Gramicci, once considered a soul brand of the outdoor industry during its heyday in the 1990s, fell on hard times from early 2001 through 2004. Owner Don Love struggled with personal and professional challenges as the brand was beset with delivery problems, poor quality and designs that, well, bordered on the less-than-inspiring.
As a result of those challenges, majority owner Buxbaum Group took over in 2005. (Click here to read our story, "Gramicci under new ownership and looking forward.")
In late 2005, with Love no longer part of the company in any way, Marty Weening took the lead as Gramicci's president and began working in earnest to re-establish the brand's lost credibility and image with its specialty retailers and core customers.
Moving quickly, Weening made sweeping management, design team and strategic design changes. Most of those design changes will be evident to retailers for the first time in any meaningful manner at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market as the company showcases its spring 2007 line.
"The new lines will continue to honor the heritage of the outdoor enthusiast/climber, but will now offer fresh styles to appeal to a younger demographic," Weening told SNEWS®. "The line is inspired by the art, prints and colors of exotic lands, and the carefree lifestyles and colors of faraway beaches. 1930s Indonesian sarongs and African prints were used as inspiration."
Weening told us that the company has increased the number of pieces for women by 14 percent over spring '06, with sundresses, skirts and accessories joining stylish, functional tops and bottoms. The men's line will feature more prints and colors, along with new pant lengths, expanding on the more traditional offerings. In addition, a new generation of TravelLyte travel-friendly apparel will be unveiled.
Weening has also overseen a complete redesign of the company website that he said is "designed to capture the unique coolness that has always been Gramicci."
When asked how he managed to get so much done in such a short time, Weening quipped, "I feel like I have been here four years, but it has only been seven months. But I knew it was something that had to be done to honor the brand's heritage and founder, Mike Graham. We needed to reconnect with the soul of the brand and reconnect our customers with that soul.
"The soul of the brand is definitely back, and the people we have brought into the company, and there are a great many of them, reflect the spirit and soul of what the brand used to be from merchandising to design to customer service," Weening told us.
"We are nearing that point where the company used to execute, and with that comes our company's singular greatest challenge -- altering perception," said Weening. "Everyone knows that the company has been unable to ship a consistent fit and quality in an on-time manner for a number of years now, so we have lost a sense of reliability on the part of the retailer."
Weening has been admittedly spending a lot of time mending fences and told SNEWS® that while everyone was holding their collective breath and waiting for Gramicci to deliver or stumble as the company has in past years, he has nothing but good news.
"We are shipping product on the start ship date as we speak, which is a kind of novel concept for our company I admit," Weening said with a smile.
"Everyone at our company knows and understands very clearly that our first objective is to never lose sight of the fact that we are in the business of delivering and executing," said Weening. "We have to deliver a product that is an extension of the brand's blood line, and we have a responsibility to update it, which is why I call it an extension. We have to update the look and fashion, while still giving our loyal consumers what they need with consistent signature products -- and we have to do all that while taking care of our retailers in a consistent and reliable manner."
To do that, Weening has implemented a new sourcing platform that he knows from past experience can and will deliver with quality.
"I have brought to that table folks who, over the years, I know to be reliable and trustworthy manufacturing partners," Weening said.
"Then, I think we are bringing a product to the marketplace in a way that Mike Graham would have done, with a new and hopefully innovative natural technology," he added.
Weening pointed out that Gramicci's strength and the foundation of its popularity was innovation with finishes and fabrics that enabled and enhanced freedom of movement. It inspired a generation of outdoors people to dress in a very unique and identifiable way with washed-out colors and pleasing tones, patterns and textures.
In that vein, new this coming season is a long short for women with a length that is just below the knee and another for men with the length to mid calf, inspired in part by the TV show "Lost." Three new pants in men's and women's give the option of a pant leg that can be rolled up for a unique look and in response to the company's climbing heritage.
New skirts will be made with a quick-dry nylon and a type of fabric that offers a cotton-like feel but is quick-drying.
"We think some of the above designs and many others we will be showing at Outdoor Retailer will bring something fun and different to the consumer, and inspire excitement on the store floor," said Weening.
Answering the ever-present question about distribution, one that is common with an ownership change, Weening said the right things.
"Staying true to the brand means we sell to those that actually built this brand -- outdoor specialty retailers. We are focused on being an important part of the outdoor marketplace and are not seeking alternative avenues at the moment," Weening told SNEWS®. "We aspire to be what this brand used to be in its glory days and that is what we tell ourselves in our periodic brain-bending sessions. We want to bring back to our retailer what this brand niche is -- the original and still best garment-dyed, washed-out and imperfect look brand in the marketplace."
SNEWS® View: After an hour on the phone with Weening, we have to say, "We believe!" Certainly, some of his influence was immediately evident at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, with the new booth design, and an artist working on-site creating cool murals to benefit good causes. He's so serious about reconnecting with the heritage of the brand that he has reconnected with the brand's founder, Mike Graham, who, we are told, is considering a return and perhaps a role with the company in some manner. Graham was a climber, surfer and had natural instincts that guided him in his designs and in the direction of the business. Gramicci was never quite the same when he left the company in 1999. IF he's coming back in, coupled with Weening, it will be a powerful team, we suspect.
We agree with Weening in his observation that Gramicci is, in some ways, a bit like the Grateful Dead of the outdoor retail marketplace. The brand certainly has staying power, has been around for 25 years, and appeals to a very earthy, cool, and particular customer. It will be good to see it back and prospering.