- The company’s merino wool underwear and layering for young action sport lifestylers is now available in 18 countries, alongside head-to-toe clothing offerings
- The company was established by former professional freeride skier Hamish Acland, who noticed a gap in the market for stylish merino base layer garments that functioned well in the action sports arena
- Rutherford says the official marketing strategy is edgy, sexy and youthful, with fun imagery
Photography by Camilla Stoddart
Despite humble beginnings in 2009 in a garage in picturesque Wanaka, in New Zealand’s South Island, Mons Royale’s founder always intended the company would go global.
The company’s merino wool underwear and layering for young action sport lifestylers is now available in 18 countries, alongside head-to-toe clothing offerings.
Sarah Rutherford CA joined Mons Royale a year ago, initially to consult for a fortnight, but stayed on to help manage the growth the company was experiencing.
“They needed an extra pair of hands that didn’t mind getting dirty with a variety of work across the business,” she says.
Initially she focused on helping the small team get fundamental systems and processes in place.
“You can get away without having these properly established in the early stages but, as the company starts to grow beyond a roomful of people who all know what is going on, if the basics aren’t nailed down a lot of time and energy can get wasted, holding up companies on their growth path.”
Rutherford’s role is evolving to become more finance focused, but to date she hasn’t had a specific job title.
“Being one of five employees, titles weren’t really important… but it’s moving toward being finance manager,” she says.
“When I arrived the business was at the stage where there was scope for multiple roles, but it wasn’t quite big enough to justify fulltime headcount.”
This allowed her to “have a go at everything and get an understanding of all aspects of the business”, which in practice included juggling sales orders, picking and packing woolly undies, managing e-commerce platforms, general accounting, analysing data, trying on samples and organising local pop up shops.
As her finance role continues to evolve she will focus on ensuring key financial processes are in place to help the company make informed strategic decisions.
“This might be giving the designers insights on sales of different styles at the concept stage, or providing the general manager with an analysis of international markets so they can determine where to focus investment.
“I love that accounting allows me to cross over into all parts of the business by distilling information down into relevant insights for my target audience,” she says.
While the company is still small – now with a staff of ten – it has moved its operations to a small warehouse and an office in Wanaka.
Rutherford had always wanted to be involved in a forward-thinking, ambitious, growing company. She appreciates the advantages of working for a small company, after starting her career with PwC in Wellington, before working abroad for large, publicly listed companies.
She wanted to do something where her contribution was more tangible than it was in a large company.
“At Mons Royale, I sit shoulder to shoulder with the owners and can get instant feedback on whether I have added value. There is nothing like a fist pump from the boss to confirm your worth.”
She says her contribution was much more diluted when she worked for thousands of shareholders in large listed companies.
“And the office politics often distorted your ability to contribute.”
It was Mons Royale’s culture and product that appealed to her. She believes in the functional qualities of merino and wears it every day.
The company was established by former professional freeride skier Hamish Acland, who noticed a gap in the market for stylish merino base layer garments that functioned well in the action sports arena.
The range is aimed at action sport lifestylers in the 20 to 40 age bracket. The versatile garments are designed to be worn from the mountain to city streets so people can do multiple activities without having to change clothes.
“Every season the range evolves – this season is the first time you can wear Mons Royale head to toe,” Rutherford says.
She sees the use of merino wool as key to setting Mons Royale apart from its competitors. While there are other action sports brands that use merino, she says Mons Royale is the only brand solely focused on merino as the basis of its product.
And merino is particularly close to Rutherford’s heart – she grew up on a high country merino farm in Central Otago.
“In New Zealand, people like to compare us to other merino brands such as Icebreaker, but I like to think we are all complementary products in different markets spreading the merino word,” she says.
“Icebreaker has done a fabulous job for the merino industry by raising the awareness globally about the awesome technical qualities of merino, which has definitely helped our business.”
Mons Royale is now stocked in more than 400 retail stores around the world.
The brand was sold in Europe just months after starting in New Zealand in 2009.
The current focus is on growing the international markets “…setting up a European base and ensuring we have a robust cash flow and markets in place to support it,” she says.
The biggest challenge the company has encountered was “getting a foothold” in the European market.
“Mons Royale has targeted a gap, but it still takes a lot of hard work to get both the retailers and the distributors to sell your products.”
The next focus for the brand is to drive growth in Europe through better support of retailers and distributors, which will happen by having Mons Royale representatives “on the ground” there.
“New Zealand is a long way from our largest market, and as much as you need local experience you also need to have your people on the ground and look at other ways to overcome the distance, such as digital marketing.”
There is nothing like a fist pump from the boss to confirm your worth.
The range has almost marketed itself, with some clever thinking – and the odd stroke of luck – along the way.
Rutherford says the official marketing strategy is edgy, sexy and youthful, with fun imagery.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of marketing – we have relied on hanger appeal and our riders and customers’ word of mouth to sell the garments.
“The hardest thing is getting people to spend the extra money to purchase merino, as the product usually sells itself once they wear it.”
Mons Royale was an official sponsor of the New Zealand Winter Olympic Team at Sochi earlier this year.
“This was the first time that action sports events such as Slopestyle were included at the Olympic Games and a number of our team riders were up for qualification.
“Hamish wanted to make sure they felt supported by New Zealand.
“As an under layer sponsor we weren’t necessarily going to be seen, it was more about the team having the black singlet and silver fern from home next to their skin… so they knew New Zealand was behind them.”
The result for Mons Royale was increased brand awareness and credibility.
As for the stroke of luck: “MONS spelt upside down is SNOW – but Hamish didn’t realise that when he came up with the name.”
This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Acuity magazine.
5 tips for going global
Stay focused and committed — it can take a long time to establish a business globally.
Tailor your brand positioning to new markets and cultures.
Determine and protect your intellectual property.
Get people on the ground in the new market, building key relationships and networks face to face.
5. Keep informed
Know the legal, financial, regulatory and cultural implications of operating in the chosen market.