Not your grandmother’s wool
AVON – Jeremy Moon is at war with wool. Moon owns Icebreaker, a New Zealand based company that makes outdoor clothing from pure merino wool. It seems odd that a man who makes a living from wool would position it as his enemy, but the wool people commonly know has a reputation of wearing hot, itchy and heavy. Merino is not your grandmother’s wool – and Moon is set to convince the world of it.”Merino is fine, soft – it’s really what wool isn’t,” Moon said. “I was surprised at how good it felt on my skin. I was excited by the feeling.”Moon, wide-eyed and mussed hair, was in town last week for an Icebreaker promotional party at Loaded Joe’s. He’s rounding the globe in support of his 12-year-old business, which started from a chance meeting with a merino sheep farmer. Brian Brakenridge was a frustrated sheep farmer. The beautiful merino fibers he sheered off each harvest were bought and blended into other wools, which meant no one was experiencing the luxury of 100 percent merino.To prove a point about the possibilities of his bounty, Brakenridge found a manufacturer to produce men’s thermal underwear from pure merino. The white skivvies landed in Moon’s arms, igniting a business idea much larger than men’s underwear.
Moon saw the future of outdoor clothing in merino, but not just any future. In an outdoor-retail world flooded with clothing produced from oil-based, synthetic materials (aka the polypropylene in your closet that stores odor like a high school gymnasium), Moon saw a a biodegradable, sustainable alternative to what was dominating the market. So he mortgaged his house, bought the idea from Brakenridge and invested $100,000 of the half million to designing his business and building brand.”It was all about changing people’s minds,” Moon said. It wasn’t a question of whether the clothing would work to warm, dry or cool mountain lovers during their varying activities. Moon needn’t look farther than the sheep farm for that answer.”If it didn’t work, the animal would die,” Moon said, pointing out that at 6-7,000 feet, the merino sheep experience both very warm and very cold weather conditions. “I’m lifting an idea from nature and transforming it into an idea that works for humans.”Icebreaker sells a skin layer, mid layer, outer layer and accessories made from pure merino. All layer types have a different fiber recipe with the purpose of working together as a system. Icebreaker is more fashion forward than most outdoor clothing companies, featuring slim-cut fit and nature-inspired patterns, and Moon attributes that to his mostly women design team. Moon wants people to be able wear Icebreaker from the mountains to the office to travels abroad.The tough part was convincing retailers, Moon said, and overcoming people’s perception of the “prickly wool.” Still, Moon’s marketing strategy remained quite simple: the customer test drive.”It’s all about buying the first piece,” Moon said.The first big push for Icebreaker arrived when Sir Peter Blake wore Icebreaker for 43 days and 43 nights while sailing nonstop around the world, eventually breaking the circumnavigating record. He endorsed the clothing and when finally meeting Moon said, “So you’re the man behind my underwear not smelling.”
Icebreaker is about much more than the product. For Moon, it’s about the green principles he applies to every aspect of the business, proving one can earn money and be kind to the earth. “It’s about building an incredibly clean supply chain,” Moon said.The system starts with the sheep growers. Moon pays them a fixed premium for their wool, so even if they have a bad year, the farmers receive the same amount, which allows for a more stable personal life. Moon ensures the farmers are using sustainable land practices, like not overstocking the ranch which can lead to land erosion, as well as monitoring animal treatment.His has complete visibility over his factories in China as well, which is a mini United Nations, as he’s hired French, German, Japanese and Swiss companies to contribute to the manufacturing. Moon’s factories meet the ISO 14001 international standard for environmental management. What this means is chemicals are not released into the people or environment. During the dying process, for example, waste water is purified and turned into drinking water.”All the environmental damage is in making the fabric,” Moon said. “And a lot of outdoor clothing companies like to wash their hands of that responsibility.”Icebreaker’s sustainable practices are good for the earth and business, which Moon hopes continues for a 100 years. Moon points out another benefactor – the growing number of soft adventurers who live in cities, dreaming of mountain adventure while working the 9-5 grind.”There is a whole culture of people who feel a bit disconnected with nature,” Moon said. “Icebreaker connects them with nature physically through the product and emotionally through our ideas.”
The following local stores carry Icebreaker clothing:Bag ‘n’ Pack in Avon, Vail VillagePtarmigan in EdwardsDouble Diamond in LionsheadEmata in Vail VillageValbruna in Vail VillageChristy Sports in VailEveryday Outfitters in EagleArts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado, CO