SNEWS Youth Team: Three CEOs weigh in with youth reporters

SNEWS Youth Reporting Team members interviewed top executives of three large companies -- Prana, adidas and Vibram -- at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010 about issues that are most important to youth: sustainability, price, quality, the effect of tough times, health and, of course, style.
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SNEWS Youth Reporting Team members interviewed top executives of three large companies -- Prana, adidas and Vibram -- at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010 about issues that are most important to youth: sustainability, price, quality, the effect of tough times, health and, of course, style. Without being able to preview questions in the spontaneous roundtables, the executives were able to answer without a lot of preparation, giving SNEWS youth reporters some candid responses and some basis for their own insights. Participating in the first series of Youth Team CEO roundtables were Beaver Theodosakisof Prana, Rolf Reinschmidt of adidas, and Tony Post of Vibram, whose companies were selected by the youth reporters as three in which they were interested.

Beaver Theodosakis, Prana

First up was Beaver Theodosakis of Prana, CEO of the popular climbing, yoga and fitness apparel company. Asked about how Prana balances its core values, quality and price, Theodosakis responded with confidence about Prana’s product and process.

“You are always torn between idealism and commerce within the business. The ideal would be made in the USA with organic cotton, offset by wind power, but all of a sudden the price is $90 instead of $70,” he said. “We find that consumers will bend 10 percent to 12 percent for sustainability. Beyond that, it’s lost. We are proud that half of our garments are still made here locally in the U.S.”

Prana also uses renewable energy credits to offset their facilities, employees’ homes and 400 of their dealers. It is also a leader in company transparency and sustainability. A loyal following has connected with the company’s values and inspiration -- climbing and yoga, but with style. Theodosakis’s wife, Pam, the head designer, stays up-to-date with all the current runway style trends. Prana has successfully created a balance between quality, price and sustainability. Just to show their customers that they haven’t outgrown their humble beginnings, each tag is handmade and safety-pinned to each garment by hand, he said.

Theodosakis offered us some advice as future leaders and entrepreneurs. When asked for the most important values of a budding organization, he cited trust and integrity “with suppliers, employees, customers. And it isn’t something you can include on a paper business plan. It is something that is earned. When you deliver more than what you promised over and over again, people will be willing to take a leap of faith with you; with your business.”

Click here to see a video summary of the roundtable with Theodosakis on SNEWS TV.

--Lorin Paley

Rolf Reinschmidt, adidas

Next up was Rolf Reinschmidt, adidas’ senior vice president of global operations, who is leading the re-launch of the company’s outdoor segment, slated for the United States in early 2011. Reinschmidt spoke of the brand’s goal to reach Americans who love the outdoors.

“Outdoors is the new gym,” declared Reinschmidt. Instead of focusing only on the traditional sports that propelled the company’s reputation, the adidas design team developed a clothing line for outdoor activities. The line features pieces with simple designs and bright colors.

As debut items, the clothing’s features are not especially groundbreaking. They include useful Velcro wrist cinches and air vent zippers. Considering that adidas is one of the brands at the forefront of performance-enhancing technologies, its outdoor gear is not yet as confidence inspiring as its indoor sporting attire. As for the fashion appeal of the line, the focus is on a color scheme with a bright, youthful, athletic flair.

“This is fun. This is color. This is young. This is fresh,” Reinschmidt said of his company’s neon outerwear.” However, color isn’t the only aspect to consider if you want to appeal to youth. Using the adidas’ “three stripes” in new, cool ways might add to the wow factor. Reinschmidt mentioned that once established with a basic line, adidas plans to bring more fashion to its outerwear line. Its recent success with a tennis apparel line designed by Stella McCartney shows what adidas can offer. This is the company’s third attempt at breaking into the U.S. outdoor market, but adidas still has time to build a reputation with outdoor enthusiasts.

Click here to see an interview with Reinschmidt on SNEWS TV by SNEWS editor in chief Therese Iknoian.

--Audrey Goss

Tony Post, Vibram

For the final roundtable, we met with Anthony (Tony) Post, president and CEO of Vibram. With all the hype of the FiveFingers line of footwear, the interview was focused on its line of what we find is often called “Toe Shoes.” With a newly expanded line including the KSO shoe for kids, as well as tuned-up performance shoes for men and women, FiveFingers has become a hot item in the footwear market.

According to Post, Vibram found its inspiration from an Italian designer named Robert Flury. Vibram originally ran with the idea of the footwear focusing mostly on the health benefits from natural foot movement. Upon developing FiveFingers, it became apparent that the shoe’s appeal was the sensation felt when worn. “If you try it on, you’ll like the sensation. People don’t wear them just to cure health problems. They like how it feels,” said Post.

In response to the tough economic times, Post responded, for the company, “this product has been a big help.”

The “Toe Shoe” has much more to it than the wow factor; it is a product developed to allow the body to move naturally. Post spoke about the recent research by Harvard University, showing medical evidence that breaks all preconceptions of the traditional running shoe. This study shows that barefoot running decreases the impact on the skeletal system -- good news for a shoe that makes you feel barefoot. (Click here to read more about the study in a Feb. 26, 2010, SNEWS Health Notes story.)

With one of the busiest booths on the Outdoor Retailer floor (having a great Italian lunch two days and real Italiano espresso and snacks didn’t hurt), Post quickly rushed off to tend to the many things going on. Vibram seems to be extending the days of youthfulness, allowing kids and adults alike to enjoy that barefoot sensation while giving adequate foot protection.

--Anthony Shaheen

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