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Knitting / Apparel

Reebok - The Brand That Fits

Reebok positions to grow with reorganization, new focus and innovative footwear and apparel for Spring 2008.

By Rachael S. Davis, Managing Editor

A very popular athletic brand in the 1980s — who didn’t own, or know someone who owned, Freestyle aerobic shoes or shoes with The Pump®? — Reebok has seen its popularity wane in recent years, losing market share to brands such as Nike and adidas®. But in the wake of its recent acquisition by Adidas, some company restructuring, innovative new products and a new marketing plan, Canton, Mass.-based Reebok International Ltd. is positioning itself to grow once again, especially in the lifestyle and apparel areas.

Rebuilding The Brand
Rather than use its acquisition as an opportunity to eliminate a competitor, Germany-based Adidas-Salomon AG brought Reebok into its stable of brands, and Reebok now operates as a subsidiary of the Adidas Group. Both brands hope to benefit from a more competitive worldwide platform and a wider range of products from well-defined and complementary brand identities. Sharing certain resources behind the scenes allows the companies to create cost synergies, but Reebok remains a distinct brand, with the company performing its own research and development, according to Uli Becker, chief marketing officer, Reebok.

“Reebok’s new mission is to challenge and lead through creativity,” Becker said. “We have involved the consumer with our marketing and development efforts, making use of consumer studies and focus groups. The more consumer know-how Reebok has, the better the company can position itself in the marketplace.”

Reebok’s new brand intent is “The brand that fits me.” This statement defines a benchmark for the company’s product development and marketing efforts. Interestingly, Reebok currently has 893 company-wide initiatives that relate to fit.


Reebok's SmoothFit HexRide running shoes (right) feature both seamless upper construction and the HexRide hexagonal engineered sole.

Product Innovation
Under the HexRide and SmoothFit labels, Reebok is gearing up to introduce new footwear and apparel technologies to consumers in Spring 2008. Working with technologies already familiar to the textile industry — such as 3-D spacer knits, seamless bonding and silver fiber technologies — and after conducting hours of research in its Human Performance Engineering Lab, the company has developed some innovative products it hopes will capture the minds of style-conscious but technology-oriented consumers.

HexRide products focus on performance running footwear. Reebok has expanded and altered the use of its familiar Hexalite technology — previously used only in the heel or front of the shoe — to create a sole with a hexagonal, honeycomb structure that from an engineering construction perspective offers the greatest strength-to-weight ratio. Reebok reports the shoes are lightweight but still provide exceptional cushioning for the runner.

The SmoothFit label applies to both footwear and apparel in the performance and lifestyle categories. In footwear, Reebok partnered with Shirley, Mass.-based Bemis Associates Inc. to create a seamless running shoe that provides comfort to the wearer and reduces the potential for foot irritation. Reebok creates the SmoothFit shoe uppers from 3-D spacer fabrics and Bemis’ thermoplastic seam tapes using heat-press welding equipment. The end result is a shoe with the seams either eliminated or sealed both inside and outside the upper. “It’s an inside-out design,” said Bill McInnis, head of Reebok Advanced Innovation.

SmoothFit seamless technology also will be available in a SmoothFit HexRide running shoe, offering the wearer both the lightweight support of the HexRide honeycomb sole and the comfort associated with no seams.

Becker’s definition of innovation is “meaningful newness.” “The SmoothFit shoes immediately feel different on the foot than other shoes. This instant difference for me is meaningful newness,” he explained.

Apparel Development
Historically, Reebok has not been a big apparel brand outside of its licensing business with organizations such as the National Football League. But the company is positioning itself to grow this area of the business in the years ahead.

Reebok’s initial SmoothFit apparel introductions include seamless garments for tennis and running applications. According to McInnis, Reebok liked the idea of seamless knitted apparel but had three issues with existing seamless sports apparel. “We thought the garments had little consumer appeal when on a hanger, offered little or no thermal management properties and had a ride-up comfort issue for the wearer,” he said.

To overcome these issues, the company worked with knitters on new garment constructions. Styles for Spring 2008 feature a looser fit to provide better drape and hanger appeal; knit-in darts to enhance comfort and reduce ride-up; and knit-in venting and zones featuring thermal-regulating X-Static® silver fiber from Scranton, Pa.-based Noble Fiber Technologies LLC.

“X-Static technology is a good example of an industry-leading branded technology partnering with Reebok to develop new fabric options and future applications,” said Michelle Avé, senior product marketing manager, Global Men’s and Women’s Running Apparel. “To be a leader in a category like performance running, you are constantly pushing the envelope while striving for a balance between cutting-edge technology and true end-use value,” she said. “Bringing the right technologies into the right products is key.

“New ideas and technologies come from both internal and external sources,” Avé continued. “At Reebok, we have a new Advanced Technologies team dedicated to apparel for the first time. This team acts as a liaison both with external companies and trade shows, as well as with internal category marketing and design teams to develop new Reebok branded technologies.”< /font>

According to Avé, Reebok’s advanced concept and pattern-making teams are responsible for developing new construction techniques and technologies. These teams, along with in-house wear-testing teams, help bring ideas to life, test them and ultimately commercialize them.

“Both technology and the ability to develop relevant product that exceeds the expectations of our consumers is our goal at Reebok,” Avé said. “In running technology, it’s all about solutions and finding better ways of doing things that allow runners to do what they love most — run.”


Reebok's Spring 2008 women's seamless running tops feature zones of X-Static® silver fiber.

Marketing Plan
Reebok wants to be a legitimate sports company, but it is targeting “life,” according to Becker. “Our plan is to celebrate individuality in sport and in life,” he said.

The new marketing campaign is consumer-driven and focuses on consistency and simplicity under the concept “Your Move.” Reebok’s two priorities are running and women’s sporting apparel. “We want to win back the ‘mom’ who knew Reebok in the 1980s, but want to get her daughter, too,” Becker said.

To complement its “Your Move” print ad and TV campaigns, Reebok is investing heavily in a relaunch of its website. The company also is looking to make inroads in mobile marketing.

“Reebok has long been the number-three sporting brand behind Nike and Adidas, but we were so far behind, it wasn’t much of a competition,” Becker said. “But we believe Reebok is now a contender, and with the right plan in place, we think we can be a competitor.”

November/December 2007