NEW YORK — A few well-established brands are holding onto their athletic roots and are branching out into new categories.
Executives from Russell Corp., Eddie Bauer and Burton were in town last week talking up their brands’ renewed commitment to athleticwear in three disparate tones.
Russell, a 101-year-old label and the eldest of the three, took the most straightforward route with showroom appointments. Eddie Bauer, founded as a sporting goods store by an avid outdoorsman in 1920, lived up to its heritage by showing a handful of rustic looks at the Explorers’ Club. Meanwhile, after 26 years in business, Burton tried to play off the brand’s sleek design reputation by having reporters drop by the Scandinavian to have a chat with three pro-snowboarders.
Having acquired Moving Comfort, Bike Athletic and Spalding in the past year, Russell, a $1.2 billion operation, is pushing forward with women’s apparel as a major initiative.
For the first time, the company set up a women’s division a few weeks back. Cheryl Barre manages the 40-person division as president. Women’s apparel accounts for 13 percent of the brand’s apparel sales. Last year, women’s apparel jumped 23 percent and double-digit growth is expected this year, said Catherine Gammon, associate manager of consumer marketing for Russell.
Russell’s purchase of Moving Comfort, a 26-year-old, $10 million activewear label founded by women, run by women and geared for women, is another indicator the brand wants women’s apparel to be an integral part of its overall business, Russell executives said.
With annual sales of $300 million, Spalding is also committed to women, as one of the few companies that make sporting goods geared for the gender. The company, for example, makes batting helmets with holes for ponytails.
Playing into its athletic heritage, Russell’s latest ad campaign, created by WestWayne, an Atlanta advertising and marketing agency, centers on everyday athletes. A women’s-focused ad is featured in the brand’s new “Are You Russell Material?” campaign, which opened with print ads in last month’s issues of fitness magazines and continues with brand-focused commercials at the end of August.The print ad features a shot of a woman doing a chin-up with the tag line, “Pain Feels So Much Better Than Guilt.” Russell will be running commercials for the first time in four years. The spots will air on ESPN and ABC Sports, in line with collegiate football’s “Road to the Bowl” championship series.
Russell is trying to build its women’s apparel business by offering a greater variety of silhouettes and colors in its moisture management Dri-Power and supportive Stretch-Power fabrics. Celadon green and raspberry are a few of the nontraditional shades being offered.
The company is also widening its assortment of cheerleader apparel with pants and shorts for juniors. For the less-athletic minded, Russell is joining the Juicy Couture-inspired wave with its own version of fitted velour warm-up suits.
Playing to consumers’ interests in throwback jerseys, Russell has launched Collegiate Legends consisting of 19 styles of football jerseys with the names and numbers of famous players. Troy Aikman, Bo Jackson and Barry Sanders are current bestsellers, a Russell spokesman said. While they are sized for men, many women are buying them and shortening the shirts, he added.
With its parent company Spiegel in Chapter 11, Eddie Bauer has been pressed to turn its business around. In May, Eddie Bauer handed out pink slips to 180 of its Redmond, Wash.-based employees and has closed 60 of its freestanding stores and 21 outlets since the beginning of the year.
L.L. Bean has notified its trustees that the company is following Spiegel’s bankruptcy proceedings and is interested in assets that may become available, a L.L. Bean spokesman said Tuesday. Reached at Spiegel’s corporate office, Debbie Koopman, vice president of corporate and investor relations, said she was not aware of Spiegel speaking with L.L. Bean about selling Eddie Bauer.
At the Explorers’ Club, Eddie Bauer displayed its parkas worn by Jim Whitaker, the first American to climb Everest in 1963, as well as updated versions of that down jacket. Also on display was a modern take on the “Skyliner,” the original down jacket Bauer designed in 1936 and patented in 1937. The new version ships to stores in November and retails for $129.The company also played a video showing Whitaker’s reunion with his sherpa guide during a base camp hike with their respective families earlier this year.
As a nod to its founder, Eddie Bauer showed off Sport Shop, the name of its founder’s store in Seattle. The retro-inspired collection of sweatshirts, jackets and tops is imprinted with some of the original logos from the store. Wholesale prices range from $14.50 for T-shirts to $49 for fleece sweatshirts. In September, it will be sold at the company’s 526 freestanding stores.
Scott Branascum, who joined the company as men’s merchandiser in February, said, “It’s great to be talking about a brand that’s coming back in America right now, when so much of the news is about corporate scandal. This started out in Seattle as a little brand that was started by a guy who wanted his friends to be able to buy the gear needed to do the things he loved to do.”
Eddie Bauer was wise to step away from the casual dressing to focus on its authenticity, Branascum said. “We are making clothes and building stuff that regular people can wear and understand,” he said.
Burton’s setup at Scandinavia House was determinedly more relaxed. Snowboarders Kelly Clark, JP Solberg and Keir Dillon slouched in leather couches, talking up Analog, the brand’s new apparel line, and other new ventures. Burton athletes agreed to drop their apparel endorsements with other companies like Volcom and Quiksilver to plug Analog streetwear, Dillon said.
“We can pretty much do or make whatever we want to in the line,” he said.
Trends will stem from snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. The 12-piece women’s group ships to stores in August. Analog creative director Tyson White said the collection is “smarter and more stylish than what you typically find in board sports clothing.”
For fall, Burton jackets, sweaters and pants have taken on a more stylish slant. Women’s offerings have embroidery or embossed details. A pair of snowboarding cargo pants have a tattoo-like detail on the lower back, a hooded jacket is offered in Tiffany blue with a satin lining, knitted beanies have sparkle details and even the women’s snowboard boots are covered with a Gucci-type logo pattern.The new category is designed to help boost Burton’s estimated $300 million in annual sales. With industry analysts suggesting interest in snowboarding is peaking and unseasonable weather slowing participation in certain regions of the country, snowboarding companies have been looking to develop their brands in new categories.
The Burton-sponsored athletes weren’t all business. Clark described the muscular physiques of the Williams sisters in “girly” dresses at the Laureus World Sports awards ceremony in Monaco last month. Clark was a nominee for alternative athlete of the year. Dillon noted how he’d cut his Jamaican honeymoon short to get to a Burton photo shoot. Solberg recalled after traveling to 30 cities for Burton’s two-month promotional tour, he headed to Hawaii for some relaxation and water sports. But his daily surfing wasn’t as clean as his snowboarding.
“Me going surfing is like jumping in a washing machine,” he said.
On another front, Gravis, a Burton-owned accessories and footwear company, has handpicked a team of athletes to endorse that label.
“They’re people who care about what they wear when they go out,” Dillon explained.
Five snowboarders have teamed up with artists and graphic designers to develop signature snowboards under Burton’s new Code series. Solberg said he worked with hip-hop artist Doze Green to create his board, which is covered with skulls.
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