For the outdoorsy among us, the cold of winter is an opportunity to experience the magnificence of nature in extreme. But the human body can only withstand so much on its own. That’s when we turn to Icebreaker, the Auckland, New Zealand-based company that makes merino clothing for the outdoors, technical sports and lifestyle for men, women and children. To find out more about the sought-after brand, we caught up with Mark Koppes, Vice President of Product.
What is the inspiration behind Icebreaker clothing? And how does the design process work?
Design starts long before you begin to draw. We believe a product works really well when it’s an expression of the brand’s intent. From the beginning, Icebreaker has focused on creating an ethical supply chain, practicing sustainability, utilizing natural fibers and having environmental awareness. We are inspired by nature, so we want to make products that are simple, efficient and beautiful. We spend quite a bit of a time tracking trends—actually, we jokingly call them movements, since trends happen fast and the outdoor industry doesn’t. Our creative director and design team conceive the pieces, we review the prototypes and make adjustments to fit and design, and continue to test prototypes and make adjustments until we get it right. For our fall season, including all of our layers, jackets, socks, hats, gloves and more, we create as many as 1,000 style colors.
What can people expect when they put on an Icebreaker item?
When you buy a premium product like Icebreaker, you trust that everything is well thought out. We sweat the details to make sure the panels are in the right place, the fit is correct and the garment works as planned. Technology is important to us, but we use it to solve problems, whether it’s odor, moisture retention, wear-and-tear, or bulk. People appreciate that Icebreaker products are straightforward and not too fussy. For example, we spend a lot of time thinking about how base layers work against your body. Nothing’s more annoying than being on a great ski trip where you’re constantly uncomfortable because the seams of your layers are on top of each other and rubbing against your skin. We try to anticipate that by rolling back the shoulder seam slightly, so that it doesn’t overlap with the mid-layer shoulder seam.
We also want to make sure the clothing helps regulate body temperature. Winter Zone, part of the BodyfitZONE line, maps out your body using three different weights of fabric to keep you as comfortable as possible. There are heavier-weight fabrics around places where you want to retain heat, like your kidneys; and lighter, heat-dumping fabrics in places like under the arms. We also put a lot of thought into our MerinoLOFT outerwear. Merino wool serves as the insulation, which is very efficient, water-resistant and easily packable. It’s like a low-profile version of a down jacket.
People—especially those who appreciate nature—care about sustainability. Is merino wool Earth friendly?
Absolutely, and this is one of the things that inspired Jeremy Moon to create Icebreaker. There’s a breed of merino sheep that live on the south island of New Zealand. Once a year, they do a big muster at the shearing shed and collect all of the fiber, and the sheep go back into the hills. Year after year, the same sheep provide the wool. They’re all free-range, have an amazing amount of space and graze in their natural environment. The ranchers take wonderful care of the animals and the process is highly sustainable. The quality of the wool is the product of the quality of the environment they’re raised in. And the very warm summers and very cold winters in New Zealand are the reason merino wool is so prized.
What are your cant-live-without Icebreaker items?
I love our underwear, which I know is not an intuitive place to wear wool. But merino is unbelievably comfortable and practically disappears. I also wear our tech tees almost every day. They keep you a little warm, but don’t overheat in the summer, they don’t stink, plus they’re great for travel because they rinse dry. If I’m on a trip, I have the mid-weight sweatshirt. It functions as a lightweight sweater or a warm mid-layer when you need it. I travel all over the world, but I never bring more than a small carry-on because of the versatility and problem-solving that goes into Icebreaker. We refer to it on the design-side as a system: When you wear the underwear, a base-layer and a mid-layer together it’s like you’ve put on one thing as the layering system works together to create the perfect micro-climate for your body, whatever you’re doing.
Icebreaker clothing can be found in more than 5,000 stores in 50 countries and online at icebreaker.com.
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!