The Hamish Acland & Mons Royale story – by Laura Williamson
When Hamish Acland first showed up Cardrona Alpine Resort to work as a rookie ski instructor, not many people, himself included, would have predicted he'd one day be at the helm of a global clothing brand. Maybe they should have.
The story of Wanaka-based Mons Royale is one with very local origins. It started in 1997, when Hamish, then 17, moved to Wanaka for the Otago Polytechnic ski instructor course at Cardrona. One of his trainers was Bridget Legnavsky, a former competitive skier, & now Cardrona’s general manager.
“He probably had the lowest attention span of anyone in the group,” she says. “I distinctly remember the powder days… just giving him the nod & telling him to get outta here, as there was no point even trying to get him to listen! But he was so into skiing, enormously passionate & obviously had a real talent.”
Hamish was hooked from the start. “That first season was amazing, I remember just skiing every day & just trying to jump off everything,” he says, adding it's something he did both in his free time & while working; a Cardrona events department drill Hamish lost while skiing down the Arcadia Chutes is still out there somewhere.
It was a good time to get into the industry. Snowboarding was taking off, skiers were learning new tricks from their sidewards-sliding brethren, & Cardrona was leading the way. The first halfpipe in Australasia, & one of the first in the world, had been built at the resort in 1990. In 2000, Cardrona hosted New Zealand’s first ever freeski halfpipe competition; Hamish entered & placed second.
He applied his talents to big mountain freeskiing, & became one of the first skiers to throw freestyle tricks into big mountain competition. He ranked 5th on the Freeride World Tour in 2005, the same year Hamish had his inaugural crack at business, launching the New Zealand Freeski Open, which combined big mountain, slopestyle & halfpipe.
Injury & the passage of time led Hamish to contemplate life beyond the pursuit of fresh lines, & he started to kick around more business ideas. “While travelling, I would test my ideas with friends, & continually looked at what was happening around me. I was a total sponge,” he says.
He found his answer in merino. Hamish knew from experience that merino performed brilliantly as a base layer (especially for couch-surfing skiers with limited access to washing machines). He also knew the merino products available lacked one thing the skiers & snowboarders he had worked, travelled & competed with demanded: style.
“I wanted something I could wear not only on the hill, but into the bar too,” Hamish says.
He set up shop with his now-wife, graphic designer Hannah Aubrey, & they shipped their first Mons Royale orders in 2009 (“I think to five retailers,” Hamish recalls). A spare bedroom served as their office, their garage as a warehouse. By 2014, they were dressing the New Zealand Winter Olympic team, & today Mons Royale is a global company with 30 employees supplying more than 400 stores around the world, including in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada & Norway.
As for his journey from ski instructor, to pro skier, to entrepreneur, Hamish says being a “ski bum” turned out to be exactly the right background he needed to make Mons a success. For one, the ski industry gave him the right contacts – it was the head of marketing for Volkl, one of Hamish’s sponsors, who connected him with a Swiss distributor during the company's first year, ensuring a global reach from the start.
Some of Mons' strongest advocates have been the people Hamish worked alongside in the mountains. “Resort staff have been rad at taking the Mons story around the world,” he says.
Recently, as Cardrona has expanded into a year-round endeavour, opening in summer for mountain biking, tubing & walking, so Mons has looked beyond winter too, finding fresh audiences for its street-wise merino. Mons Royale is a major sponsor at Crankworx Rotorua, which attracts the mountain biking's top media, & top stars.
What Hamish is doing with Mons today is something he's done from the start, when he found out, like many in the ski industry have, that with a lot of hard work he could combine what he loves to do with what he does for a living.
“There’s a blur between passion & business. You want to do things you’re passionate about, & I’m extremely passionate about taking New Zealand action sports global & bringing the world to New Zealand. Mons Royale is simply a vehicle to do that.”
This article is from our Heart of Gold Magazine. Read the full magazine online here or grab a free copy on the mountain!