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Ready to summit (again)

Yacht Racing Podcast

Henri-Lloyd is going back to its roots with plans to make sailing gear that lasts for decades and a focus on offshore racing.

New product launches in the clothing world often feel like they come as regularly as the sailing seasons that they cater for. But every now and then there are announcements that mark important changes from technological advances to broad reassessments of the manufacturer’s focus.

Company founder ‘Mr Henri’ in the iconic Consort jacket, back in the 1970s.

For Henri- Lloyd, it was the announcement of both these factors that made their 2023-24 show season a special one as they unveiled an exciting new strategy, along with a bold new yachting and boating range to mark the new direction of travel. Yet rather than starting the process with a detailed analysis of the sport and the market, Henri-Lloyd began by going back to its roots.

‘Henri-Lloyd was the ultimate marine clothing brand from the 1980s to the 2000s,’ says offshore sailor and former Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad. ‘In the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race Henri-Lloyd had 50 per cent of the race crews. As a budding offshore racer I remember that period well. I started my round the world racing career with Lawrie Smith who was a Henri-Lloyd ambassador and it was clear back then that the company was leading the way in offshore sailing clothing.

‘There have been some amazing and iconic images that the company has been associated with like Dennis Conner in his Henri-Lloyd jacket as he won the America’s Cup in Fremantle.

“But it’s not just the high-profile areas of the sport that have built such a special reputation for the brand, ask anyone who was wearing Henri-Lloyd gear back in that era and they’ll have a story to tell about a favourite item of clothing, why it was special and what they achieved wearing it. Some are even still using the same items! The fact is that this 60-year-old brand stands for a great deal for a lot of people and this was our starting point when we began to plan what we saw as the return of Henri-Lloyd.”

Workers at the Henri- Lloyd factory in Poland maintain the same ethos from the brand’s heyday.

While Frostad, the former ocean racer turned industry leader and spokesperson needs little introduction, his arrival at Henri-Lloyd where he is now Executive Chairman and plays a key role in the redevelopment of the company will have taken some by surprise.

‘I have worked with Hugo Maurstad in variety of roles for many years and after his company Monte Rosa Sport Group bought Henri-Lloyd around a year and a half ago he asked me to help develop a new direction for the company. Given how well I knew the brand, my long-standing experience and my enthusiasm for the clothing it produced, it was clear that this would be an exciting opportunity.

‘So my first mission is to bring Henri-Lloyd back to its number one place in sailing and in particular offshore sailing. This starts with a focus on the brand’s roots. Its heritage is also a natural starting point in other ways too as we still have people in our factory in Poland where the company‘s manufacturing began who know the background and ethos as well as how to make this amazing gear.’

From there, the Henri-Lloyd plan involved looking at three different sectors of the sport: the professional arena for long distance ocean racing, the offshore racing scene for those competing in Fastnet-type events and then the inshore coastal scene.

‘Weight is critical nowadays as people focus on being able to move freely,’ Frostad says. ‘Functionality is also very important indeed. These two factors are essential in all three of the key areas.

‘Layers have also been a big area for us and here we’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to apply the expertise of Odlo which is the biggest manufacturer of base layers in Europe and is owned by Monte Rosa. This collaboration has not only delivered some superb new products, but has provided us with a big advantage in this crucial area.’

Lawrie Smith was a Henri- Lloyd ambassador in the 1980s.

But while there is already plenty of interest in the new range, it is also clear that there have already been significant challenges along the way with more to overcome.

‘Getting back to our roots has been at the heart of our plan, but when it comes to manufacturing, the new environmentally aware world that we operate in means that there are some new challenges to address,’ says Henri-Lloyd CEO Graham Allen.

‘Our starting point here was to remember that we’re not trying to make products that are necessarily more waterproof or more breathable than those in the previous range, we have always worked to very high standards in these areas. Instead, the focus has been around how to maintain these qualities while removing the harmful chemicals from the production process. There is already legislation that restricts the use of certain chemicals and there is more coming through that will ban the use of fluorocarbons which have been used widely across the industry.

‘Because we’re a modestly sized and agile company, we’ve been able to respond quickly and efficiently to these changes, to the point that all of our items bar one are already flurocarbon free.

‘We’ve also taken a close look at the garments from both outside in and inside out. Henri-Lloyd has the reputation for highly waterproof products that remain so for a long time. But as we know, getting moisture out is also very important and the ability of a base layer to effectively wick moisture away from the skin is crucial. Not only is this a comfort issue, the ability to retain heat close to the skin is also extremely important.’ For this, Henri-Lloyd’s new base layers are an important step forward.

‘Odlo is very big in outdoor sports like skiing, cycling and running. So we have used this opportunity to create some superb new Henri-Lloyd base layers that are the best in the market,’ Frostad explains .

Knut Frostad, former CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race and now executive chairman of Henri-Lloyd will play a key role in the redevelopment of the company.

The next layer, Smart-Therm, is one that Graham Allen knows well having worked very closely with its development.

‘Clearly the human body isn’t a uniform temperature, especially when we’re physically active,’ he says. ‘With our mid layer Smart- Therm system we’ve tailored the construction of garments to take account of where you need stretch, where you need heat retention and a Y panel across the back where you need breathability and stretch.

‘The brief throughout has been to create garments that can be worn for say two weeks continually and still be comfortable. Clearly that’s aimed primarily at the professional offshore racing world but making it a reality for the top end of the sailing scene is the perfect validation for others who are not going to such extreme lengths, but do, nonetheless, know that the clothing is made to do just that.

‘It is this approach right from the start 60 years ago that put Henri-Lloyd at the very front. Today it means that we have a clothing system that consists of an all wool base layer, then our Smart-Therm mid layer with our new Elite Offshore collection for the outer layer.’

But the new strategy hasn’t just been about developing a new range. Manufacturing responsibly is also a goal that has been important to the company as is that of sustainability.

‘One of the amazing things about this company and its relationship with its customers is the loyalty that it has achieved,’ says Frostad. ‘And that hasn’t been by accident. Manufacturing garments that don’t just fit the bill but last for years and years is what underpins this and we all believe that’s important for us to remember going forward.

‘One of the best things you can do to improve sustainability is to make your clothing last a long time. A good example of this is the traditional Henri-Lloyd Consort jacket. They are decades old now but some people, including me, still have them because they were so effective and practical. They also define what is special about the company and yet today, while it’s good to talk about recycling, making an item that lasts a lifetime is the best thing you can do to increase our effectiveness when it comes to sustainability.

‘We have a very exciting new project that we will be announcing later on this season, but for now it’s good to reinforce that our reputation for longevity along with an efficient manufacturing policy across a tight collection are all important aspects of this new chapter for Henri-Lloyd. Shrinking the collection to a range of products that people really want and not have the ones that they don’t was just as important to us as creating the new clothing in the first place.’

Sometimes new product launches have far more to them than the specific collections that are being announced, Henri-Lloyd’s goal to return to its dominant past would seem to be just that.

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