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DAME Award again: We speak to Drue Kerr, Senior Designer at Zhik

by Mark Jardine 15 Nov 2017 08:16 GMT 15 November 2017
Drue Kerr with the DAME Award winning Zhik Isotak® X Ocean © Mark Jardine /

We caught up with Drue Kerr, Senior Designer at Zhik, who have just won the DAME Award in the clothing category for their Isotak X Ocean range.

Mark Jardine: What does it mean to win an award such as the DAME?

Drue Kerr: It's a great thing knowing that all your hard work has been recognised in the industry; a great honour.

Mark: The DAME Award is now recognised worldwide. Do you think it is driving innovation in the industry?

Drue: Yes, I think so. This is our second year in a row of winning the award, but we always aspire to innovate - that's our company ethos really - we drive and we push every year to repeat that innovation throughout the company.

Mark: The Volvo Ocean Race is on Leg 2 at the moment and you're working with three teams: two as official sponsors, and one who just decided they want your kit! You've always worked with the top dinghy sailors, and now you're getting recognised in the offshore world. Is that the big growth area for Zhik in sailing?

Drue: Definitely. Securing those teams in the Volvo Ocean Race means we can step up and say "hey guys, we're here, we're officially in yachting". It's great that teams want our kit, not just as sponsors, but they are willing to buy it, over the other brands.

Mark: There are a number of innovations in the Isotak X Ocean range, but the thing I really notice is that you have a smock which is effectively a jacket at the same time, with a completely detachable hood. That I've not seen on a product. Who came up with that idea?

Drue: The collective design team! We spoke to a lot of sailors, identified problems with the current kit out there, and through a process of testing we came up with this system. Most of the time people have to buy a jacket, a smock, a balaclava, a hood... and we thought, why cant we make one thing that is versatile and suits all these different conditions? You're not just sailing in that one condition at a time; you're going through multiple different environments. The versatility was what we thought was desirable.

Mark: The neck seal on this range looks like you've got a completely watertight seal which is going to be comfortable. That's an evolution of a product rather than a revolution, but it really looks neat!

Drue: Visually it's quite striking. It really does stand out from anything else on the market. But again, we just researched the problems: in general those seals are known to break and people replace them all the time. We thought, why hasn't someone done something about this? Through research and development we came up with this composite material, now known as Reziseal - we tailored that to our ocean gear and it's working really well.

Mark: Throughout your products there is innovation, down to the skirt length which looks longer on the jacket, and the pockets are more moulded and also reinforced. Is this all through trying the product on the water and finding out where the weak points were previously?

Drue: Definitely. We rely on a lot of sailor feedback. Personally I don't race offshore and we can try it out in the office as much as we want, but we're not going to get that same result! We give it to those athletes, they test it, and they tell us; they don't go soft on us. They put this kit through its paces and they beat it up. We get back damaged goods, blown-apart smocks all the time. We reinforce the right areas, make things more durable, and we use that as our innovation base.

Mark: The pace of change is incredible. I know you can build entire products in your offices, and get them ready to test very quickly. Is that why you can maintain this pace of change with the designs?

Drue: We are now less reliant on our supply chain to develop these samples. We've bought all the R&D and sampling in-house, which is really neat for a brand like us. So yes, that has meant we can innovate a lot quicker, whilst sampling and testing new ideas.

Mark: We've mentioned the detachable hood, neck seal, longer skirt length and reinforcing. Apart from those, what is your favourite feature on Isotak X?

Drue: You've already nailed them! But what I think has some really cool potential is the zip-off visor. We've got a Hydrovision visor that extends off the hood and we can customise that to different conditions as well. Sometimes you just need wave protection, sometimes glare protection as well. We're coming out with a tinted version and a low-light version. There's so much room to innovate and I think that is a cool thing we've done there.

Mark: So it is not just a detachable hood, it can adapt to the conditions as well! Congratulations on the DAME win; it's great to see a truly innovative product - and this truly is a 2-in-1 with the jacket being a smock too - so it is well-deserved.

Drue: Thank you very much.

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