Interview: Sailing brand Musto goes full circle at Tokyo 2020

16 Dec 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

The city of Tokyo was awarded the right to host the Olympic Games 2020 on 7th September 2013. Almost seven years later, in July 2020, it will stage the event: a culmination of years of planning and building.

Athletes, too, will experience the climax of a body of work that was years in the making when they step out onto their respective field of play at the Games next summer. But Organisers and Olympians aren’t the only ones coming close to the end of painstaking build-up.

Musto, the sportswear brand specialising in sailing and eventing, has been waiting its entire existence for this moment, as the brand goes full circle ahead of Tokyo 2020.

Founded in 1964 on the back of that year’s Tokyo Games, where Keith Musto won a silver medal in the Flying Dutchman class, the Musto brand will outfit British sailors at an Olympic Games in Japan for the first time.

“Keith Musto formed the brand knowing that, potentially, if he and his crew were wearing better clothing they would have come away with gold rather than silver,” said Nick Houchin, Head of Marketing, Musto. “He built a brand on trying to make that difference, constantly going one better. And so the Olympic Games is a great opportunity for us to revisit that story. It's over 50 years now since the brand was born and also an opportunity for us to communicate that awareness with audiences outside the traditional country and sailing markets that we have.”

The British athletes at next year’s Games will wear the brand’s name as they look to also go one better than Keith Musto did in 1964. They will sail in the waters of the Sagami Bay south of Tokyo, which also hosted the event 56 years previously.

This time, the weather will be an important factor in the build-up to the Games. The potential for sweltering heat as seen Olympic marathon and race walking events moved to Sapporo in the north of the country. Japan has also seen weather take centre stage at another major event, the Rugby World Cup 2019, when Typhoon Hagibis ended some teams’ tournaments early. 

The Olympic Games shouldn’t face similarly destructive weather, but adapting to what the elements will throw at the athletes could yet turn silver medals into gold.

“Tokyo is going to be really hot and humid,” says Houchin, “so trying to stay cool is a really big challenge for them on the water and in the saddle. The garments aren’t just made of light fabric, but also need to actively draw moisture away, actively cooling the athletes as well. The garments for the British Sailing team, for instance, will actively cool the body temperature by up to three degrees.”

“There are a lot of different elements to it: the heat, if it’s wet or if it stays dry, the colour of the fabric, making sure that it’s not just functional but comfortable to wear… there’s a lot of consideration that is needed and every function and feature of those garments has a reason for being."

Using technology and craft to deal with what the earth throws up has always drawn people to sailing, either for sport or for adventure and exploration. In modern times, newer advances in technology may have made sailing less obviously connected to everyday life. Away from sport and enjoyment, it is no longer a main mode of transport. Yet it may be starting to wrestle back some of its relevance.

Climate change and the impending global emergency it will bring has placed a focus on sustainable transportation as well as a greater emphasis on pollution. Ocean health has been thrust into the limelight of late. Sailing properties like The Ocean Race have taken a leading role in the conversation and are at the forefront of the campaign to save our seas.

Musto’s products need to be fit for their purpose - competing on the ocean is different to competing on land - but it can still come up with solutions of its own. Garments designed with the end of their life cycle in mind, built to last or be recycled or wetsuits made from recycled bottles and car tyres are some such solutions. 

“There’s a lot of research that needs to be done to make sure that what we do isn’t just a short-term solution, that it’s something viable for the long term. We don’t just want to pay lip service to the issue. When we develop new products or new packaging, we have to make sure it’s the sustainable choice.”

Brands taking a stand is one partial solution to the issue of climate change, but people need to take action too. Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s voyage across the Atlantic to address the UN saw her taken across the ocean by Boris Herrmann, a Musto athlete who kitted her out in the brand's gear for the two-week journey.

In the face of the impending crisis, Musto now believe it’s the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things that will move the needle..

“Previously, we concentrated a lot on performance at the pinnacle of the sport, but the Clipper Race really does allow opportunities for the everyday person to take on extraordinary things,” says Houchin.

“We discovered more about that just before we went public with our announcement, where we went to one of the stopovers of the last race and met some of the crew and the skippers and other people who work for the Clipper Race and we asked them ‘what’s your reason for doing this?’ There was a vast number of reasons: some emotional, some life changing - some had even sold everything and took on the race because they knew it was going to change them. But none of them regretted it.

“And it's amazing the community and alumni that is created out of it - from previous editions as well. They just keep on coming back and they just seem to really love it. The spirit and the atmosphere too. That stopover was was pretty incredible and we obviously love to see more of those stories and why people are doing it, they give up their day job to take on this adventure. It demands a lot of respect: it’s not something anyone could do lightly.”

In 1964, the last time the Olympic Games came to Tokyo, sailing was becoming less relevant to everyday life. 

By the time the Games comes back to Japan’s capital, it could find itself thrust into the limelight by the green revolution and more relevant than ever.