Icebreaker hits $100M in revenue

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Lisa Thompson Icebreaker

Icebreaker U.S. President Lisa Thompson

To hear it from Lisa Thompson, merino wool would seem almost medicinal, of life-altering quality.

"It's a miracle fiber," said Thompson, U.S. president of wool activewear company Icebreaker. "Once people wear it, their life is better."

As miraculous as it may be, Thompson's challenge is to get U.S. consumers to see it the same way.

And the trends may be working in her favor.

Global sales for New Zealand-based Icebreaker grew 25 percent to hit the $100 million mark for the fiscal year that ended in March. Though a dip from its typical 54 percent annual growth rate, the numbers show the resiliency of the Icebreaker brand — a high-dollar premium product — in the heart of a recession.

Though the company doesn’t break out sales figures by region, U.S. revenue grew 31 percent, making it one of Icebreaker's top five markets.

"My goal," said Thompson, who took over Icebreaker’s Portland-based U.S. headquarters five months ago, "is that in the next three years, we’ll be the biggest."

Forgive Thompson for beating the drum so loudly. She’s allowed, considering how far it’s taken her.

Icebreaker was formed in 1994 to make outdoor apparel from the soft and resilient wool from New Zealand’s population of 2 million merino sheep.

A Kiwi herself, Thompson became Icebreaker’s fourth employee shortly before her 21st birthday in 1999. She was the receptionist.

"Like the cup-of-tea girl, that was me," she said.

Thompson held subsequent positions in marketing, as a sales manager overseeing Australia, and “very unsuccessfully” in production, before taking over as general manager of Icebreaker’s New Zealand market.

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