PARIS — Not even the COVID-19 pandemic can keep Lionel Messi or his premium lifestyle brand down.
The pandemic’s onset just after the brand launched in late 2019 threw a spanner in initial plans, which included early expansion in Asia. But a swift pivot toward e-commerce proved to be a winning strategy, brand portfolio MGO Global’s chief executive officer Maximiliano Ojeda told WWD.
On opening day, the elite soccer player’s fans were so numerous they made the site crash at launch. Since then, the brand has seen visitors from nearly all territories and shipped orders from 110 countries, with the U.S. taking over 50 percent of the business.
“We are extremely pleased that our community has been so engaged and supportive of our brand,” said the Argentine soccer star, considered one of the most successful footballers of all times.
The 18-to-24-year-old age range of the consumers also paved the way to an app, a logical next step that was equally successful, according to Ojeda, who revealed it had been downloaded some 500,000 times by users in 60 countries since its launch on Black Friday 2020.
It also turned up a surprising fact: The 30 percent share taken by female consumers.
“Not just mothers buying for kids, wives or girlfriends. Many of our items are unisex because women today are wearing cool streetwear, tracksuits and hoodies,” said Ginny Hilfiger, creative director of the brand and chief creative officer of MGO.
Asked what the lynchpin to this rapid-fire success was, Ojeda credited Messi’s talent and humility, noting that the desire of both athlete and company were to “bring out the Messi in everyone, and inspire everyone who wants to be inspired.”
Messi’s move from Barcelona to France’s Paris Saint Germain team in 2021 has also been extremely positive for the brand, according to the executive and the athlete, who felt that “joining [the Parisian team] had not changed the aesthetic of our brand but has exposed it to a larger audience.”
“Luckily, I used the light blue from Argentina, the red from Barcelona and some navy, so a lot of our signature details translated to PSG,” quipped Hilfiger, who described the Parisian style as “casual but elegant.”
This translated into well-cut quilted jackets or sporty separates that look smart enough for a casual day at the office. Wearing a polo shirt with black tracksuit trousers, Messi could have been gearing up for a business meeting or heading for training.
Items bearing his shirt numbers 10 — his position both in Barcelona and the Argentinian national team — and 30 — the one he wears at PSG — should also prove particularly popular.
Current sales figures and growth trends back that up. While declining to give any figures, Ojeda revealed that the brand was growing its business on a double-digit base month over month.
“It certainly blew up in terms of coverage, how well-received the brand is on this market, and [has] obviously facilitated becoming a new upcoming international brand, fighting for its own space in the big ocean of brands like Lacoste,” the executive continued.
That’s set to continue, especially in the U.S. where the sport is growing at a quick pace and given the rapid succession of the upcoming soccer Fifa World Cup in Qatar starting in November, the women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2023 and the 2026 men’s World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Ojeda therefore expects the coming year to be an exciting one and the brand’s retail plans reflect this, starting with a loyalty program that’s set to open within months.
As borders open up, physical retail is also back on the table, although the brand is moving at a cautious pace.
Two locations have opened in the duty-free zones at the Uruguay-Brazil border, as part of a partnership with travel retail specialist Duty Free Americas. A third is set to open later this month, with the brand sitting between Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.
Department store presence in Latin America will soon follow, within Mexico, Chile and, obviously, Argentina. Discussions are also underway with a retailer present in North America, Europe and Middle East, but Ojeda declined to specify if the timeline would coincide with November’s World Cup.
The pandemic had another unexpected side effect: making even a soccer superstar like Messi “spend more time at home with my family wearing casual comfortable clothing,” the athlete said, which segued into his desire to have “quality, comfort and versatility” as a priority for each collection.
Cue the loungewear, swim and underwear categories introduced in this iteration, along with socks that the athlete gamely showcased during the shoot, popping his feet up on a sofa.
This second chapter is also about whittling down the aesthetic of Messi’s fervent community of supporters and fans around the world.
“We are learning that [our customers] like the younger vibe, like graphics based on Leo’s tattoos or bolder, creative takes on the logo,” Hilfiger said, pointing out newly introduced oversize takes on the logo and presence of geometric designs nodding to soccer balls.
Ojeda added that building a brand is “all about building a community, learning from our customers and fans and engaging with them.”
Also part of this second chapter is “The Messi Green Line,” launched this spring with the idea that “waste is a design error,” which is stated in a manifesto printed on a top.
Readily identifiable through bold graphics or discreet green touches such as bar tacks and waistband patches, this range of sustainably minded products cut from deadstock textiles currently amounts to around 10 percent of the collection, according to Hilfiger, and will gradually become a much larger part of their business.
Going forward, the classic core of the collection will remain, supplemented with “a layer of cool, fun streetwear” and later, “a higher-end collection of men’s casual tailored wear and functional outerwear,” said Messi. Childrenswear, accessories and home products are also on the cards. Sneakers, cleats and activewear remain off the cards due his contract with Adidas.
Ojeda added that collaborations would follow, all with the idea of taking the Messi brand outside any obvious fields.
That sporty edge with a larger lifestyle side will contribute opening toward a younger — increasingly female — clientele, added Hilfiger, noting that the overarching idea would always be “taking [Messi’s on-pitch] precision off the field and into the garments.”