Wyn-ing at Life
Eight-time Ironman Champion, Luke McKenzie, has had a passion for the sport of triathlon since he was a young boy, volunteering alongside his family at Ironman Australia, in Port Macquarie, year after year, until he started racing himself. Now entering the twilight years of his professional triathlon career, McKenzie cannot imagine life outside of the sport. “In the past few years, I’ve started to think about life after racing professionally,” reflects McKenzie, “and how I can make a mark within the triathlon community beyond just racing.”
McKenzie’s first entrepreneurial foray in triathlon came in 2015, as producer and race director of the highly successful Island House Invitational Triathlon. The race attracts Ironman World Champions and Olympic medalists to compete alongside one another over several days of fast and furious racing in a spectacular location in the Bahamas. “I really enjoy looking at ways we can make our sport better, ways that we can bring people together in the sport,” explains McKenzie, “and I think that the Island House race is something unique for the sport.” In 2017, the race is entering its third year and is well established on the triathlon calendar. As a further testament to McKenzie’s vision, short-course, multi-day triathlon racing is attracting imitators, such as Super League Triathlon, who also recognise the media value and fan excitement of super short-course racing.
Not content with a successful race production career as well as racing, in 2017 McKenzie and wife Beth, have launched a new performance apparel brand, Wyn Republic. It’s an idea that had been bubbling in McKenzie’s mind for several years. “In 2013, I came second in Kona,” he recalls, “and my podium placing brought a lot of attention to the suit I wore that day.” While McKenzie was not the first athlete to wear a sleeved skin suit in Kona, paired with his signature “Go Luke” trucker hat, McKenzie’s outfit turned a lot of heads.
Over the next several years, both McKenzies worked with their apparel sponsor to push the development of racing suits further, and the pair relished the experience: “Beth and I spent two years helping to refine aerodynamic race suits. During that time we learned a lot, and it sparked our interest in the apparel space,” says McKenzie. They savoured learning about fabrics, testing prototypes as well as sharing their design input, and they began to consider apparel as a path they might pursue for themselves when the time was right.
That time came in 2017. Wyn Republic was born of McKenzie’s desire for purpose-built, high-quality performance apparel with a timeless design aesthetic. McKenzie confesses that he’s married his fanatical attention to detail when it comes to racing performance, together with his preference for sleek yet simple designs. “We’re looking at how these suits perform,” he says, “selecting the best fabrics, as well as focusing on the features that triathletes require throughout the swim, bike and run legs of a triathlon.”
McKenzie, together with his wife, have researched and thought through how their suits will perform in each situation. “There are a few suits out there designed for aerodynamics on the bike,” he says, “but they’re not necessarily designed for swimming and running.” In the case of Wyn Republic, they’ve incorporated more flexible fabric in the shoulders and tweaked traditional seam placement in order to eliminate restriction during the swim portion of a race. Also, “the suit disconnects at the zipper,” known as dual construction, which offers athletes the option to roll down the top half during the swim and pull up in transition, if preferred. The benefits of this dual-construction design skin suit are made even clearer for the bike and run. “The two-piece construction allows for incredible flexibility in the midriff,” demonstrates McKenzie, leaning over in the suit, “so when you bend over in the aerodynamic position on the bike, the suit morphs to your body, while also allowing the suit to remain taut in the upright position for the run.”
In addition to functional performance, McKenzie underscores that comfort has also been a critical design element: “When you’re doing an Ironman, you’re spending upwards of eight hours in a suit!” The comfort factor forced them to pay a lot of attention to fabric selection and placement, choosing the highest quality fabrics in order to maximise aerodynamics, coverage and flexibility, without compromising comfort. They’ve evaluated and tested each feature of the design, everything from chamois quality and placement to leg grippers that do not chafe or rub, as well as adding compression panels where appropriate to keep the suit in place.
From an aesthetic perspective, the Wyn Republic designs are in McKenzie’s words “appealing without being ostentatious”, having made a conscious choice to avoid loud designs and bright colours. This maintains the focus on the functional design of the triathlon suits and cycling gear rather than fashion-oriented.
As much as McKenzie is excited to talk about the design features and aesthetics of the Wyn Republic apparel line, he’s quick to turn the conversation to the values that are core to their new company. The McKenzies have put family and community at the forefront of what their brand represents. It starts with the company name, as “Wyn” is a shorter version of their first daughter’s name, Wynne. This decision speaks to their experience as parents, fully incorporating their daughter into their triathlon lifestyle: “It’s a really positive environment for a child to grow up in, with so much inspiration around her… She’s been very lucky to travel along and be part of what we’ve been able to do in the sport so far.” It’s not lost on McKenzie that the name Wyn is a homonym of “win” so he’s quick to explain that “win doesn’t necessarily mean winning a race, it’s more about achieving personal goals and winning at life.”
The McKenzies have taken a big risk in launching Wyn Republic, taking a leap of faith and investing a considerable amount of their personal savings into the venture. To date, the collection has received a strong reception with sales continuing to build. “We’re really passionate about what we’ve created,” says McKenzie, “and we aim to build a long lasting brand.”
Following their passions, investing in their own ideas and forging their own path in the triathlon community is clearly the McKenzie version of winning at life.