For years, nature-loving climbers have had to make the choice between feeling good and smelling good. Today, theres a third option.
Mammut, founded in 1862 as a seller of hemp ropes, evolved over the years into a full-line climbing and outdoor wear and equipment company. It offers everything a climber might need for any sort of activity, including bouldering, big wall, fixed-rope, ice and competition climbing, and also serves the ski and snowboard markets.
The climbers creed
While climbers come in all varieties, from hard-core athletes to family groups and from boulderers to big-wall climbers, one characteristic stands out among them all, says Urs Egli, product manager of apparel at the Switzerland-based company.
Climbers are very close to nature, he says. Lifelong nature lovers, they like to be outside as much as possible. And unlike, say, runners, who are accustomed to the synthetic feel of the performance wear designed for their sport, climbers want their clothing to feel as natural as the landscape theyre traversing. The touch of the fabric needs to feel like cotton, like nature, Egli says.
But like runners, climbers want performance, too.
That desire for a natural feel in a functional garment presented a dilemma for Mammut. Until recently, its climbing T-shirts were made from polyester and polypropylene, and had a synthetic hand. Some climbers wear the synthetics, but most still prefer cotton. If you go into a climbing hall, it is very smelly, quips Egli.
Then came what he calls the awesome discovery.
The little T-shirt that could
It all started in autumn of 2004, says Egli, a climber and lifelong skier and snowboarder.
Egli had the spectacular opportunity to vacation in Brazil with climbing legends Hans Peter Bodmer and Andres Lietha (now Mammuts communications manager).
The trio surfed in the morning and climbed in the afternoon. Egli brought along a sample T-shirt that his boss, Adrian Huber, had brought back from the Outdoor Retailer show that summer. He passed it to Bodmer.
Thats a cool T-shirt. I dont like synthetics anyway, Bodmer told Egli.
But it is synthetic, Egli replied.
Bodmer was astounded, Egli says. The shirt felt just like cotton, yet functioned like performance wear, drying quickly and moving well with the body. Bodmer was converted, and Egli knew Mammut was about to have a big hit.
The new line develops
Excitedly, Egli returned to Switzerland with the news that the T-shirt made from Dri-release, a microblend moisture-transport fiber from Optimer Performance Fibers was just what the doctor ordered.
Egli gave another sample to climbing wunderkind David Lama, the sports most popular athlete du jour, who had the same reaction as Bodmer. He loved the shirt.
By December 2004, Mammut had designed and developed its own prototype using Dri-release technology. It began testing the product with its top climbing athletes to continue to gauge reaction and to be 100 percent sure that the products are proven, says Egli. The company also gave a shirt to each of its 100 salespeople, so that they could speak from experience.
Reaction to the shirt was unanimous and overwhelmingly positive. Dri-release has a really natural touch, but also extreme functionality, says Egli. It wicks moisture away from the body quickly and dries faster than cotton and other natural fabrics, but it also feels natural and is very comfortable and stretchable, he adds.
What is Dri-release? Its an engineered blend of hydrophobic and hydrophilic fibers. The patented technology has an optimum blend of efficient wicking and very fast drying, for providing maximum comfort, says Lee Thompson, business development manager, Optimer Performance Fibers.
Because it is the blend of fibers that gives Dri-release its performance, it is a permanent technology, as opposed to a finish that washes out and changes over time. Additionally, Optimers Freshguard, which limits bacterial growth in a natural way, is built into the product. Dri-release is available in air jet, vortex, siro spun and ring spun yarns.
After approximately five months of testing, Mammut was ready to move forward with production of its summer 2006 line, the first to feature Dri-release.
It will go gangbusters
Mammuts new line is expected to sell like hotcakes, says Egli. As of this writing, the T-shirts were just hitting European stores, but early indicators are that Dri-release will offer a better experience for Mammut wearers.
Based on the initial success of its early testing, Mammut forecast an increase in T-shirt sales of 40 percent for this summers line vs. its summer 2005 line, and budgeted for production accordingly, even without orders yet in hand. As predicted, the orders from retailers flew in. Sales of its overall summer 2006 line have almost doubled what they were last year.
Egli attributes the increase in large part to Mammuts new Dri-release products, which comprise approximately 20 percent of its climbing line.
The strong early reception was unusual because most sports retailers arent high-risk customers, says Egli. Most will wait for another retailer to have success with a new fabric or product before jumping on board, he says, so it was very surprising for us.
Mammuts summer 2006 climbing line includes seven different climbing styles for men and women. Some are 100 percent Dri-release, and others are hybrids that include X-Static, an anti-bacterial fiber from Noble Fiber Technologies, in the under-arm areas of the T-shirts.
With the success of the summer line all but assured, the company has moved forward with additional plans for Dri-release. It has designed a long-sleeved base layer T-shirt for its 2006-07 snow collection, for which it has already received orders. The line features cool graphics, targeting a younger consumer who wants a base layer that performs but doesnt look technical, says Egli.
Mammut continues to work with Dri-release on new fabric, product and promotional ideas. The company is keeping a tight lid on what those ideas might be, but it will include expansion into anti-bacterial products, he says.
Mammut is looking forward to the future. We looked for a fabric like Dri-release for a long time, says Egli, and the way its discovery unfolded was like a fairy tale.
That may be, but the happy climbers are for real.
Jordan K. Speer is senior editor of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected].