Cork-based photographer Miki Barlok takes on outdoor fashion design with Gnarly Peaks

Outdoor pursuits have always been a passion for Miki Barlok and now the Cork-based photographer has turned his passion into a new range of waterproof clothing, writes Ruth O’Connor
Cork-based photographer Miki Barlok takes on outdoor fashion design with Gnarly Peaks

Women’s (orange) & men’s (coral red) waterproof 2.5-layer jackets, €170; Merino wool-blend beanies, €30, Gnarly Peaks

When we speak at the end of December, Miki Barlok has been climbing Carrauntoohil with polar adventurer and high altitude mountaineer, Pat Falvey, and his new products are currently being tested by a number of other adventurers.

Barlok is the very definition of a ‘multipotentialite’ or ‘scanner’ — someone who does, and is good at, many different things. He prioritises action over inaction — even to the extent of sometimes sleeping just three hours a night in order to edit photos for work or spend time with his family.

“I’d rather not sleep and have a good time on a nice sunny day. I like to try to stretch the day a bit and am used to sleeping very little since my time rock climbing in Slovakia,” he says.

Not only is Barlok one of Cork’s most well-respected photographers, but he can now add fashion design, branding, logo design, and website development to his list of accomplishments — fulfilling all these roles at Gnarly Peaks whilst also shooting the images here.

“I do a lot,” he admits cheerfully. “But I like it — I enjoy the process of creation.”

The avid mountain biker, rock climber and hiker was inspired to create his new brand by his experience of a life spent outdoors.

“Back in Slovakia, I rock climbed every day, then when I came to Ireland, I began mountain biking as it was something I could do alone and also in the rain,” he says.

Barlok is a member of Cork mountain bike club Rebel MBT but says that he hasn’t been actively involved during the pandemic as his wife Rebekah gave birth to a baby girl during the first lockdown.

“Any spare time I had I spent with the family,” he says, admitting that daughter Sophie already has a balance bike despite being just a year-and-a-half old.

Cork-based fashion photographer and outdoor adventure enthusiast Miki Barlok in Bantry. Picture: Miki Barlok
Cork-based fashion photographer and outdoor adventure enthusiast Miki Barlok in Bantry. Picture: Miki Barlok

“She is a little too small for it at the moment but she’ll get there,” he smiles. “She already loves being outdoors and we take her to the woods and kayaking.”

Having moved to Bantry just before the start of the pandemic, he says that having a baby in the middle of the first lockdown was “brilliant”. “I was afraid of taking time off or that I might lose clients, but I didn’t need to take time off, I was given time off. I know a lot of people suffered but it was incredible for me in terms of spending time with my family guilt-free.”

Barlok has been living in Ireland for the past 15 years having moved here initially for six months. “I have made Ireland my home by choice rather than by birth. I love Ireland,” he says.

His Slovakian upbringing meant a lot of time spent outdoors. “In Slovakia, generally speaking, there is more of an established hiking culture than there is in Ireland. It is a landlocked country, so many people go to the mountains for holidays. We also have more distinct seasons in Slovakia so being outdoors is easier because it doesn’t rain as much as it does here.

“Ireland is such a beautiful country to explore — the mountains are so different wherever you go,” he continues. “We love it — two days after our wedding myself and Rebekah climbed Carrantuohill and changed into our wedding gear for some photos which ended up appearing in this newspaper.

“It’s no surprise that it rains all the time in Ireland but what surprised me is that there aren’t really many Irish brands making or designing proper waterproof clothing here.

“If you go to shops in Europe you have a choice of maybe 30 or 40 different brands,” says Barlok. “Here, the choice of rainwear is much more limited. I believe that because it rains here all the time we should be the experts on rain and waterproof clothing.”

Barlok has designed a style of trousers that are completely waterproof and that can be worn whether cycling to work in the city or biking in the mountains.

“You don’t have to worry about wearing waterproofs over your trousers, you can just go about your business without worrying about the rain,” he says. The trousers are made with three layers of fabric including an internal waterproof membrane and surface treated to repel water. “They look and feel like jeans but are totally waterproof,” he says.

Richard Thornhill sporting clothing brand Gnarly Peaks at Sheeps Head, West Cork. Picture: Miki Barlok
Richard Thornhill sporting clothing brand Gnarly Peaks at Sheeps Head, West Cork. Picture: Miki Barlok

The fabric in the jackets is specially made for Gnarly Peaks to be super-lightweight and highly waterproof: “For example a normal waterproof jacket may be waterproof to 5,000mm of hydraulic pressure whereas mine are waterproof to 30,000mm,” he explains. The jacket hoods, meanwhile, can be expanded to be worn over a helmet when rock climbing or cycling.

Although he doesn’t come from a fashion design background, Barlok says that his qualifications and background in architecture and interiors, as well as his passion for outdoor pursuits, have provided all the assets needed to create the Gnarly Peaks product range.

“I have had to learn a lot but I had plenty of time to do that. I have spent years and years in the mountains so I know what kind of gear is necessary and my background in architecture helped me a lot. It was a nice learning curve but I got there,” he says.

As the brand is entirely self-funded, the current collection is relatively small though Barlok has many more designs in the pipeline. The rain jackets currently come in sizes XS to XXL and the jeans sizing is currently based on male sizes 30” to 38” waist. The puffa jackets range from XS to XL.

At the moment the products are made abroad because there is no facility here that can produce to the performance standard Barlok has set for his brand. “My designs are made in the same factories that make for massive leading brands so they are experts in what they are doing,” he says.

So then, what sets Gnarly Peaks apart from other leading performance wear brands?

“Gnarly Peaks is the only Irish brand specialising in high quality technical outdoor clothing tackling the infamous Irish rain in a serious manner,” says Barlok who wants Gnarly Peaks to become a synonym for rain gear and a household name.

“We also use recycled and sustainable materials made especially for us and are working with factories which are BlueSign certified to keep our production eco- friendly and sustainable.”

Credits

  • Instagram: @gnarlypeaks
  • Website: www.gnarlypeaks.com
  • Female model: Louise Byrne from Morgan the Agency
  • Male model: James McDonald
  • Mountain biker: Richard Thornhill
  • Waterproof jackets: Available in Coral Red, Orange, and Slate Grey, €170
  • Waterproof jeans, €130
  • Puffer jacket, €80
  • Merino wool beanie, €30.

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