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Fila: Back on the Top

Rakesh Singh Kathayat

Owing to the shift in consumer preference towards sports inspired athleisure, 2019 saw the comeback of sports brands. One of the key players in the Indian market is the Italian sports and fashion brand FILA with an aggressive expansion strategy. It has been present in the Indian market from over a decade. However, the brand has focused on a rebranding exercise combined with product efficiency and supply chain management. In India, FILA has an exclusive license agreement with Cravatex, the global retail, brand licensing, distribution and sourcing company with presence across India, UK, Europe, North Africa and Middle East. S&A caught up with its COO Rakesh Singh Kathayat to find out how the brand has been doing and what new range and strategies it has launched in the Indian market.

Given that India is a sensitive market, has Fila deployed a different strategy? If so, please elaborate
FILA has been present in the Indian market from over a decade, however the brand has focused on a rebranding exercise combined with product efficiency and supply chain management. The focus is on engaging with our customers at a closer level.

In the last two years, we have created a strong base of products that resonate with Indian sensibilities in both the footwear and apparel segments. Our global identity and our India positioning are very similar. Fila will continue to be a fashionable sportswear brand with the latest in design and trends and lead the pack in those terms.
Give us an overview of the product range it has recently launched in India

In October FILA launched the Milan Fashion Week SNBN (See Now Buy Now) SS20 range in India. Launching it within minutes of its global launch and getting the Indian customers a chance to be one of the first people in the world to get their hands on the range. The SNBN SS20 collection includes a selection of styles straight from the runway and was available to pre-order immediately after the brand’s show in India.

FILA’s SNBN collection features a range of apparel, accessories and footwear for men and women – designed in a black, white, red and metallic silver color palette – for complete, head-to-toe looks. The special-edition designs embrace elements from classic FILA fashions, while luxe textures, rich hues, and contemporary silhouettes provide a modern and sophisticated update.

FILA India and Superkicks recently launched a special collaboration, the NH8, drawing on the journey of Super kicks (a multi-brand sneaker destination) founder Sangeet Paryani from Jaipur to Mumbai, the pink city to the city of lights. This was an India-specific launch and limited to only 90 pairs of sneakers which got sold out in less than 11 hours in India.

For the first time, FILA has introduced Training line in apparels that focusses on the fashion part but also gives us the perfect gym wear. Launched less than 10 days ago is the latest offered called RGB, a collection of training and performance sneakers inspired by the pantone colors of red, green and blue. Backed by the Fila Performance System Technology this is one of our first hero products in the training and performance range.

The Indian government is in favor of global brand either setting up production units or sourcing from the country. What is Fila’s take and what kind of sourcing strategy it has adopted?
I think any business anywhere in the world that supports local sourcing is always a great initiative. It helps generate income, invite foreign exchange and generate jobs across multiples levels. We as a company already have our base in India sourcing and are constantly working on ways to increase the same.

What makes Fila shoes unique? What are the brand’s fundamental features?
FILA has resurrected several styles from the FILA museum in Italy. Some of the styles taken from the archive are Mindblower a chunky runner silhouette originally released in 1995. The Mindblower stands unique from its peers with its oversized warped logo on the side of the sneaker and 90s dad shoe vibes the ‘Fila Disruptor II all white’ has been named the shoe of the year 2018’ by Footwear News. The silhouette saw toothed outsole beauty, usually seen in all white, originally launched in 1996. The FILA Disruptor II hit peak popularity in 2018 and is back on top as one of the most coveted sneakers for any collector. Retailers have been calling it one of the hottest shoes of the season and a major contributor to the dad shoe trend and retro revival.

Apart from these, we have launched the Original Tennis shoe, one of the most iconic sneakers in the Fila archive. The style became a beacon of street culture in the 80s and multiple colorways of the style have been released since including collaborations with A Bathing Ape, BNP Paribas Open. Another one called Silva Trainer, for which the brand partnered with German Silva as a brand ambassador. After welcoming back Bjorn Borg and Grant Hill this year. Silva is the latest legend to rejoin the FILA family.

FILA added yet another chunky sneaker to its already iconic selection. Launched in 2018, Ray Tracer is a chunky silhouette that features a leather and textile upper, logo details on its tongue and upper, striped front and back pull loops and a stacked rubber sole.

What promotional strategy do you have in place for the Indian market? Is a brand ambassador a part of it?
The focus is on engaging with our customers at a closer level. We have been able to leverage our connect with the young TG especially the Gen Z and the millennials through the digital and social media platforms. We work with fashion influencers on a constant basis to create dynamic content that appeals to the sensibilities of this audience. We have been a Bollywood preferred brand including Punjabi singers, south celebrities and are fortunate to be on their top list of style preferences.

Currently, we are not focusing on getting any Brand ambassador on board. However, we are open to associations for fashion collaborations in future.

Though most Indians have the potential to consume, several brands feel that most consumers lack product knowledge. Do you have a strategy in place to educate the prospective consumers?
Honestly, I think we tend to underestimate the Indian customers. The Indian customer is extremely well read and continues to consume brands as per their own choice. Some of the recent launches in India have proved the demand for these brands. However, getting the price point right in India has always been a challenge and the win is getting it correct based on brand perception and positioning (India and global)

Kindly share some of the major challenges you are experiencing. Also share how they can be overcome.
I think the constant change in polices and certain uncertainties in rules and regulations could be a hindrance to growth. The import duties remain on the higher end and flexibility on this end will benefit the business and the consumer to a great extent.

Where can we expect more new Fila stores in India? What is the way forward for Fila in India?
Currently FILA has 21 retail stores in India. The stores are present across Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bhubaneshwar, Baroda, Pune Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Jalandhar among others. We are planning to open stores in Amritsar, Lucknow and Bangalore. We plan to end the current financial year with 30 stores and aim to cross 100 store mark in next two to three years.