The Original Outdoor Clothing Company

Helly Hansen

“It might have even been the first, true waterproof jacket,” reports Craig Ryan, General Manager of Blue Rock Pty Ltd, Helly Hansen’s exclusive distributor in Australia and New Zealand.

The husband and wife team immediately began selling waterproof jackets, trousers, sou’westers, and tarpaulins under the name Helly Hansen. These early prototypes were coarse and imperfect – but the public devoured the concept nonetheless. In 1878, just one year after the company was launched, Helly Hansen won a diploma of excellence at the Paris expo. Four years after that, the couple had already sold over 10,000 pieces.

Thirteen decades later, Helly Hansen is a global brand with an estimated annual turnover of around US$350 million. The company’s apparel is used by world-class sailors, skiers and adventurers who demand the most advanced protection and the highest quality garments in order to overcome nature’s harshest conditions. The outdoor and sporting wear company’s phenomenal success continues to this day largely because the team has continued to push forward – just as Mr Hansen did all those years ago. “It has been a continual journey of innovation,” Mr Ryan explains. “People look at Helly Hansen as a leader of innovation with outerwear and active apparel.”

The company has been responsible for a number of industry firsts throughout its long history. In 1949, the team took waterproofing technology to the next level by sewing a thin sheet of translucent PVC plastic into its coats. The new offering, dubbed the Helox, replaced oil based outerwear and was an instant hit with consumers. The product virtually flew off the shelves, and the company had to produce 30,000 of the new coats each month to keep up with demand.

After breaking ground with its waterproof apparel, Helly Hansen went on to pioneer the layering principle known today as the 3-Layer System. The first layer came in 1961, when the team developed the fiberpile, a warm, lightweight, and fast-drying fleece. “They were the first company to use what we know today as fleece,” Mr Ryan reports. Helly Hansen’s invention provided superb insulation against cold while simultaneously allowing for ventilation and easy washing. As a result, the material served as a perfect mid layer underneath a protective, waterproof outer layer. Labourers working in cold, wet conditions embraced the new concept.

“And then the missing link was the base layer,” Mr Ryan points out, “and Helly Hansen was the first company to sell base layer or ‘thermals’ as they are known today.” This final layer came in the 1970s, when the company developed LIFA, which has the remarkable ability to keep skin both warm and dry. LIFA does not absorb water, as many similar products do. Instead, the material actually uses body heat as a catalyst to push sweat vapour through the garment to a second layer (typically fleece), where it will be absorbed and evaporated. This technology is so effective that Helly Hansen still uses a more advanced generation of LIFA in its thermals and base layers today.

The company’s 3-Layer System has culminated in the most recent Helly Hansen innovation, the H2 Flow Jacket. The lightweight garment provides outdoor enthusiasts with both insulation and ventilation. “It’s about making a jacket that is lighter, cooler, and warmer – even though those last two words are opposites,” Mr Ryan explains. “It captures your body heat in the mid layer, and then releases that heat when you don’t need it.”

The team’s decades of ground breaking innovation have won the company a large base of loyal customers. “What people like about Helly Hansen is its authenticity and credibility,” Mr Ryan insists. “It doesn’t have to pretend. It’s earned so much credibility over the last hundred years.” Many customers are also drawn to Helly Hansen’s European sophistication. “Helly has a point of difference in that it is a European brand with a distinctive Scandinavian style, a European style,” Mr Ryan says. “They tend to make products that fit a little slimmer and are a little more stylish.”

Helly Hansen’s leading edge styles are available in Australia and New Zealand exclusively through Blue Rock, a subsidiary of Texas Peak. The group operates four brand stores and one outlet store in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as offering Helly Hansen products online and wholesaling to select retailers. “It is just such an authentic, fun brand to work with,” Mr Ryan remarks. “I have been in the game a long time and I really enjoy working with Helly Hansen.” Consumers agree, and the brand is taking off across the continent. “Here in Australia and New Zealand we have been achieving like for like growth in the low teens over the past four years,” Mr Ryan reports. “Globally, Helly Hansen has been on a similar growth curve since 2009, which is a great achievement in this field of business post the GFC. [Helly Hansen] is recognised as one of the faster moving outdoor brands around at the moment.”

The team plans to continue driving the brand’s growth in Australia and New Zealand. The aim is to have 50 per cent sales come from their own retail and 50 per cent through wholesale. Blue Rock only wholesales to a limited number of stockists, including leading snow and outdoor speciality stores and marine / nautical specialty stores. Notably, the company has just inked a deal with David Jones, and Helly Hansen is making its debut in around nine David Jones stores this winter.

A hefty portion of Blue Rock’s retail efforts go into online sales. However, Mr Ryan says that the majority of Helly Hansen customers still prefer to visit a bricks and mortar store before committing to a purchase. “With a brand like Helly Hansen, a lot of people like to do their research online, but will still go into the stores to touch and feel and try on.”

Australian consumers are finding a wider variety of Helly Hansen products both online and in stores recently. “I have been pleasantly surprised how Helly Hansen is pushing into a broader range of product, and specifically with spring and summer in mind,” Mr Ryan explains. “They’ve taken the brand’s heritage in sailing and they have expanded that line into quite a large line of marine lifestyle sportswear.” This move is obviously a boon to consumers who would like to enjoy the benefits of Helly Hansen apparel throughout the long summer months. The company has also added a line of footwear to its collection, and another recent, and very successful, push has been into the fitness and training sector.

Blue Rock is eager to capitalise on Helly Hansen’s tremendous popularity and wants to expand the brand’s availability in Australia and New Zealand even further. “We are looking to open more stores, but we are being very careful about where and when,” Mr Ryan reports. Currently, the team is looking to open a new store in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and in Queenstown, New Zealand. “We’ve had Queenstown in our sights for a while now,” Mr Ryan says. “It’s a perfect town for Helly Hansen. It is very much one of the adventure capitals of the world.”

Indeed, adventurous outdoor living is exactly what Helly Hansen is all about. From the ground breaking ideas of an old sea captain, to the leading edge advances of today, Helly Hansen is known for providing the most rugged adventurers with the quality apparel they crave.

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December 19, 2018, 5:12 AM AEDT