Reaching the summit: Sir Edmund Hillary’s family on how his legacy is shaping their business

Interview | Leisure & Tourism | Retail

Business Leader recently sat down with Peter and Alexander Hillary – the son and grandson of the first man to climb Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary – to talk about his legacy and how he is influencing their new business venture 100 years after his birth.

On the 100th anniversary of the birth of your father/grandfather – what does his legacy mean to you and Britain as a whole?

My father lived one of the most dynamic and exciting lives of the 20th century – it is extraordinary what he accomplished! He made the first ascent of Mt Everest with the British Expedition and he was the first to drive tractors to the South Pole. He drove jetboats up the Ganges River from the ‘Ocean to the Sky’, he led dozens of mountaineering expeditions to high altitude mountains in the Himalayas.

His greatest feat, in his own eyes, was the building of 42 schools and hospitals for the Himalayan communities of Nepal and I think this is his greatest legacy – to use your platform to create new opportunities for others and he did this with self-effacing humility. He never sought fame or adulation. This is a great legacy for British people today.

You have recently launched a clothing brand in his name – can you tell me about it and how it incorporates Sir Edmund?

Yes, last year we launched the Edmund Hillary Collection, a premium clothing label, to celebrate Ed’s successes and support his charities. These are exquisite and durable jackets and knitwear for people looking for meaningful purchases – signature pieces that start a conversation. Our garments would have been technical gear in 1953 but today are a premium lifestyle range.

Like the original expedition clothing, they are mainly made of natural fibres. I like to think Dad would be quietly chuffed, if a little surprised, to have a clothing brand in his name launched by his children and grandchildren. The clothes are available online and in high-quality clothing stores around the UK from October.

How does this honour him?

Any brand that bears Ed Hillary’s name must have a philanthropic element – something vitally important to him. 2% of proceeds from every sale will go into the Edmund Hillary Brand Trust that will then allocate funds into the causes close to Ed’s heart. These causes include the Himalayan Trust, founded by my parents in 1960, that supports health and educational projects in the foothills of Mt Everest. It also includes outdoor education and we will be supporting leadership programmes in the UK and New Zealand that encourage young people to learn and build self-esteem through adventure.

What are the future plans for the company?

Since launching in 2018, we’ve had global appeal, with most customers from UK, US and New Zealand through our global e-commerce site. In February 2019, we opened our first Edmund Hillary Store in Queenstown, NZ and formed a ‘retail hub’ with two supporting retailers. We’ve secured a partnership with a leading Chinese e-commerce and distribution company, and our flagship store on China’s largest e-commerce platform will launch in September 2019.

We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube to raise funds to fuel our next stage of growth. This will help grow our presence in the UK, launch a womenswear range and drive sales in China in the run-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Have you followed in his footsteps with exploration and mountain climbing?

I was incredibly fortunate because he was a father who included us in his activities. When we were on school holidays, we used to jokingly say that we never knew where we would end up. It could be the deserts of Australia or helping to build up a school or hospital in Nepal or climbing or skiing in the South Island of New Zealand in the Southern Alps. So, he really included his family in a lot of his activities. We were really privileged to experience this and it really positively influenced all of us.

I have been lucky enough to have experienced the summit of Everest twice and have completed the Seven Summits Challenge – climbing the highest peak in every continent.

What would Sir Edmund make of Everest exploration today? 

Dad was very involved in encouraging people to go to the outdoors, particularly young people. To go to the mountains, to have wonderful experiences, to challenge themselves and to have wonderful adventures. The important thing is staying active and involved and getting out there — whether it’s Mount Everest or other great peaks in the Himalayas — Dad would have endorsed that.

Even 15/20 years ago Dad was terribly upset by some of the behaviour up on the mountain, however. There were some reports that a group of climbers ascending the mountain had passed a badly injured climber, he probably had mountain sickness, not actually helping him. And he thought, this really was terrible that people were not coming to this person’s aid.

That was a disturbing picture  I’m sure Dad would have looked at it and just sighed: What on earth is going on? But what happened there is that they had tried to space out these very large numbers of people going up. But the day before the photograph was taken the weather was bad and the group of the previous day had not been able to make the climb. So on that day, they had two days’ climbers going up the same time. And that certainly contributed to that congestion.

Nepal is a very poor country. When you think of adventure tourism in Europe for example, skiing, trekking, climbing, aviation sightseeing, it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. I think it is very inappropriate for some westerners to say to Nepal: You should close Mount Everest, no one should go there. I think what we have to encourage is that the Nepalese run their tourism better. That they deal with the pollution issues and the numbers of people just as you have in the European Alps.

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