Couloir Clothing is the exciting new brand that is currently evolving and being developed in Tignes, producing high quality snowsports clothing. The project sparked from the minds of Tignes mega fans Dave Hodgkinson and Paul Roberts.
They recognised a gap for ski and snowboard specific garments in a market flooded by generic thermals that weren’t necessarily totally practical for the serious mountain user. They have approached the development of their product with intense scrutiny and such incredible attention to detail that I can’t imagine there isn’t one minute detail that hasn’t been considered, reconsidered and then considered all over again by the duo, and that’s exactly what makes it so exciting.
Paul and Dave are originally from Abingdon in the UK, and used to visit Tignes once a year on a weekly ski holiday. Over a period of five years they both fell head over heels in love with the place, so much so that in 2015/16 they decided to take a sabbatical and spend a Winter being ski bums here. Over the course of that Winter they spent time skiing with adventure hound Floss from FREEFLO SKI, and began discovering the joys of ski touring and exploring the vast and breathtaking backcountry. As their skiing progressed so did their understanding of technical clothing, not to mention their need for it. “Touring is all about layers.” Paul told me. “You need good quality thermal layers to keep you warm, dry and comfortable. Without the right kit your day is ruined.” This is where they spotted a niche in the world of ski wear that needed some attention. “There wasn’t a lot of really good thermal wear out there that had been specifically designed for skiing. “The requirements a golf player, for example, might have for thermal wear, is going to differ hugely to the requirements of a skier, so why would they buy the same?
Our main aim is to ensure that never again is a day on the snow ruined by discomfort due to unsuitable kit- couloirclothing.com
After extensive research alongside industry professionals they came up with the first prototype design- base layer top, mid layer top and base layer pant. The fabric is a hybrid fabric, “It has 100% extra fine merino on the inside next to the skin combined with Polyester on the outside. This gives the fabric the best properties of both materials” Dave explained, “the temperature regulation, wicking and anti-stink properties of Merino wool combined with the temperature regulation, wicking and importantly the durability of Polyester. This combination resolves the stink often associated with man made thermals and the fragile nature of 100% merino garments. Other brands have different forms of hybrid fabric, but we believe ours is the best. For example, one leading brand offer one with Polyester on the inside and Merino on the outside, so you don’t get the lovely wool feeling next to your skin.”
Design elements that make their garments snowsport specific include details such as extra length in the body and arms, so that should you fall or bend down the top doesn’t ride up and expose any skin, or if you use the thumb holes the length in the arm is sufficient that you wont feel a pull on the sleeve. The fabric around the wrist is slightly thicker too, preventing loss of heat from this area that often leads to cold hands. Zip pulls have been carefully selected so that you can pull them up or down with out having to take off your glove, and the 3/4 length of the pant means that they don’t interfere with your boot. There are hundreds more of these small details that collectively make a big difference in how effective the clothing is.
To ensure that they had left no stone unturned in the design of their garments, Paul and Dave had sample prototypes delivered to Tignes at the beginning of 2017 and this is when the testing phase began. They called out far and wide to snowsports enthusiasts from all disciplines across the Alps (and even in Norway) to put the garments through their paces and provide honest and extensive feedback. Each participant was sent a Tester Pack, and personally I was blown away with the presentation. A neat box that is cleverly packed with each of the garments, a booklet to record notes of each day that you wear the garments, a T-Shirt in a sachet that makes it look like posh coffee, and a selection of beautiful mountain themed postcards and branded stickers. What a treat to open! Product testers include everyone from people who are into touring to people who just like cruising the piste. Garments have been tested in all range of conditions, from freezing blizzards to sweltering Spring sunshine. It’s fair to say that they’ve covered most bases of body type, weather conditions and personal preferences.
“The first thing (we’ve learned) is that everyone is different and opinions vary on a scale that we couldn’t possibly have imagined.” They said. “For some the thumb holes on the base layer are a wonderful addition. For others, they don’t offer anything. They’re like Marmite. We’ve learnt that the fabric is much loved and performs well in cold, warm and hot conditions. We’ve heard back that the sizing needs adjusting, in some places more than others. We’ve heard rave reviews about the cuffs but less happiness about the high neck and under arm tightness.” All in all they reckon they’ve had over 50 individuals test and feedback on their product, and they are still now working through it all and figuring out how and what to improve. There is clearly a huge level of effort being poured into the testing phase of the thermal wear they are creating, and that is precisely the point. “Some brands may make just one prototype sample, and if the results are OK they go ahead and mass produce it. Well that’s not OK for us. We want to get this spot on. We want to make a high quality product that is going to stand the test of time in performance and durability. It’s by constantly testing, adjusting and retesting that we’re going to get there.”
Here’s what Tignes based ski instructor and backcountry specialist Flossie Cockle had to say about Couloir Clothing and her experience testing their product. “I love testing new kit and I’m always on the lookout for something better. I spend almost all of my winter coaching on the slopes and taking people into the backcountry so the kit I use is an essential part of the job. It felt like Christmas as I unwrapped the base layers from their very cool packaging. The guys have gone for top quality material and the merino wool felt smooth to touch. I was impressed by the look and feel, but for me the real testing was going to take place in the field. With some big days planned and a mixture of weather coming in I had the perfect conditions to put the base layers though their paces and they stood up to the testing well. They’re warm, breathable, functional, very comfortable and wash brilliantly. Back at bar base camp I was able to give the guys direct feedback and discuss how to improve their already excellent products. I’m so excited to get my hands on the next sample set and watch this brand as it goes from a dream to a successful reality”
So, what’s next for Couloir Clothing? “A busy summer of further prototypes, testing and mass manufacture.” They told me. “We need to build on what we’ve learnt, decide on colour palettes and finalise our production plans ready for retail from November 1st – no pressure!” From November this year you will be able to buy Couloir Clothing thermal wear online and at selected independent retailers both in the Alps and in the UK. For the future? Well, who knows- perhaps we’ll see a whole range of beautifully designed and produced mountain wear under the Couloir umbrella.
“We hope to see many of you climbing, descending or walking past us bearing the Couloir name.” Paul and Dave co founders of Couloir Clothing
Keep up to date with Couloir Clothing via their website www.couloirclothing.com