Could Decathlon challenge Nike, Adidas in sneakers arena?
A sneaker model selling out in just a few hours isn’t exactly headline news in the frenetic raffle world sneaker aficionados are familiar with. But it wasn’t the case of a JordanXDior model (set to drop on March 24), or a Travis ScottXNike SB, or the latest Yeezy model.
No, the sneaker in question is a €90 model by Kalenji, a private label by French multinational sport retailer Decathlon, which seems to have struck gold with it. In 2018, Decathlon successfully relaunched one of its tracksuit models from 1985. This time, it delved into its footwear archives, coming up with the Revival Jog: more than a revised edition, an uber-contemporary take on a classic sneaker.
The design team for Kalenji, Decathlon’s running apparel and equipment brand, unearthed from its back catalogue the Flex, a running shoe launched in the mid-90s, one of the first developed by Decathlon’s designers. Since then, the French sport retailer has become a specialist in creating affordably priced sport performance products.
It now seems that Decathlon is keen to upgrade from being simply a source of attractive, affordable products. The Revival Jog is a shoe suitable for short-distance runs, with technical features like a running-style sole and waterproof uppers, but above all it has the unambiguously urban look of directional sneakers.
Decathlon gave Kalenji the green light to change its advertising and promotional register for the Revival Jog. Traditionally, Decathlon’s private labels favour a register that puts sporting activities and venues centre-stage, but for the Revival Jog’s drop the group has moved off the beaten track. The sneakers’ first edition, limited to 3,000 pairs, was presented the day after the end of the Paris Fashion Week, with an uber-urban viral campaign. Sneaker specialists, like the CaminoTV channel on YouTube, enthusiastically gave extensive resonance to the launch, and the first edition quickly sold out. It is therefore likely that Decathlon will drip-feed the Revival Jog’s next versions, like Adidas is doing with Yeezy.
Decathlon has undoubtedly been inspired by recent developments. Ten years ago, none of its private labels were regarded as cool, but now their products are regularly worn and mentioned - like Lacoste, Nike and Adidas products - by French rappers, above all Marseilles-born Jul, who claims to have sold more than four million copies of his albums. Among Marseilles youngsters, the Kalenji jacket worn by Jul in some of his videos is now known as Kalenjul. And as Decathlon's private labels have been boosting their brand initiatives by tapping this success, the group has taken a decisive step towards an athleisure positioning.
Does Decathlon want to turn into a lifestyle brand, and challenge Adidas, Nike and Puma, with a price positioning twice as cheap? Certainly not tomorrow. Some of Decathlon’s shoes may have adopted a pastel palette, or look more stylish than in the past, but the group's main focus is on sporting activity, as shown for example by the launch on March 5 of the Newfeel racewalking shoes endorsed by French champion Yohann Diniz. In 2019, Decathlon generated a revenue of €12.4 billion, and its core business is selling affordable products to sport practitioners.
Nevertheless, by launching the Revival Jog at a time when Nike and Adidas are making their mark in direct retail distribution, Decathlon has shown that it can challenge them at their own game in the highly dynamic sneakers segment. And if the French group might be able to squeeze a few percentage points of growth out of a directional segment in which it is yet to make any headway, it shouldn’t have any qualms in trying to do so.
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