Woolrich reveals plans to become a global brand
Woolrich is making its presence known at this January's Pitti Uomo with a special experiential installation, around which a large crowd was already gathering as the Florentine trade show kicked off on Tuesday morning. The premium outdoor brand, which last September was acquired from Italian fashion group WP Lavori in Corso by L-Gam, a Luxembourg-based investment firm linked to the princely family of Liechtenstein, has pulled out all the stops to announce the start of a new era at the label and present its strategy for the future.
At the entrance of the trade show, attendees are greeted by a first stand featuring a large red and black check print, a reference to the Buffalo plaid invented by Robert F. Rich, who founded the US' oldest outdoor brand in 1831. The space contains a snow-filled cold room maintained at a chilly -20°C to allow customers to test the comfort and performance of Woolrich parkas.
A little further into the exhibition space, a man can be found offering mulled wine and roasted chestnuts to show attendees at the entrance to the gigantic Sala Ottagonale, where the Woolrich experience continues with an ice-dancing presentation aiming to "celebrate movement and the cold", demonstrating the comfort and mobility offered by the brand's reversible padded jackets. The collection is presented in an adjoining room, before the experience concludes in an open courtyard, where journalists and VIP clients can enjoy a coffee, a hearty breakfast or even brunch.
"This new experiential stand has to reflect our brand universe and our philosophy, which is increasingly focused on in-store experience," explained Woolrich's long-time creative director Andrea Cané to FashionNetwork.com. Cané was kept in his position by the brand's new shareholders to ensure continuity at the label, along with CEO Paolo Corinaldesi and general manager for Europe Valeria Caffagni. Rita Capasa was recruited last April to lead the brand's operations on the North American market, where Woolrich is looking to reinforce its presence, having recently opened a 600-square-meter showroom in New York.
"People are coming less and less frequently into stores for information, because they find everything out online. They do, however, want experiences. A multi-channel strategy also includes entertainment. In May, we'll be opening a new 500-square-meter flagship in New York, which will become our hub for experiments," continued Cané. Woolrich's current, smaller New York store, located at 125 Wooster Street in SoHo, will be closed as the brand moves a few doors down the same road, toward Prince Street.
Currently, 70% of the brand's capital is held by L-Gam, 10% by its founding family and 20% by Japanese outdoor company Goldwin Inc., which also owns The North Face in Japan and Korea. Having previously served as Woolrich's distribution partner in these same two countries, Goldwin became a minority shareholder in the brand last year. The Japanese company's acquisition of Woolrich shares coincided with the development of the brand's new Woolrich Outdoor line, of which the first collection has just been unveiled at Pitti Uomo.
"Goldwin is renowned for its technical savoir-faire in the outdoor sector. It's a Japanese team which designs and manages our new collection, which will replace Woolrich's historic American outdoor line. This mid-range line is no longer aligned with our premium positioning, nor with Woolrich's current image," explained Cané. The line is therefore being gradually discontinued.
With its new shareholders, Woolrich, which until now has mostly focused its efforts on Europe, is hoping to boost its presence in Asia and the Americas. Indeed, Europe is the largest market for the brand, which operates 32 stores and is sold by 1,500 retailers worldwide. The country with the most points of sale carrying Woolrich merchandise is currently Italy, followed by Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
"We're keeping our focus on Europe and are planning to speed things up in the UK and France, with new flagships in London and Paris, for example. But we have to have a bigger presence on other continents and become a global brand. Our competitors make 50% of their revenue in Asia," added the creative director. In Asia, the label will set about introducing itself through Chinese social network WeChat and will also be working to make itself a familiar brand to Chinese communities abroad.
In the US, Woolrich wants to better integrate its distribution with social networks. Its New York showroom will therefore serve to put retailers, especially department stores, in contact with influencers, "in order to also involve the brand's promoters in the wholesale phase."
"The fashion industry is becoming more and more complex. Now you have to have a communication strategy in place at the start of the creative process. Social networks want to know the truth about this process. You can't improvise. It's a big investment, but it can also be echoed by in-store marketing. Storytelling has become essential," mused Cané.
In order to execute this strategy, Woolrich's creative team has been renewed and reinforced. The label, which still operates a headquarters in Bologna to oversee product and another in Milan to deal with public relations and marketing, recruited its new menswear designer Antonio Zordan from Moncler last year and also promoted Aba Repossi from the role of director of women's outdoor to head of womenswear. The primary mission of the two designers will now be to work on the brand's identity and DNA.
Woolrich has also employed someone to create content about its products and design processes in order to provide consistent, coherent material for both social networks and retailers carrying its merchandise. The brand will also be consulting with famous American journalist and stylist Mel Ottenberg, who has previously been in charge of coming up with looks for Rihanna, among other celebrities. Her mission will be to create Woolrich looks by collaborating with the creative team during and after the design process.
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