John Walbrecht, a 17-year industry veteran, started his new job at Mountain Hardwear this week, six months after the departure of Topher Gaylord. We were the first to ask him about the new gig.
Mountain Hardwear’s new president said Wednesday that he has been a long-time fan of the company and that he plans to “shake things up” and bring the company back to its alpine roots.
John Walbrecht, a 17-year industry veteran, most recently steered Fjallraven into the North American market, helping the Swedish brand to explode beyond Scandinavia. His first day as president of Mountain Hardwear was Monday. His appointment was announced in late February.
When Columbia Sportswear bought Mountain Hardwear for $36 million in 2003, it did everything it could to help its new brand succeed, Walbrecht said. But somewhere along the way, the brand message was missed. Mountain Hardwear became more like Columbia and less like the irreverent, hardcore outdoor brand its followers have loved.
“That’s the perception. It’s sad,” he said “It’s what you have to deal with, and yet I stand in here today and I see all these award-winning products. I’m looking at posters, there are multiple Backpacker awards. … We’re still making that product. I think the issue is the marketing.”
Under Walbrecht’s leadership, Mountain Hardwear will “go back and own (its) alpine roots.”
Mountain Hardwear is known for its hardgoods above all else, but since the Columbia acquisition, equipment has taken somewhat of a backseat to more mainstream apparel, lifestyle and street wear.
It’s critical that the company starts to own its own heritage and brand message, Walbrecht said. That's one of his first orders of business at his new gig: Great teams build great brands, he said, and he wants to make sure everyone is on-message about what Mountain Hardwear stands for as a brand.
Many in the industry were surprised when Mountain Hardwear announced a partnership with lifestyle brand Cole Haan to “adapt the fabrics and technologies of alpine outerwear to the needs of fast-paced, all-weather urban life.”
Walbrecht confirmed the partnership will continue this fall. He hopes to steer Mountain Hardwear into becoming a brand that can both own the summit and provide fantastic lifestyle apparel. He used Canada Goose as an example of a brand that has stayed true to its core while producing fashionable goods perfect for cold urban life.
He sees two ways to grow the outdoor industry: Get core outdoorists to stay outside longer, which means they need better gear and more of it, or simply encourage more people to get outside, period.
“I will do everything in my power at Mountain Hardwear to catalyst innovation,” he said. “Because that’s when everybody in the outdoor industry wins. The more we innovate, the more that happens.”
Walbrecht says he has been humbled by the challenge and responsibility of reviving a brand that has inspired and touched so many.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Mountain Hardwear as a brand and I believe Mountain Hardwear could and should play a much larger role in the outdoor industry on a global scale,” he said. “It’s too much of an opportunity, if done right… to pass it up.”