Tag Archives: Icebreaker

Sausage + Sizzle (the Icebreaker way)


Let’s start at the beginning…

The plan was simple: let’s be what the others weren’t. They were synthetic; we were natural. They were about sweaty men; we were gender inclusive… They were about hard adventure; we were about kinship with nature. They were about function only; we were about design and creativity. Exploring for us wasn’t the highest peak, but an exploration of something much bigger – nature itself.

These words from CEO, Jeremy Moon, brilliantly capture the essence of Icebreaker – the New Zealand outdoor clothing brand, whose nature-inspired, pure merino wool outdoor clothing system is another fabulous example of brand- and sustainability-driven business strategy.

My blossoming love affair with the brand only intensified last weekend as I popped into Snow+Rock to buy my four-year-old daughter a new set of thermals. For me, it was an encounter that added yet another layer (no pun intended) to their brilliance – a perfect combination of sausage and sizzle…

First the sausage…

Emotional ‘sizzle’ is for nought without product ‘sausage’, and product performance is where the Icebreaker system really scores, thanks to taking its cue from Mother Nature.

The merino wool fibre, it turns out, is a miraculous thing – not only providing outstanding insulation, but also incredible softness and breathability. And because of its natural antimicrobial properties, it doesn’t stink either, even after a sweaty run.

By all accounts there are folks who’ve been able to go for months without having to wash their Icebreaker, so brilliantly does it work (not something you can say about the synthetic competition); and, when you do eventually wash it, you can do so on a perfectly ordinary washing cycle (no need for special detergents to get the whiff out).

Feels better. Warms better. Breathes better. Smells better. That’s a clear victory for natural merino wool on product performance, and what was really great to see at the weekend was how the whole Icebreaker value proposition was reflected in the packaging of Lottie’s new gear as well…

Compact and 100% recyclable

Firstly, you’re immediately struck by just how compact it is, and the fact that the inner tray and outer sleeve are both made out of nothing but 100% recyclable cardboard. Look a bit closer, though, and you realise they’ve done something else really clever…

'The Pack with the Hole'

Notice the hole on the front of the outer sleeve (one that on other packages might have been covered by a bit of clear plastic)? That’s genius because it immediately allows you to touch the product inside. ‘Wow, that’s soft!’ you say, and all those messages about superior product performance encircling the cut-out are given an extra kinaesthetic kick.

…then the sizzle…

There’s no shortage of emotional sizzle either, with some wonderfully irreverent copywriting on the back of the box (a bit reminiscent of the kind of copy that appears on Innocent’s smoothie cartons):

The New Zealand merino sheep’s amazing all-weather coat lets him roam the rugged Southern Alps in snow, rain, sun and wind. Now you can wear the same outdoor clothing system – minus the horns, hooves and dags (that’s New Zealanders’ word for sheep poo!). Your Icebreaker doesn’t itch, feels light against your skin, looks great and locks in warmth – and it’s good for the environment. Your Icebreaker rocks!

Accompanied by mini-testimonials (including from 8-year-old, Alex, who says that, if his mum wants to wash his Icrebreaker, she basically has to steal it from his room under cover of darkness!), this helps to create sense of fun, playfulness and love for the brand that amplifies, still further, the contrast between the ‘soft’ Icebreaker and its ‘hard’ competitors.

There’s another lovely little touch, too, with the finger puppets stamped into the cardboard of the inner tray (hours of fun, no doubt, for the younger wearer.)

The piece-de-resistance here, though, is undoubtedly Icebreaker’s pun-tastic invention of the ‘Baacode’ – a unique number on the clothing label that, if you enter it on their website, actually traces the sheep stations from which the fibres that make up your garment were sourced. Complete with extensive bios of the farmers concerned, it’s a great way for Icebreaker to illustrate its commitment, not only to its suppliers, but also to full product transparency.

Tracing your garment

Where the fibres came from

Personal stories from the sheep stations

In conclusion…

Ultimately, I guess, this is all a rather long-winded and effusive way to express my admiration for a not inconsiderable amount of integrative thinking; also, though, to illustrate an important point from a previous post…

Actions taken in the name of sustainability are liable to be worthless – indeed can be positively harmful to a company’s brand and the bottom line – if the underlying principles aren’t demonstrably applied to day-to-day decision-making (i.e. sustainability ain’t about PR; it’s about culture!)… The authenticity of your commitment stems from the materiality of your actions – i.e. beyond the thin veneer of charitable giving, cause-related marketing etc., that commitment should be self-evident in the very products and services you provide.

In case you were wondering what that might look like in real life, I reckon the above offers a pretty decent example.

Could Jeremy Moon be the new Ray Anderson?

Blog posts from me, it would appear, are like London buses – none for ages and then two come along at once!

Having mentioned the utterly brilliant outdoor clothing company, Icebreaker, in a couple of posts – and figuring there are probably still a lot of folks out there who know little or nothing about them – I thought it might be worth sharing this TV interview with company founder, Jeremy Moon.

Icebreaker, for me, is rapidly becoming the new Interface – another living, breathing example of how companies can do extraordinarily well by putting sustainability at the heart of business.

Witness the extent to which Icebreaker has managed to completely buck the downward trend in retail – a company that started in a guy’s bedroom 15 years ago in New Zealand now turning over $120 million, with a presence in over 3,000 outlets in 37 countries, and set to re-double in size over the next few years.

Witness, too, Jeremy’s emphasis on a singular clarity of purpose and his exquisitely simple treatise on the powerful combination of differentiation and meaning that his biomimetic, merino-wool product delivers – one that commands a premium price not on the basis of its sustainable credentials alone, but because those credentials actually translate into a superior product that outperforms its less sustainable, synthetic alternatives (rather like Puma’s clever little bag I posted about a few months back).

And what wonderfully modest, natural and authentic delivery too!

All-in-all a thoroughly impressive and switched-on bloke…

10 books by the spring?

Given that I haven’t blogged in over two months now (busy, busy, busy!), it’s probably ambitious in the extreme to set such a target for the 55-minute guide series that Kevin Keohane and I started up a couple of years ago.

Nevertheless, with five books already in the bag (attracting nothing but four- and five-star reviews on Amazon too, btw), another three in the latter stages of development, plus ideas for at least another two, maybe it’s not a total pipe-dream?

To these hopefully soon-to-be-completed guides – including the 55-minute-guide to corporate branding (Dave Allen), user-centred design (William Hudson) and cross-cultural communication (Indy Neogy) – it’s also probably about time to add second editions to the books that started it all off, namely The Talent Journey and Live Long and Prosper.

For my part, I just started thinking this morning about my opening gambit for an updated book and figured I might as well share it here. Have a butcher’s and let me know what you think…


Preface to 2nd Edition

So, what’s changed since the first edition of this book was published two years ago?

The short answer, somewhat paradoxically, is both everything and nothing.

Slightly depressingly, what hasn’t changed is the vast majority of companies’ understanding of what it really means to be sustainable.

The ones who get the concepts and arguments laid out in this book have got it for a long time already. These include not only more recent start-ups, like the brilliant Icebreaker in New Zealand, for whom sustainability is the very essence of their business; they also comprise long-established corporations like Interface in the US and Marks & Spencer in the UK, who have recognised the changing frame conditions within which we’re now operating and that their long-term prosperity depends on nothing less than the redesign of core business strategy and operations.

Meanwhile, in general, those who didn’t get it before recession struck still don’t get it now. Indeed, if anything, all recession has done is to entrench short-term thinking.

And yet…

Everywhere I look, momentum is growing. Sustainability is no longer the exclusive realm of hair-shirted environmentalists and pie-in-the-sky idealists.

The need for business to reconnect strategy to a sense of social progress – that creating shared value is perhaps the competitive advantage of the 21st century – is rapidly gaining currency, even in the hallowed corridors of Harvard Business School and other temples of traditional, left-brained management thinking.

When strategy guru, Michel Porter, starts proselytising about a more constructive form of capitalism, you know it’s time to pull on your track shoes. The kind of stuff that people like Paul Hawken, Ray Anderson and Jonathon Porritt have been talking and writing about for ages has finally hit the mainstream!

And for every poster-child of old-world CSR to have come an almighty cropper in recent times (not least BP, whose ‘Beyond Petroleum’ greenwash has come back to bite them royally on the bum in the wake of the disaster in the Mexican Gulf), there’s a story of another major corporation embracing new-world sustainability.

Consider the launch last year of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, for example, explicitly framed by CEO, Paul Polman, “not as a project to celebrate, but a new business model to implement,” based on the fundamental understanding that materially addressing sustainability not only offers opportunities to save costs, but is also a critical engine of innovation and brand equity.

In short, then, the case for building sustainable brands – and for a book that gives sympaticos and sceptics alike a quick and easy way of getting to grips with the big idea and how to action it – has never been stronger.

Don’t worry. While slightly expanded, with additional thoughts and visuals culled from my blog and my practical experiences of consulting with clients, I promise you’ll still be able to read this book from cover to cover in under an hour.

I hope you enjoy it.

Live long and prosper!