Helen Twose 's Opinion

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Skier now chasing merino gold

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Sports injury opens the door to a new career that is taking off around the world

Hamish Acland's Mons Royale clothing brand is based close to the Kiwi ski action, in Wanaka.
Hamish Acland's Mons Royale clothing brand is based close to the Kiwi ski action, in Wanaka.

I like their summer games counterparts, New Zealand's Winter Olympics athletes have been pulling on black singlets before going out to compete.

The only difference is that the winter version of the Kiwi Olympic classic is made from fine merino wool.

Wanaka-based Mons Royale is the brand behind the woollen black singlet, part of a line-up it created as official Olympic woolly underwear supplier.

It's a perfect tie-up for Mons Royale founder Hamish Acland.

The former professional skier has close links with the 15-member team. New Zealand freeskier Jossi Wells is a fan and has been wearing Mons Royale kit since the company began in 2009 - about the time Wells captured global attention.

Gaining visibility quickly was crucial to the new brand's survival.

Acland says Mons Royale was able to dress the rising star in its clothing because it didn't clash with Wells' established endorsements.

The big players in the ski world weren't focussed on what was being worn under their ski jackets, goggles and boots.

"That's been a key reason why we've been able to grow quickly and gain a lot of fans."

For 34-year-old Acland, the Mons Royale brand came into being as his professional ski career was winding down.

He'd always jotted down business ideas, and after spending a year or so researching the worldwide market for merino clothing, he saw a gap for something that combined performance with style.

"I was a big fan of merino wool but I wouldn't wear it to the bar.

"I would probably wear a brand that was more reflective of me and probably my sponsors at the time."

Sidelined with an injury, he took the advice of his big bother, Ben, and threw himself into starting up the business.

"That injury made me completely focus on the business," he says. "I don't think I would have had the willpower to stick at the business like I did if I wasn't injured."

He also had the good fortune to partner - in life and business - with Hannah Aubrey, a Kiwi who had spent several years in New York working for brand and innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212.

"I had the ideas but not the execution," says Acland. "So I was really fortunate in meeting her and that became the team in the beginning."

The original plan was to manufacture in New Zealand, but local manufacturers' scepticism, and the realisation he was quickly getting out of his depth, resulted in Acland turning to a sourcing company that could manage production in China.

Although he kept the design simple, with a focus on good colours and graphics, there were problems with a quarter of the product received from China, says Acland.

Dye ran from the underwear fabric into the waistbands, but the sourcing company took the hit and dealt with the factory.

Mons Royale now has the capacity to deal direct with a Chinese manufacturer, supplying 400 stores around the world with a focus on Norway, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Canada.

"I guess when I wrote down that initial business plan and idea it's kind of like, what does an ex-pro skier do? What options do I have and how do I leverage the contacts and how do I make use of my ski career?"

The head of marketing for his sponsor, Volkl, put him in touch with a distributor in Switzerland, which gave him a market for the tail end of the stock in Mons Royale's first year.

"It was really good fortune but at the same time we had planned for it and had French and German translation on the packaging."

From there Acland has built up a network of retailers and distributors.

In Russia, where Acland has travelled to Sochi to support the New Zealand team, a retail chain with 90 stores has Mons Royale on the shelves.

With so much going on Acland says it's important to be patient and not get ahead of yourself.

"It's about that focus and sticking to your plan and obviously being able to change but not trying to do everything.

"We're probably at that point now, trying to do too much, but we'll rein that in once we get back to New Zealand."

- NZ Herald

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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