photos by Camilla Rutherford
When former pro freeskier Hamish Acland started Mons Royale six years ago in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand, he didn't set out to be the next big Kiwi Merino wool brand.
"Everything was made to be global," Aclan said during at interview Thursday at Crankworx Rotorua. "The idea wasn't to be a New Zealand brand. When we started, which was 2009, there were a lot of wool brands in outdoor. It wasn't in action sports; there were zero. The goal has always been to be the most sought-after technical brand in action sports, snow and bike."
That global approach worked. By the end of the first year in business, Mons Royale was already selling its wool base layers and technical T's in several European countries, and few people actually knew that the brand was born in New Zealand. The basic, brightly colored base layers, hoodies and crew T's had transcended their Kiwi roots and resonated with a global audience.
In Acland's continued quest to build an international brand, he is now looking to expand into North America, and has been doing so slowly and organically. Mons Royale ski apparel is carried by a dozen retailers in Colorado mountain towns, and Acland anticipates opening a subsidiary in the states in the next year or so. To further expose the brand to an international audience, Acland signed on for a significant presence here at Crankworx Rotorua. Its banners covered the Dual Speed and Style course, of which it was a title sponsor as part of a last-minute deal with event organizers. He also sponsors several Kiwi riders who compete internationally, like Casey Brown, Conor Macfarlane, Rosara Joseph and Mike Hopkins. Acland has recently doubled his New Zealand-based staff from six to 12 to keep up with anticipated growth.
The first few pieces from Mons Royale's 2015 bike line will show up in the U.S. this summer and the full 2015 line, will be available next spring. There are currently about 30 pieces in the line–15 each for men and women–all made of high-quality Merino wool and designed sensibly with clean colors and lines, so you can spend the day riding in a top, then go "straight to the pub and not look like you're trying to climb Everest," Aclan says.
"We wanted to be the first thing somebody picks to go on a trip because they're going to be able to wear it so often," he added. "We have what's called the pub test, would you wear it to a pub? We work off a sort of a bar-o-meter."
The pieces are lightweight and incorporate a small amount of Lycra to maintain stretch properties.
Aclan, who grew up on a farm near Mt. Hutt ski field outside Christchurch, moved south to Lake Wanaka after high school to ski bum in bigger mountains and eventually became a Volkl-sponsored freeskier. A decade later, as his career was winding down, he started thinking about his next move. Through his travels as a competitor, and as the organizer of the Freeski Open in New Zealand, as well as his experience helping develop up-and-coming skiers, Acland had a global mindset to match his entrepreneurial spirit. He had also noticed a gap in technical apparel that also had street style.
"If I had a brand and [athletes) could work with me, but it didn't conflict with their sponsors then maybe that could be the kickback. I think I had all that swirling around in my brain and I geeked out a little bit. I loved Merino wool, loved how it worked."
He started Mons Royale with seed money from an inheritance and built the brand slowly. It was risky, the minimum orders were high and the success of product still unknown, but he now has 400 retailers globally. New Zealand is still its biggest market, followed by Scandinavia.
Acland sees a lot of room for Mons Royale to grow in the U.S. and in the mountain bike category in general. He will have some competition, as wool becomes trendier by the day. Larger brands like Ibex and Icebreaker have dabbled in the cycling category over the years, but never deeply, and Kitsbow, Giro and Acre are all making wool mountain-bike T's and jerseys.
To Acland, that just validates Mons Royale's mission.
"For me, it just makes sense. For every person who wants to love their sport and wear it on their sleeve–wear it at another occasion–it just adds value. It may be more expensive, it may be twice the price, but you're getting more value because you can wear it on and off the mountain."
To see Mons-Royale's full line, go to monsroyale.com.