HOW WE BEGAN
An American girlfriend introduced Jeremy to Brian Brackenridge, a merino sheep farmer she’d stayed with while hitchhiking around New Zealand. Across the table, Brian threw Jeremy a prototype thermal tee-shirt made from 100% merino wool.
“It felt soft and sensual, looked lustrous and was totally natural,” says Jeremy. “It was nothing like the wool I had grown up with, which was heavy and scratchy. And you could throw this stuff in the washing machine.”
Jeremy, then a 24-year-old marketing graduate, wondered if he could sell enough of the prototype fabric to visit his girlfriend in the US. But when he wore the tee-shirt in the outdoors, he became so enthusiastic about merino’s potential that he never saw his girlfriend again – she was jilted for a sheep (actually, a whole flock of them).
Working from his HQ – his bedroom – Jeremy wrote a business plan with the crazily ambitious goal of developing the world’s first merino layering system for the outdoors, and creating a global business in the process.
Synthetics dominated outdoor clothing, and you could barely give merino away. “Don’t talk to me about wool. Wool is dead,” a buyer told Jeremy on his first sales call.
THE BRAND IS BORN
Then Sir Peter Blake, a Kiwi yachting hero, wore a prototype Icebreaker top and leggings for 40 days and nights in a row while setting a world circumnavigation record. His enthusiastic (and free) endorsement gave Jeremy the confidence to throw everything he had into launching Icebreaker.
But everything he had still wasn’t much. Jeremy convinced the bank to loan him NZ$20,000 by saying he needed it to put in a new kitchen. And then eight investors generously – and optimistically – each agreed to put NZ$25,000 into the fledgling company (two of them, Peter Travers and Noel Todd, are still on the Icebreaker board today).