Eine Frau und ein Mann in Jacken von Montane, sie stehen im Dunkeln, tragen eine Stirnlampe.

Product advice

Manufactured by Montane: started in a garage

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Author, 4-Seasons
© Fotos

The English brand Montane has always been rather discreet. The products are designed to do the talking. Just like the jacket that started off as a tent and got everything rolling... A portrait.

The whole project took a few years – four, to be precise. ‘And a few shared adventures – and perhaps a few shared beers,’ says Matt Hickman, marketing manager at Montane. Chris Roff designed the English brand’s first jacket back in 1989, but didn’t set up Montane until 1993.

Chris originates from northeast England and was born with a strong explorer’s spirit. In 1989, he set off for Chile to explore the then uncharted Rio Pangal. On the three-month expedition, he met compatriot Jake Doxat. He pointed to Chris’s jacket and joked: ‘You look like you’re wearing a tent.’ Chris just nodded: ‘I am, actually.’

In his native Northumberland, Chris simply hadn’t found the right equipment. There were lightweight, hardwearing tents, but no clothing. So what do you do? The 24-year-old quickly disassembled the tent and used it to make his own expedition clothing. ‘Basically, that was the first Montane product,’ says Matt, smiling.

Up and down, like in the mountains

Chris and Jake, four years his senior, are different characters: Jake studied business at Cambridge after a rebellious youth and was working for a whisky company. The two complement each other well – and share a passion for the outdoors.

Drei Männer an einem Tisch, sie schauen sich einen Rucksack genau an.

Weight, material and fit are the focal points of product design.

Photo © Archiv Montane

They go on countless trips together and are always dissatisfied with their gear. Eventually, the idea of starting a brand themselves took root. Chris Montane set out on his own in 1993 – and went bankrupt after three years. Jake quit his lucrative job, scraped together some money, got some more from his friends – they still own shares today – and embarked on his biggest adventure to date.

The 90s were full of ups and downs: Montane became a huge hit in Japan with the ‘Extreme Smock’ jacket. The domestic market, though, took its time. Production was based in a garage in industrial Pegswood, north of Newcastle. Space was at a premium; success was slow.

‘We were never a loud brand,’ explains Matt. ‘We still aren’t, even now. One of our maxims is “Presence, not noise”. We don’t scream at the market, we want to impress people through our products.’ But the absence of major campaigns meant that word of the products’ special functionality and exceptional lightness first had to get around. ‘Back then, word of mouth in the outdoor scene didn’t work as fast as it does in today’s social media age.’ That being said, their understatement may make things harder, but it also creates a loyal following.

In 2000, Chris said his goodbyes to fulfil his greatest dream – sailing with his family to New Zealand, where he still lives and works as a sailing instructor.

Products by Montane

Montane remained the big dream for Jake, though – and it slowly gained momentum. The ‘Featherlite Smock’ started getting attention: super light and super packable, the jacket is so small that, according to Montane, it will fit in your mouth. This is a comparison that tempts you to try it out. It’s word of mouth of a new kind, you could say... Even now, over 20 years later, the smock is still a bestseller. It’s now made from 100% recycled Pertex material. Montane has a long-standing partnership with the British pioneering brand for lightweight fabrics.

And so, gradually and quietly, Montane from northeast England has become a byword for high-quality, lightweight outdoor clothing. ‘Further. Faster.’ is their motto. ‘But we don’t mean being the fastest. It’s about finding out what’s possible. You can go further with less. Less is more – I know that’s just a saying, but it’s true,’ says Matt.

«Montane clothing embodies functionality and timeless design at a fair price.»
Clothing purchaser, Zurich Office

This minimalist, minimising approach has gained prominence in recent years, and not just in the outdoor industry. People have looked to break away from excessive consumption and information. And it’s also a sustainability statement. Matt explains: ‘We’ve all got to manage with less. But obviously, as a brand, we depend on selling products. We are very conscious of that. We try to counteract it through ensuring high quality, durability, timeless design and our commitment.’ This commitment is not something the ‘quiet’ brand ever really talks about. ‘But that’s something we’re questioning more and more. We can also inspire through our own actions.’

New goals

Matt also likes to ask himself the question: ‘If Montane was a person, where would it be in life right now?’ His response is: ‘I think we’ve grown up in the last four or five years. We know who we are and where we want to go.’ Where do you want to go? Matt laughs. ‘More into Switzerland,’ he says. ‘It’s a country that we English are traditionally drawn to. Our products are understood there and the Swiss aren’t known for their loud behaviour...’

Montane has enjoyed good growth in recent years. And in 2021, Jake sold his ‘baby’ to Inverleith LLP, a Scottish investment company. He remains a minority shareholder and a member of the board of directors. The CEO is now Gary Bryant, who was Vice President of Product and Merchandising at Arc’teryx for many years. ‘Gary is fanatical about materials and embraces our focussed approach,’ says Matt. ‘We remain true to our philosophy: minimalist design, a timeless look, a modest character.’

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