CEO MAGAZINE 30 May 2019 - 08:38 am
When Juhani Hyökyvaara founded the Finnish clothing brand Halti in 1976, he had a mission to bring people closer to nature. Now, more than 40 years later, the company’s current CEO, Sami Kiiski, continues to keep that mission alive. “Good things happen when you go out in nature; whether you go and do outdoor sports or you are just walking in the forest,” he says. “We are now living in a hyper-connected world so we need to balance that.”
Sami himself is a fan of the great outdoors. His sports of choice include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and cycling. When it comes to alpine skiing, he counts the mountains of Alta Badia, Italy, and the snow-covered slopes of Levi, Finland, as his favourite destinations.
But beyond the thrill of the outdoors, Sami finds that these sports serve another purpose. “I test a lot of our products as well,” he laughs.
Halti produces premium outdoor clothing, footwear and equipment; from ski wear and activewear to camping gear. The brand takes its name from the Halti mountain, on the border between Finland and Norway. Norway considered giving Finland the mountain peak in honour of Finland’s centenary in 2017.
It would have made Halti the highest peak in the country. However, the plan fell through due to a clause in Norway’s constitution which says the Kingdom of Norway is “indivisible”.
Sami has been in the sporting industry for nearly 15 years, with his previous role being at Finnish sports goods importer Sultrade. He joined Halti in September 2015 and was appointed its CEO a few months later. “It is a pleasure to be at Halti,” he says. “The brand is more than 40 years old and has a great history and strong values. It’s great to work with these people.”
Sami describes his leadership style as straightforward and hands-on. “I’m hands-on in terms of strategy and building the brand,” he explains. “You need to be able to think strategically and know what is happening in the company. I also believe in doing things right, meaning that we need to do a good job but we need to have passion. I admire people who have a passion for the business and their job.”
“I admire people who have a passion for the business and their job.”
Halti’s biggest market is the Nordic region followed by German-speaking countries in Europe, including Germany, Austria and a part of Italy. “We also see a lot of potential in Asian countries and North America, particularly in Canada. In a way, we have the same kind of market there,” Sami explains.
As outdoor clothing has to adapt to different weather conditions, Sami believes in having the right design team to deliver the best products. “It’s a combination of the Nordic mindset, Nordic design and Nordic know-how,” he says. “Because we live in a country with four dist inct seasons and some harsh conditions, it is the perfect test laboratory for our products.”
Sami adds that Halti’s Nordic expertise is something other companies cannot duplicate. “You can always copy our products, but not our know-how,” he says. “How we build our products and collections is based on our unique style and it is what makes us stand out from our competitors.”
Halti is the main sportswear provider of all the national Nordic ski teams. It has also provided the clothing for the International Ski Federation (FIS) – the peak body for international winter sports – since 2007. “It’s great visibility, which is otherwise very difficult to get,” Sami says.
“It builds and cements our brand awareness both in Finland and internationally. It is something we can be proud of. At the end of the day, it helps us create even better products for all our consumers because we get feedback from those who compete with those products as well.”
In 2017, Halti held its first Halti Outdoor Weekend to further encourage the public to get in touch with nature. The event included hiking, trail running and fat-biking in the Vuokatti Hills. It was open to seasoned hikers as well as families, and even had dog hiking and forest yoga.
“We wanted to show that we are not only about the products, we are also living our mission,” Sami says. “We want to help people get closer to nature. You can take it easy – stop and enjoy nature – or you can go at a more intensive level and compete if you want. That’s why the event has been great.”
“We wanted to show that we are not only about the products, we are also living our mission.”
Sustainability is one of Halti’s biggest values. It began a sustainability program 10 years ago for its waterproof jackets where customers are offered a discount on new jackets if they return their old ones. “Sustainability is very important to us,” Sami explains.
“It is something we will invest in and keep as a focus.” He believes sustainability applies to many things, not just to products. “It’s in the way we design, develop and sell – it’s about the whole supply chain.”
Sami notes that a growing global focus on sustainability has encouraged a new type of customer to emerge. “The traditional outdoor consumers are very important to us, but this new outdoor consumer is much younger. They are also more aware of sustainability and want to have a brand with a story behind it.”
One of Halti’s most popular product ranges is its Pallas series, a leisure and streetwear collection made partly of recycled fabrics. “It is for consumers who don’t spend many days outdoors. They might do one or two night journeys, or hiking trips. The range is for urban consumers who want to have a story behind the products and brand. And the sustainability and easy-to-wear aspects play a great role.”