Fila: back to its tennis origins through a premium line
After many collaborations and different creative projects these last years, Fila is changing its strategy. The historic Italian sportswear brand wants to refocus on its origins and its DNA around the world of tennis, with the aim of moving upmarket with a clear and coherent project. The program includes a premium ready-to-wear line for selective fashion boutiques and the development of new innovative and responsible products. New teams have been created, overseen by industry experts such as Torsten Hochstetter, who has been appointed global design director, as well as sports shoe specialist Mikal Peveto, who is in charge of innovation.
In recent years, Fila has gained visibility collaborating with multiple designers. Starting with the Russian Gosha Rubchinskiy, who put the brand back in the spotlight during a show at Pitti Uomo in 2016. But it was the collaboration launched two years later with luxury house Fendi, which really propelled the brand. The collaboration's success marked the beginning of the sports label's upward repositioning, highlighting its logo with its famous letter F in blue and red.
Since then, the company has made many forays into the world of fashion, most recently with Haider Ackermann, who unveiled his collection at a show in Manchester last week, and with Glenn Martens and his Y/Project brand last year, which led to a distribution network of fashion boutiques. Not to mention the campaign that was just launched with Hailey Bieber, helping to expand its audience.
Fila had even launched a slightly more upscale collection, holding its very first fashion shows in Milan in 2018, and then again in 2019. But after a final presentation in February 2020, the project was suspended due to Covid, and creative directors Antonino Ingrasciotta and Josef Graesel, hired in 2017, were redirected to the Chinese market and special projects.
"These are all great initiatives, but they remain one-off and ephemeral. The objective is to give continuity to these projects, which have been fragmented until now, to further enhance Fila, which still has great potential," explains the global strategic marketing director, Luca Bertolino, to FashionNetwork.com.
As part of its five-year strategic plan, presented in early 2022, the group wants to reorganize its offer with, on the one hand, its traditional sports products marketed through specialty stores and, on the other, a premium range, distributed in a network of selective multi-brand stores, a bit like Adidas with its Originals line.
"What makes the difference in the market today is being able to create an aura around a brand that makes it desirable. To elevate Fila and to position it upwards, while preserving our consistency, we want to launch a premium ready-to-wear line in order to approach the slightly more interesting sales channel of clothing," says the manager, who is looking for a creative director and confides that he is currently in discussions with a designer.
This line would embody the brand's image, setting the creative tone, intended to be reflected in the rest of the offer, the sports range inspired and capitalizing on the work of the creative director through the intermediary of the new head of world design, Torsten Hochstetter. "He will be the one to translate the creative director's message, transmitting it to our different units," he says.
"We want to elevate the brand to get out of certain sales channels and into others. This project must get the label back to its roots, which has suffered a drift in recent years, especially in the leisure and streetwear categories. This means that in addition to the product, we must work on the image and our communication with, as a starting point, tennis, which is our DNA, both in terms of product performance and style by surfing on the "old money" and country club aesthetic," he continues.
"Everything was born from there and it is from there that we want to start laying the foundations. There is a real phenomenon around tennis that is coming back into vogue. Witness the many new streetwear brands that are inspired by this world, including luxury houses. Not to mention the "old money" aesthetic, which is exploding on TikTok. Fila practically invented this tennis style," recalls Luca Bertolino.
Founded by the Fila family in 1911 near Biella, in the wool district of Piedmont, the textile company started manufacturing underwear fifteen years later before branching out into sportswear in 1973. Fila hired textile engineer Pierluigi Rolando, its first creative director, who began to dress the sports stars of the time, namely tennis champions Adriano Panatta, Guillermo Vilas and especially Björn Borg. In the 1980s, the label diversified into the production of sports shoes, now representing 50% of its total sales (40% for clothing and 10% for accessories) with a much higher share in the United States and Korea.
After the huge success of its Disruptor 2 platform sneaker, which drove sales for nearly three years, Fila has seen its sales slow. In the third quarter, it reached 325 billion South Korean won (KRW), or 233.5 million euros, up 1.4% year-on-year thanks to currency changes, but down 5.7% if based on a stable exchange rate. The sports brand failed to anticipate the end of the Disruptor 2 cycle by replacing its large volumes of stock with new products. Hence the need to again create a best-seller.
In keeping with its strategy of moving upmarket, Fila has reorganized itself around two new development structures overseen by Luca Bertolino. A creative team led by Torsten Hochstetter and an innovation team called Futura, led by Mikal Peveto, which is based in Portland and is responsible for working on the brand's performance shoe for the fall-winter 2023/24.
"There are a lot of performance products on the market right now. We don't want to do the same thing, but offer a different product that is clean and sustainable. One of Futura's projects will also be to create new product categories," reveals the executive. For the brand image, Luca Bertolino says he is ready to continue with mini-collabs "as long as they are coherent" and wants to "create a portfolio of personalities who will collaborate with us in the medium to long term".
Owned since 2007 by South Korean entrepreneur Gene Yoon, via Fila Holdings (formerly Fila Korea), which oversees South Korea, the United States, Canada and Mexico, the company is managed under license by various players in other markets, such as Dosenbach-Ochsner for Western Europe (Italy, France, Germany and Spain), JD Sports for the United Kingdom and Ireland, Itochu for Japan.
In China, a joint venture was created, 85% owned by Anta Sports and 15% by Fila Holdings. Anta has opened 2,600 stores in this territory, positioning the brand in the high-end segment. In the United States the price positioning is a little lower, while in Europe it is in line with the market. In addition to these 2,600 points of sale, there are almost 350 in South Korea. Within five years, Fila should open its first stores in Europe and the United States as well.
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