Behind the scenes at Zhik

After over a decade of making top end dinghy gear, Australian brand Zhik has entered the offshore and street wear markets. Australian Sailing visited Zhik’s head office in Sydney where testing, design, R&D, photography and more is done. We had the chance to look around and talk to the team about the brand.

 

How has the brand changed since it was started?

When we started twelve years ago our focus was predominantly in the world of dinghy sailing. We found that the products out there just didn’t meet our expectations in terms of performance and weren’t geared towards dinghy sailors’ specific needs out on the water. Once we’d proven ourselves in that space we expanded into yachting.

We essentially started from scratch. What’s out there? How do sailors feel about it? What works? What doesn’t? It’s all about problem solving for us. We are not interested in putting another generic item on the market that does exactly the same as everyone else’s. That’s not why we get out of bed in the morning. Once again, we worked with the top athletes to create performance apparel, not just for the Olympics, but for the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race.

We are expanding. We’re applying our way of thinking, our technical focus and our style to new horizons in water sports.

 

What R&D do you conduct
in Australia?

Research and development comes front and centre at Zhik. We conduct both the development and testing of new materials and construction methods in-house. Having everything on sight allows us to continuously make changes until we have the result we want. It’s a very dynamic development process with input from the entire product team: developers, designers and athletes.

We also work very closely with our Australian university partners who have excellent research staff and facilities. Together we conduct in-depth studies of garment design, material properties, textile fabrications and composites. We look at functional treatments and surface modifications and how they affect the performance, function and comfort of garments. We are very fortunate to have access to leading science in the field locally.

 

How long does it take for
a new product to be created and tested before hitting
the market?

We are constantly pushing the boundaries, trying new things, but we need to make sure they work. Our standard for both performance and durability is very high, which means paying attention to every minute detail and testing more. It’s a constant and ongoing process.

We may need to go through several rounds of prototypes and testing before we are happy with the outcome at various stages. It’s one thing to know the product works from a technical and scientific perspective, but we need to make sure it’s wearable and achieves its purpose in action. That’s where our athletes come in. These professional sailors will sail four to five days a week, clocking significant sea miles in a short period of time in all sorts of conditions. An ideal real-life testing environment for our new products. Their critical feedback is invaluable and we integrate it into our development process.

So it’s a balance really. No two products are the same. In order to maximise first to market advantage we need to be fast and efficient, but we won’t compromise product quality by rushing the development stage. 

 

What has been your biggest selling product and why do you think it has been?

I get asked this question a lot and I have to say it’s not an easy one. We actually have a lot of “killer app” products in our list. Whether it be our wetsuit range for dinghy sailing, with its brilliant SuperWarm and MicroFleece, or the ZKG shoes and their amazingly grippy ZK sole, or our T2 Trapeze Harness, our HydroPhobic Fleece, our AroShell or Isotak wet weather gear…. To name a few. We try and exceed expectations with every product in every range. It depends on the customers, how are they planning to use the product, in what kind of environment, then we can match them with what we think will work best. You will just have to come and find out!

What is the main difference between ISOTAK and other brands on the market?

Most brands use a microporous ePTFE based membrane, while with Isotak® we use a combination of multiple Polyurethane Membrane Layers which work together to provide high levels of breathability but also extremely high waterproof durability.

We also use QuLock™, our own seam taping process where we have thorough quality control checks through every step of the seam taping process from tape production through to finished garment. Using our own proprietary seam tape we reinforce critical junctions in key areas for greater durability.

The most important measure we look at is how waterproof a product is over time. So not when it’s nice, new and shiny, but when it’s actually been out there for a while. For our Isotak® Ocean range we actually created a testing method that would replicate the most extreme weather conditions our sailors could face. We have found that due to the robustness of the membrane itself and the strength of the bond between the composite membrane and the outer and inner textile linings we use in Isotak® it is four times more waterproof durable.

 

What do you look for in a sailor to represent the brand?

We look for passion, drive and dedication that matches ours. A love of wind and water. Inspiration. But most of all authenticity. We want real relationships with our sailors that allow for a frank and open exchange. We will never pay an athlete to wear our gear and promote it. All our team members wear Zhik because they chose to. We only ask that they tell us if and why they would rather wear a different product. That allows us to evolve and create a better product that they will insist on wearing.

We work with our athletes because we believe in them, we want them to excel and win. They work with us because they believe in us and trust that we’ll help them get across the finish line. We are building an engaged community that will keep breaking new frontiers and keep exchanging ideas for
the love of the sport.

 

What has been the biggest technical advancement in
the last 10 years
?

There have been so many advancements in the world of technical apparel the most significant has been the move away from the use of conventional materials. Take rubber for example. It used to be this thick and inflexible material, but thanks to scientific advancements we are now able to change its molecular structure thereby altering its characteristics. We can create new and more complex mouldings that affect the finish and features of our rubber products, such as our rubber shoe soles.

These changes are at a granular level, but they impact the big picture. New materials and techniques directly affect a product’s effectiveness by increasing a sailor’s grip, speed and manoeuvrability. This is what we love doing, we want to worry about the details and develop those cutting edge new products that will help our sailors be lighter and faster. That will help them win.   

 

What is the reception like for Australian brands overseas?

We started exporting globally from the get-go so in a way we didn’t really have the traditional ‘successful Australian brand trying to make it overseas’ story. In fact not that many people knew we were an Australian brand.

The philosophy was always to create the best performing product that the best athletes in the world would chose to wear, so we let that speak for itself. Now that we have proven we can make a great product that wins gold medals we are matching that with our story.

 

What do you see as the
future of Zhik?

Developments in fabric engineering and manufacturing methods will be a game changer for our industry. We will harness
the most disruptive of these technologies
and create the most cutting edge products
for every water sport enthusiast.

We will continue to push the boundaries in performance, comfort and durability. Sailors around the world will know that when they come to Zhik they will find products that we have developed with their needs, their experiences and their wallets in mind.

There are so many technical advancements all the time and we see so many great opportunities, so much potential. We are really excited about the future and what it will bring. We want to become the world leading brand when it comes to water sports. We see a world where no matter what your sport or level, we will have a range to help you achieve your true potential.

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