits, to make outdoor products that people sweated in. I mean, if you thought of it from that point of view, it was just a bad idea. But I didn’t, I thought of it from the point of view of how amazing this fibre feels against the skin and the incredible natural performance qualities it has. Icebreaker merino doesn’t hold odour, breathes naturally, keeps your body dry, regulates your temperate, is super lightweight, lasts for years, and is built from a natural fibre. So, yeah it is a miracle fibre – that is totally fresh thinking, but it was this accident when I first met the farmer that triggered it.
BM : How is your enterprise perceived locally and how this differs from the perception abroad ?
JM : In New Zealand, we are seen as probably singularly the brand that best reflects the New Zealand spirit: adventurous, connected to nature, innovative, and outward thinking. Internationally, I’m not sure how many people know that we are from New Zealand, but we do have the majority of our team spread across Europe and North America, and over 80% of our business is in the Northern Hemisphere. We are very much a global brand, from a very special part of the world, New Zealand.
BM : The NZ brand is part of your positioning or so does it look. How much of a strong asset is it? Of course I am thinking about Team New Zealand in the sailing business.
JM : New Zealand is historically famous for three things: adventure, nature and sheep. Icebreaker brought those three things together, and the fact that the America’s Cup was won by New Zealand, and Lord of the Rings came from the same place where Icebreaker was born, all helped hugely. New Zealand deserves its reputation as an unspoilt, friendly part of the world with outstanding natural beauty, so building an outdoor brand from here has always felt very intuitive to me.
“… it was such a crazy idea, using a natural fibre that was previously only used for $3,000 Italian suits, to make outdoor products that people sweated in.” Jeremy Moon
BM : Icebreaker addresses leisure and sports ‘aficionados’ but might it appeal and hence develop to further segments ? Like every day wears …
JM : We have a really big collection now which does span what you do during a sport, and what you can do before and after a sport, but we won’t get into regular lifestyle apparel product because then we will lose the purpose of why we exist, which is to connect people to nature wearing a natural product.
BM : … so what are your future plan for the brand ? What can we expect from Icebreaker?
JM : We just turned 20 this year, and I feel like it’s the same as being an adult – when I turned 20, my whole life was in front of me and I just wanted to be true to myself and find my potential. That’s what we are doing at Icebreaker – I want to do a better job, I want us to be more innovated, I want us to be more focused around our customers, and I want us to be more competitive against the big plastic synthetic companies that are trying to close us down because they feel threatened by the big irony around the outdoor industry that we have revealed – how crazy it is to wear plastic against your skin when you are in nature. Anyway, it is great fun evolving Icebreaker to the next level, and I have the best team in the world. Together, we are all Icebreakers.