Puma is planning a turnaround in its fortunes and Rihanna is the key: the German sportswear brand wants to start appealing more to sporty and fashion-conscious women. Bjorn Gulden, the Norwegian chief executive who needs to get the company back on track after a slump in profits last year, sees great potential for growth in the women’s wear market.
“Our women’s branch is growing faster than the rest,” he told journalists recently as the company presented its results. More and more women are taking part in sport, he said, and they’re much more interested than men in looking stylish while they do it. Pop star Rihanna and top sprinter Usain Bolt are two of Puma’s most important brand ambassadors.
The singer recently launched her own collection at Puma, which included over-the-knee lace-up boots, knitted dresses and trainers with platform soles. Whereas Bolt is meant to attract more ambitious amateur athletes, Rihanna is meant to appeal to women who also want to look good outside of the gym.
In order to reach women, Gulden believes the company needs more than just a special strategy. It needs special products. Women, according to him, see going to the gym and or the yoga studio as “more of a lifestyle than a sport.” Often, he says, it’s difficult to tell whether a woman is going to the office or the gym. “Leggings are the new jeans,” he says.
Market researchers also say that sportswear as fashion is a growing market and that women are driving it. The sporting goods market grew by 3 per cent to 13.4 billion euros (14.9 billion dollars) in Germany alone last year, according to market research company NPD Group – and women were responsible for 70 per cent of that growth.
Just three years ago, Gulden took the helm at Puma promising to take the company back to its roots in sport, arguing the era of sports-lifestyle wear with which Puma had been so successful 10 years ago was over. But times change and Gulden has revised that strategy … somewhat. Sport is still the essential ingredient, but fashion is the “cherry on top,” he said at the company HQ in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
But competition among sportswear makers is becoming tougher. Under Armour in the United States, which specializes in sports and casual wear, is expanding rapidly and even established giants like Nike and Adidas are eyeing its progress with concern.
In 2014, the Baltimore-based company scored higher US sales than Germany’s champion Adidas could achieve among American buyers. Last year, the continued rise of ultra-trendy Under Armour left Puma slumped in fourth place in the world rankings, with global sales of just 3.5 billion euros (3.9 billion dollars).