With the ski season fast approaching, it is time to choose one’s green-and-glam outfit. While Patagonia has become synonymous with environmentally conscious activewear, a Swiss entrepreneur at the helm of the high-end skiwear brand Mover has found his own — somewhat unusual — path to sustainability.
On a rainy morning, I am sitting in a brightly lit loft-like space in an industrial zone of Lausanne which houses the headquarters of the luxury skiwear brand Mover. In the background, the radio is streaming an unmistakable beach vibe as Nicolas Rochat (NR), Chief Mover, sits down with Green Stilettos (GS) to talk about clothes that are ideally suited for the Swiss love of mountains.
GS: How did it all start? What was the idea behind Mover?
NR: I got into sustainable fashion from a functional perspective. When I took over the company 12 years ago, one of my first moves was to bring the production back to Europe. It just made sense for a small company like ours instead of sourcing the textiles in Europe, flying them to China and then back to Europe again generating all those carbon emissions along the way.
When we started, the market was saturated — retailers would tell me they did not need another sportswear brand. But, as I like to say, if there are plenty of good products on the market—don’t hesitate to come up with an even better one.
With Mover, we set out to develop a truly superior product, and we ended up with high-end, high-performance sportswear that is at the same time 100% natural. But our starting point was first and foremost functionality.
GS: Could you tell me more about textile innovations Mover uses in its products?
NR: If you are active in the mountains, the first thing you should avoid is sweat. Being too warm is actually your worst enemy: if you get too warm, you sweat and then you get cold. To avoid this, you need breathability across the garment’s three layers: its lining, wadding and outer shell.
So we started experimenting with merino wool to replace the polyamide —the so-called ‘fleece’. That’s when we discovered that wool was performing much better—it is both warm and breathable, and you don’t have that unpleasant odour at the end of the day. That’s why we created our first ski jacket lined with merino jersey.
Then, looking at what the industry was offering in terms of wadding, we only had a choice between polyester and down. However neither satisfied our requirements because the linings needed for both these insulations were not breathable.
After a year of market research, we found a German manufacturer who was producing non-woven wool fleece for mattresses. We asked him if he could produce an insulation material usable in garments from such fleece — but the first prototype was so stiff, it was like a straightjacket! After months of trial and error, he came up with the Swisswool fleece — a fantastic new way to insulate a jacket with natural wadding; it is very soft, natural and light.
Swisswool is sourced from Swiss sheep and alpaca wool, from small-scale farmers who bring their bags of wool to 22 collection points across the country, just like in the old days. The farmers are very happy because before that, the wool was simply burned as there was no market demand for such small quantities. Today, Mover exclusively uses alpaca Swisswool, which is collected from the Swiss stock living near the Simplon Pass.
Our next challenge was to find a breathable alternative for the outer shell, which, once again, did not exist on the sportswear market at the time —it was all pretty much non-breathable plastic.
GS: How come? Very often one sees ‘breathable’ written on the labels of sportswear garments?
NR: That’s pure marketing. Of course, a so-called “membrane” is more breathable compared to a plastic bag. But the garment is only breathable under certain conditions—temperature, humidity, pressure and so on—that can be created in a lab, but it’s not sufficient for outdoor sport activity.
So we were back looking for a natural outer shell that was wind-proof and weather-resistant but at the same time very breathable. We scouted around for solutions and found one close to us, in Zurich: very tightly woven cotton canvas originally used by Burberry for their famous trench coats. This fabric gave us a totally windproof and water- and snow-resistant yet breathable outer shell we needed.
GS: It’s amazing how you found all these ‘forgotten’ innovations! However, as a small company, you must be extremely dependent on your suppliers and their know-how. Do you sometimes feel like you are giving them a lifeline?
NR: Indeed, this has been the case with Swisswool, which we co-invented (today also called Lavalan or else). It is increasingly adopted by sportswear and lifestyle brands. It makes us happy that we could kick-start this innovation and decrease the consumption of plastic at the same time. Besides, wool used for wadding is not usually top quality wool; these cut-offs and leftovers may have otherwise gone to waste — so again, it is more sustainable.
GS: Sustainability in sportswear has long been associated with Patagonia, a company that made a strong stance on environmentally and socially responsible consumption. Do you think in some ways you may have benefited from Patagonia’s pioneering example?
NR: I have much respect for Patagonia and its founder. However it did not influence our thinking, which was truly about comfort, about performance.
What is fantastic is that solutions we found are 100% natural. At the time of Mallory or Hillary, all 8,000 Himalayan summits were climbed in wool and cotton. Nature has given us better materials than the man-made ones we’ve come up with over the past 40 years. In the end, nothing beats nature.
GS: Are your customers surprised that your garments are 100% natural? Do they ask you ethical questions?
NR: They are first surprised that the price is so high: this is down to the quality of the materials. Nothing beats nature, yes, but nothing beats plastic in terms of price. And this is a big danger for the environment — it is very tempting to use plastic. Our customers will often come back thanking us for the comfort and the quality of our products, but ultimately it has to be an educated customer. They are first concerned by the look and fit of the garment, then perhaps they will consider its protective qualities, and then— and only then — they might be interested in knowing that the garments are made from natural fibres. Once they know, however, they do come to appreciate our philosophy.
GS: You came to sustainability mainly through concern over functionality. Twelve years on, are you more or less convinced about sustainable fashion?
NR: I would lie to you if I said I didn’t have an eco-conscious bone in my body. It is not something that we push as a brand, but it is part of our DNA, and of our generation as a whole. We are not tree-huggers but we believe that our world has to be better, and we try to improve it at our small scale.