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Core values: Hans Eckerström's vision for Henri-Lloyd's future

by Mark Jardine 19 Mar 2020 05:00 PDT
Hans Eckerström helming his J/70 during the Henri-Lloyd Frostbite Challenge in Marstrand, Sweden © Dan Ljungsvik

Henri-Lloyd was originally founded in 1963 in Manchester by Henri Strzelecki and Angus Lloyd and pioneered the use of new technologies. In June 2018 the brand was acquired by Swedish investment company Aligro Group, we spoke to Chairman Hans Eckerström to find out more...

Mark Jardine: As a successful entrepreneur and businessman, what drew you to acquire to Henri-Lloyd?

Hans Eckerström: The passionate and intriguing history and also the strength of the brand. It's so interesting to see whoever I speak to about the brand, everyone seems to have a positive feeling about it, which I believe is a huge strength - I haven't come across anyone who doesn't like the brand. It's also very well known. Getting it back to its old greatness will be a really interesting challenge.

Then of course you know my inherent interest in yachting, boating and sailing in particular - it fits with that very much. After my career working in a big private equity firm, I said I only wanted to do things that were fun, interesting and rewarding, and Henri-Lloyd fits perfectly with that.

Mark: You are a competitive sailor yourself, so there was an emotional connection. Do you think this was part of your attraction to the brand?

Hans: [Laughs] Yes, that is a really good question! I'm actually more scared about that aspect, because I still want to remain a cold investor, so we don't get carried away and spend money just because you have a passionate interest in something. I actually brought in a couple of friends and business acquaintances into the ownership as well - in particular one of the guys has no interest whatsoever in sailing so he's just cold-hearted and can be much more objective!

Mark: You've effectively given yourself checks and balances by bringing in people who will have no emotional attachment?

Hans: Yes, Exactly!

Mark: You re-launched Henri-Lloyd with the Fremantle range in 2019 harking back to the early days of Henri-Lloyd with the iconic blue and red stripes and now the reborn Consort Jacket, made famous when Sir Francis Chichester became the first person to sail single-handed around the world by the clipper route. Is it this heritage that you have decided you are going to capture with Henri Lloyd?

Hans: I think if you have a brand with inherent brand value you need try to understand where that is, especially if something that had gone a bit in the wrong direction as it obviously had done, with the financial difficulties the company was in when we took it over. We said we need to go back to the roots, where we have our legitimacy, and that really is around performance sailing gear, and also building on the heritage of the jacket when obviously from a commercial perspective it is the Consort jacket, the iconic Henri Lloyd garment that built the strength of the brand. But it is also, as you point out with things like Chichester's round the world voyage that built a lot of the credibility around the brand. I think to go back and build on the sailing heritage, also the heritage of the jacket, and from there try to build the value of the brand going forward.

Mark: So really stepping it back to its core, but using the best of materials that we have in 2020?

Hans: Exactly, combining old iconic details with modern more simple hi-tech ways of solving different problems. I also think that where I've been struggling a little bit is that we need to dare to be small - we don't need to be a very big company very fast - we really have that focus on the core of the brand.

Mark: So, let it (in some ways) build organically as the reputation rebuilds and let people realise just how good the kit now is?

Hans: Yes, and also try to spread the word in an authentic manner, so we really want to build around the core values that we want the brand to stand for; that is to be British, authentic and genuine, striving towards a sustainable business and finally we want to be true to sailing.

Mark: Henri Lloyd have sponsored Sir Ben Ainslie since 1996 and is now a Director and Chief Technical Advisor for the brand. Having sailed with Ben in the GC32s, against him in the J70s and spent time with him, what have you learnt from him as a person?

Hans: He has this fantastic combination of being a very likeable person and very humble, but at the same time ultra-competitive and extremely professional. I often find it fascinating when I meet successful people like Ben, how humble and likeable they are, and this is also how we want to be perceived ourselves: having a winning attitude and a likeable manner is one of the internal discussions we have in the company, this is how we want to drive the business going forward.

Mark: How does having people like Ben on board help Henri-Lloyd and is the type of person you're looking for to represent the brand?

Hans: We're looking for people who are genuine, true to sailing, loving the ocean or boats and also sharing our values. So, yes is probably the concise answer to that.

Mark: Ecological considerations are now a major concern for the clothing industry. What is Henri-Lloyd doing to reduce both waste and the carbon footprint of its products?

Hans: I think first of all to reduce the footprint of textile manufacturing in general is to use as little as possible, and that can be converted into having durable garments, so if you can wear something for a significantly longer time, that creates a significant reduction of the footprint. Both from a sustainability perspective, but also from a business perspective, we want to focus and we need to drive our sourcing to become as local as possible - having a European footprint as far as possible in terms of our sourcing. We have our own factory in Poland that we can use, thereby also having more order or customer-driven manufacturing, so we can produce less and have less waste, and less over-production which I think is also part of the drive for sustainability. That is in terms of how we design the clothes and how we manufacture them.

Then we will continually look and search for alternative fabrics or alternative manufacturing methods to reduce the chemicals involved and what kind of materials we use. It is of course a very complex question. The underlying importance is that we are striving for sustainability; I think it very difficult to say that you have a sustainable clothing business, but at least we try in every aspect of how we design, how we manufacture, and where we manufacture, to reduce the footprint.

Mark: What do you have lined up personally for your sailing in 2020?

Hans: It is always a challenge when you're busy! We will sail the J/70 Europeans in Copenhagen in July - that's the big target. Then I will continue to sail in the weekly regattas at my local club at Marstrand as well, and of course the Frostbite Challenge in December again!

Mark: Your track record in business suggests that you will make a success of Henri-Lloyd. Where would you like to see the brand in ten years' time?

Hans: I'd like Henri-Lloyd to be well-established and the go-to brand for anyone who wants really high quality and high-performance clothing to support their sailing. I would like it to be the brand of choice for sailors across all sizes and types of boats. I also want it to be the brand of choice for motorboat and other yacht owners - anyone who wants to have that elegant and stylish look when in the marine environment.

Mark: So, transcend sailing and become the marine clothing of choice?

Hans: Yes, not only on the ocean but off the ocean, in casual settings where you want to look good and stylish, not necessarily very fashionable, but have a nice image. Also, to have a sustainable business that I can be proud of in every respect, what that corresponds to in terms of how big it is, or how many markets we serve, I don't really focus on this quantitatively.

Mark: So you want Henri-Lloyd to be a business you can look on with pride?

Hans: Yes, one which I can be proud of being involved in and working together with great people. I think it's also very important there is very little 'I' in this, but 'we' will have good fun together, and the company itself will be proud of what we do together.

Find out more at www.henrilloyd.com

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