Do You Own Any Magic Clothes?
Feb 2012 17

Chances are you probably haven’t heard of this company. I mean, they sell boxers for $50 a pair that, unlike Hugo Boss, primarly cater to function, not form. Based out of New Zealand, their primary market is Europe and Australia; having only recently reached the shores of our great (contiguous) 48. But their clothing is absolutely sublime in having fused style with high-performance in a way rarely seen.

This is in large part due to its dynamic fabric that is both insulative and breathable. It will keep you dry when you sweat, warm when it’s cold, and cool when it’s hot. It’s also ridiculously odor-resistant.

Image: Icebreaker

What is this magic material?

It’s Merino Wool. And the company that has spun it and it’s product into an 100 million dollar enterprise – whose CEO is a frequent Harvard Business School case study and enjoys the appalation as “one of [New Zealands] top business leaders” – is Icebreaker.

In 1994, at the ripe age of 24, the now-CEO Jeremy Moon was introduced – via his American gal-pal – to a fellow New Zealand wool farmer who was fashioning the wool from his Merino sheep into durable underwear. It was lightweight, comfortable (not itchy like the synthetics we’ve become accustomed to in the states), and notably, biodegradable.

Jeremy quickly moved to devise an entire line of men’s and women’s outdoor clothing around the dynamic fabric and within a decade Icebreaker became New Zealands leading outdoor clothing manufacturer and exporter now supplying product in 3,000 stores across 30 countries.

To Jeremy though, as a native New Zealander, he wanted to ensure a level of sustainability rarely seen in todays profit-centered corporate landscape. Per Wikipedia:

“Icebreaker pioneered long term contracts that pay a significant price premium to selected New Zealand sheep farmers and allow them to carry out long-term planning. In return, contracted growers agree to meet Icebreaker’s strict conditions on environmental and social issues, and on animal welfare.”

Taking it a step further, on every garment sold comes a tag with a unique number – playfully titled the Baacode – that links the wool used to produce the item with the actual sheep it was sheered from. And true to form, they’ve chosen to set up U.S. operations in a LEED-certified shop only a few blocks from the famed Powell’s bookstore in downtown Portland.

Fortunately, while I was there I was feeling a bit “spendy”, and with a backpacking trip on the horizon I figured some lightweight, odor resistant, warm-yet-breathable, and stylish pieces of clothing were something I should add to my arsenal.

Boy am I glad I did.

The full-zip hooded fleece has become an absolute staple in my daily wardrobe and the long underwear is a godsend on the slopes. I also can’t emphasize the odor-resistant element enough. When engaging in high-intensity activity it’s pretty remarkable – and in the case of long-term travel, beneficial – to be able to have it smelling as it did when you put it on while taking it off.

As noted, it’s only drawback is the price but that’s what you pay when you marry style with substance and sustainability.

Get warm today for $35 to $150