Contraction of “fuseau” and “Alpes”, Fusalp, figurehead of ski clothing brands until the 1980s, has experienced a second wind since its acquisition in 2013 by two members of the Lacoste family: Sophie Lacoste-Dournel and Philippe Lacoste. Between marketing repositioning, setting up a team of experienced executives, understanding new fashion codes and integrating digital, the brand rose from 6 million euros in turnover at the time of its recovery to 22 million in 2018. It must now succeed in pursuing its development with the ambition of becoming a “big brand” benefiting from international influence.
Fusalp will celebrate its 68th anniversary in 2020. Revisiting its history makes all the more sense since one of the feats of arms of current leaders is to have succeeded in capitalizing on the brand image that had already been built the company, while anchoring it again in the era of time.
From 1,000 to 30 employees before the takeover …
The company was created in 1952 in Annecy under the leadership of two tailors, Georges Ribola and René Veyrat. Contrary to what we can sometimes read, the brand did not invent the spindle, it was the work of Allard, a company originally from Megève and born in 1926. The two tailors will however improve its composition: material , cut, comfort… with the ambition to improve the performance of skiers during competitions. Convinced, they hit the slopes in Fusalp and the brand manages to become both synonymous with style and technicality. She sponsored the great champions for several years: the Goitschel sisters at the Innsbruck Olympic Games in 1964, Jean-Claude Killy at the Grenoble Olympic Games in 1968, Annie Famose, Guy Périllat and Léo Lacroix at the world alpine ski championships in Portillo in 1966… Everything smiles at the Annecy company.
Anoraks, close-fitting sweaters, spindles … the brand was then market leader and would employ up to 1,000 people with a rate of 500,000 pieces sold per year, including 200,000 spindles. It is also starting to break out of the strict framework of skiing. It is for example quickly worn also by sailors to protect themselves from the cold.
Faced with success, the company aroused lust and finally fell in 1976 into the hands of Baron Empain. This is also where its decline began on the backdrop of the crisis in the French textile industry in the 1980s. Following his bankruptcy, these were finally four former executives of the company, including Joël Gleyze- CEO at at the time of the last takeover of the company – who will try to raise the brand from 1984, now under the name of "Fusalp Creations".
Faced with competition, manufacturing costs, and a change of style in the 90s, the brand is struggling to really recover. When it was bought by Sophie Lacoste-Dournel and Philippe Lacoste, it only had around thirty employees.
The Lacoste at the controls
But if the brand no longer has the same influence, it still enjoys a good reputation in terms of quality and technicality. But how can this image be reconciled with the constraints and changes in the ready-to-wear sector today? This is an experienced team that will tackle this task. After selling their shares in the famous family brand following its takeover by the Swiss group Maus for 1 billion euros in 2012, Sophie Lacoste-Dournel and Philippe Lacoste are looking for a takeover project in a sector ready-to-wear they know well. Once they have set their sights on Fusalp, the first takes on the role of administrator of the company and the second that of president.
They bring with them Alexandre Fauvet, former executive director of Lacoste, who now holds the position of managing director of Fusalp. The artistic direction is entrusted to Mathilde Lacoste, a graduate in fashion design from the Duperré School of Applied Arts.
The one who also turns out to be Philippe Lacoste's wife, held the position of responsible for trends and product development within the crocodile brand for 20 years. On the commercial side, Hugo Boss, Marc Zetterbeck, former general manager of Spain and then Sweden, also went through the general management of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, who heads the department.
At the time of the acquisition, the new management team takes up almost all of the former employees.
The opportunity of high-end sportswear
A new dynamic is quickly launched. The brand created and launched a capsule collection with the then very trendy Colette concept store from December 2014. A boutique was inaugurated in the no less chic Parisian district of Le Marais in October 2015. Antoine Dénériaz, Olympic downhill champion at the Turin Olympic Games in 2006, became brand ambassador. The latter also becomes an official partner of the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc valley, where it dresses tourism professionals. Fusalp again wants to fill the cupboards of skiers … but also those of city dwellers. The question is: with what positioning exactly?
"It’s a premium brand. We don’t like the term beaucoup luxury ’very much because it has different definitions from one country or culture to another. In our range, we have both very expensive products at 1,500 euros – and which are by the way our bestsellers – but also others at 200 euros,sweaters or second layersExplains Alexandre Fauvet.
A position that Fusalp therefore does not want to confine only to the ski slopes. To expand its footprint, the brand is increasingly focusing on sportswear, a trend that has been traveling the streets for a few years already, with clothing that borrows from the comfort of sport while meeting the "fashion" requirements to be able to be worn in life daily. Today, 60% of the brand's figure comes from the ski world and 40% from ready-to-wear. A division that the company wishes to balance 50-50 in the future.
It must be said that sportswear offers a wider perspective than addressing only ski enthusiasts and affects both men and women. "VS'is a vision that focuses on ready-to-wear and the needs of a contemporary wardrobe with a technical basis. It turns out that it is valid both for men who are very naturally oriented, I think, on function and technicality, but increasingly also for women", Explains the CEO of Fusalp.
According to figures from Allied Market Research, the global sportswear market was $ 167.7 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $ 248.1 billion in 2026 with an annual growth rate of 5.1%. Brands like Nike, Adidas and Puma are the pioneers. But competition is raging in the field as shown for example by the setbacks of the American brand Under Armor which faced competition saw its operating profit fall by 72% to reach 157 million dollars as pointed out last October Forbes in its ranking of the most profitable “sport” brands.
But Fusalp does not find itself directly in competition with these actors, since to get out of the game, the French bet on chic sportswear. A positioning that you still have to succeed in holding on a market with certain brands that also enjoy a good image in terms of technicality and quality but at more accessible prices like the Japanese Uniqlo.
The impossible bet of Made in France?
Thus, beyond sportswear, Fusalp wants to position itself as an anti-fast-fashion brand with pieces that are certainly expensive but whose promise is that they will last. A positioning that can indeed make sense for consumers who want to consume more "responsible". And if this goes especially for the youngest through a phenomenon like second-hand, for a population with a little purchasing power, it can also go through the choice of parts that meet the very contemporary issue of "sustainability" ".
"We have developed nylons where we find the best in the world, in Japan and Korea. We went to get the best softshell in Switzerland where one of the best waterproof wools is also found “, Quotes for example Alexandre Fauvet to highlight the quality of the pieces.
But Uniqlo is far from the only competitor. Fusalp is also faced with brands whose price positioning is closer to its own: Moncler, Rossignol, Peak Performance … to name a few. You have to stand out.
To add arguments to its positioning, does Fusalp make Made in France? A peculiarity which could further differentiate it from other brands than French companies are a rarity in the field of ski clothing. Many brands of French origin have indeed fallen into the hands of foreign groups. We can for example quote Moncler, who founded in 1952 in Monestier-de-Clermont, today has become an Italian brand majority owned by local billionaire Remo Ruffini and listed on the Milan Stock Exchange. Rossignol, for its part, still has its headquarters in Isère but is owned by the Swedish group Altor Equity Partners.
But Made in France can be used to sell both in France and abroad. An image on which seems to play the current leaders who took over the original Fusalp logo: a rooster on a blue, white and red background. However, in reality, the bet of Made in France has not yet been won. "We have used the logo because it is the authenticity of the brand, its history, its heritageExplains Alexandre Fauvet. If the managing director prides himself on having repatriated 50% of production in Europe, mainly in Portugal or in Italy, the other 50% come from Asia, and China in particular, where "an absolutely remarkable know-how", Insists the latter.
Because this "know-how" is one of the main obstacles to increase production in France, where most of the textile skills have disappeared. "En Regarding our technical products, know-how, machines, factories, left in the early 1980s. We are trying to develop in France but it will be in the mesh. It is not exactly the heart of our trade which is rather the warp and weft, cut and sewn, while the knit is knitters. However, there are still knitters in France and we are working with one of them in Troyes". For now, the brand is therefore putting more emphasis on a few pieces such as 100% Made in France jeans. At the risk perhaps of disappointing those who would feel cheated by the promise of its logo…
A “selective” online presence
When the brand was taken over, the redesign of the website was naturally one of the priority axes of the Annecy company. In a context where traditional players have been facing a declining market for more than ten years, while the world of ready-to-wear continues to grow online.
Fusalp had to choose a strategy to manage its online presence, with among other objectives, the need to increase its notoriety in France and especially abroad. This notably involves partnerships.
"NOTur first customer is a pure player. This is Net-a-Porter“, Confides Alexandre Fauvet. "The second is an English actor who is both digital and brick-and-mortar called MatchesFashion". These partners therefore help it considerably increase its reach. However, the brand has however chosen not to sell on a marketplace like Amazon. "We are cutting off an astounding turnover, maybe we could double it by agreeing to be there, but we have always refused to do so". The reason? "We want to control our destinyExplains the general manager. "We have selective distribution criteria which relate both to the presentation of our collections, to the changing rooms, to excellence in service.".
In terms of digital communication, Fusalp has chosen not to go through paid influencers. The brand cultivates its high-end image by posting on its Instagram page photos of stars who wear their clothes. But in addition to its official ambassador, the director general explains that the latter are not remunerated. The brand is gradually building its image and has nearly 30 million followers on the social network. " On Instagram next to our competitors we have few followers", Explains Alexandre Fauvet. " It could be a little stronger leverage, but we are quietly expanding our circle of ambassadors and friends".
Today, digital represents 15% of Fusalp's figure, which is 50% over time. To see if this very selective digital strategy will allow him to achieve this, car the company's ambition is clear: "We hope to become a big brand as soon as possible", Declares the general director who recalls that this one doubles of turnover every two years since its resumption.
Moreover, in 2018, Fusalp opened 12% of its capital to individual investors who allow it to surround itself with other ready-to-wear specialists: Frédéric Biousse and Elie Kouby, the founders of Experienced Capital, Léopold Meyer, founder of Flora, Patrick Sayer, ex-executive of Eurazeo and Nicolas Houzé, managing director of Galeries Lafayette.
Seduction operations at various events, including Tech
Alexandre Fauvet is also a man of influence, very present on the ground. He does not hesitate to develop partnerships with numerous events to reach his core clientele. The organizers are dressed in Fusalp, nothing better than to show the product worn. Les Napoléons, Les sommets du digital, Le Cristal Festival … are all opportunities to reach a very CSP ++ clientele sensitive to modern lines and brand values. The opportunity also to tell the Fusalp adventure and bring the brand's revival to life during inspiring sessions during these events, followed by a visit to a showroom for a private sale.
China as a springboard
As of 2019, Fusalp should have exceeded 30 million euros for that year, compared to 22 million in 2018. A nice progression for the company which now has 150 employees and is present in 22 countries with 5 subsidiaries abroad: in Korea, China, Norway, England and Switzerland. In total, it has 45 points of sale. Today, its turnover is two thirds in France and one third abroad, with the ambition, too, to achieve a 50-50 balance. A proportion already reached for the distribution of sales between men and women.
Another growth driver that should allow the brand to take off: Asia and in particular China. "We have two pop-up stores in Beijing and Shanghai. China is a very big priority. We hope it will be our second world market with a very fast horizon". Fusalp hopes that the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing will serve as a natural accelerator.