“IT IS NOT THE MOUNTAIN WE CONQUER, BUT OURSELVES”
Mountaineering has to be one of the purest forms of exploration
Before the late, great George Herbert Leigh Mallory attempted to climb Mt. Everest in the Himalayas in 1924, somebody posed the following question to him: “Why do you climb mountains?” Mallory responded curtly: “Because it’s there.”
Sadly, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew "Sandy" Irvine both disappeared on the North-East ridge during their attempt to make the first ascent of the world's highest mountain. The pair were last seen when they were about 800 vertical feet (245 m) from the summit.
Mallory's ultimate fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered on 1 May 1999 by an expedition that had set out to search for the climbers' remains. Whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before they died remains a subject of speculation and continuing research.
While there are still mountains, people will inevitably try to clamber up them. Mountaineering has to be one of the purest forms of exploration. Maybe it’s because of the physical and health benefits it provides. Maybe it’s about realising a dream. It might even be about trying to discover more about yourself by pitting your wits against nature at its most brutal.
But if you are patient, persistent and brave enough in some of the planet’s most beautiful and challenging environments, mountaineering can reward you with some of the most life changing experiences imaginable.
The kind of clothing that might just save your life
Every mountain can teach you something different. Respect, humility, how to be positive and not to take for granted the smaller things in life. They will undoubtedly teach you the importance of some top-notch mountain clobber, the kind of clothing that might just save your life.
BLACKYAK was founded back in 1973 by Tae Sun Kang in Seoul, South Korea with exactly that thought in mind. An avid climber himself (Tae Sun Kang was saved by a yak, when he became lost on an expedition in the Himalayas), the company’s original aim was to make the climbing process easier for mountaineers by providing them with the best possible clothing and product.
According to Maximilian Nortz, its formidable Managing Director International Business – Europe: “When Tae Sun Kang launched his first shop in the Garment District of Seoul in 1973, he just wanted to offer mountain climbers everything the could possibly need to realise their mountaineering goals. He had noticed that there was a complete lack of innovation in the Korean mountaineering apparel market at the time and he wanted to address it based on personal experience. He was clearly onto something.”
Despite its position as domestic market leader in South Korea, Nortz has been tasked with launching BLACKYAK's collection of technical mountaineering clothing, which offers its wearers protection against extreme cold, wet and wind to a European market, with a strong focus on style and body fit. A range symbolising the connection with the mountain climbers, the Yaks, the mountains and nature. Same brand D.N.A., new market. Simple?
“Innovation is key,” suggests Nortz. Consider it like a big box of apples. Almost all of the industry players are red but we want to be green. We want to be a game changer in the industry. Better functionality. Better materials. We want to have a design language that is exclusively BLACKYAK. We really had to dig quite deep to come up with unique solutions for problems that have been perceived as un-resolvable.”
“Europeans seem to be a little more technical driven and look at the design afterwards, whilst in Korea the design seems to be slightly more important. In other words, many Europeans would buy an ugly jacket, as long as its performance is outstanding, Koreans won’t. Also, Europeans have longer arms and different body shape, so fit has been a big issue. You only have one chance to get it right – the fit and the product has to be perfect or people won’t come back.”
BLACKYAK closely collaborated with the Development Never Stops (DNS) development and design studio in Switzerland and a whole range of athletes in order to ensure that its offer was deeply rooted in tangible product insights.
Nortz explains: “We gave our prototypes to the athletes, who then really put them to the test. Although we obviously wanted to know what they liked about our products, we were actually more interested in what they didn’t like. We then took these things and worked on them. At the end of the day, an athlete knows far more about what exactly they need, and we tried to orient ourselves towards those needs. It was key to have the right partners that can handle those things in production.”
We work with the mantra that ‘evolution never stops'
“It is one of the reasons we work with KTC, who also brought us together with Development Never Stops (DNS). It is well known that KTC has some of the best production. With KTC we are already thinking the same thing. We are sparring partners. It is not often you can find someone who can follow your creations and make them better. We both bring something to the table – it ends up meaning we get to a better solution. Feedback works best when it comes from both directions.”
“KTC’s level of craftsmanship is probably the most important thing for us. As a new brand you only get one chance to get the consumer on your side. If the craftsmanship is not right they will never come back. You have to be 100% spot on. It has to be clean and outstanding. Chinese factories are without doubt the best for this. 10 years ago the perception of Made in China was not very good at all. But all that has changed. I mean which country has more experience of making technical apparel than China. Nobody. There’s nothing negative about it anymore. People might be put off by the price. It is expensive but it’s the best.
If I think about what other brands are doing then we’re already too late
With its first collection picking up a staggering 8 gold winners and 3 winners in both global and Asia sector at ISPO 2016, the future is certainly looking bright for the European arm of its business.
“We never look to other brands,” enthuses Nortz. “If I think about what other brands are doing then we’re already too late. What we are trying to do has game changing status, whereas many other brands just change colours. We work with the mantra that ‘evolution never stops”. Therefore if you want to be a leader, you need to work harder, be quicker and hopefully end up with better results.”
As you’d expect, each and every piece BLACKYAK’s has product capabilities that are second to none, demonstrating durability, freedom of movement and versatility in equal measures. They are the perfect marriage of form and function.
“Our most important advantage is the innovative products that BLACKYAK will bring to the European market, and that, in recent years, have scarcely been seen in the European outdoor industry,” concludes Nortz. “For example, we have developed a coat for expeditions, whose standard weight of around 1.5 kilograms has been reduced to nearly 800 grams, while retaining the same warmth insulation. Another product is our emergency jacket. It weighs just 70 grams, pack down to the size of your hand, and can save the lives of mountain climbers in emergencies. But our collection is very flexible. We aspire to provide professional mountain climbers just as much as those strolling along Hamburg’s Alster River with the perfect gear for their activity.” Well, there might be mountains out there, but not all of us want to climb one.