The Jöttnar journey started in a snow hole in Arctic Norway


Most actions are a combination of instinct and learned behavior. Obviously an instinct is something you don't need to learn — it happens naturally, without you even thinking about it. The rest can be learnt along the way. 

With 30 odd years operational experience of wearing the same kits for weeks on end, the idea for Jöttnar was conceived by two former Royal Marine commandos, Tommy Kelly and Steve Howarth, in a snow hole during a fierce storm in Norway. Given the situation, the idea was instinctively a good one: create technical outdoor clothing that would protect against the raging brutality around us, whilst capturing the purity and elegance of the Scandinavian landscape. 

The fact that they had practically no knowledge about sourcing fabrics, fabric suppliers, the design and development process, didn’t really matter. What they did know was how important clothing is in hostile environments. 

Since leaving the Marines and going on a learning curve steeper than climbing Mount Everest, they finally launched Jöttnar to the market in 2013. From the outset they knew that their output would have to withstand the demands of the most exacting users in the most ferocious conditions, providing warmth, incredible breathability, restrict the release of heat and water, to name but a few key functional benefits. 

Their pursuit of excellence has delivered a collection typified by clean lines, disciplined designs, craftsmanship, technology and attention to detail, that are second to none in climbing and mountaineering clothing. 

KTC catches up with Jöttnar’s founders, to understand the journey from a snow hole to developing the Jöttnar brand.

The soul and the meaningful innovation that should exist in a sector built around the outdoors seemed increasingly absent


We understand that you were both in the Royal Marines? What made you want to start a clothing brand?

Yes we were both Royal Marines Commandos. The Jöttnar journey started in a snow hole in Arctic Norway when Tommy and I were both serving in the Marines. We’re both lifelong climbers, mountaineers, skiers and we felt the line between serious clothing and lifestyle clothing was becoming blurred. The soul and the meaningful innovation that should exist in a sector built around the outdoors seemed increasingly absent. We believed that there was space for a new, ultra-focused brand that was entirely committed to creating gear for serious outdoor people. We dubbed our vision ‘total mountain focus'.

What is the inspiration behind the brand?

The beautiful yet hostile and unforgiving Scandinavian wilderness and its echoes of legend and folklore - a place were we would spend 3 months every winter with the Marines. Our idea was to develop a brand of technical outdoor clothing which would, as we say, "protect against this raging brutality around us, whilst capturing the purity and elegance of the Scandinavian landscape". A new brand that was better and more considered than any other mountaineering clothing brand in existence.

What about the name? We believe it comes from some old Norse folklore? We also love the idea that the collection is about protection and the ability to Conquer Giants. 

Yes, the name Jöttnar, roughly translates as “mountain giants” in Old Norse. So we are having a bit of fun with the old Northern legends. We use many old Norse names for our products too and the logo, the Mjölnir, is a stylised version of Thor’s hammer, which we thought could be a symbol of protection. It all sounds a but gruesome! In addition ‘Conquer Giants’ definitely refers to what we intend to do with our company!

form and function combined excellently, no gimmicks

What’s in the range? You seem to have a very focused offer.

We launched with 4 different products in 2013 and now have 27 products for 2016. We are a winter brand and presently focus on climbing, winter mountaineering and all mountain skiing. The range offers the complete layering system: shells, insulation and base layers. We use Polartec NeoShell for our membrane and we believe, that in conjunction with the KTC specialists, we have developed the most finely finished and crafted NeoShell product in the world, finally doing this excellent membrane justice. We also have pioneered hydrophobic down (from Downtek), the first UK brand to do so, and have developed both yak wool base layers and yak wool mid layer insulation pieces, again pioneering this superb nature fibre.

What were the first pieces you worked on? Did you have much knowhow when it came to production and design?

The first pieces were our NeoShell shell jackets and salopettes, our down jackets and our Alfar synthetic mid layer. Along with our Mountain Pro team, Tommy and I specify the criteria required as end users. We didn’t know too much about production at first, although we knew the design ethos we desired very clearly - form and function combined excellently, no gimmicks, streamlined but replete with technical aspects and finally, only meaningful innovation allowed. Our development manager, Sarah, speaks the ‘factory language’ required to bring our specifications to final production.

What’s the reaction to the collection been like since you launched? What sort of person buys pieces from JÖTTNAR?

The reaction has been superb, both commercially and in terms of user experiences. We waited with baited breath for the reviews to come in. They were very complimentary. We’re happy.

We don’t develop technology for technology’s sake

How did you end up working with KTC?

I researched where the best technical sportswear brands were producing their gear, dropped KTC a line and we met up later, in Munich. I explained what our vision was and KTC, thankfully, has got right behind us with incredible enthusiasm. We are a tiny fish in the KTC pool, but we all appear to share the same vision, the same wish for superbly crafted, exciting, beautiful product. Hopefully KTC can see the potential for growth together.

Tell us about the products you are developing with KTC?

For our general line, we are currently focusing on perfecting stitch free sonic seam welding with NeoShell. Nobody else is doing this; KTC and Jöttnar are the first, and the weight savings can be really good. For 2016. amongst other things, we also want to move our yak wool programme to KTC to push the limits with it. The Jöttnar Black Line is a highly specialist, limited edition product line, which is sketched out internally, and we will look to begin development with KTC on this soon.

What are you looking for with the products? Exploring the latest technology? Developing fabrics? Are you looking for a solution to a particular problem?

We don’t develop technology for technology’s sake. Each technology or piece in the range must stand on its own, must work, most not degrade and must have a clear end user purpose. That end purpose can be either highly specific, or versatile, but it must answer a problem which users face in the outdoors. 

How does the partnership work? Why do you like working with them?

Two reasons: first, the KTC operational management and methodology is first class. They are responsive, clear in their communication and highly efficient. We have been working with a great team there, led by Paula. Second, the KTC dedication to craftsmanship and understanding of technology has been excellent. They know what works and they add real value to our development.

A Jöttnar piece will endure for many years of hard use

important is the craftsmanship that KTC offers?

It’s essential to us. Absolutely essential. It’s a huge point of difference between us and other brands.

For many years ‘Made in China’ has had a negative perception in the West? We believe that performance sportswear Made in China is the best in the world? What are your thoughts on this in relation to KTC?

We believe that Made in China is the best in the world too for performance sportswear. The Chinese have a very solid heritage in this sector, certainly longer than anyone else. We have tried manufacturers in the UK, Tunisia, Portugal, and Bangladesh in order to have benchmarks. None have even come close to the quality and craftsmanship level we require. KTC dials this up a further notch again.

Some people say that elite technology performancewear can never be considered to be clothing of enduring value? 

The reverse is the case, especially if it’s designed and built properly, rather than leaping on to the latest unproven technology or gimmick, or using sub standard manufacturing. A Jöttnar piece will endure for many years of hard use.

What do you think of KTC’s approach to CSR?

Great. This is important for us. KTC is very transparent, with publicly available Fair Wear Foundation reports as well as its own CSR and workforce care internal reports. They take it seriously.