Interview with founder Kilian Wiget
«As a child I wanted to become a farmer, later I was a professional snowboarder and still mounted crash barriers on the motorway.» In the 12-question interview, Kilian Wiget talks about the groundbreaking meeting, his conviction and a difficult decision that led to WE ARE ZRCL.
KILIAN, DO YOU ALWAYS WEAR YOUR OWN CLOTHES?
As far as possible, yes. It’s only not possible with trousers or functional sportswear, because we don’t have those in our range. With the pieces from our own house, I mainly limit myself to returns or pieces from the sample collections. That way I can also test how long the things last and how fresh the prints stay. I still have T-shirts from the first collection, so I’m very satisfied.
WHICH PIECE IS YOUR ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE?
The basic men’s T-shirt in all colours has been with me since I founded WE ARE ZRCL. And then, of course, there are the men’s Bowler Jacket from the SWISS EDITION. I wear it almost every day and think the quality and cut are just great. The cardigan regularly gets me compliments (laughs). At home, I slip into our trainer trousers without any detours. There is nothing more comfortable.
HOW DID IT COME ABOUT THAT YOU FOUNDED YOUR LABEL?
When I was still the manager of the 3Sixty sports shop in Schwyz, Patrick Hohmann, the founder of the BioRe Foundation and Remei AG, came into our shop one day. He wanted to take a look at our concept and the shop. The whole thing was supposed to remain anonymous, but of course I recognized and approached him immediately. At the time, I had already been interested in sustainably produced sportswear for some time, but had to realize that the range was extremely limited. We stayed in touch and the meeting back then was something like the initial spark. I developed a concept for WE ARE ZRCL with basics and streetwear based on organic cotton and designed the first men’s T-shirt. That was in 2014, and in August 2015, our first T-shirt made of bioRe-certified cotton was available for purchase.
AND BEFORE THAT, WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD DREAM?
As a child, I wanted to become a farmer because I grew up in the countryside and there were farms all around me. In that sense, the awareness of the production of consumer goods has been with me since childhood, even if the childhood dream was soon over. Later, I really wanted to become a sports goods salesman. But the two or three apprenticeships that were available here in the Schwyz valley were very much in demand. In the end, I did an apprenticeship as a retail clerk at the Schwyz electricity company. After that, I started right away at Doodah, which later became one of our biggest customers.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE SO FAR?
Definitely the step into self-employment. I had to leave a job that I loved and leave behind a great team that I had grown to love. Saying I’m going with ZRCL was a tough decision, but it was the right one – even though I had to work for free and invest money in the beginning. Currently, my biggest challenge is that I have to learn to plan and delegate work as a boss. Until 2019, I ran the business alone. But now with six employees, the new structures also bring new challenges.
HAVE YOU EVER FAILED IN BUSINESS?
Somehow I’m always lucky. When I start something, it turns out well (laughs). But of course, mistakes happen. At the beginning of WE ARE ZRCL, I didn’t ask the customer again if the T-shirt was the way they wanted it. It was promptly printed wrong, and they didn’t want to pay for it, which was a big loss for me, just because I hadn’t asked again. I had let myself down then too, and it was certainly an apprenticeship.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT PLANNING A COLLECTION?
Mainly outdoor sports. Snowboarding is my great passion. In summer, I get on my bike, or we go hiking. That’s where my closeness to nature comes from. As a child, I went camping with my family in Ticino, or we went on SAC hut trips. After my apprenticeship, I also snowboarded professionally for a while and had sponsors. Suddenly I had an abundance of clothes, I was an advertising medium for the brands. At that time, I already questioned that critically. But apart from that, it wasn’t enough to live on, of course. Sometimes I did bricklaying or mounted crash barriers on the motorway to finance my snowboarding.
YOU ARE ALSO A FAMILY MAN: HOW DO YOU BALANCE WORK, FAMILY AND HOBBIES?
Luckily, my wife has many of the same hobbies as I do, and we spend most of our free time together as a family. Besides the weekends, I allow myself an extra day a week of daddy’s day with my two sons. Of course, I could always do more for the business, and it is a challenge to organize everything well – also because all employees work part-time. But so far it works very well, also thanks to my super team.
IF YOU HAD ONE WISH, WHAT WOULD YOU WISH FOR?
That sustainability is really implemented on a grand scale. Small players have the power to innovate, and the big players take over. Companies have to implement sustainability honestly and consistently. And I think the state should certainly set more rules. Otherwise, business will exploit the loopholes and look for the least resistance with the greatest profit. That is the reality. I hope people will inform themselves even more in the future and question mass consumption. Of course, we also live from the sale of our products, but it is about the message and about customers consuming less and more consciously.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO DEVELOP, WE ARE ZRCL?
The most important thing for me is that we stay true to our values. I want to improve and develop consistent sustainability. If it is possible to grow sustainably, I won’t say no. Organic cotton still only accounts for one percent of the cotton market. There is still a lot of room for improvement.
HAVE YOU NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT LEAVING CENTRAL SWITZERLAND AND TRANQUIL SCHWYZ?
Yes, sporadically, of course. I once lived in Arosa, briefly in Cham and for a summer in Saas Fee. But I was always drawn back to Schwyz. This is where my roots are, where I have the mountains, the forest and the lake on my doorstep. I can go straight to the slopes in winter, go biking in the forest in summer and swim in the lake. In addition, we have a very central location for our business in Schwyz. But maybe in a few years we’ll open a showroom in Zurich, who knows.
WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY PROUD OF?
That the idea from 2014 with the sustainable concept works so successfully, although it was hardly an issue until a few years ago. Now to see that the company is actually doing so well with the help of my super team makes me very proud. And that so many great people have joined our circle and are thus part of the fashion revolution.