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”The brand exists because it must. The Icelandic climate demands it.”

66˚North picked their new Global President from the Managing Director position at Net-a-Porter. We speak to Matthew Woolsey about how he will expand the brand while also maintaining its Icelandic identity and 95-year heritage. That includes a slightly different take on sustainability.

Interview: Johan Magnusson

Woolsey grew up in Northern California and could see the morning fog rolling off the Pacific Ocean, over the coastal mountains, and covering the redwood forests from his childhood bedroom.

— I’ve always loved the monumental beauty of simplicity emerging from vastness, he says.

He’s spent his professional life in New York and London as a computer programmer, a journalist, digital agency director, and fashion executive.

— My career has been a mix of things which have created a clear path in retrospect, but often felt disconnected at the time. Most recently I was the managing director for Net-a-Porter, which meant I was in charge of the world’s largest luxury e-commerce company globally. What ties my career together is the appreciation of how a good story can move through — and be amplified by — technology, design, product, and experience. How, if you can create an authentic, coherent world for customers, commerce can be an expression of values and meaning.

Tell us about your new position as Global President of 66˚North. And how come that you joined the brand?

— It means that I spend my time working with great people and thinking about what new components and evolutions this beautiful Icelandic institution requires in order to bring its product and ethos to the rest of the world. I joined the brand because it sits at the convergence of many things I value: the outdoors, design, a brilliant story, and a purpose-lead mindset to leverage the power of business toward a healthier life and planet.

How would you define the brand as of today? And what do you wish to change and improve?

— The brand exists because it must. The Icelandic climate demands it. The 95-year heritage of the brand started with protecting fisherman and then Icelandic Search & Rescue teams from the wild nature of Iceland and the North Atlantic, where quality was a matter of life and death. It was practical and multifunctional and designed to last decades, says Woolsey, continuing,

— Today, 66˚North maintains those qualities and brings them into the unique Icelandic art of living which seeks an everyday connection to nature, no matter the weather. The product itself appears very simple with minimalist features and stylish silhouettes but it hides incredible complexity. We use high-tech, innovative fabrics, and garment constructions that may require a worker to spend two days making a single jacket. That means you can comfortably wear it hiking in the countryside, going up a glacier, or cycling your children to school; pairing the product just as easily with other technical garments or city wear depending on the context. To expand internationally, 66˚North must maintain its identity born from Suðureyri and Reykjavik while showcasing the everyday activity and outdoor aspects of the Icelandic lifestyle into a format which is inspirational and relatable to customers around the world.

How do you and will continuously work with sustainability?

— For us, sustainability begins with product. We want our product to last for decades and take great pride in the fact that 5% of Iceland’s population takes part in an exchange for buying and selling used 66˚North product, some of it decades old. There is nothing more sustainable than a jacket you can use for years and reduces the amount of things you need through its multifunctionality.

— We’re constantly experimenting with sustainable, recyclable, and biodegradable materials and working them into our products. When it comes to our business strategy — an oft-overlooked aspect of sustainability — we are pursuing a steady, organic growth, with high-sell-through targets that will leave us with little excess inventory which in turn means less waste and nothing sent to landfill. By virtue of being in Iceland, our headquarters, warehouse, embroidery studio, repair shop, and most of our stores run on completely green energy. By the end of the year will convert our fleet to electric cars that will only be powered by green energy. There’s still a lot more for us to do, and we’re working on it continuously. We want to have as little impact on the earth as possible and we want to expand internationally in such a way that 66˚North can be an inspiration and case study for companies looking to grow globally while respecting the earth.

Give us the highlights for men’s FW19.

— This season, we’ve really expanded the world of Dyngja, our puffer down series named for the shield volcanoes of Iceland. While there’s a lot of newness in that collection, I’m most excited for the blue camo coat coming in the second week of October.

66NORTH 2686 01 Dyngja in blue camo.

— Tindur, named for the mountain summit, is a staple for us that keeps improving. Because of the complexity of its baffle construction, it takes days to make just one of these jackets, so we produce them in limited quantities. In effect, the jacket creates an air bubble around you, which it heats through the turbulence of movement and interaction with the down. When it gets cold this winter, I’ll be wearing this in the Volcanic Glass colourway.


Tindur Down Jacket in Volcanic Glass.

— For those in cities, you’ll want to pick up the Drangajokull parka. It’s an elegant, slim silhouette that pairs well with fashion but is also suitable for -30˚C weather and has an outer shell made from Gore-Tex, making the parka fully waterproof.

Related: One of Iceland’s oldest heritage brands teams up with Ganni ”to create the ultimate functional pieces”