"I BEGIN WITH AN IDEA AND THEN IT BECOMES SOMETHING ELSE" PABLO PICASSO
Good ideas take time. Sometimes they take a lot of time.
The thing with great ideas is that they often don’t happen when you want them to. Some will come to you spontaneously, when you least expect them to: when you are out running, having a chat with friends, travelling on a plane, in the shower. In the case of Albert Einstein, he said that he got many of his best ideas when he was shaving. You can’t make them happen. Good ideas take time. Sometimes they take a lot of time.
And if you’re lucky enough to capture an idea you think’s worth pursuing, we're often told, ‘You should sleep on it’ before you making the important decision to carry it forward. By ‘sleeping on it’, it gives us the opportunity to clear our minds, helping to make the decision process easier, to improve on our thinking, to make the best idea, better.
A perfect example of a company sleeping on a good idea is the story of Sail Racing. Registered in 1977, Sail Racing was originally part of a wholesale distribution company set up by a group of enthusiasts who shared a single-minded desire to create products that met their needs and embodied their passion for sailing.
It wasn’t until two decades later, that the brand was re-launched with a single-minded determination to create activity specific, fully functional, racing products to meet the demands of close to shore sailors and the, sometimes, brutal conditions they might face offshore. Rather than simply applying a Sail Racing badge to any old garment, the Sail Racing insignia would be the embodiment of peerless quality and innovation in sailing – a badge of honour.
The official clothing partner for the America’s Cup and Oracle Team USA
During this dormant period of regeneration at Sail Racing, in the late 1990s, technical advances in clothing and gear for sailing were being introduced at a slower pace compared to skiing or mountaineering. At the time, competition was fierce in those industries and the call for more technical fabrics and solutions was being answered with a much greater sense of urgency.
So Sail Racing set upon a fast course of action with a tight-knit crew comprising of industrial designers, pattern constructors and material experts to bring this sleeping giant back to life.
Manufaktur catches up with Henric Vikestam, Sail Racing’s head of design and production to understand its change of focus to designing and constructing the most innovative and technical gear for high speed sailing in the world, as well as becoming the official clothing partner for the America’s Cup and Oracle Team USA.
WE WANTED A FACTORY TO WORK WITH THAT JUST ‘GOT’ WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO.
How did it all start? Tell us about those early years?
The brand was actually founded in 1977, but at that time it was run by a group of people who had a plan to make a distribution company working with well-known brands. At the same time they started Sail Racing more as a trading company. They used to buy existing styles and put their logo type on them. When the distribution side of the business started to do well, they didn’t have any time to continue with Sail Racing. It was sleeping from the beginning of the ‘80s until 1999.
What was the inspiration for bringing it back to life?
In 1999, Martin Rydell (now Chairman of the Board) joined the business. He found an old folder about Sail Racing from the 1970s and had the idea to reviving it. He saw what Peak Performance had done - by turning it from a small ski resort brand into a global sports brand - and believed we could do the same with Sail Racing.
At the time, most of the technical sailing brands at that time were just boring. Everyone was offering pretty much the same products - traditional sailing jackets in white, navy and red, made from stiff fabrics, with high collars. Sailing products were miles away - in terms of technical performance - from what was going on in other areas of the outdoor business. It was a real opportunity.
What was the vision for the ‘new’ Sail Racing?
It was to become the most innovative sailing brand in the world. Innovation was one of the most important platforms from the outset. The other part was being hi-tech. From fabrics to detailing, everything should have a hi-tech feeling to it. Making sure the collection was fit for purpose was also extremely important to us. A lot of us were interesting in sailing, but nobody was that good at it. We used a team of professional sailors from the beginning to get all the feedback about what they actually need to have on the boat. Finally, we wanted Sail Racing to be about speed - close to the coast sailing. Even though catamaran and trimaran sailing was not super popular at that time, we thought it would be more commercial to build up around a platform that was easier for consumers to understand.
Tell us how you got involved with KTC?
It came from a meeting with Gore-Tex back in 2012. We discussed with them how we wanted to make something completely different for sailors in terms of technical innovation and construction. We wanted to mix different fabrics together, create better breathability, better stretch but still keep the Gore Tex label and the guarantee to keep you dry. We also wanted a factory to work with that just ‘got’ what we were trying to do.
If you take the technical part of the collection, I don’t think you can do it in Europe any more.
How does the relationship work?
They just got what we were trying to achieve from day one. I think that KTC has been a really important partner to play around with when you develop products where innovation, quality and precision are pivotal. We put everything we’ve got on the table and they help us work out how to put everything together. We might have a lot of ideas about the design, but it’s the construction that’s the headache - the most complicated bit - as you have so many fabrics and design details. But they understand it and they thrive on the challenge. As a result, they have helped us to move upwards.
Tell us about your commitment to peerless quality and innovation
All Sail Racing products are stitched from high-tech fabrics, designed in shapes and sizes to precisely fit their purpose, and finished with details that showcase the well thought-out processes and talents of the craftspeople who produce them. The construction of most of our garments is really complicated to make. It’s even harder to make it look great. But that’s why you want a partner like KTC. They will do a first mock up; a second mock up; a third mock up. I think it might have ended up with 15. But when you pay a lot of money and you invest a lot of time into developing all these kinds of details you have to find the right solution, however long it takes.
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?
If you take the technical part of the collection, I don’t think you can do it in Europe any more, not at the level we want to achieve. For the last 20-25 we have sent a lot of good production knowledge over to Asia, so unsurprisingly they have the best knowledge today. For my part, it was never a discussion to find a partner in Europe to help us with such a complicated collection. We just wanted to find a partner who can help us achieve what we want to do. KTC has everything we could possibly want for a project like ours, maybe more. Even if we develop a lot of things in Europe and Japan, to put everything in China is the right thing to do as they have the knowledge.
We don’t need to convince our consumers that China is a good country for production. We convince them by selling them fantastic garments. If they are produces and assembled in China or Italy, from my side, it doesn’t matter. I have never had a question from a consumer why we make it in Asia.
Tell us about your partnership with the Americas Cup?
We are the official clothing partner to the America’s Cup organization as well as to Oracle Team USA, the fastest team in the world’s most prestigious sailing event. We have used them to test new product developments. They contacted us as they wanted to work with a partner to provide technical clothing designed to enhance the performance of the crew. It’s a great platform for us too. All the feedback on existing products, new ideas and evaluation equipment used under extreme conditions will be very important for our product and development team