Since Marco, Luca and Anna Zanatta purchased Asolo from Benetton in 1998, the company has been on an aggressive path to turn around the company's fortunes. The first year, Asolo sold 120,000 pairs of shoes worldwide. Now, the company distributes in 30 countries with North America accounting for 50 percent of the distribution and the United States (a wholly owned subsidiary under the direction of Bruce Franks) accounting for 40 percent of the company's sales. Projections for 2002 are for 400,000 pairs of shoes sold worldwide with 10-percent growth expected for 2003.
Much of the success is attributed to the Asolo team's focus on quality control, efficiency of operation and innovation. The first two, the SNEWS team witnessed personally during a multi-day tour of the company's facilities in Italy and Romania. Remarkable and impressive are two words that come to mind when summarizing our thoughts on the operational structure.
Innovation speaks for itself. In 2001, Asolo introduced the FSN product line as a light-hiking alternative to the old Asolo tradition of producing only heavy-duty hiking footwear. The market embraced the idea, as did Backpacker magazine which awarded the FSN 95 GTX with an editor's choice. In 2002, Asolo enhanced the FSN offering and introduced Enduro as the company's focus on a more athletic side that some call trail running, others multisport. With colors the market found refreshing and a design that focused on breathability and lightweight, Enduro succeeded. As for innovation, the Enduro's molded, dual-density, bi-color EVA midsole created a sole that would not collapse or break down, increasing durability and footwear stability. For 2003, Asolo introduced TPS -- Triple Power Structure. The sole, designed in cooperation with Vibram, is both visually appealing and provides users with a PU solution to providing greater shock absorption, increased comfort and a dynamic response to the walking action.
And for 2004? Bruce Franks, general manger for the U.S. subsidiary, told SNEWS that the company has some innovative ideas for spring/summer 2004, but it's too early to roll out the carpet on them now.
"We are going to reinvent the lightweight category by addressing color, profile, comfort that will hold true to our goal of not just designing another collection, but designing and walking our own path," Franks said.
Winter 2004 will be one where the company is exploring a different direction that Franks said he hopes will not create any confusion in 2003 for the spring/summer 2004 launch.
What should retailers expect for fall 2003/winter 2004? The following are a few of the shoes that caught the SNEWS' eyes and we feel are worth a look when you are at Winter Market or viewing Asolo's next line presentation with your rep.
Winter Footwear -- It's not a Pac Boot and that's just the point, according to Franks. It's certainly a risk for the company, but SNEWS thinks it's an interesting one. The Mercury gtx offers a fully waterproof, high collar, non-insulated boot suitable for winter wear. It is an active winter product that will work well for those who are seeking footwear that is more performance-oriented for winter use, and for those who hate the look of a bulky Pac boot, but still want winter weather protection from the elements. We wonder if Heat Warmer footbeds might not be a good add-on sale.
Mountaineering/Ice Climbing Footwear -- OK, so it's not completely new, but frankly, Asolo has been so quiet about this boot, hardly anyone, ice climbers included, even know about the Summit. The "new" Asolo Summit features a monocoque carbon/Kevlar frame for enhanced sensitivity with less weight to give mixed climbers an edge. The upper is soft, water-resistant Perwanger leather combined with high-tech polyamide fabric to provide for maximum movement and comfort for the ankle area. Suitable for use with automatic crampons. Weight for an 8.5-sized pair is approximately 3.2 pounds.
Enduro line -- Two shoes stood out for us. The Pegaso for men and women, and the Atena for women.
First, the Pegaso. The boot is a mid-ankle choice, also considered slightly "risky" by Asolo, but again a good move. The mid-ankle design offers slightly more protection for those consumers seeking a bit more support and weather protection than a low-top shoe offers. The upper is a combination of leather and fabric with conservative styling, though enough texture and detailing not to be boring or considered too old-fashioned.
The Atena is for women only. The blue (avio) caught the eye of one SNEWS team member, but as Franks points out, those eyes were male and so often they are not the kind of eyes best suited for picking out women's styles. And that, our friends, is a challenge for specialty stores still -- relying on male buyers to make choices about what women want. We have an idea! Whoever is buying women's apparel for your store, assuming it is a woman, let her buy the women's footwear, too. Just a thought. Now back to the Atena, which offers a soft suede upper and is styled to look good with jeans or dressier clothing. We think the shoe will make an ideal adventure travel offering as well as a sometimes hiking, sometimes urban wandering selection. Wool was the color of choice for the female eyes, according to Franks.