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business models, strategies and technologies

Supply chain transparency at Icebreaker

Icebreaker in New Zealand provides a textbook example of credible, persuasive supply chain transparency

I bought my very first Icebreaker garment way back in 2003, in a nondescript little clothing store in a nondescript little country town somewhere on the North Island of New Zealand. I knew nothing about the brand or its capability claims – I was just cold. The sweater was a subtle dark green (I’ve still got it) and made of merino wool – new to me back then.

Launched in 1994, Icebreaker says it was the first company in the world to develop a merino wool layering system for use outdoors. It was apparently also the first such company to source merino directly from growers. In the simplified version, this merino wool is the key Icebreaker differentiator – a narrative that gels well with the clean, wide-open spaces of New Zealand and the company’s visual style. Everything else stems from that, it seems.

Proud of its New Zealand heritage

I recently happened upon Icebreaker again – in what seems to be a textbook example of presenting a clear, credible and attractive account of their entire supply chain setup. The thing about great sheep and their natural packaging is that there’s an awfully long way from a New Zealand mountain to a San Francisco store – and in a nastily cutthroat commercial world not much of it needs to be very ethical.

People, processes, automation, audit results

Icebreaker seems to deal with this remarkably well, presenting classy, intelligent pictures of people, processes and business relationships. I may be gullible, but I like the way this company doesn’t shy away from pictures of automated processes and churning machinery from inside the 59 factories involved, worldwide. After all, it’d be so ad agency-easy to just run the standard natural, artisan meme. Instead, Icebreaker audit results seem to cover the whole spectrum of transparency declarations – clearly and convincingly, and everything seems textbook  – although I’m not quite sure whether it’s the facts or the communication of them that are the real driver.

Sustainability isn’t just a feature of our products. It’s the values and design of our business.

Impressively in sync

This seems to be a rare example of how a company uses transparency and accountability to make communication of its idea almost self-reinforcing – with intentions, processes, product and communication in sync.

Sucker me, I’m now Icebreaker-impressed at a higher level – because before I even got a chance to think it through they’ve answered my only real doubt about the company’s operations  – what happens post-sheep.

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