During the last edition of tradeshow Premium in Berlin, we caught up with Victorinox Apparel CEO Jason Gallen on how to make brand consumers aware of sustainable- and technical properties of products, the fierce competition within the outdoor-jackets market right now and Victorinox’s strategy in terms of wholesale channels and key growth markets. Interview by Lorenzo Molina

In the last years we’ve seen the outdoor-jackets market grow quite fast with several new brands out there. How does your brand differ?
That’s not really who we are and who we’re trying to compete with. We want to take the best technical applications from what the outdoor market has and put it into an everyday context.

Most of these other brands are communicating that they employ technical properties as well. How to make consumers aware of the differences between these labels?
Hard to beat is what the brand inheritably is known for. Victorinox by itself is known for functional properties, so we don’t have to communicate it very much because they expect it from us already. It’s more about delivering on that promise with what we design. We worked with Schoeller Textiles in Switzerland on bonding technology mostly for fall/winter products; we’ll bond our wool which gives it protection from external elements.

And for those consumers who might be acquiring your products but know little about the properties. How do you present your brand to them?
We’re very fortunate that a large part of our distribution happens in own retail (60%), so we’re able to educate the consumer very clearly there. Our global website allows us to communicate with them as well. Then we do a lot of staff trainings in all of our wholesale accounts because we believe that we have to invest in people. Otherwise, you’ll never get the credit for that you need. Besides, we have a very clear customer profile that goes online and does a lot of research before buying a product and that really comes from the context of our watches. This type of customer studies the product before making a purchase.

In terms of sustainability, you hired Christopher Raeburn as creative director who was already well-known for reusing materials in his own label collections. How do you communicate sustainability and what is new in this field?
I’m not a big believer that you should market it, but rather that it’s what you should do. We have shifted a lot of our products into more natural cotton-based fabrics and work with partners that provide technologies like carbon fiber coating in a more sustainable way.

Victorinox booth in Hall 3 at Premium Berlin
Victorinox booth in Hall 3 at Premium Berlin

Wouldn’t it be smarter to communicate that?
You can walk the floor and people will say this is organic, this is sustainable. It’s nice, but to me that’s marketing. We’re doing it because we believe that’s the right thing to do for the planet and for us human beings. Do we talk about it? Yes, in our stores, online… But not as a marketing tactic.

Has it something to do with the fact that not long ago sustainable fashion was everything but trendy?
(Nods) The truth is that the customer values it but doesn’t want to pay for it.

What’s the wholesale strategy that Victorinox is currently following?
Wholesale is a very complicated business today, because everybody wants something different. Our biggest push is to select our partners. We don’t look for mass distribution.

So the key profile is small independent retailers?
It depends. For example, in the US we have Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue as key partners, whereas in the UK House of Fraiser and Harrods as two of our distributors. Right now, we are recrafting the German and Swiss market by looking at major department stores that could be a good partner.

What are your key growing markets?
Since FW15, we focus on our core markets: North America, Japan and Greater China (including Hong Kong and Shanghai), the UK, Austria and Scandinavia. We’re trying to work where we have existing distribution with other product categories like watches or travel luggage. By 2020, we expect to be well distributed overall in Europe and put the emphasis in Greater China and Australia.

What does the brand have in store for womenswear?
A floral print that is a watercolor versioning our camouflage prints in a more feminine way. We finally feel that after doubling in womenswear for the last few years, we got the DNA spelled out pretty well.

Due to the challenging market situation, have you lowered the wholesale prices a bit?
For FW15, we completely reviewed our pricing strategy. So, we haven’t lowered prices across the board, but we have improved the price-value relation: investing in technical features to merge into our products but maintaining the same price, to give our partners more for the same money.