Kathmandu expands into Europe with the help of Rip Curl
In late 2019, the acquisition shocked the sporting goods industry. The Australian surfing brand, Rip Curl, was brought into the fold of the New Zealand-based outdoor retailer, Kathmandu. The 350 million Australian dollar (€215 million) acquisition’s objective was to put Rip Curl on a firmer footing and to give Kathmandu a more international scope. A little over two years later, the New Zealand brand is beginning to expand in Europe and North America by relying on Rip Curl's know-how and by recruiting experts in the sector.
The group led by Michael Daly (which also owns the U.S. footwear brand Oboz and boasts a notable presence of 160 Rip Curl stores and 160 Kathmandu stores worldwide) reported revenue growth of around 15.7% in its 2020-21 fiscal year that ended at the end of July to 923 million Australian dollars (€584 million).
In the first half of 2021-22, the group showed a growth of sales, reporting a turnover of $405 million for its first six months of the fiscal year. This growth could accelerate during the second half of 2022 as Kathmandu advances its projects. We interviewed Kathmandu’s head of international activity, Frenchman Alexandre Gilbert, who joined the group in Christchurch, New Zealand last October after having worked at Adidas, O'Neill, and more recently Icebreaker.
FashionNetwork.com : Alexandre Gilbert, you recently joined Kathmandu. What are your areas of expertise in the field and what is your mission for the brand?
Alexandre Gilbert : I joined Kathmandu in October 2021 as a general manager of international with over 13 years of experience in various global brands in the sporting goods, outdoor and surfing industries. At Kathmandu, our goal is to lure people to the outdoors because we know that is where we experience our best moments in life. The pandemic has only amplified this reality. So, my mission is simply to expand this idea everywhere outside of New Zealand and Australia through international business. In this role, I'm responsible for leading, inspiring and coordinating our teams in all aspects of our international expansion plan, starting in the UK, Europe and Canada, before expanding into other markets.
FNW : Where is Kathmandu marketed globally today?
AG : To date, the Kathmandu brand is mainly distributed in New Zealand and Australia. We are the number one outdoor brand in these two countries with over 162 stores. Globally, we have a small presence in the UK and have launched a U.S. website, but it's really now in 2022 that we start to expand into Europe and Canada.
FNW : How is Kathmandu performing in these two international markets?
AG : While focusing on our largest markets, Australia and New Zealand, we have also continued to service our strategic partners and website in the UK. But, in line with our plan to enter the European market, 2022 will be the year we accelerate activity in the UK as we expand our retail network, which today includes a handful of large retailers and independent stores. We have yet to officially launch the brand in the U.S. We have a website already up and running and we are currently working on a strategic plan to enter this very competitive market that would most likely be implemented during the second half of 2023.
FNW : What are the expansion projects for Europe? And how are you developing Kathmandu in this region?
AG : In Europe, we are using our Kathmandu Holding Inc. group's strength and benefiting from the teams, structure, and market expertise of our Rip Curl colleagues. Mathieu Lefin, president of Rip Curl in Europe, has been appointed president for the Rip Curl and Kathmandu brands in the region. We have also hired Etienne Lassus as Kathmandu Europe’s sales manager. Etienne has experience and expertise in the European outdoor market (and has worked for the Oberalp Group, Under Armour and Rip Curl, editor's note). As of this month, French and German consumers will be able to find a few of our products at select retailers, but our big launch will be in August 2022 where we will then have a German and a French e-commerce site.
FNW : Where will the European development be led from? Which markets are you targeting? Are you planning on establishing partnerships with retailers rather than relying on directly operated distribution?
AG : It's true, unlike Australia and New Zealand where our distribution is 100% direct, the European expansion will mainly come from multi-brand and independent retailers. This, combined with our own online site, is simply the most efficient way to launch and make our brand visible in a very dense market. We will work with strategic partners for the first year to position our brand in a unique and above all authentic way. Germany, France and the UK will be our priorities, but we will also expand to other countries in Europe.
FNW : What are the product categories you will be offering? What is your chosen launch strategy? Have you already selected any specific retailers? If so, which ones and on what terms?
AG : In the launch phase, our product offering will be 90% clothing including jackets, sweatshirts, t-shirts, pants, fleeces, etc. and 10% will be backpacks and small accessories (gloves, scarves, hats, etc.). Our brand has 35 years of experience in manufacturing outdoor equipment: clothing and accessories, but also shoes, tents, sleeping bags, and everything necessary for the outdoors. We will certainly consider expanding our international collection to other product categories once we have the right distribution partners.
FNW : How would you describe the European market? And what is Kathmandu’s differentiating asset?
AG : The European outdoor market is very saturated. There are many established brands and it's very competitive, but it's also a market that needs novelty, something different. When a brand is authentic and disruptive, it can challenge even the biggest brands. A lot of research has shown that people don't just buy products anymore but that they want to align their values with the brand's values.
As a New Zealand brand, being environmentally friendly is our way of life and diversity is part of our culture. We prioritize diversity in our offices, in our stores, in our communication, and we use our profits to improve the lives of our employees, our local communities and the environment. That's why we're a B Corp certified company, currently the largest in Australasia.
We are aware that all outdoor brands are doing their best to protect their employees and the environment, which is a good thing. But what really sets us apart is our unique positioning. There is a lot of scientific research that proves that being outside, surrounded by nature, makes people happier. For Kathmandu, it's not about conquering mountain peaks, it's about celebrating the joy of being outdoors, motivating people to experience the open-air and to be creative, carefree, and joyful. We express this through our products, our communication, and our events.
FNW : What are your ambitions for the next five years?
AG : Within five years, our ambition is to be a brand recognized for its values and loved throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, South Korea and Japan.
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