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_Alpine View 2017: How cult brand Superdry is giving mountain wear names a run for their money

How cult leisurewear brand Superdry is giving haute couture names a run for their money in the mountains.

December 19, 2017

Lifestyle

_Alpine View 2017: How cult brand Superdry is giving mountain wear names a run for their money

How cult leisurewear brand Superdry is giving haute couture names a run for their money in the mountains.

December 19, 2017

Scan the boutiques in almost any premium Alpine ski resort and, alongside the Chanel stores and the familiar upmarket skiwear names such as Moncler and Canada Goose, you will see a relative newcomer on the scene that is taking the slopes by storm.

Superdry – the global digital brand based in Britain famed for its clothing, which is a mix of British tailoring with a Japanese influence – founded in 2003 and got its big break when David Beckham wore one of their t-shirts two years later. But it was just three years ago that its founders, James Holder and Julian Dunkerton, decided to branch out into the Alps.

For a brand that has found a devoted following that defies age bands, it was crucial that Superdry struck upon the right locations when making its entrée into the Alps. Alpine resorts inspire a deep loyalty – and a certain tribalism – in people.

Generations of the same families return to the same ski slopes year after year and, for many, a particular resort becomes the winter meeting place for the same crowd they know back home.

For a brand that has found a devoted following that defies age bands, it was crucial that Superdry struck upon the right locations when making its entrée into the Alps

But for a brand to be a success, it needs to transcend all of that and find a common denominator in every location, while also staking its claim in a market that is dominated by a handful of high-end names.

After a huge amount of research, assisted by people on the ground with great insider knowledge of each resort, Superdry chose Chamonix for its inaugural Alpine store. Megève and Courchevel followed soon after and now Superdry has 16 shops in the Alps, with the most recent openings including Val d’Isère, a pop-up shop in Serre Chevalier, and new city franchises in Grenoble, Lyon and Chalonsur- Saône. They also have their first Swiss presence in Montreux.

Holder loves the mountains regardless of the season. He is a keen, “but not very good” snowboarder, he says. “I can snowboard down a black run, but without much style. My wife, Charlotte, is excellent at it, so for her, the Alps are all about winter.” He, on the other hand, is in his element when hill-running in summer. “I just love being up high, breathing in the clean air.”

Besides his personal love of the Alpine environment, Holder – who honed his entrepreneurial flair as a student selling t-shirts from his mother’s car, before setting up the skatewear brand Bench and, then, the Superdry Group – knew the Alps presented a huge business opportunity for a brand that has quickly become a cult name in leisurewear.

“They have always had a battle with high-end brands in Europe”, he says. But relying on the old mantra that if you can’t beat them, join them, Superdry has focused its strategy purely on prime locations – and then capitalised on a growing cross-fertilisation between expensive and more affordable brands. “You could have Moncler with jackets costing €1,000 up, and then us next door, whose jackets can be a tenth of that price. People like the technical detail, they love the product and they migrate to Superdry”, he says.

Often, Superdry will choose an “off pitch” spot in these salubrious resorts, just around the corner from the haute couture names. “We have built up a big upper-end demographic in these locations. Courchevel and Val d’Isère work particularly well for us”, says Holder.

“Our shops have become a destination in their own right because of the sheer density of product. Other brands may have just one logo on their sleeves whereas we have 100. We have a very large and constantly evolving collection, so you can wear Superdry without looking like everyone else.”

People were quick to latch on to Superdry as a natural fit in the Alps. “We launched in Chamonix in winter 2014 with a small collection, but people got it immediately”, says Holder. “We had been adopted by the slopes anyway because skiwear is such a hybrid thing. Not only were people wearing our jackets on the slopes they found us fashionable enough to wear for après ski as well.” 

Indeed, Alpine resorts could learn a thing or two from Holder when it comes to cracking the holy grail of multi-generational and multi-demographic appeal. In London, Superdry’s streetwear may largely be the preserve of millennials, but on the ski slopes, you are as likely to see a 50-year-old financier wearing their logo as well as a 15-year-old boarder. “The span of people wearing our clothes is greater in the Alps than anywhere else. We have transcended the typical skiwear market”, he says.

Where perhaps Holder has also helped differentiate his brand from the rest by developing a range of skiwear that people are happy to parade on a night out afterwards, he describes half of Superdry’s ski collection as “full technical”, which means it’s designed purely for the slopes. The other half is “light technical”, he says. “You can still ski and snowboard in it and it will keep you dry and warm, but you can also look good wearing it in the bar”, says Holder.

Where perhaps Holder has also helped differentiate his brand from the rest by developing a range of skiwear that people are happy to parade on a night out afterwards.

“We know a lot of our customers love après ski as much as the physical thrill of the slopes. The party vibe is very much part of the Superdry spirit.” The brand’s current bestseller is a “super lightweight” BASE jumper jacket with triple zips.

“It was designed for our snow ambassador, the professional skier and BASE jumper Matthias Giraud. He’s an extreme skier that performs daily to the highest level and fits the mentality and ethos of the brand.

"People saw it and it flew off the shelves”, Holder comments. Another garment that has proven similarly popular and now sits in about 3.5 million wardrobes is the triple zip windcheater. “We capture the essence of an item like that and adapt it for technical skiwear. That continuity in our collections is important. There’s no point us making a cookie cutter collection that looks like every other brand.”

Generations of the same families return to the same ski slopes year after year and, for many, a particular resort becomes the winter meeting place for the same crowd they know back home.

The advances in skiwear technology and materials means many of Superdry’s core designs translate easily into garments that suit the slopes. “We brand every product individually, whether it’s retro or sleek black, reflective or scuba neoprene.

It just has to be perfectly made for the demographic it’s aimed at”, says Holder. Superdry – whose cut is “as slim as possible while still giving room to move”, he says – has also played a part in winning over the youth market. “Ski clothes used to be baggy and saggy. Now they’re more tailored and stylish. The Scandinavian or Italian silhouette is being adopted by young dudes, so they are migrating to Superdry naturally.” 

Holder’s new focus is his company’s SuperDesign Lab, “an innovation studio where we will make more experimental and adventurous products with crazy designs, including a snow lab collection, but they are still massively commercial”, he explains. “It’s what keeps us fresh”.

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