Louise Ramsay finds out more from Richard Townsend, sales manager at Solo Sports, arena’s UK distributor
arena had always been driven by technology, but until recently it hadn’t quite found how to make its mark.
Bought from adidas by Alistair Woodhead 25 years ago, its life as an independent brand had been a challenging one. Then Solo Sports took over nine years ago and invested in carbon technology. The results formed the basis of the groundbreaking family of Powerskin carbon racing suits, which came to market four years ago. Since then, arena’s rise through the ranks has been positively meteoric.
Compression is the buzzword
Richard Townsend, sales manager at Solo Sports, says: “It’s the carbon that did it for us. Compression is the buzzword of the moment and, done properly, the benefits it has for athletes is tremendous. It’s like putting petrol in the engine of a car. It works by compressing blood vessels closer to the muscles to deliver oxygen more quickly, which helps with performance and recovery.
“Older swimsuits tried to apply compression just by being tight, but they were really uncomfortable. Our Powerskin suits do it by integrating a carbon fibre cage into the suit’s woven fabric. When an athlete puts one on, it’s tight, but comfortable. The muscles expand into the carbon mesh, which is inflexible, providing complete resistance to compress the blood vessels.”
arena brought its carbon suits to market in time for the 2012 Olympics. “That gave us a real kick forward,” Townsend says. “Everyone could see that the competitors suits weren’t working as they should and that our suits were giving athletes the edge.
“Brands can’t promote themselves through the Olympics, but it was fairly obvious who was wearing arena from the way the suits were cut and styled and, frankly, because the athletes wearing them did better. That filtered down through the clubs and we quickly became the number one race leader.”
Developing the technology
The carbon technology used by arena was around two to three years in development, undergoing numerous design stages, all of which had to be approved by the International Swimming Federation (FINA).
“The process of bringing the carbon suit to market was intense and difficult, but arena have always pushed the boundaries,” Townsend says. “No one else was looking at carbon technology at that time, but we developed and patented it and now no one else can get in on it. For anyone to make anything comparable, it would have to be very different and the investment of time and money might not be worth it because we’re already doing it.”
The other advantage is that, now arena has the technology, it can continue to be developed. “We can produce generation after generation, honing, tweaking and perfecting it,” Townsend says. “We already have three FINA approved generations in the pipeline waiting to be launched onto the market when arena sees fit.”
Proving its effectiveness
The technology used by arena also comes with credentials as to its effectiveness. In a two-year study conducted by the School of Biotechnology & Motor Sciences at Bologna University, researchers found that arena’s recovery compression garments provided significant support to the body’s post-exercise stabilising action, speeding up recovery by as much as 20 minutes – which equates as a 30 per cent improvement.
For a multiple event athlete, this allows the body to return to normal as soon as possible after a swim and ready it to swim again at its best. A fundamental, if not critical, aspect of race preparation, it can make the difference between ending up on the podium and not.
In addition to its carbon technology swimwear, arena offers a range of Italian-made goods from elite to day-to-day level, with a full package of pool products.
Townsend explains: “arena is very pool-oriented - we don’t do toys or beach wear. We can compete at any level with innovation and quality.”
2016 is going to be a big year
In terms of arena’s profile, the only way is up. “2016 is going to be a big year for us,” Townsend says. “In May we have the European Championships in London at the Olympic pool for a month.
“We’re partners with the European and world governing bodies, which means arena will be the only brand advertised around the pool. It’s going to be televised, so our name will hit more than the race market, because grass roots swimmers will be watching it at home along with their kids.
“It’s going to affect the swimwear that children want - and we fully expect a huge rise in demand for day-to-day swimwear.”
Beyond swimwear, Townsend expects arena’s Cobra ultra-mirrored goggles to do well - in part because athletes will be wearing them at the Olympics and the European and World Championships, but also because they’re really good.
Snazzy looking, low profile mirror lenses, high-tech moulding and a blade shape mean drag is minimised, while the curved lenses improves peripheral and frontal vision for an expanded field of view.
“We expect our fastpack back pack, which is good for triathlon, to fly out the door too,” Townsend adds.