Can Asics transfer its running dominance into the athleisure segment?
Asics has long been a dominant force for serious runners. The Japanese sportwear company has a stellar reputation among elite runners and in recent years as seen great growth in the European market, for not only in the performance segment, but also with its two lines of lifestyle shoes: Asics Tiger and Onitsuka Tiger.
With the announment that the company was reintroducing a new organisational structure in the Middle East that it hopes will deliver accelerated growth in the region, We asked Alistair Cameron — CEO of the EMEA region — whether Asics can transfer its dominance in the running sector into success in the growing athleisure segment:
Esquire: I’ve always known Asics as the ‘go-to’ running shoe, rather than as lifestyle sneakers. Is that fair?
Alistair Cameron: Well, it’s true that we are very well known within the running community, and are very proud of our reputation where we see an extraordinary loyalty from converted runners that last a lifetime. If you have ever run with any level of seriousness, then it’s likely someone will have referred you to Asics.
So that is your main focus?
It is certainly a main part of the business, but we also offer two lines of lifestyle footwear — Asics Tiger and Onitsuka Tiger — that are getting good traction. It’s not a new thing, but it is something that we’re putting more focus on. When the film Kill Bill came out we experienced an enormous surge in our lifestyle products.
Uma Thurman wearing those yellow and black Asics Tigers?
Yeah, those ones. That exploded and we became very hot, young and relevant. I think we became the biggest lifestyle brand in France at the time. Now we are clearly the number three lifestyle brand in France, while in running we own 32 percent of the market share, compared to Nike’s 22 percent.
Impressive. How big an opportunity is the rise of athleisure?
Having strong lifestyle and performance sectors will only help your brand to become more relevant. If we want to have the ambition of taking our business from $4.5 to $7 billion, then the athleisure market is a very important opportunity.
We’re doing this via our Asics Tiger brand, which has an ’80s and ’90s retro aesthetic. Elsewhere, a product like the Gel-Kayano Knit Trainer is an example of how our brand is evolving in terms of design and technology. Both of these shoes legitimise our retro history in the sneaker world. Currently, we are hot as hell with the top tier of sneaker heads. The U.S. shoe designer Ronnie Fieg has done an amazing job for us, in making our brand cool in the States. Meanwhile, in Japan we were traditionally the schools brand, where all kids had to wear Asics trainers, but with the development of Onitsuka Tiger we have become cooler and relevant to a wider audience.
Brands like Nike seem to spend more time marketing their product than developing it, but that seems to work. Just how important is the marketing aspect of your business?
It’s a really interesting time when it comes to marketing apparel and trainers. When you look at the success of people like Kylie Jenner on social media, and the success of brands thanks to celebrity endorsements, that is a world that you have to be part of if you want to be relevant. We need to be out there with our product. If you get a rapper wearing Asics performance products because they are the coolest and the most expensive, then that helps. Why wouldn’t you want that?
Is there a focus on a younger market?
One of the things that we’ve learned about the millennials demographic is that they don’t want to be labelled. They run more than my generation ever ran. Going to the gym or having a fitness regime wasn’t as ubiquitous a thing in my generation as it is now. My kids are millennials, and they would never pigeonhole themselves as runners — they are just active. It’s a part of their lifestyle.
Our Asics Tiger and Onitsuka Tiger brands are more targeted to the cool youth market, but we also have a new performance product called Easy Run, which is a more adaptable and versatile product. It’s more of an entry-level shoe that you can wear to the gym or in social situations. That’s an area where both Nike and Adidas have previously succeeded. Over the last 12 months we’ve succeeded in gaining traction in those areas, and we plan on that continuing.