Sophie Nicholson talks to Jim Adlington – founder of Planks Clothing about building an innovative British ski brand that’s proudly not ‘eco-friendly’…..
Fall Line: For those who don’t know about Planks, give us the scoop…
Well, if you are a skier, you should know!
Jim Adlington: Planks is a British Ski clothing company that was born in Val d’Isere, France, in 2008. I was pro skier for more than a decade; when my career ended, I decided to start a brand. I wanted to bring something new to skiing. I took inspiration from snowboarding, youth culture, music, love for the environment, people that inspired me and the idea of not taking life too seriously.
We, a handful of close friends and I, started Planks by selling tee-shirts and beanies in bars and from the boot of my car to locals and seasonaires.
Fast forward to now, Planks is an internationally recognized brand selling premium outerwear and streetwear that won’t break the bank, and still bringing something different to skiing.
FL: Tell us a bit more about the journey that led to you starting the brand?
JA: If you’re asking why I started skiing, my journey in skiing was pretty unusual. I started skiing in 1985 at a 60m dry slope in Stoke-on-Trent. It was basic, we had old kit, a dodgy rope tow and traffic cones for slalom poles. It was a bit sh*t, but the club was run by some amazingly passionate skiers, so the vibe was brilliant. You have to give it British skiers they’re mad for it! Just think about it, the French have the Alps and we have man-made hills covered in brushes, that will send you to the hospital if you fall. The spirit and community feel at the local dry slope is infectious. If you have been around that environment, you’ll know what I am talking about.
Kidsgrove slope was so basic, but the passion for skiing there was insane. It was run by the greatest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, Chris Poole. He was off-his-nut-crazy about skiing and getting local kids from Stoke into it. We couldn’t afford to pay for skiing every day, so he set up a club of local kids who would work on the slope and in the clubhouse for an hour to get half an hour free on the slope. This was for me! I worked hard and skied hard. I skied almost every day from the age of 9 to 18, when I moved to the Alps.
I’d only skied on snow for four weeks before I did a season, but I had nine years of skiing under my belt. The transition to snow was epic: I could go faster and bigger, the runs were never-ending, and the falls were softer. I was hooked. After three seasons of pot washing, I got a spot on the Salomon Team and began my new life as a pro skier. It felt like rags to riches, well, for me anyway.
At that time, twin tips were revolutionising skiing. I got to ski with some of the best skiers of that era, guys like Tanner Hall, Candide Thovex, Shane Anderson, Evan Raps and Pep Fujas, just to name a few. I travelled to some the best ski destinations in the world and made money from skiing. It was the dream job.
I started Planks to make enough money to continue living in one of the best ski resorts in the world. I wanted to ski every day and not have to work too hard during the winter months. Once you’ve been a proper ski bum, that mindset of working hard in the summer and skiing all winter long is hard to let go! I had learnt a lot about the industry and saw a lack of cool brands making the kind of clothing I like to wear. At the time, snowboarding was heavily influencing skiing, a lot of skiers that I respected were wearing snowboard brands. I saw an opportunity to create a ski brand with a snowboard look.
FL: You’ve succeeded in creating an innovative cult brand with a loyal following – which is no mean feat in a seriously competitive industry! What are you most proud of when you reflect on the journey so far?
JA: To be honest with you, I’m proud of everything we do. Man, I run my own ski company! Sometimes it doesn’t feel real. When you craft a business and lifestyle that’s is exactly what you imagined and still get to ski the best days of the season… that is something to be proud of.
Business-wise I’m stoked that Planks has a team of the raddest humans; great staff and an athlete team that includes some big names, like the main man James Woodsy Woods. And our product continues to get better and better.
To be involved in skiing… I feel I am always winning.
FL: The last couple of years have been pretty tough for the ski industry, how has Planks dealt with the challenges posed by Covid-19 in particular?
JA: Tough is an understatement really. Covid hit us hard; we had to close three of our four stores in the Alps; we had to make some redundancies; our production was delayed… the list goes on. But we’re a strong brand run by passionate hard-working skiers, and we were not going to let this beat us.
We’re a positive and resourceful bunch, we saw lots of opportunities and we used the situation to regroup and think about the direction of the brand. As an example of the decisions we made, we’ve had a lot of fun building mini collections which address big problems in our industry. Like the Wasters Project: This outerwear capsule is made from end-of-line fabric that could otherwise end up in landfill.
FL: Speaking of tricky situations, the fight against climate change is an urgent yet massive challenge we all face as individuals and an industry. Tell us a bit more about your unique ‘we are not eco-friendly’ sustainability stance…
JA: I think the fight against climate change, should really fall on the governments that represent us. They need to do way more! In the meantime, it falls to individuals, communities and businesses to step up and do their bit.
But there’s a problem in the fashion/outdoor industry. Brands in our space are making huge claims about saving the planet, but it’s dishonest… it’s misleading. I feel Planks’ customers want, and deserve, the truth. We do our best to make products from more sustainable materials and to reduce the impact of our logistics; we use non-wasteful packaging; we offset our carbon footprint by planting trees, and we are steering away from fast-fashion and one-season collections. But we need to do more.
Our ‘We are not eco-friendly’ campaign is about being honest about the good and bad we do. Transparency is the key.
FL: What does the future hold for Planks? What’s the dream?
JA: I’ve got lots of dreams! I would love to break into more outdoor sports, especially mountain biking. I’m a keen biker, to make rad gear you can ski in and bike in would be sick. And, making products that are multi-functional is another way to buy less, that does more. And, as Planks grows, I would love to be able to give back, to grass roots projects and environment protection.
FL: And finally, what are you most looking forward to doing when you get back to the mountains this winter?
JA: Skiing powder with good mates, simple!