A journey to cities throughout the world, stopping off in the shoes of men who share Preventi´s outlook, a way of working, living and dreaming… and a challenge: get to know them personally, and let them choose their favourite pair from the collection. Which is yours?
Disentis, Switzerland, May 25th, 2010.
In the beginning/ was the mountain/ moraine and massif/ craggy and cleft/ rock and rubble/ zai finds the line that understands the mountain/and plays in the snow. Three hours away from Zurich, surrounded by mountains, is the village of Disentis. And there is also Zai, a hidden universe devoted to ski. It was created by Simon Jacomet with a dream in mind. To produce the best ski ever….hand in hand with Nature, not in spite of it. www.zai.ch
Disentis was the fifth stop for the Global Nomads Project. Three hours in the life of a man who has turned ski into his passion, lifestyle and philosophy. “zai, the tougher ski/ a titan /who knows what he wants /uncompromising/ immortal* Just like Simon Jacomet.
Simon Jacomet in 42 words:
The contrast of colours such as green and red, or even yellow and blue that is my favourite colour. Zai finds the line that understands the mountain and plays in the snow like the jackdaws in the sky. I like the taste of the contrast obtained by combining different flavours. You feel what’s behind them, you are not able to explain it. Ski and art have one thing in common the ability to remove barriers. I never travel without the joy of coming back home.
This is the advantage of being small: we don’t have to reach half million of opinions, we can be quiet uncompromising. My favourite book is our guest book at Zai, because it reminds me of exciting stories about amazing people. I feel at home in the mountains. Reduce the design to what you really are. The meaning of Switzerland for me is a little piece of where I come from. When it comes to starting a new business, naivety can help you to do that precisely, to start. A place I would like to visit next: Greenland, if possible via the Patagonia. Love is respect, tolerance.
Zai, the tougher ski, a titan who knows what he wants, uncompromising, immortal. Manufacturing luxury items implies reliability and durability. Zai is a big chance, that will ever come again.
“What I like about this model is the contrast between the smoothness of the leather and the sole’s consistency. They are nice to touch. With a design that adapts perfectly to the anatomy of the foot, I feel great while I am wearing them, and I’d like to think that we’ll grow old together”
The “Simon Jacomet” model is a “tinto in capo” natural colour leather ankle shoe, with a natural peened leather sole, machine washed, naturally dried and hand finished. Its Goodyear stitching is named after the manufacturer who at the end of the XIX century invented a special technique to double stitch the shoe, turning it into a lifelong, comfortable, versatile accessory.
Like a tribute to Switzerland, his homeland: this is what the Zai skis are like. Precise like a cuckoo clock, beautiful like the white peaks dotting the country’s skyline. Its name-Zai- means “tough” in Romansh, the local dialect. Created by Simon Jacomet in 2003, the brand is synonymous with daring and vision, originating in a passion -snow- which has driven this Swiss man to suggest a new outlook in the design of skis, such as the use of materials never considered before like granite, rubber and carbon fibre. How has he attained it? By observing nature and formulating questions that could be answered.
Combining an artistic soul with an athletic figure (Jacomet studied Fine Arts and Architecture in Florence) and after working for household names such as Salomon, Jacomet clashed with the market’s lack of flexibility to try, innovate and suggest new ways, so he decided it was time to fly, assume the risk and try for himself.
After seven years of hard work, Zai has consolidated in a market niche that is as fresh as the alpine snow: a high end product oscillating between 2,500 and 9,800 Swiss Francs. Brand names such as Hublot or Bentley recognise Zai as special and very different, and for that reason they have both already launched limited editions of models created in collaboration with its design team. Tough, like “zai”, like Simon Jacomet.
Preventi: After working for Salomon during several years, you founded Zai in 2003. Why and how did you decide to take the leap?
Simon Jacomet: When I started with Zai, the world of ski was going through a special, very exciting moment. After five years of innovation, the market was in a rut. Everything was very repetitive, brands were just copying each other all the time and, whenever you tried something new, there was a huge pressure from the bigger names. They would say: “we cannot do that, it’s too expensive” or “using that material would be crazy”… or “the customers will not understand it”…
But I had this desire inside of me. I studied architecture and arts in Florence and I only ended up working as a developer of ski products because I was head hunted. In 2003, I started feeling frustrated because I was not able to try my ideas with the firms I used to work with, so a friend asked me: Why don’t you do it by yourself?
It was the most difficult way to do it, because you must be really certain… but I was fascinated by the freedom and the possibility to try new things –with no compromise. I think “how” matters more than “what”, because it is during the process that I am able to find the intensity as well as the activity… and the enjoyment.
And then there is the issue of the brands. I am not a fan of brand names, but I do find that the history and the background behind some of them are very interesting. Zai is a brand name with a whole universe behind it, a peculiar lifestyle.
Preventi: And how did you manage to find the required staff to develop your project?
Simon Jacomet: All my staff and myself are passionate about ski. We are local, knowledgeable people who understand the sport very well. Apart from my own competencies, I have always wanted to work with professionals who were better than myself.
This is something that keeps me motivated. It was not easy to find my team, because we all have our tempers and that sometimes creates friction… these six years have been quite a process. Like all companies, we had our problems: a machine breaking down unexpectedly, and making difficult decisions: it’s difficult to say goodbye to somebody and having to do without them. Managing talent is not an easy task, but it is very exciting.
Almost a year ago now, Benedikt Germanier joined Zai as the new managing director. He studied Finance and is a very open minded person, a free thinker. He used to have a top position in Wall Street, New York. A Swiss man like myself, he used to come and stay at his home in the mountains with his wife and children during the holidays.
One day he told me: “Did you know something? People over there are very envious”. “Come and work with us!”, I suggested. He received a high profile offer by a Swiss bank, but he rejected it… and he joined us. Projects like Zai enable you to meet very interesting people.
Preventi: Ski is your hobby…and your work. What does this sport mean to Simon Jacomet?
Simon Jacomet: Snow gives me a balance, and it is my form of expression. When I am skiing, I completely forget about work. I can’t dance. Well, maybe with these shoes I will be able to do it better (laughs), but to be honest, taking all those steps on the same level as the ground….it’s difficult for me. I do my dancing up there, in the snow…Because snow is always different: sometimes it’s soft, sometimes it’s wet or cold. In the summer, when I go hiking through the mountains, sometimes I wonder and say to myself: “look, I have past this place while skiing”…. Or even “I will try to come this way in the winter”. The mountains create a strong fascination for me.
Preventi: Your skis have revolutionised the market. The Spada model incorporates materials such as stone, an unthinkable material to develop a product of this type until now. Is nature your end and your means at the same time?
Simon Jacomet: When I was young I used to go to school here, at the Disentis abbey. A lot of people were scared to go up in the mountains because it was dangerous. I remember that one of the monks used to tell us that we had to be respectful with the mountains, but we should not be afraid of them. When I started to rethink the development of the product, I was looking for a resistant material which, at the same time, would be available in great quantities.
Then I looked up to the mountains and said to myself: “Stone!” It does seem unthinkable but, thanks to technology, it is possible to adapt these materials and turn them into something revolutionary. Our mission is not manufacturing luxuries skis, our goal is to manufacture the best skis, so people can go up there and enjoy the experience. The views are simply amazing. At Zai, all we do is try to maintain a tradition. We have never tried to convince anybody to buy Zai products. But people can feel the difference.
Preventi: With a price range between 2,500 and 5,900 Swiss francs for the Zai line and between 8,000 and 9,800 Swiss francs for the special editions that the brand has launched with Hublot and Bentley respectively. How do you justify the retail price of the product?
Simon Jacomet: There is a full argumentation resulting from a very peculiar philosophy and working method: what lies behind it all is a critical thinking process… and a wish: to manufacture the best possible quality and very durable product. Our aim is to reduce the design as much as possible in order to offer the best skiing experience and by doing this we consume a lot of time: it takes up to eight hours to manufacture each of our skis, while any conventional brand will take up to forty minutes.
A Zai ski is made up of approximately 42 pieces, while any average ski would consist of 10. It’s a unique process combining high technology with human know-how. That is why we can’t be copied, because no commercial brand would be able to afford this average time of manufacturing.
And also there are our brand’s values: customisation, customer service, transparency. We have even manufactured a pair of skis with a plank of wood that one of our customers- a professional carpenter- brought all the way up to Disentis. We dyed it orange as per the customer’s request and there have also been a few people who have visited our premises to follow the manufacturing process of their own order step by step. Transparency, precision, contact with the customer and our “slow” philosophy is what makes Zai an exclusive product.