Rock climbing isn’t cool. Impressive, imposing, perhaps even insane at times, sure. But not cool, not really. Maybe it’s too wrapped up in technical equipment, or maybe it’s a matter of demographics. Whatever the reason is, Anthony Boronowski wants to change that. And he, along with his partner and co-founder Ingrid Sirois, are doing just that with their brand Foehn.
Unless you grew up following the earlier days of freestyle skiing, you won’t have heard Boronowski’s name before. He was raised in Vancouver, where he was able to procure sponsorships from brands like Oakley and Armada from an early age. Boronowski worked on his first movie on Saturdays and Sundays when high school wasn’t in session. (His filmography includes Oakley’s 1042 and Poor Boyz Productions’s X=10.) He was flown to Japan on someone else’s dime by age 17.
Boronowski skied professionally for eight years, and it was also during that time that he started his first brand, called Joystick, making ski poles, gloves and other accessories. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing at all,” he admits, “but it was a good learning process.” Learning by experiment seems to be Boronowski’s forte though; after becoming disenchanted with life as a professional athlete, he sold Joystick, giving himself a safety net while he experimented designing and building bags and outerwear. “Going skiing in all the stuff that I had made myself was a big deal for me,” he says.
Boronowski landed a design job at Lululemon and after that, began creating apparel for one of his former ski sponsors, Armada. Recently though, he’s left his full-time role there to start his own design agency, which does work for ski, fishing and general outdoor companies.
And then there’s Foehn. The brainchild of Boronowski and his partner, Ingrid Sirois, Foehn is a rock climbing apparel brand, though you wouldn’t know it if you spotted one of its products in a city. Right now there are only four items — a down pullover, a flannel and two pants — and Boronowski created each to perform at the crag but blend in around town. In conversation with Boronowski, it’s clear that Foehn presents a challenge that’s different from his other design work. He and Sirois know precisely what they want, and they’re working carefully to get it there (while juggling lots of other contract work).
The city-to-mountain trend has diffused into outdoor apparel for a few years now, but most companies, from The North Face to Patagonia, still make outdoor gear that looks good enough to wear in town after or before activity too. Foehn doesn’t make that distinction; its apparel is simultaneously for both of these disparate environments. It doesn’t “look good enough, too,” it looks good, period. It’s a subtle distinction and, as our recent conversation with Boronowski revealed, a fine line.
Q: Why did you leave professional skiing?
A: I wasn’t happy skiing. Being a pro athlete isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, there’s a lot of pressure. It’s a complex thing because your self worth and value is judged on your athletic performance, which is kind of bizarre. To put it into perspective, can you imagine if people valued you based on how good of a writer you are and not how good of a human you are? I was just ready to be done. And I didn’t know what I was going to do to be honest. It wasn’t easy to figure that out.
Q: Was there anything that you made during that time that stands out now?
A: One of the first things I made was a Gore-Tex three-layer jacket and pant. I walked into what I consider to be one of the best menswear shops in Vancouver, called Haven, and the guy behind the counter was like, ‘Wow! What’s that coat, is it Acronym?’ It was awesome, it was a funny moment for me.
Q: Has it been difficult running your own design firm?
A: I kind of want less work. I have ideas for things that I want to do for fun. At some point with an agency you give away your time and ideas and I want to protect those for Foehn; there’s only so much that you can give away. And these things are intangible. I’m not too worried about getting more people to pay me, it’s the inverse (laughs).
Q: How did you get the idea for Foehn?
A: I’ve been rock climbing for almost ten years. When I started climbing it was right around the time when I didn’t have much to do, right around the same time that I was building my own stuff to ski in. There was no apparel, it wasn’t the same marketplace that it is now. The idea of a rock climbing brand… they existed of course, but apparel wasn’t what it is today. In terms of style and function combined, these types of things were not around. So I was building my own pants to climb in, pants for me and my friends.
When I left Armada full time, Ingrid and I, I didn’t have too much work. We kind of looked at each other and realized it was the perfect chance to do something together. She has the branding vision and I have the skills to do the product design and make these things come to life. There were these half-baked designs that I had already almost made; a lot of the stuff we’re selling right now is just iterations of stuff that I had made like five years ago. The items you see on the Foehn website now, aside from the button down, are all ideas that I’ve had along the way.
Q: How’d you settle on the name?
A: It was Ingrid’s idea. She was pretty clear about it, it didn’t take long at all. We wanted a name that was about changing the environment around you, which is sort of reflective of what a foehn is. If you think about what the wind actually does in terms of it changes the climate drastically and changes people mood and perceptions and what they can do in rapid time. [A foehn is a warm wind that develops on the lee side of mountain ranges.]
Q: The Brise Pant was your first product. What were you trying to solve for with that pair of pants?
A: Climbing is due for a change. What’s out there is not relevant to a lot of the people who climb. I think people need something that’s modern and is technical. In terms of silhouette, I wanted to build a modern climbing pant, not something that’s been there for 20 or 30 years and retool it for that purpose.
There’s a lot of room for new ideas in climbing and what technical apparel can look like; I don’t think it needs to look the way it’s always looked in the past. There’s this disconnect where if you want to have something technical it has to look a certain way and that’s not it. They’re tied together, it doesn’t have to be exclusive.
Q: Why has it taken so long in climbing to come to this realization that technical apparel can also look good?
A: I don’t really know why. I think a lot of it is demographic. If you look at running, running stayed the same forever until recently when brands decided to do different things. It just takes new people and new ideas to do something different because they’re going to look at the sport differently. And that’s not good or bad. Now, there’s room for new ideas in climbing and people are looking for those ideas.
Q: What does a Foehn product have to have? What ideas do you keep for yourself?
A: Our number one pillar would be the duality of every product. It’s not enough to make something that looks good and doesn’t work, and it’s not enough to make something that works well but doesn’t look good. When I sit down to draw a prototype or build a prototype, that’s the first element. It has to look relevant to what you’d wanna wear in a day to day setting and it has to function beautifully. And that can be pulled off in different ways, through fabric or silhouette or small details. That’s what I always come back to — does it speak to me on every level?