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May 16, 2019

Creativity and innovation as Odlo aim to take runners in their stride

James Clark, ODLO Country Manager UK & Ireland, talks to Mark Hayhurst about the brand and their place in the running market

Can you tell me about the history of Odlo?

Founded in 1946 in Norway and relocated to Switzerland in 1986 created our company statement of ‘Born in Norway, Engineered in Switzerland’. Our humble beginnings started with making lighter weight cross country ski suits, which soon developed into sports underwear, midlayers and outer layers. Today, we pride ourselves in being a leader of sports apparel, with a keen focus on sports underwear. We are hugely focussed on our environmental impact and have Fairwear leader status along with a number of other leader initiatives and a large percentage of European production.

You are a company that has been firmly based in winter sports – Why make the change into the running market?

We’ve had running product for years, but our focus on innovation in Running, that we have always had in Sports Underwear, has been a new drive to stand out from the competition. We had unique products in the Winter, but our Summer product didn’t stand out from the crowd previously. Under new management since 2015, the goal was to become a Global Sportswear brand and this improved our Summer offering to be as market leading as our offering in winter. As an example, our first Spring/Summer technology was Ceramicool and, to date, it has been our most successful product launch ever, including winter styles. That helped put us on the map in the Summer and we’ve driven on from there.

What do you think, As a brand, you bring to the running market?

Our goal is to offer product that performs, makes a functional difference to the consumer and can be accessed by all. Everything we do that touches your skin features anti odour treatment either through Effect or the other technologies like Ceramicool. We offer a good, better, best version of most products to suit all budgets and performance levels too, which makes the brand and our technologies suitable for all runners. Saving weight, moisture management, cooling and seamless comfort are all features that make runners more comfortable and able to focus on their run rather than their clothing.

How do you develop your running attire fabrics?

We have our own in-house team of fabric experts and seamstresses, which is quite unique. Using this team, along with our own production facilities and partners, we can source, test and work with fabrics that suit our strict performance and environmental guidelines.

This helps us to innovate, be creative and produce products that you can’t get from other brands. On top of this, we have our pool of Brand Athletes that we use for testing in the labs and independent testing facilities. This means that when we make a claim, like being up to one degree cooler with Ceramicool, we are making that based on proven test results that we can publish to support our claims. It also means our feedback is direct from top level athletes, which means the consumer can feel confident that everything has been well thought out for the activity they are doing.

What makes you different to other brands?

Our history, our products and our point of difference with technology. We are also trying to change the way we do business on apparel and make the ‘clothing conversation’ in run stores as functionally important as the ‘shoe conversation’. We have a If you want to go fast, we have our Zeroweight range with super light fabrics, clever designs and functionally strong. If you suffer fatigue, we have Muscle Force that reduces the vibration in the muscles by up to 42 per cent reducing the onset of lactic acid. Couch to 5km or marathon and beyond, we have products for all with a functional benefit, not just another top.

How have you expanded your running line?

We’ve improved and increased the range to offer a larger price structure with technologies at each level. We’ve created specific Spring/Summer Running products to support the cold weather Run products that we were previously more famous for. Previously we were a little more focussed towards the Alpine countries who have a harsher winter than that of the UK, for example. We’ve greatly improved our fit consistency too across the different products and started to build on continuation core lines that run as never out of stock.

How important are the grassroots running communities to you?

Huge for me personally and for the brand. This is where brands are made, where people talk about their clothing and has a link to the social media side too as more and more people share their daily activities online. We like to focus through our retail partners to reach local groups and are developing the Custom side of our business to include run in the future and give us more reasons to be talking directly with local running clubs.

At the Cambourne 10km this April, we are working on ideas to give special prizes to anyone that runs in ODLO, but as a surprise so it’s not ‘wearing ODLO for something’, but rather wearing it because they want to and we’ll reward that. I think that makes a better conversation starter for people by rewarding loyalty, but without demanding it.

Social media and ambassadors form an important area for the running the community. What are odlo doing in this sphere and why?

At my last brand I set up the Global Ambassador program and carried that to ODLO, which we now call the ODLO 100 and features athletes from around the world. In the UK, we have 14 with over 100k reach on Instagram for example. For Runners we have Ty Farrer (British 1/2 Marathon over 40 Champion and 2.30 Full Marathon runner), Robbie Britton is a team GB Ultra Marathon Runner, Natalie White who is also an Ultra Marathon Runner and Hamish Kilburn who is a keen runner and social blogger. We also have people like Izzy Atkin (GB Winter Bronze Medallist) and Justin Taylor-Tipton (British Freestyle Ski Champ) on the Snowsports side along with our other awesome ambassadors across Dance, Cycling, Triathlon, Fitness etc. That’s just the UK, for Global we have multiple Olympic medallists, National Teams and influencers across all our categories.

How important is sustainability and your leader status from the fair wear foundation. Can you tell us about this?

This is hugely important for the Brand and the people behind the brand working everyday in sales, product etc. We are end users, we see the environment we love being in changing around us and want to make the smallest impact on that as possible. We probably don’t call enough attention to what we do as we see it as ‘normal’ in trying to make sustainability just part of business, not something special. We hope that what we do inspires other brands to follow suit, but not for marketing or profitability, but because it’s the right thing to do.

What trends do you see in the running market?

It seems that ‘training for an event’ is still gaining popularity, which leads to a lot of people continuing to run post event and local village/ town run clubs are exploding in popularity across the country. I think group runs like the park runs are part of this trend in terms of participation and builds communities. In terms of product, innovation, weight saving and new ideas seem to catch the interest of the consumer as they search for points of difference to what they already have. Then we have customisation and interactive retail…. Those are points I could talk about all day and I’m so surprised at the delay in implementing these in the market, but they are coming.

What’s new for odlo in the coming year?

We are always innovating and decided to launch a minimum of one new technology every season. We’ve averaged two per season in the last six seasons. However, the next big innovation for us most relevant to Running is Active Spine. Active Spine is a baselayer with posture control built into the garment to help with posture and alignment. This helps increase air flow intake, reduces strain on the neck and upper back and can be worn both while exercising or while sitting at a desk in the office. Active Spine will be available from September 2019 onwards.

 

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