Arena celebrates 50th anniversary with record results
International swimwear brand Arena, owned by Swiss investment firm Capvis since 2014, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023 with unprecedented financial results.
In 2022, Arena generated the stand-out revenue figure of €141 million, up 45% over the €97 million recorded in 2021, and up 13% on its pre-Covid levels. It was an absolute record for Arena, which was launched in 1973 by Horst Dassler, son of Adidas founder Adolf Dassler, who deployed the Arena brand name after using it a year earlier for a line of canvas shoes. Horst Dassler was keen to tap the Olympic success of Mark Spitz, who won 7 gold medals in swimming and set 7 world records at the 1972 Munich Games and signed the US legend for Arena. Horst Dassler bought the Arena trademark, owned by a company based in Nîmes, France, close to a famous Roman amphitheatre, and registered it internationally, though the Arena brand was officially launched at the European Swimming Championships in Vienna in 1974.
In 2022, Arena’s revenue grew across all markets, distribution channels and product categories: training swimwear, the brand’s core business, grew 38%, swimming accessories grew by 32%, beachwear by 24%, and competition swimwear by 14%. In the latter category, Arena has underlined the commercial success of competition apparel and wetsuits, notably the Powerskin Storm wetsuit, evidence that more and more people are swimming not only in pools, but also in the open waters of seas and lakes.
Last year’s sales set a record for Arena, which is based in Tolentino, central Italy, where the company runs all operations relating to product development, administration, marketing and supply chain management. Revenue was up 45% over 2021, and was 18% above budget. The comparison basis was of course rather favourable, since most swimming pools had been closed for a large part of 2021 owing to the pandemic, but Arena was also able to grow by 13% compared to its 2019 pre-Covid results. The value of orders placed for Spring/Summer 2023 was 33% higher than for the same season the previous year, and the company posted a double-digit EBITDA result. All of this while Arena managed to limit its average price increase to 7%, despite the pressure exerted on revenue and margins by the tough socio-economic context.
Arena posted the strongest growth in the USA, where revenue was up 54% over 2021, while revenue increased by 42% in Europe, and by the same percentage in other regions. Arena's main market remains France, followed by Italy and the USA, though the latter’s exceptional growth rate makes it a candidate for the number-one spot in the near future. “With these growth rates, we’re expecting the United States to become our main market within a couple of years,” said Giuseppe Musciacchio, deputy CEO of Arena, speaking to FashionNetwork.com.
“Online sales are also playing a key part in our performance, thanks to the strategic infrastructure investments the company has been making both at its headquarters in Tolentino and at its new e-commerce hub in the Munich offices,” added Musciacchio, mentioning that Arena currently operates “about 20 monobrand stores in Europe, mostly of the factory outlet type. For the time being, we do not foresee further openings, except for pop-up stores linked to special initiatives, for example the relaunch of our beachwear collection, which will start with Spring/Summer 2023.”
Arena’s e-tail revenue grew 71% in Europe in 2022, and accounted for 25% of Arena’s total revenue. This included revenue generated by pure players like Zalando, Amazon and Swim Outlet, and that produced by Arena's own e-shop, accounting for 7% of the total.
Arena’s sustainability drive centres first and foremost on introducing more sustainable packaging. In the last two years, the brand has extended the use of FSC-certified paper and significantly reduced the use of plastic. In 2023, Arena swimming goggles will come in a new, 100% recyclable cardboard packaging. The company’s commitment “begins with our brand purpose, which is Arena’s first and real raison d’être: to improve quality of life for everyone, through the active promotion of sport and an active lifestyle, all the better if enjoyed in the water,” said Musciacchio, adding that “based on this commitment, which the company has always honoured in its 50 years in business, in 2022 we embarked on a journey that will lead us, by 2024, to become B Corp-certified, and achieve benefit corporation status.”
On the product front, from this year Arena will produce “most of its swimwear, both for pool and sea swimming, using recycled fibres derived from plastic bottles and industrial waste,” said Musciacchio. “I would like to underline that, especially considering [our products] are used within an aggressive environment like chlorinated water, it is essential for us to achieve greater sustainability without losing anything in terms of product quality and durability,” he added.
Arena has recently launched Powerskin ST Next, “the first [World Aquatics-] approved competition swimsuit made with fabric derived from recycled fibres,” said Musciacchio. Powerskin ST Next is a lighter, more durable swimsuit made with over 60% of yarns coming from pre- and post-consumer waste otherwise destined for landfills, and “is also having excellent sales results,” said Musciacchio. The swimsuit has been approved by the World Aquatics federation for use in swimming competitions. In addition, all the swimsuits and most beachwear items included in Arena's Spring/Summer 2023 consumer collection are made using recycled fibres. Arena’s sustainable fabrics are derived from PET bottles and industrial waste such as yarns and plastic swarf, and are Global Recycled Standard-certified.
Arena is currently commercialised in 128 countries: it operates directly in five markets, and has 111 local distributors, while 12 Asian countries are served by Descente Ltd. Arena's connection with the world of swimming and all water sports over the past half century has been established through competition partnership and financial sponsorship, and has been wide-ranging, from amateur-level athletes to national federations, as well as Olympic Games and World Championships events. Throughout its history, Arena has sponsored the FINA (now known as World Aquatics) and LEN (the European swimming body) federations, and currently backs 40 individual athletes and 25 national federations. A connection that is emphasised by a new advertising campaign inspired by Arena's ‘Planet Water’ slogan.
“'Planet Water' reflects an evolution from the brand's previous 'Water Instinct' mantra. It celebrates the essential element that unites us, water, both as humans and water sports enthusiasts,” said Kamila Pilwein, Arena’s global marketing director. Developed in collaboration with Italian creative agency Macsiotti, the campaign is aimed at all those who have a special connection with water, and is fronted by top-level athletes from Arena’s Elite Team of pool, Paralympic and open-water swimmers: David Popovici, Niccolò Martinenghi, Jessica Long, Leonie Beck, Zsuzsanna Jakabos, Sarah Sjöström and Natalie Hinds.
The Arena group currently employs 427 people, 186 in Tolentino alone. “We are always evaluating new profiles that could become part of our staff, when necessary and based on our projects. We didn't cut down on personnel even during the pandemic, one of our company’s toughest times,” said Musciacchio. Arena manufactures most of its products in Asia and Europe, while competition swimwear is produced at two directly owned production facilities, one in Italy and one in Slovakia.
“Nearshore manufacturing output has increased in recent years, and further innovations are in the pipeline, such as bringing back to Italy part of our swimming goggles production. We publicly disclose all our level 1 suppliers on our website,” said Musciacchio. “Since 2011, Arena has been a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a major international non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting workers’ rights and improving working conditions. We’re especially proud to have been the first Italy-based brand to receive FLA accreditation,” he concluded.
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