Merino brand plan global from start

Hamish Acland, founder of Wanaka-based lifestyle brand Mons Royale. Photo: Supplied
Hamish Acland, founder of Wanaka-based lifestyle brand Mons Royale. Photo: Supplied
The International Wool Textile Organisation held its Wool Round Table in Queenstown recently, 19 years since its last event in New Zealand. Since 1930, IWTO has represented the collective interests of the global wool trade. Business and rural editor Sally Rae attended one of the days.

Hamish Acland has always seen things a little differently.

That came about from the environment he grew up in — an entrepreneurial Canterbury farming family — and has been a trait that he has followed. That was particularly evident with the founding of merino clothing brand Mons Royale.

Ten years on, and Mons Royale now has 700 retail stockists globally, offices in Innsbruck, Vancouver and Wanaka and 50 staff. It has recently opened its first pop-up retail store in Rees St, Queenstown.

Outlining the origins of the business, Mr Acland spoke of living the "perfect life" for market research as he skipped the farming lifestyle and followed his passion.

He grew up on Mount Somers Station, where his parents, the late Mark and Jo, moved to in 1983 when he was about 3.

The family was undoubtedly entrepreneurial — his father and uncle John imported flexible cattle ear tags to New Zealand, later moving into builder’s aprons and then gloves under the brand Lynn River.

Mark Acland also got into live deer capture with Sir Tim Wallis and helped pioneer New Zealand’s farmed deer industry, along with various other entrepreneurial pursuits.

Hamish grew up within that environment, of how to see things differently, identifying opportunities and how to add value.

Interestingly, given his current position, his grandfather Sir Jack Acland, who farmed Mt Peel Station, was heavily involved in the wool industry, serving as chairman of the New Zealand Wool Board and vice-president of the International Wool Secretariat.

While he enjoyed farming — "I say to my staff often that we will do farmers’ hours, start early and work late" — his passion had always been skiing and active and adventure sport and he had managed to continue that while intertwining entrepreneurship and business.

A former professional freeride skier, Mr Acland travelled the world, spending 10 years living out of a ski bag and having "a very good time". He was ranked fifth on the global freeride world tour (FWT) in 2005.

He acknowledged he was probably the only professional skier who travelled with a notebook as he pondered what he would do when it came to the end of his skiing career.

He had several choices; he had built up an "amazing network" and wanted to stay connected to his passion. If he was to launch a brand, he deliberated on what it would be.

He did due diligence for every category in the action and adventure space and found there were multiple brands competing in the outerwear category.

At that time, in 2007, there was a gap in the market for multifunctional layering; synthetic offerings were bright, colourful and youthful but not functional, and the merino was functional but had no style. For him, the merino did not represent where he came from — the culture and the energy of the mountains.

So he looked at creating a technical merino base layer that had style and energy that connected to that culture he was part of. Having been joined by his wife, Hannah, they launched Mons Royale in 2009.

It came out as a challenger rand with bold colours, big graphics and a relaxed fit, all the things Mr Acland was told a base layer should not be. The aim was not to take anything away from the likes of Icebreaker but to create a new category, he said.

Mons Royale was designed to be global from year one; the couple’s first trip to ISPO — the world’s largest sports trade fair — in that first year, was a "big failure" but they returned home and set about "getting it right".

Key to targeting some of the world’s best athletes was contacts made through his ski career. Another key part of sales was that the outdoor and snow industry was extremely male-dominated.

More than 50% of its sales were to women, half its staff were women and they made clothing that women wanted to wear — a lot of brands missed that, he believed.

They also connected with their fans year-round and, in ski towns, dirt was the "new snow" with the rise of mountain-biking, which had become another target market.

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