Thursday, 16 January 2020 22:28

ChicGeek Comment Pitti The K-Way Way

Pitti Uomo K Way showOn a chilly January Florentine night besides the swollen river Arno, the modernist Palazzo della Borsa played host to the first ever K-Way catwalk show. Known for it colourful and affordable rainwear and its signature yellow-orange-blue striped taping, this was K-Way’s way of celebrating the revamp of the brand and a sort of anniversary for them. (The brand was founded in 1965)

Left - The Classic pac-a-mac - K-Way's first catwalk show - Pitti Uomo 97 Jan. 2020

While many think of Pitti Uomo as a place for peacocks to pose by the curved pebbled concrete and classic made-in-Italy tailoring, the real money is being made by brands that offer mass appeal and big margins. This is aspirational, usually, made-in-China fashion, that has multiple variations on the same product. The consumer feels like and is happy that they have a lot of choice, while the brand’s core is simplified and strengthens the idea of ‘owning’ a category. Customers are clear on what they do, yet want to know what the new variations or collaborations are for each season. They are happy to have multiples of the same styles and shapes and have the same things as everybody else. It’s like joining a club.

It was founder Leon Claude Duhamel’s decision to brand the lightweight, nylon pac-a-mac that gave birth to K-Way after seeing people struggling in the rain through the streets of 1960s Paris.

Pitti Uomo K Way show

At the Florence show, both Duhamel, and the Italian Boglione family, which now owns it, were present after a collection featuring youthful and fashion-lead rainwear. Italian influencers in Coyote-lined K-Ways watched as every variable of a K-Way was sent down the catwalk. These weren’t the pac-a-mac types of old, though it will sell plenty of those, but more the limited runs of fashion product with the K-Way DNA centre stage, even if it was taped prominently to the models’ flies.

The Bogliones - who also own Petersham Nurseries in Richmond - own K-Way as part of their BasicNet business. This Italian sportswear group owns Kappa, Robe di Kappa, Superga, and, recently bought Sebago from Wolverine. The group produced consolidated revenue growth of 14.7% in the 2018 financial year. In the first three months, Q1 2019, revenue was €74.6 million, a 38.9% increase driven by the recent acquisition of Sport Finance, the group’s distributor in France, UK and Spain. 

Right - More directional K-Way for AW20

BasicNet saw strong 2018 growth globally; USA revenue increased by 36%, Europe 13.4%, Asia-Oceania 17.1% and Middle East and Africa 56.3%.

The founder of BasicNet, Marco Boglione, was only 20 when he was invited to join the company Maglificio Calzificio Torinese (MCT). MCT specialised in hosiery and underwear until seeing the potential of designer jeans during the 1970s boom and came up with ‘Jesus Jeans’. 

Marco applied himself to the sportswear side of the company and was part of the nascent industry of sponsoring athletes with branded product. Under the Kappa brand they sponsored American Carl Lewis as well as football teams such as Juventus, AC Milan and Barcelona.

Marco left MCT to start a company making football merchandise, but when MCT started to struggle he, along with his brothers, bought it out of receivership and created BasicNet in 1995. Since then it has been acquiring brands with K-Way having been acquired in 2004.

K-Way’s signature ‘Le Vrai Claude 3.0’ jacket is £75. Made in China of a simple, lightweight pac-a-mac material, the margins must be huge. Success breeds success and dominance in this sector of mid-priced branded sportswear. You can sell huge volumes and retailers like the ease of brands being clear on what they do. It’s also a fun and colourful product. The same could be said for brands such Crocs, Eastpak, Herschel and Sebago. Lots of colours and finishes in the same consistent, known and liked styles.

While many new fashion brands aim for ‘luxury’, it is too dominated by the three main groups - LVMH, Kering, Richemont - who will only increase their muscle and monopolies. The volumes are too small to grow quickly and too much money is tied up in less product. The ideal is to scale quickly and this is what BasicNet has cleverly done with its brands. It’s tapped into the desire for brands at a price people are happy to pay while making good profits.

Pitti Uomo K Way show Colorful Standard

While without the overt branding, a newish brand trying this idea of lots of colours with simplicity in styles is Colorful Standard. Made in Portugal, it recently opened a store with Oi Polloi in London. Founded by Danish entrepreneur, Tue Deleuran, in 2017, it is now sold by 500 retailers across Europe with stores in Paris and Zurich.

Colorful Standard organic T-shirts retail at €30 and the sweatshirts are between €60 and €80 in a rainbow of colours. Made in Portugal in a factory Deleuran bought in 2008, he also produces private label for many luxury brands.

Left - Colorful Standard for quality organic basics in lots of colours 

Expanding, new Colourful Standard categories for AW20 include boxer briefs, socks and Oxford shirts. By having the illusion of lots of choice it entices the consumer to be happy to add to their 'collection'. It also becomes a go-to when the product is good and people are satisfied. Asking people to pay 4 times the prices of Uniqlo with feel good extras of organic cotton and charitable associations seems to be working. It looks Helvetica familiar and fills the American Apparel gap or that once held by the likes of GAP.

What these two examples illustrate is the opportunities in this mid-priced market. Healthy margins in large volumes is the dream for any fashion business. Despite the naysayers, people will still pay for product they like, it just needs to be good. Oh, and colourful!

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