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Zhik 2021 New Season LEADERBOARD

2XU's Jamie Hunt helps Zhik walk on water

by Helen Hawkes 3 Mar 2020 09:00 PST 29 February - 1 March 2020
Zhik Directors Jamie Hunt, Simon Hull and Piet Poelmann © Zhik

He's the champion triathlete who helped build sporting apparel company 2XU into a global player with a $100 million annual turnover. Testament to its rise to the pinnacle of niche fitness wear: in 2013, French luxury retail company LMVH acquired a 40 per cent stake. Late last year, it bought the entire company.

Now, 2XU co-founder Jamie Hunt is bringing his obsession with quality, and belief in the importance of cultural alignment, to another brand pushing the boundaries of sportswear innovation.

Zhik broke into the elite sportswear market in 2008 with their game-changing wetsuits for athletes competing in the Beijing Olympics. More recently, they disrupted the field with their radical Isotak X ocean racing foul weather gear, developed for the Dongfeng Race Team, winners of the 2018/2019 Volvo Ocean Race. Featuring multilayer composite membrane fabric, the premium marine gear is four times more waterproof than the industry-leading ePTFE ocean fabric.

Says Hunt: "Zhik makes sensationally styled, world-class products but they needed to communicate their innovation platform more strongly. Olympic champions and elite athletes know how good Zhik is, but Joe Public does not. That's what really got me excited about coming onboard as a non-executive director to look at supply chain and brand story."

Hunt joins CEO Piet Poelmann, the former general manager of Tommy Hilfiger for who drove profitability at brands such as O'Neill, Simmer Style and G-Star RAW as well as non-executive director Simon Hull, a renowned figure in New Zealand's boating scene, and skipper of Team Vodafone Sailing. Together, they are a team that is unlikely to be bested by competitors looking to cash in on a premium and expanding market.

Hunt, who had a ranking of third in the ITU World Triathlon Series, doesn't just understand the elite sportswear customer, he is the customer. Right now, he's training at high level again, after finishing 13th in a field of 1500 in the New Zealand Ironman. The 47-year-old's goal: to be the oldest Ironman winner in the world.

With underwear entrepreneur Clyde Davenport and sales and marketing specialist Aidan Clarke, the business and sports powerhouse that is Hunt created a brand that became so uber-cool rapper Kanye West wore 2XU.

In Zhik, Hunt has found another brand that embodies his high-performance DNA. This is high-tech marine gear, he says, not uncomfortable latex clothing that wears too quickly in saltwater, or features poorly designed protective hoods that inhibit central and peripheral vision.

"They take a fabric that's the best in its category and develop elite sports garments at a price point that is consistent with performance and product longevity."

He shares how British sailor Alex Thomson, who set the unassisted round the world monohull record in 2017 in the gruelling Vendée Globe, ocean race with HUGO BOSS. Fast forward to 2020 and Zhik has announced its partnership as the Official Technical Clothing Supplier to Alex Thomson Racing.

With Hunt's assistance, the marine apparel company will next year debut a range that features a "fresher, younger vibe, with more fitted silhouettes".

"But it will still deliver elite level performance," he says."There are so many companies chasing the athleisure dollar (valued at $US237.1 billion by 2026). But, like 2XU, Zhik wants to stand for something more than making just a fashionable garment.

"Take a pair of Zhik's newly-released sailing boots, made using proprietary ergonomic shaped lasts, and has superior fit and comfort. The high grip rubber formula and tread pattern keeps you connected on slippery surfaces. The side lacing system and integrated ankle strap system provides an ergonomically adjustable fit, for maximum support and comfort.

Other parallels with 2XU's business operations which drew Hunt to the brand included Zhik's commitment to intense, athlete-driven product testing and research and development, in conjunction with leading institutions such as the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Commitment to sustainability is crucial now too, says Hunt. "The factories and fabrics Zhik use are aligned with expectations about ethical labour practices and technologies. Zhik is also looking at eco dyes and use of more recycled yarns."

To catch Zhik's stylish and high-performance marine gear in action, tune into SailGP Season 2 that returns to Sydney on February 28 and 29. National teams from Denmark, France, Great Britain, Japan, Spain and the United States will take on reigning champions Australia and go head to head over a series of thrilling high-speed, short-format races.

Hunt believes the fast and furious competition, that features ex-America's Cup yachts, will become the most popular sailing event in the world. Zhik sponsored the winning AUS team in 2019 and, this year, has supplied them with specialised footwear.

"Once every sailor in the world wants to own Zhik apparel, our job is done."

Hunt on building a multi-million dollar brand:

  • First and foremost, you need to align with the customer and truly understand who they are. You cannot market a product if you don't actually know who your customer is.
  • Find a niche you can own and be the best at it. Don't try to be all things to all people because then you will be attractive to no one.
  • I'm obsessed with quality. I know that if you can undersell and overdeliver you will have a customer for life.

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