Difficulties are just Things to Overcome, After all….
From banjos to performance gear able to take on the very worse the world can throw at you, Shackleton Company remains inspired by the single-mindedness, resilience and sense of adventure the man himself demonstrated
Article by Andy Barnham
I’m sure you’ve thought about it; what do your clothes, your neighbourhood, your beer, your food choices, (the list is endless) say about you? Do you buy only organic, not just because of taste, but primarily because the growing process is less harmful to the environment? Do you prefer a small batch craft beer because you’re keen to champion ‘home made’ over a faceless global corporation? Do you actively now bring plastic bags to the supermarket and reuse them over buying new ones on every visit? And do you buy fast fashion and accept it may have been made in a sweatshop or do you try and wear clothes that reflect who you are?
In a British culture that reveres its glorious failures as much as – maybe even more than – its successes, it is surprising that a name who, arguably, made a success out of failure, isn’t better known. While the name Ernest Shackleton is linked to the South Pole, the merchant seaman’s name and exploits do not occupy the same place in the public consciousness as British navy officer Robert Scott. However, do some digging, find out some details, and you’ll quickly come across the reasons why the British Army uses Shackleton as a pillar of leadership and the Harvard Business School wrote a paper in 2010 decoding the man, his skills and how these can be used in modern life.
“Leadership, courage, optimism and determination in the face of the worst adversity you can comprehend,” is how Ian Holdcroft, director of Shackleton Company describes the man. Inspired by the story of Leonard Hussey, who was allowed by Shackleton to keep his 12lb Windsor zither- banjo when all other members of the party were restricted to 2lbs of personal gear on their 346 mile trek across the ice, Shackleton Company began life as a musical instruments company in 2012 (described as ‘vital mental medicine’ the banjo was donated to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich where it remains on public display). Coming across the brand during a talk at the Royal Geographic Society in 2015, by which stage the company had started producing heritage inspired knitwear Ian saw an opportunity. City trader by day, adventure racer by passion, and fresh off the back of completing the Atacama Crossing (a 250kms footrace across the Chilean Atacama desert), Ian saw the potential to grow the brand into something more akin to its namesake; something far more inspiring than grandfather jumpers.
Guiding the brand is fellow Shackleton fan (dare I say devotee?) Martin Brooks, who laughs when he says, “I’ve always had Shackleton’s picture on my wall and he’s always been part of my imaginary board of directors.” Introduced to Shackleton via his passion of sailing, the story of how the explorer failed in this Antarctic expeditions but then made his reputation out of how he dealt with the cards played to him, resonates with Martin. Having visited the South Pole himself in 2007 Martin was struck how remote and brutal life was at locations such as the whalers’ base at Deception Island with its climate of -20C. On holiday on the Greek island of Zante in 2011, Martin stumbled across Ian who was poolside reading the Scott/ Amundsen book Race to the Pole. “Pasty and white, Ian was obviously a Brit and I struck up conversation saying, ‘I’m more of a Shackleton man myself,’” recalls Martin. One thing led to another ultimately leading Martin to join Shackleton Company in September 2015 after a career in advertising, with the duo steering the brand from its banjo roots.
“We want to equip and inspire the modern pioneer and radiate it out into the world,” states Martin when asked where the brand is now. According to this mantra Shackleton Company have a pioneer program and are at pains to differentiate this compared to the more well-known brand ambassador moniker, seeing the brand as an extension of a person’s values and have worked hard to connect with like-minded adventurers. These pioneers include individuals such as Aldo Kane and Scott Sears. While not household names (yet!) it is not hard to see the connection between them and Shackleton Company. Aldo joined the Royal Marines at aged 16 and served for 17 years before turning in his sniper rifle to start his own company, Vertical Planet, offering extreme location and rigging safety aimed at the TV and film industry. This has led to Aldo working with actors such as Henry Cavill, Tom Hardy and Adrien Brody in addition to undertaking his own physical and adventure related challenges including abseiling into active stratovolcano Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lieutenant Scott Sears, Royal Gurkha Rifles, is at the other end of the career spectrum having earned a commission in the British Army as recently as December 2015 however less than two years later became the youngest unsupported and unassisted person to reach the South Pole completing the 700 mile trek on 25th December 2017 after 38 days.
All products are designed and handmade in the UK with the heavier jackets road tested to -20C, but fear not, the replica jumpers and gloves are still available. Supported by Shackleton’s granddaughter, the Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, every item features the brand’s emblem, the nine pointed star instantly recognisable to fans as it was the adventurer’s personal motif, used throughout his life.
So what’s next for Shackleton Company? In addition to the constant extreme climate testing by the pioneers and regular improvements from the feedback offered, “we’re keen to grow the product beyond cold and harsh weather,” says Ian continuing, “the heart of the brand is courage,” before going on to mention Shackleton Company are also looking at broader, experience based events. Though Shackleton’s story is intrinsically linked “to an environment all about the arctic,” says Martin, it is still relevant today. “No matter how bad a situation becomes, I always come back to the fact it’s nothing compared to what Shackleton endured.” In a world increasingly dominated by instant gratification through the window of social media, it is easy to lose sight of what people like Shackleton struggled so hard to achieve. While brands have built campaigns and following using mottos such as ‘Only the brave’, next time you throw on fast fashion, have a think how brave are you?