Reebok’s fashion quota is about to go up substantially, thanks to its presence at Shanghai Fashion Week as a partner brand.
In advance of Reebok’s opening night runway show at Taipinghu Xintiandi, the Boston-based athletic brand literally puts its name and vector logo in lights on a building in the Bund. Tonight’s runway show will feature appearances by American rapper Future and Chinese singer and actor William Chan. As is increasingly the case with notables that Reebok aligns itself with, Future and Chan provide a serious social media reach with nearly 15 million Instagram followers between them.
Reebok is part of the scores of brands and designers that have been looking to Asia to bolster sales, although its alliance with Shanghai Fashion Week is a new twist for a heritage athletic brand. Tonight’s runway show is being billed as “The Other Side,” and it will spotlight leading styles and innovations from Reebok’s fall 2019 collection. Perhaps borrowing an idea from Tommy Hilfiger, another American brand that has made a splash by showing overseas, Reebok will offer a see-now-buy-now element with a sampling of its spring 2019 styles. Those items will be offered for purchase immediately following the event.
Reebok president Matt O’Toole said Tuesday, “For us, it’s very clear that China has become not only a leading market in terms of scale but a leading market in terms of fashion trends and the future of fashion. We see this as an opportunity to lead by showing some of our most important collections there.”
The see-now-buy-now concept is a first for Reebok and one that “has a lot of potential going forward to make sure that what the customer is seeing is something that’s accessible immediately for them,” according to O’Toole.
For tonight’s opener, there will be an on-site retail outpost and a limited-time digital component for consumers in China. Declining to comment on the brand’s financial commitment for SFW or the projected unit volume, he said, “It’s not a material number in terms of our overall results, but it’s an important number in terms of the right consumers being exposed to our product.”
Reebok recruited the shoe mash-up specialist Helen Kirkum —an influencer with more than 15,000 Instagram followers — to create its Advanced Concepts’ Sole Fury. The Royal College of Arts graduate reworked the 3-D Opus 98, Instapump Fury, Run.R 96 and Ventilator silhouettes to imagine three new versions of the Sole Fury for SFW.
Last year Reebok’s net sales were 1.68 billion euros. Reebok, which returned to profitability last year, has also been staffing up its Creation Center Asia, enlisting Chinese designers to reflect style and innovation from an Asian perspective. The company has hired former Nike executive Eric Lonsway, who worked for the Reebok rival for nearly 34 years, to head the new Shanghai team. China fueled Reebok’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region last year, O’Toole noted. “Ultimately, we see the potential of that product outside of the Chinese or even Asia-Pacific marketplace,” he said.
As for having any reservations about the athletic heritage brand going so intensely into a fashion event, O’Toole said, “It’s really consistent with the sportswear market today where we have to be grounded in our athletic authenticity and innovations, but our consumer definitely wants to see the world of sport and fashion come together. That’s led to our collaborations with folks like Victoria Beckham and Pyer Moss.”
Beckham’s “most successful” collection with the brand recently launched and several more are planned, he said. In light of the underperforming Reebok stores that have been closed and the recent expiration of a licensing deal with Dick’s Sporting Goods, O’Toole said, “Both of those are references to our U.S. business. The U.S. is a marketplace that became very promotional for the Reebok brand. The stores that we closed were principally in outlet malls. Having licensed apparel in the marketplace at the same time that we make our own and distribute that at a higher price point wasn’t a good long-term strategy for us. I look at both of those as getting ourselves ready to trade the consumer up to a better version of Reebok.”
While Reebok certainly sees the intersection between sport and lifestyle, O’Toole said, “There is still a need to have pure performance products that meet the needs of our fitness consumer, whether that’s training or running shoes, or our new PureMove bra. But there are products that overlap between those two worlds that are becoming more important to the consumer. So, it’s not black and white, meaning it’s all together or all apart. There certainly is some sort of gray zone in the middle where the consumer is most comfortable today.”
Earlier this month Reebok switched up its advertising with its new “Sport the Unexpected” initiative, which will consist of three short films. Instead of chiseled athletes training or competing, the first film focused on an outdoor basketball game interrupted by a quirky young woman in a pleated skirt. The first installment, “Storm the Court,” is meant to appeal to the Marvel generation.