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Ben Ainslie and Henri Lloyd: 25 years of sailing history together

by Mark Jardine 26 Jun 12:30 BST
Ben Ainslie joins the Henri Lloyd Journey © Harry KH

When Hans Eckerström and Magnus Liljeblad relaunched the Henri Lloyd brand, they recognised the importance of quality, heritage and strong brand representatives. With Henri Lloyd there was one outstanding name who had been involved with Henri Lloyd since he'd started sailing: Sir Ben Ainslie.

We spoke to both Hans and Ben to find out their reasons for working together at Henri Lloyd and what the future holds for the brand.

"Ben's been a passionate Henri Lloyd user for many years and when we approached him he was very happy to engage in the business. I've been involved in a number of consumer businesses through the years and we've had a number of brand ambassadors for those businesses - I've always felt that those ambassadors need a genuine and true passion for the brand which really drives it. When we contacted Ben and started discussions his passion was evident from the outset," explained Hans.

Ben's point of view complements that of Hans: "It's great because I've got a really strong affinity with the brand, a relationship going back more than 20 years. They were the first company who sponsored me after the 1996 Olympics. I had a great relationship with Paul and Martin Strzelecki, and with Mr Henri as well. Like everyone, it was sad to see the decline of the brand, but now I can see it is in great hands, with some really ambitious plans for the future. I think that is very exciting, and from a personal perspective I am proud to continue that relationship."

With Ben they have a true household name and someone who has been involved with Henri Lloyd since the start of his sailing career.

"It's not just that; he's an extremely likeable person. It's amazing how he can be so humble and yet so successful. I joined him on his GC32 catamaran last summer and you could see his personality change and focus completely on the sailing - this was just a practice, but you could see just how focused he is when out on the water," said Hans.

Ben remembers this first meeting well: "Hans and Magnus came over to Portsmouth to have a look at the America's Cup team and see how they could be involved. At that stage they were still formalising ideas about the continuation of the brand and how they would make that all happen. We got on really well; we took Hans for a sail on a GC32 as we were doing some training. He's a keen sailor, so we had him steering the boat. More importantly than anything, this sparked a good relationship. We kept in touch, and I was obviously interested in how they saw the brand redeveloping, plus the America's Cup team partnership - making sure we had the right technical kit out on the water. So Hans then asked me if I would become involved in the company on a personal level too. For me it seemed an ideal association, given what had happened in the past, and moving forwards with the Cup team."

With the brand relaunch Henri Lloyd have concentrated on the top-end premium product in their initial Fremantle range, giving a nod to the brand's heritage and using the best materials available.

"We've started with a small range, to concentrate on completely premium products," explains Hans "We believe the brand's legitimacy will be driven by having the absolute top sailing kit out on the water. We can then build from this point. We also believe the Design Your Own range is what the consumer wants today, and we've had a tremendous response from sailors on the possibilities here with bespoke designs for teams as small as five people."

Design Your Own brings a whole new aspect to the Henri Lloyd offering, especially in the Superyacht market where owners, boat captains and skippers can kit their crew out in unique gear, matching their yacht.

"This isn't just on the technical side, but also with a team's polo shirts, shorts and t-shirts, we think this will be extremely attractive to yacht owners who want to look as smart as possible on and off the water in a unique way," enthused Hans. "With an unconventional setup in having our own factory in Poland, this kind of production is possible in runs of 5, 10 or 15 units - it's going to be a game-changer in how you can kit out your team."

Both Ben and Hans share a passion for participation in sailing and the future of the sport, a subject they discussed when they first met up.

"If you're wet and cold it's not very pleasant when you learn to sail - especially if you're in a more moderate weather climate such as England or Scandinavia. I therefore think it's very important we develop gear for youngsters which is as good as it is for adults. This is an area we'd like to use Ben's expertise and experience. Developing a dinghy range in the future is one of the key points in our plan," said Hans.

Ben's thoughts again complements those of Hans: "Speaking to Hans, Magnus and the team, the focus on inspiring the next generation of sailors coming through - and also the sustainability angle - they are pushing hard, which I thought was also very credible for a marine clothing company. Those two factors were something I was interested in: reaching out to the young sailors. For example, last week down at the sailing club we had an event getting kids from local schools, who don't really get out on the water, out sailing. Then trying to find a pathway for them into the local sailing club, perhaps where the clubs don't charge a fee for the first few years, to help those kids who otherwise wouldn't get a chance to sail. I'm trying to see where Henri Lloyd can support this type of project. Firstly, we get the kids out on the water, but making sure they're enjoying it, and wearing the right kit!"

Currently Ben is out in Lagos, Portugal ahead of the GC32 World Championship and told us about the how the foiling catamaran circuit has evolved: "It's great, really is fantastic. We started last season and weren't really sure how it would go. The racing we have done is a really good mixture with the longer duration courses (yet still close to the shore and exciting) but it is not like the Extreme Sailing Series where you go round and round in circles. We found the style of the racing - and the boat - to be a really good challenge. It keeps us fresh and race sharp, as we go through this period with the Cup, which as you know has been much more about development this time than the racing. We are expecting to get racing next year; frankly there hasn't been any sailing activity other than the test boats, for the last couple of years. So the GC32 has been fantastic for us to get out and do some racing and build up our team's skills."

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