Nick Brayton Q&A: Woolrich turns to heritage, youth for future leadership

Summer Market marks a new chapter in the 182-year history of outdoor stalwart Woolrich, introducing its young new president Nick Brayton, 33.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

Summer Market marks a new chapter in the 182-year history of outdoor stalwart Woolrich, introducing its young new president Nick Brayton, 33.

Brayton, however, is no stranger to the industry or show. He’s the son of former Woolrich President and CEO Roswell Brayton Jr., who died prematurely in 2007, and a seventh-generation descendant of Woolrich founder John Rich.

Brayton tells us he sees a future for Woolrich in which the brand not only builds off its heritage, but becomes more of an industry innovator, in particular within the wool category. It is, after all, part of the company’s name.

Woolrich is one of the original U.S. outdoor brands, giving many of its peer companies at the show a glimpse into the future on how to stand the test of time.

This will be your first Outdoor Retailer as Woolrich president. What are your goals at the show? Will you approach it differently?

I’m going to be very visible in our booth. I’ve met and know a lot of our dealers, but there are many I haven’t had the opportunity meet yet. I’m going to meet with as many of our dealers as I possibly can and share with them my vision for the brand. Woolrich is as relevant today as it was in 1830, and I want to be sure that all our retailers and the outdoor market hear this.

Earlier this year, you said that you see a greater role for Woolrich as an innovator in the industry. Where do you see the opportunities? What can the industry expect from the future Woolrich?

Being in business for 182 years, heritage is a given. But beyond just heritage designs, there are two other elements that are a part of our brand’s DNA — wool and Made in the USA. Wool is in our name and we have the oldest continually operating woolen mill in the country in Woolrich. Every day I go into the office I see the bales of raw wool going in the back of the mill and blankets coming out the front. You will see more wool products from us, and in coming seasons that will include made in the U.S. wool garments made from wool from our mill. Additionally, we see our biggest opportunity in outerwear. Here we can meld technical outdoor function with classic heritage styling that is versatile and fashionable. Our designs for next fall tell a new story in outerwear and we are really excited about it. We were pioneers in outerwear, and we believe we can recapture this again.

Does that innovation come from within, or are you considering acquisitions?

We have a very talented team and who will spearhead the majority of our innovation development, but we will also rely on some partners for collaboration. That all said, right now we’re considering all types of options to ensure that we get to where we want to go.

Wool, in particular merino wool, has continued to gain ground in the outdoor industry. Do you see that trend continuing, or is there a point at which the category will peak? Where does the category need to improve?

Wool as a whole will continue to be important. It’s truly nature’s technical fiber and I think we’ll continue to see more innovation with wool in the industry, and especially with merino. In coming seasons you’ll be seeing more such wool innovations from us as we look for ways to further enhance its capabilities.

How do you balance that future innovation with Woolrich’s 182-year history? Any advice for other, or soon-to-be heritage brands?

It can be a challenge and we certainly have had some missteps along the way. The best way to balance heritage and innovation is to make sure that the innovation has a story that ties back to the brand roots. For us almost anything pertaining to wool is fair game. It’s this balance that keeps us relevant. In addition to balancing innovation, it’s vital that we are consistent and true to our brand. I think this is good advice for any brand, not only heritage brands.

Beyond Woolrich, what is your view of the economy and the consumer heading into the rest of summer?

Our economy is definitely improving, but we’re by no means out of the woods. Consumers are optimistic about how things are evolving in near future and as a result are opening their wallets and things are improving. While the winter was rough on most retailers, we had strong sell-through all in all. The spring got off to a pretty good start. I’m not as bullish on Europe. We are looking to expand further into that market and new economic troubles seem pop up daily over there. However, Asia is just the opposite and we see lots of opportunity there in the near future.

–David Clucas