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140 years of innovation

Interview with Paul Stoneham, CEO at Helly Hansen AS

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European Business: This year, Helly Hansen is celebrating an astonishing milestone – its 140-year anniversary. What is it about your products that has allowed the Helly Hansen brand to stand the test of time?

Paul Stoneham: Simply put, Helly Hansen is an established brand with unrivaled heritage and authenticity that is impossible for other outdoor companies to recreate. Our products are known for their high quality and make a real difference in all facets of people’s lives – whether for leisure and sport activities or for professionals working in extreme conditions. It all comes down to the Norwegian roots of the brand, which account for the company’s passion for nature, great sense of social responsibility, and focus on environmental preservation. These factors have attracted like-minded people to work for the company, which has helped Helly Hansen grow value-based attitudes organically over time.

European Business: Can you elaborate which overarching values you consider to be the most essential to the lasting success of the Helly Hansen brand?

Paul Stoneham: Our guiding mission is to produce great professional gear that keeps people alive, and also makes them feel alive so that they can enjoy other aspects of life. From a corporate social responsibility perspective, it is imperative for us to remain a leader in the push towards sustainable business practices in terms of water conservation, both in oceans and mountain sources. These principles are upheld throughout our supply chains by ensuring transparency and authenticity in all interactions between employees, suppliers and clients.

European Business: Although Helly Hansen has historically been a Norwegian brand, the company is currently under Canadian ownership. Will the brand be able to preserve its distinctive Scandinavian character?

Paul Stoneham: Definitely! The Helly Hansen headquarters will remain in Norway, so its culture will continue to be represented by the brand. I should add that throughout this experience, I have found several common threads that connect Norway and Canada culturally – the unbridled appreciation for the great outdoors as well as a certain commercial savviness, for example. There are a lot of shared values between these two countries.

European Business: There are many similarities, especially with regards to climate and the need for appropriate clothing that will withstand the elements. What gives Helly Hansen products an edge over other outdoor brands?

Paul Stoneham: As an outdoor technical apparel company, we have perfected the art of layering within three key areas – skiing, sailing and mountain wear. Helly Hansen developed a unique and innovative layering system that transcends all of the aforementioned categories. The layering design comprises a technical base layer, a fleece mid layer and an outer shell that acts as a barrier against wind, water and cold. These technical specifications are easily applied outside the realm of extreme sports as well. From the mountain and sailing wear we have developed an urban clothing line, like parkas and raincoats geared towards everyday life. Moreover, we offer the best performing workwear in the world. The high-spec, light-weight technical performance of Helly Hansen’s workwear is tested by professionals – athletes, mountain rescue staff, and coast guard personnel – before being introduced to our consumers. The Helly Hansen brand delivers versatile and reliable protection for all weather conditions.

European Business: Would you say that your business activities are primarily focused on countries with more northern climates?

Paul Stoneham: Until recently, Helly Hansen’s exports were concentrated in three major markets – Europe, Scandinavia and North America. That is likely to change with our newest acquisition of Musto, a technical sailing brand, which has huge internationalizing potential. Together, we are now the number one sailing outfitter in the world, and one of the top outdoor companies in Europe. With the Musto brand, we hope to solidify our presence in the UK and US markets as well.

European Business: That is exciting. How necessary is R&D in this line of work?

Paul Stoneham: Our customers have come to expect only the best from the Helly Hansen brand, because we invest substantial resources in developing state-of-the-art features for our clothing.

There is always room for improvement with regard to striking a perfect balance between water/wind resistance and breathability, durability and light-weight protection, which is why we are launching two new features for our gear in 2018 – Lifa Loft and high-visibility battery-powered reflective strips. Lifa Loft is a cutting-edge down alternative that exhibits superior thermal properties when wet, while the battery-powered reflective strips ensure the visibility of the wearer up to 1 km away, instead of the standard 100 m. This latest feature was developed with the safety of children, construction workers and mountain rescuers in mind.