The Big Game

After years of brandishing their logos across various categories, companies are testing new formulas going into the crucial second half.

After years of brandishing their logos on scores of products across various categories, activewear giants are testing some new formulas going into the crucial second half.

This story first appeared in the July 10, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

For some, that means having more personal exchanges with customers, while others are broadening their reach with secondary labels or with more streetwear-inspired styles. All in all, they are hopeful the $16.2 billion women’s active sector will continue to climb with stylish items.

The aim for many is to defray heavy discounting and to distinguish their brands in the commodity-oriented market. Ingenuity is needed, due to consumers’ uneasiness about the weather’s wide swings and the unsteady economy. In response to that, some stores are delaying orders or at least taking a more conservative approach to business, manufacturers said.

A key component is marketing that gives consumers an emotional connection to a brand. Danskin is trying to get fall shoppers to relax by offering a $20 spa gift certificate for anyone who spends $50 or more on its products. The certificate is redeemable through a network of 5,000 spas.

“We want to give her an additional value and it gives us a good connection to the brand,” said Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Danskin.

Well aware of the interest in adventure sports, Nike is taking a more aggressive approach in that arena. Nike All Conditions Gear signed a three-year sponsorship as the official apparel and footwear partner of the Gorge Games, the world’s leading adventure sports competition and festival to be held this weekend in Portland, Ore. It is also sponsoring trail runs in this summer’s Ford Adventure Sport Challenge race tour.

Through a new online contest that began Wednesday, Reebok is having consumers piece together clues to solve a fictitious crime of an NBA player overwhelmed by a crossover dribble. Detectives trace the “crime” to one of four NBA players, Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Kenyon Martin and Jason Richardson. They appear in a new TV ad campaign and will make in-store appearances.

Fans log on to rbk.com to become “Sports Crime Squad Investigators” and will receive e-mail and text message alerts on breaking news in the case. Fans who crack the case will be entered into a sweepstakes to win a trip to the 2004 NBA All-Star Weekend.

The Weekend Exercise Co.’s Marikaa label has sponsored Yoga On The Inside, a Los Angeles organization that teaches yoga in inner city schools, women’s shelters and prisons. Norm Zwail, president and chief executive officer, said this allows the brand to give something back to the community besides a donation. Marika will help market the organization through the sale of merchandise, public relations, advertising and on its Web site. Zwail now serves on?the group’s advisory board.

Participants in last week’s Motogiro, a five-day motorcycle race in Italy, went home with a pair of new Hogan motorcycle books imprinted with the race name. This was the first time Hogan teamed up with Dream Engine, the event’s sponsor, for the annual event. In addition to the freebies, Hogan celebrated the Motogiro in its store windows along the route. Ducati is the official race sponsor.

Fila and Adidas are focused on customization. After wrapping up its $351 million purchase of Fila’s worldwide subsidiaries from Fila Holding SpA last month, Sport Brands International now plans to renovate the New York office and build on the success of style-conscious items.

Jon Epstein, president and ceo of SBI, said, “We believe customization is an important part of retail and is getting bigger. All the stores want proprietary merchandise. We want to make product in places that will be most meaningful for us.”

Caroline Kahn, Adidas’ U.S. category manager for women’s, said, “We’re segmenting our product so there’s a greater point of differentiation at retail.”

Adidas is offering specific designs to stores to avoid duplication and ultimately discounting. The brand is counting on seamless ClimaCool bodywear, to help set it apart from others.

Given the weather, Adidas has tweaked its fall shipping for select items in most stores. The company is also holding off on shipping fleece and outerwear to stores until August, which is about six weeks later than normal. This fall’s Adidas-sponsored Women’s World Cup should also help create a buzz for the brand.

Meanwhile, technical looks are the striking point for Bogner and Everlast.

Bogner is making its golfwear and skiwear more technical, but maintaining its fashion strength. For the golf component, Willy Bogner, president and ceo, said, “We’re targeting premier golf accounts in the U.S. It will be sophisticated and exclusive, but well-balanced between fashion and functionality. It will cross over from the golf course to streetwear.”

Everlast sees opportunity in technical-oriented pieces in junior activewear that double as streetwear. The brand expects its new urban sportswear line to help meet that need.

“The whole junior market is trendier and it’s something that’s going to be big,” an Everlast spokeswoman said.

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.

For Burton, that means a new sportswear collection called Analog. Design inspiration stems from snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. The 12-piece women’s group ships to stores in August.

Gravis, a Burton-owned accessories and footwear company, has handpicked a team of athletes to endorse that label.

Puma is revved up for this fall’s launch of Mahanuala, technical yoga wear designed to complement Nuala, its yoga-inspired collection backed by Christy Turlington. Mahanuala has performance garments, as well as cover-up pieces for travel to and from the studio.

For its signature brand, Puma aims to boost store traffic by doing co-op advertising with Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, but the brand is focused on developing stylish, functional product.

Tom Morgan, vice president of sales, said, “If you have unique product, there’s no need to be in a price competition with other brands. Limited distribution makes the product desirable.”

RLX Ralph Lauren is getting into water sports. For spring, the company will unveil an “aqua sport” group to its performance-oriented activewear collection. Offered in orange, turquoise and other beachy colors, surf trunks, shorts, pants, skirts and tops are designed to be worn in and out of the water, such as “Zambra” jackets and shorts made of a stretch bonded jersey.