Building upon an outstanding record in Olympic and small boat classes Zhik has carefully and steadily developed its technical clothing, scoring major successes in everything from kitefoiling to the Route du Rhum.
Passion for innovation and performance is a driving force behind Zhik’s unflinching focus on development and improvement. Thus its sailing gear repeatedly breaks through technical boundaries, delivering exceptional comfort and protection. Through product innovation and global sales expansion Zhik grew by 40 per cent last year and with continued positive feedback from customers further growth is expected.
Enduring relationships with a long list of top-level athletes across the sport are an integral part of product development. Most of the medal winners at the Tokyo Olympics used Zhik gear. The partnership with gold medalists and reigning America’s Cup champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who now head up the New Zealand SailGP team, has been running for over a decade.
Before the last Volvo Ocean Race Zhik also worked closely with team AkzoNobel and overall winner Dongfeng Race Team. Knowledge and learning gained from that process is directly incorporated into the current OFS800 offshore range. ‘Their input was pivotal,’ says Zhik’s head of design and production, Drue Kerr, who has played a key role in Zhik’s development for over a decade. ‘Our previous iterations of offshore kit had emphasised durability, but the Volvo teams also highlighted that breathability and temperature control are key for athletes who work tremendously hard in such varied conditions.’
Traditionally there was always a trade-off between these factors, so increasing breathability meant that durability suffered and vice-versa. However, Zhik was determined to find a best-in-class solution that would allow good breathability without compromising durability.
‘We went on a massive journey to identify the best materials, trialling 20 or 30 options from big brand membranes to bespoke products that we developed with our suppliers,’ adds Kerr. That process led Zhik to eVent, a company that had not previously been involved in the marine sector, but is now a key partner. Their membrane performed best for both durability and breathability in the lab, with these results subsequently validated by athletes using prototype garments on the water.
Zhik is pioneering this completely new fabric in the marine industry. Modified for offshore use, eVent’s technology has allowed Zhik to produce a range with no compromise achieving the highest possible levels of waterproofing, comfort, durability and breathability. These factors all give sailors a competitive advantage.
The design of the OFS800 range includes some novel features. The hood has a polymer composite window that is unique in material and structure. All elements are integrated so it “locks” onto your head and rotates as you turn your head. The choice of polymer composite for the windows, in place of a more common clear thermoset or thermoplastic, means it won’t fog or crease over time, nor will sunlight cause discolouring over the lifetime of the product.
British solo sailor Alan Roberts is another important partner who brought a different perspective to the OSF800 project that made the final product more versatile. He lived in the kit day in, day out, which highlighted a need to keep the body warm and protected in different scenarios. Roberts also needed to get the gear on and off quickly after a nap. As a result the range is extremely versatile – you can wear it cruising, on a TP52 when you’re getting fire-hosed by spray, or for the Sydney-Hobart.
Talking to key players at Zhik it quickly becomes clear that product development isn’t a finite process that ends when a new range is launched. ‘We’re never satisfied and continue to push boundaries to create better products,’ says Kerr. ‘There will always be problems to solve and there’s always going to be evolution in product design.’
‘Zhik is regarded as the most innovative and modern sailing apparel manufacturer and the learning process is therefore nonstop. There’s no specific product timeframe for when product lines are updated. Innovation in technology and materials really drives our new product releases,’ says Kerr. ‘It is also driven by feedback from the market, our partnerships with athletes and our customers,’ adds Zhik’s recently appointed CEO Mat Belcher, a double Olympic gold medalist in the 470 class. As one of Zhik’s longest standing team athletes he has played a key role in Zhik’s product innovations for over 10 years.
Yoann Richomme is one of the brightest new solo offshore racing stars, having won the Class 40 division of the last two Route du Rhum races, while his new IMOCA promises to be one of the most interesting of the new boats built for the 2024 Vendée Globe.
He wore Zhik’s OFS800 for the 2022 Route du Rhum and is working with Zhik to develop the next generation. ‘The OFS800 range was a great option for the Route du Rhum,’ he says. ‘You can optimise what you pack for these long runs when you know which gear you can easily rely on.’ Kerr says Richomme has bespoke and unique needs, but the fact he’s chosen the 800 speaks volumes: ‘It means we clearly have the best on the market in that category, but we will keep pushing to develop the next evolution of this line. The development work we’re doing with him is very informative.’
Zhik’s relentless pursuit of excellence is a perfect match for anyone preparing a serious race campaign in which you seek to optimise all the diverse elements as far as possible. ‘That was a big thing in our Olympic programme,’ says Belcher. ‘Even at a really high level of performance – whether it’s offshore racing, The Ocean Race or the Olympics – some things can be easy decisions. Every time you can make a decision easy it frees up time to focus on other areas.’
Belcher also makes a big point about the authenticity of Zhik’s development processes and product ranges. ‘When you see these top sailors wearing the products, they know they’re wearing the best because they’ve been involved in the development, they feel comfortable, they trust the brand. The wider market can also resonate with that, whether they’re cruisers or Sydney- Hobart competitors.’
Authenticity also extends to sustainability, which is another key pillar of the Zhik philosophy. ‘When we source textiles we do full due diligence, following the supply chain back to the original yarn suppliers,’ says Kerr. ‘That’s how we came across Repreve. They are far above the rest in terms of supply chain transparency, while their product is just as good, if not better.’ It’s the world’s leading brand of certified and traceable 100 per cent recycled performance fibres. Embedding proprietary tracer technology into each fibre enables its exact origins to be traced and verified. The yarn is also sourced and manufactured in every major textile region across the planet, minimising transport.
The ECO Spandex range of shorts, leggings, long, short and sleeveless race vest tops were Zhik’s first Repreve products, which were added to the range after extensive testing. ‘We sell a lot of spandex – it’s the core of what people wear in dinghies,’ says Belcher, ‘but you have to make sure it performs. We did a lot of testing, with different athletes in a lot of different classes and it performed on the water just as well, if not better, than our existing product. So it was a no-brainer for us.’
The material is soft and cooling to touch, while additional elastane fibres provide 200 per cent four-way stretch, yet always return to the original shape, with the added benefit of being inherently UPF 50+ sun protective.
This is one of the products the New Zealand SailGP team uses, along with Zhik’s ECO wetsuits. The latter are made of a neoprene that’s produced from sustainable, plant based natural resources and recycled plastics. This eliminates the use of petroleum-based raw materials that give traditional neoprenes a high carbon footprint and make them difficult to manufacture responsibly.
Use of these garments helped the Kiwi team reach the top of the SailGP’s Impact League, which gives the leaders a tangible benefit in terms of valuable extra practice time on the water ahead of racing in each venue. ‘It has been really exciting to work with them,’ says Kerr. ‘Our regular testing and development cycles with them are also helping us develop the future for foiling classes. That’s super important for us.’