BEHIND THE BRAND
It's no secret that we're huge fans of Armadillo Merino here at Lilly Wild, nor is at any mystery why. But in an effort to really see the wood for the trees, we ducked the ropes and interviewed Andy Caughey about his mission, how he's pioneering change, his likes and dislikes and how Armadillo Merino came to be. Introducing Andy Caughey - Behind The Brand.
Do you prefer tea or coffee?
This caused a slight decision dilemma so early in the morning, but coffee came out as the winner in the end!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done recently?
Traveling to New Zealand last month to attend my secondary school reunion. I hadn’t seen some of the guys in decades, since we left school, so there was a lot of catching up to do!
What is your favourite ice cream flavour and why?
Hokey Pokey, a delicious combination of vanilla ice cream with balls of honey comb. Anyone thats been to New Zealand will know and it’s what we all grew up on.
Your greatest fear?
Currently…Donald Trump! (I think we can all agree there!)
1 week summer’s hiking through Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand. The scenery was beautiful and the challenging landscape made it incredibly rewarding.
If you could only take one piece of kit with you on your adventure, what would it be and why?
Python, elite long sleeve crew neck from the Armadillo Merino range.
It’s a versatile long sleeved top that can be worn as a base layer in the winter or a light weight top during the summer for protection against the sun. New Zealanders take extra care of their skin against the sun and its comfortably cool in the heat, which is important too.
1. What were your biggest motivations for starting Armadillo Merino?
I was living in America towards the end of the Iraq war and the subsequent war in Afghanistan.
We were seeing US soldiers inflicted with severe injuries as a consequence of wearing synthetic base layers as the petrochemical based fabric in their clothing was melting and dripping into their skin when exposed to heat.
I believed that these garments were unnecessarily injuring soldiers and destroying lives; they were simply wearing the wrong kit.
Did you know that merino fabrics don’t melt or drip and are flame resistant up to 600°C (1000°F)?!
It didn’t make sense to me that hundreds of thousands of soldiers were wearing flammable apparel and then sending them into high risk environments including live war zones, where the synthetic materials couldinjure their skin, causing them to overheat and generating offensive body odour, which their enemy could smell.
I believed this needed to change and therefore created Armadillo Merino based around natural protection for professionals.
2. How did the idea come about?
I’ve always worked in the textile and clothing industry with a focus on wool, having a come off a sheep farm in New Zealand.
In the past I’ve worked with luxury fashion and sportswear performance brands, along with some of the emerging wool outdoor brands.
I found that there were no brands delivering next-to-skin clothing styled for professional people who ventured into adverse and extreme environments on a daily basis.
I believed the properties of wool would help these people optimise their performance when operating in these high risk environments by wearing next-to-skin merino garments.
In the outdoor industry, clothing companies make styling and fashionable colours a central part of their design brief.
However, I believed greater garment comfort and enhanced performance were the two most important elements of performance clothing for these professional users.
Our aim was to remove discomfort when wearing our clothing, especially as our customers define comfort as the lack of discomfort.
When they wear one of our garments they don’t feel uncomfortable, so they’re able to focus on the task at hand.
You have 2 meters of skin covering your body, so Armadillo acts as a buffer zone between your body and the outside elements.
It’s your skin that determines your level of comfort, from feeling hot, cold, sticky, pressure and pain such as abrasion.
This is important because when you feel comfortable, you feel good and have a heightened sense of wellbeing.
3. How has your initial idea for Armadillo Merino changed since the first spark?
Our garments are constantly improving as we are continually working with professionals in these extreme environments, from volcanoes and oceans to mountains, developing our fabric and clothing knowledge and acquiring expertise around what makes a great high performance merino wool garment.
We’ve been primarily focusing on professional garments, but we’ve always wanted to expand into consumer garments for people who love adventuring in nature.
However, before we brought them our garments, we wanted to bring the best styles we possibly could and clearly demonstrate that they’re suitable for them.
As our garments are also aimed for those in institutions, such as soldiers, we have met great challenges in connecting with them and persuading them to change their gear.
This is because these organisations tend to be slow and resistant to change, despite the clear benefits that our garments could offer in reducing injuries and in saving lives.
4. What makes your brand of merino wool different to others?
It’s interesting that the outdoor industry categorises merino clothing into the merino wool category, but you don’t class cotton!
I think as more clothing brands discover merino, then the fibre story will become seen less of what defines the brand and it will be more about how the brand resonates with its users.
Armadillo caters primarily for professional users and adventurers by focusing on comfortable styling using innovative fabrics combined with durable long life construction.
5. How do you develop your products?
We develop our garments with our community of users by working closely with these people and using their feedback to allow our garments to evolve.
As well as using research workshops and in-field product testing, we also offer our unique tailor made program for specialist teams. If you come to us wanting something specific, we can design and develop a style for your unique requirement.
6. Why do you source your wool from the New Zealand wool company ZQ Merino?
We want our fibres to be traceable back to the farms where it came from to give Armadillo and our garments integrity and be of a consistently high quality.
With ZQ Merino we can create high performance garments with consistent fibre properties such as length, strength, colour and softness.
It’s also important to us that our fibre comes from a source that adheres and meets to high standards of to animal welfare, environmental care and social sustainability.
7. Why do you think Armadillo is good for adventurous women?
Many people go into the outdoors not knowing what to wear or how to wear the various clothing products.
Each environment requires different knowledge, skills and clothing, for example cotton in the hills is dangerous to wear as it can chill you.
However, our garments use a technical merino wool fibre that ensures first time users will enjoy the outdoors by addressing some of the functional clothing challenges that women meet when embarking on adventures with nature.
8. What’s your most popular women’s garment?
It used to be the Iona, a women’s long sleeve zip top, but now it’s the Artemis, a women’s long sleeve crew neck with a extra long double cuff for added warmth and protection.
We designed the Artemis in collaboration with the female British Paralympic archers, including Vicky Jenkins (below) who went onto win Bronze at Rio! We developed this relationship with them when I was visiting my son, who is an junior archer for Great Britain!
As I chatted with some of the women I discovered that they were having anissue with regulating their body temperature, they were either too hot or too cold and were constantly adjusting their layers. This was both time consuming and uncomfortable for them, as well as impacting on their ability to shoot competitively.
Armadillo’s aim was to help them reduce the number of layers and the bulk to give them the perfect amount of warmth to maintain a stable core body temperature.
We created a new feature: the extra long double cuff that extends from the wrist to below the elbow, as this is a critical area for body maintaining body warmth.
With our Armadillo garments we were able to keep them shooting all summer and winter long with just 3 layers, instead of up to 8 layers that they used to wear!
So now they only need a Armadillo next to skin, one thermal layer and one windproof jacket.
The Artemis top is very soft to wear next-to-skin without itch, anunderstated style and odour free, which keeps our female customers happy and wanting more!!
9. Where do you hope to take Armadillo into the future for women?
We are developing more designs, including more tops and accessories with a greater selection of appealing colours.