Jack Wolfskin CEO on outdoor trends and sustainability
As the lines between the traditionally functional outdoor industry and the trend-led fashion sector continue to blur, FashionNetwork.com talks to Melody Harris-Jensbach, CEO of German outerwear and outdoor company Jack Wolfskin, about the rise of luxury technical sportswear for everyday and the brand’s new collaboration with Versace.
How has the outdoor industry changed in recent years? And how did Jack Wolfskin react?
In order to survive as a company, you have to constantly evolve and meet the demands your customers. Of course, this also applies to product design, which should be innovative and contemporary, and geared toward customer needs. Our primary objective is to develop innovative products that combine outstanding functionality with modern and attractive design to make them must-haves and create a modern brand image for both existing and new customers. This benefits business, our customers and us as manufacturers.
Jack Wolfskin is launching a collaboration with luxury brand Versace. How did this come about and how has it been received?
We presented our Limited Edition Wolfskin Tech Lab x Gianni Versace Retrospective capsule collection on the 30th of January at the opening of the exhibition in Berlin. It is only available in our first Wolfskin Tech Lab pop-up store located in Berlin's Kronprinzenpalais. The capsule collection introduces both the industry and customers to the Wolfskin Tech Lab collection and its exceptional design and technological innovation . We are deliberately embarking on a new journey to expand the definition of outdoor. Demand is proving to be strong: the pop-up store is selling well and although it runs until the 13th of April, the first collection pieces are already sold out.
Adventure holidays are on the rise, as well as ecotourism. How do these trends affect your brand and how do you respond to it?
The idea of travel is firmly anchored in our DNA. Our main target group is outdoor enthusiasts who like to spend time outside, take trips that have an element of adventure and feel "at home" outdoors. It’s not about age, it’s about outdoor activities. A survey carried out in 2015 revealed that our core customer was 45+ years old. He grew up with the brand, when InterRail travel and wanderlust was all the range in the 1990s. But since the launch of our online store in 2015, our most important age group has become the 35-45. Through our social media presence we are now in direct contact with a new generation of consumers who have never experienced Jack Wolfskin before and feel the urge to travel and explore. For example, our big digital campaign, #GoBackpack, supported young backpackers on their adventurous trips around the world. It helped us reach outdoor enthusiasts in the 25-30 age group who are taking a travel break, or travel during their studies or before their first job. Our collections are contemporary and meet the needs and expectations of those customers who are new to Jack Wolfskin.
Six months after a change of ownership and debt restructuring, how was the start into 2018?
Following the completion of our financial restructuring last year, the company now has a solid foundation and the capital needed to grow its business. And we can again put all resources on product development and the expansion of our business.
Against this background, we started the year with some of the most important industry events. Our Storm Shell jacket received the coveted Gold Winner Award in the Urban Outer Layer 3L category at Ispo in January, selected for its perfect combination of exceptional design and the innovative Xalt ™ Garment System technology, which makes all seams invisible and gives the jacket a seamless look. As part of the Berlin Fashion Week, we showed the new Wolfskin Tech Lab AW18 collection at Premium. Again, we received good feedback from potential customers and the press about our ISPO award-winning jacket, confirming that our Wolfskin Tech Lab is taking us in the right direction. We want to continue this successful start into the year over the next months.
Jack Wolfskin is known for its commitment to sustainability. To what extent are these efforts relevant for and valued by your customers?
Our outdoor-loving customers have always associated Jack Wolfskin with sustainability. We understand this as a duty to constantly push our efforts in this area and to influence both the industry and consumers. That is why we have been working together with recognised partners, such as the Fair Wear Foundation and Bluesign. And we are also setting ambitious goals, such as selling 100% PFC-free products by 2020. In terms of product design, we are particularly proud of our new collection made from fully recycled materials, which sets an example for sustainable product innovation for the industry as a whole. When we introduced this technology last year, it was a revolution and this year, we are translating the project into concept. For Summer 2018, we will launch our Texapore Ecosphere jackets, which feature a 100% recycled membrane, 100% recycled outer layer, and 100% recycled inner lining. And for Winter 2018/19, 100% recycled materials will be used in shell, fleece and hybrid styles.
What can we expect from Jack Wolfskin for 2018?
We want to take advantage of the changes in the sports sector to further strengthen our brand and gain more market share in Europe. Our currently positive performance demonstrates that we are on the right track. For example, order volumes for the current FW collection increased by 7.7% compared to the previous year, and we will finish the 2017 financial year with a significantly higher-than-expected pre-tax profit. To sustain this positive development, we will continue to drive customer appeal through product innovation and marketing, as well as through the further expansion of our multichannel activities, to make shopping easier and more convenient across the customer journey. A particular focus will be developing our business in China and the UK, where we still see great potential for Jack Wolfskin.
How do you think the outdoor industry will change in terms of aesthetics, commercial landscape and customer needs?
Trends and fashion will continue to blend into one another, and fashion and technology will become more important. This means that the sportswear industry and the fashion sector are increasingly nurturing each other, and can learn a lot from each other. They are already much more connected than before, as a result from customers building their wardrobes with pieces from both segments. That is why the sportswear industry should know and follow fashion trends, and be informed about how customers want to dress. Styling is now more important than in the past.
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