Interview with Tommy and Steve, founders of Jöttnar

Jöttnar is by far one of the most exciting brand right now for hardcore outdoor adventurer. Created in 2013 by two former Royal Marine commandos and keen mountaineers, Jöttnar has a small but very focused collection of layers for when you have to face the fiercest weather.

Ben caught up with Jöttnar’s founders Tommy and Steve right after the launch of their new collection and website.

Ben: Your new website is very nice I have to say. Was it part of your original plan to have a quality online presence you would control and how do you think it as worked out for you so far?

Tommy: That’s kind of you to say, thank you.  It’s probably fair to say that both Steve and I share a not-always-healthy obsession for small detail, as well as having, I suppose, a reasonably nuanced eye for what looks good and what doesn’t.  Our website is a manifestation of this and in that sense I guess it’s quite a genuine representation of those things that we view as important – detail, form, function.  Much of the imagery is our own – we’re both equally obsessed climbers and skiers – and much of it also comes from our friends and the four individual members of our Pro Team: Mike Pescod, Alison Culshaw, Mark Thomas and Tom Livingstone.

I’m maybe too close to it to have a valid view, but I do think there’s a degree of integrity to our digital presence.  There’s no committees, focus groups, gurus or any of those common indulgences.  The words are ours, the images are ours.  There’s real people behind all of it and that’s something I’m proud of.

Ben: Small brands focusing on high quality and limited collections seem to be taking more and more of the market. Do you think people are more informed about gear and so making more educated purchases or is it the result of the big brands losing their focus chasing too wide a market?

Tommy: I would agree that customers in general are pretty well informed – and far more-so than they would have been just 10 years ago.  The internet has an incredibly democratising effect in terms of information ownership.  Not long ago, big business and marketeers held the cards in terms of how their product or organisation was perceived; now, social media, online forums, customer reviews and bloggers are the big influencers.  If a customer wishes to educate himself in, for example, the waterproof and breathable characteristics of NeoShell, then doing so is just a few clicks away.  You no longer have to take the marketing department’s word for it; there’s as much information out there as you could possibly wish for.

As you imply, I also agree that there is tangible loss of focus amongst some of the large outdoor brands.  I certainly don’t blame them – they’re big businesses after all and they have shareholders to keep happy – but, personally, I don’t see that lumberjack shirts, jeans or branded laptop bags have anything at all to do with any half-serious outdoor endeavour.  The fact that there is now a real proliferation in these kinds of lifestyle-esque products amongst the ranges of many of these corporate giants does suggest to me that there is a shift in focus away from the mountain and towards the high street.

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Ben: The industry is realising that a lot of the chemicals necessary to create performance gear can have a significant impact on the environment. I’m thinking about fluorocarbon used in DWR treatments for example. Is this the next challenge for outdoor brands and how do you see Jöttnar tackling it?

Steve: Europe is leading the movement away from PFC based DWRs, and my sense is that official regulation is not too far away. We are happy to be a part of that. It is a challenge and it’s something we are tackling as best we can. For example, we use only Downtek™ ZeroPFC™ down. This has a fluorocarbon free, natural lipid water repellent treatment to make it hydrophobic. Furthermore, it’s applied using a vapour process, instead of a bath process, which further reduces the possibility of harming water systems. Both Gore and Polartec with their NeoShell, are investing heavily in examining the viability of PFC free DWR treatments for their fabrics and Polartec in particular are making strides in this area. We are watching this with interest. Finally, we need to look more closely for recycling opportunities where possible. Again, Polartec have some great fabrics offering this option and we aim to use these where we can.

Ben: You have used NeoShell exclusively since the beginning as your waterproof fabric. Did you hesitate with other fabrics and what made you go with NeoShell rather than the other well-known alternatives?

Steve: The appearance of Polartec NeoShell and its incredible breathability was for us a game changer and, fortuitously, it became available just at the time that we were sampling and testing different membranes.  From a performance perspective, held alongside other breathable membranes, it ticks all of the boxes that we as climbers, skiers and mountaineers feel are so important.

It’s unlikely we would have made a shell jacket or salopette without it as we could not have been genuinely satisfied with what we were offering.  In addition, Polartec believed in us from the start.  We were just a young tiny company, no more than an idea really, when we started the application for a license to use their fabrics, but they were extremely helpful and supportive.

Ben: What are the plans for you and Steve for the next few months now that the launch of the new collection and website is behind you? Gear development, brand promotion, travel, …?

Tommy: It’s a pretty relentless cycle.  The launch of the new site and the new range last month was the output – in some regards – of over three years of work and planning.  The design of the site itself began about 10 months ago, and the coding began in earnest around four months ago.  Some of the new pieces of gear have existed in prototype form for over three years and have been through more iterations than I can remember, being trialled in the lab and out on the hill in every case, until finally reaching a point where we were happy to press the production button and bring them into life.

Now that we’re over the start line with our current range, we’re also now deep into development and testing of what will become next winter’s range.  We’ll shortly be finalising production volumes in every colour and size variant of every product, and that in itself is the result of many months of forecasting, modelling and crystal-balling.  Whilst we now have just over two years of trading data to base decisions on, which removes some of the guess work, we’re also now dealing with higher volumes than ever before.  The planning assumptions therefore need to be sound and the maths that goes into calculating production volumes needs to be accurate.

This aspect of the business may sound unglamorous, but we also invest equal energy into getting out there and using the gear in the conditions it was designed for.  In fact, the biggest challenge of all is getting any work done when the snow starts to fall.  Both Steve and I are lifelong climbers and skiers and a real excitement pervades the company as winter starts to grip.  We both had a pretty good season last year and our front points are razor-sharp in anticipation of another one just around the corner.

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Ben: Now that you have a complete range of layers, from base to hardshell are you thinking about adding other pieces or mainly iterating on what you have?

Steve: We’ve a few interesting new items in development, and we’ll continue to refine our existing ones, but we’ve no appetite for churning out new gear just for the sake of it.   Our customers are mountaineers, climbers, skiers – and many would probably describe the outdoors as more of a way of life, not just a pastime.  We’re obviously aware of how potentially large the ‘outdoor’ market is when you account for the many concentric circles that surround this hard core in the centre; but our focus is entirely upon this relatively small sub-set of people.  Of all of the customer groups that inhabit this space, this group at the centre place the highest demands on their gear, themselves and on the company that supplied that gear – and this all makes it the most interesting space to be operating in.

I think it’s probably quite obvious from our gear that we’re not trying to be all things to all people.  It may sound undemocratic but a something-for-everybody approach just dilutes whatever strengths you started out with and ends up appealing to nobody.  In such a competitive market, and one which comprises some seriously huge competitors, it makes it even more important to us to have such a focused range.

The factor that drives our product development, over and above anything else, is the issue of need.  There has to be a genuine case for each new product in performance terms – and it also has to add value to existing items.  If we start chasing style trends, we immediately hand over the reins to something completely outwith our control, and the integrity of the company would rapidly dissolve.

 

Have a look at Jöttnar’s website for the full range of gear for the avid mountain adventurer.

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