Icebreaker teaches about merino wool’s finer points | ParkRecord.com
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Icebreaker teaches about merino wool’s finer points

Kristina Eastham, Of the Record Staff

Icebreaker is a ‘sticky’ brand.

That’s because they’re sure that once you try it, you will be stuck on it.

What makes brands ‘sticky’ is that they do not advertise. Instead these brands rely on the integrity and quality of the product to ensure that their popularity spreads by word of mouth.

Icebreaker, a natural clothing line made from merino wool, relies on alternative methods to get its product out into the community. On Tuesday, they invited Park City distributors and their employees and customers to Jean-Louis Restaurant and Bar to give the brand a boost, for the fifth year in a row.

In addition to providing drinks and appetizers from Jean-Louis’ kitchen, Icebreaker representatives educated customers about their company and gave guests an opportunity to purchase products at wholesale costs, confident that it only takes trying Icebreaker once to believe in the company and the product.

Nicole Wark, the account manger for Park City, gave a presentation on what makes the New Zealand-based company unique.

"We are providing a natural choice in an age of synthetics," Wark said of the 100 percent merino wool product. "The animals [merino sheep] have a coat which keeps them alive in very drastic seasons. We’re taking that and using it for ourselves."

The natural properties of merino, a longer and finer strand than standard wool, make it a natural and breathable insulator and perfect material for performance baselayers, say company representatives. But it’s not just the finished product that Wark endorses. Icebreaker believes in corporate responsibility, and makes transparent the process their clothing goes through before it comes to consumers: from the relationships with the sheep farmers in New Zealand to the factories in China where the clothing is produced.

"I wouldn’t sell anything that I didn’t totally believe in," said Wark, who never imagined she’d end up going into sales.

The pieces of clothing come in different weights, indicated by a measure of grams per square inch. The measures range from 100 to 260, with the lower numbers indicating lighter weight. Varied weights make the product ideal for layering. In addition to the material, Wark also promotes the designs of Icebreaker clothing.

"It doesn’t look like underwear," she said. "You can wear it skiing and then out to dinner."

In the beginning, Icebreaker purchased merino wool on the open market, but the company felt there was a better way to acquire the material. In order to ensure consistency in quality, Icebreaker signed direct contracts with 120 growers in New Zealand to purchase merino above market value. increasing the interdependency between the buyer and grower, Icebreaker contends they receive the highest quality merino from growers who have a sustainable future.

With a focus on sustainability and transparency, Icebreaker also wanted to build relationships with production factories that shared their core values. They found factories in China that provide good working conditions for employees and are environmentally aware, doing things like recycling and treating wastewater.

Icebreaker was established 12 years ago by Jeremy Moon, but was first propelled into the spotlight when it was endorsed by the late Sir Peter Blake, who preferred the natural merino wool to synthetics on his yacht races that were sometimes multiple weeks long. A video at the presentation showed Blake endorsing the product, claiming he could wear Icebreaker much longer than polyester.

In addition to being breathable and able to keep you warm when wet, merino wool has a natural elasticity and does not hold in odor so is perfect for high intensity exercise, says Wark.

"You don’t have to wash it as often. It doesn’t hold odor, it keeps you warm and it keeps you cool. And it’s got a great story." Jack Walzer, the general manager of Jans Moutain Outfitters said.

Icebreaker is available from the Park City retailers Cole Sport, Jans Mountain Outfitters, White Pine Touring and The Canyons Resort. Employees from the stores attended the event on Tuesday and seemed enthusiastic about the product.

"I’m very familiar with it. I love it. People come in to buy three or four pieces at a time," Desiree Lindemann, the buyer for White Pine Touring said.

Wark also used Tuesday’s presentation to introduce "BaaCode," a new program that appeals to the increasing consciousness of consumers who want to know more about the products they’re wearing. Beginning in the fall of 2008, garments will include a code on their tags which customers can use to track the history of their Icebreaker. The code will narrow down the source of the garment to four or five "stations" or farms out of Icebreaker’s 120 total stations. Customers can then find out more information about the farmers and sheep, including seeing photos of farms, videos of farmers and their families, as well as blogging with farmers. Currently their Web site features information about two stations, Mount Nicholas Station and Glenmore Station.

"It’s showing how sustainable we are and making us a very transparent company," Wark said.

Some customers like the passivity of the ‘sticky’ company’s approach.

"It’s nice to be able to show that to the customer without it being rammed down your throat," Lindemann said.


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