Global merino clothing brand Mons Royale, based in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand, are making super stylish technical clothing. I met up with Marketing Manager Richard Birkby when I was in Wanaka recently to find out the story behind Mons.
Founded by Hamish Acland, ex professional freeskier and one of the first Kiwi’s bringing freestyle tricks into big mountain freeskiing, Hamish competed on the World Tour, winning a number of events. Travelling a lot with skiing, Hamish was finding that after packing skis/boots, avi gear, outerwear etc., he was left with a limited amount of space to take anything else to wear.
The problem Hamish found was having the choice of wearing polypropylene and fleece, or merino gear under his outerwear. The polypropylene works very effectively, but stinks after you’ve worn them for two days. Not great when you’re travelling and don’t have a washing machine, and you’ve still nothing else to wear in the evening.
The merino gear worked better than the polypropylene, it doesn’t stink and it’s a lot more comfortable, but it wasn’t his style. It still looked like thermal underwear and the mid layers looked really technical. Not wanting to come off the mountain and go into a bar looking like you’ve just stepped out of Everest base camp, or like you’re wearing your dad’s thermal underwear, there was another alternative. The classic hoody and t-shirt of the snowboarder. It looked cool, but was a terrible piece of gear to wear on the mountain, especially if you’re having to hike to the start line of a freeride event and then wait around.
So Hamish decided that he was going to do something in merino, but do it his way with a street savvy aesthetic that you can wear equally well on or off the mountain, suiting the lifestyle of the itinerant snow athlete.
And so Mons Royale was born. In the first range just basic underwear and base layers, now after six winter seasons there are 160 individual skews in the range recently designed for winter 2016 and it’s stocked in over 400 stores world wide.
Mons are now taking the same attitude to summer and mountain biking as they’ve taken to winter, creating a stronger year round business.
In Wanaka you might go skiing in the morning and in the afternoon go bike riding, water skiing or rock climbing, a lot of people even para glide back to their car from Treble Cone. There’s this multi activity thing going on, so being able to extend the versatility of the garments has become the driving thought behind what Mons are doing in summer.
Making it match the lifestyle by creating a t-shirt that you can wear on your bike, to yoga, go climbing in or just as a t-shirt. Bringing more functionality to it in a way that’s wearable and more stylish. Then there are pieces in the range that are overtly fashion pieces, statement pieces and what the brand is all about. The hugely popular monsie and the mountain shirt which has almost become the Queenstown and Wanaka uniform. These things are growing the brand out of just being active wear.
“People are taking the feeling they get from wearing Mons on the mountain into their lifestyle and buying things they can wear to work like a jacket, or a t-shirt they can go riding in at lunch time and then still wear it back to work, which doesn’t necessarily look like bike gear” Richard tells me. For Mons to make an item it needs to pass the barometre. Can I wear it to the pub? If it doesn’t pass the barometre then they wouldn’t do it.
Mons are sold in many resort based stores in Europe who are getting more use out of their resort structure by building bike parks. Bike represents a huge opportunity if they can get it right according to Richard.
As major sponsor at Crankworx in Rotorua as a summer platform and the Freeride tour in winter, the brand is connecting with the worlds best in both mountain biking and skiing and getting the media attention that goes with it.
The company has doubled in size since December last year to 12 people. Growth over the last 18 months has enabled Hamish to employ others to help him vertically integrate the organisation and grow it, so he is now able to think about things like product development, growing the business and making European operations successful.
Hamish recently married his long time girlfriend and head of design, Hanna. “Hamish and Hanna form the nucleus of the organisation, you could say the idea is Hamish, the aesthetic is Hanna’s” says Richard. The rest of the company is made up of many “corporate refugees” of one kind or another who all try to ski/ride at least one day during the week in winter. Hamish is the heart of the organisation. The company is 100% owned by Aclands, his brother Ben is also a stake holder, head of sales and GM.
The design and sales office is in Wanaka and everything is contract manufactured in China. The wool is Australasian and all of the wool from next years range will be muelesing free, a practice only used in Australia. “It’s a big deal that the sheep are treated well. We’ve got ethical practices taking place in the factories and on the farms. So we can say that those farms are run in a way that we feel comfortable with. It comes at a premium and it’s a hard thing to come by when you’re a small company like us, but we’re pretty stoked on that.” And I think you’ll be pretty stoked on the Mons range. Check out the super stylish and technical gear on their website