Marc O’Polo: Remolding a Scandinavian icon
One brand enjoying a successful revamp in product and image, while steadily steering towards project sustainability, is Marc O’Polo, which showed up for the first time in 11 years at CIFF this year, and made its debut at Pitti.
Though founded in Stockholm, the brand is German-owned and based near to Munich, though as part of its subtle repositioning the house revived its name in the past few years, re-becoming 'Marc O’Polo est. in Stockholm'. Given the origin of the family name and the 'O’ - meaning a male descendant in Gaelic - there had been a little confusion over the years about its birthplace. To some it must have been Italian, to others a Celtic label.
In fact, the fashion label was founded by Rolf Lind, Göte Huss and Jerry O'Sheets, back in 1967, first developing patchwork Indian cotton shirts. Though the label grew to become an iconic Scandinavian brand, focusing on natural materials, and emphasizing a certain handsome wholesomeness. Marc O’Polo is also credited with bringing the sweatshirt to Europe in the early 1970s, upgrading it from a frat-boy staple to a logo-led fashion must-buy.
By the end of the century, the brand had gradually been acquired by its distribution partner in Germany, Werner Böck, whose son Maximilian is the current CEO. Where business boomed – with annual sales close to half a billion euros - even if in recent years, Marc O’Polo had lost a compelling fashion statement and positioning.
Hence the revamp under Maximilian Böck and Chief Product Office Susanne Schwenger. And the decision, with a freshened-up style selection, and authentic new eco-friendly clothes to return to Pitti – the world’s best organized fashion salon – and CIFF, the Danish trade show that is Scandinavian fashion’s bellwether display. While in Copenhagen, the house also threw a cocktail in its local flagship called From the Land of Marc O’Polo. Historically, Marc O’Polo boasted of brand ambassadors like Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges, uber model Amber Valletta, and latterly German super Anna Ewers. Though now the focus is much more on influencers and online communities.
Both executives appeared pleased with both fairs, particularly Pitti where the absence of many American, and nearly all Asian buyers, was partly compensated by the presence of European department stores like Rinascente and Coin. While there was sufficient traffic at CIFF to lead Böck to confirm he will be back for this summer’s edition.
Within the handsome and airy stand at CIFF, the label proudly displayed a promo video recounting their link-up with Manteco, a Tuscan fabric maker which specializes in shredding old clothes and re-spinning into new yarns to create no-holds-barred fashion recycling.
Hence, their latest collection boasted of some very fine Sherlock Holmes check parkas; excellent Manteco overshirts and pocketed gilets; very natty sculpted mini bombers and cut-off gilet/scarves in Roman imperial purple or the palest gray; and pretty flower speckled parkas.
So, we sat down with Böck and Schwenger, for a discussion on all things Marc O’Polo.
FashionNetwork.com: Define the DNA of Marc O’Polo?
Susanne Schwenger: We stand for heritage; Scandinavian casual and sustainable, nearly 100 percent.
FNW: What do you mean by sustainable specifically?
SS: It’s a journey to becoming truly sustainable, and that takes time. But we are approaching it on many fronts. For this season in CIFF we only have sustainable products. And for Spring Summer 2023, we will only do sustainable products in our collections.
FNW: Give me some concrete examples?
SS: We always have special projects – like our collab’ with Italian weaver Manteco, one of the most sustainable fabric companies in the world. We are very close to them and that’s why we have this film on how the recycling process actually happens within our two companies.
FNW: Why was it some important to freshen up your look?
SS: It was vital. So, we started with this process three years ago. We wanted to leave mainstream and come towards a more contemporary vision – our feeling was that you cannot win a battle when are too close to the mainstream. You end up being forced to become cheaper and cheaper.
FNW: But you have a quite high price for casual, no?
SS: I would say not very high; more worth it. Where else do you get a recycled wool that is soft like cashmere made into a great overshirt for 259 euros? I don’t know another brand.
Maximilian Böck: We also have knits at 99 euros and 129 euros so we have a lot of price points. We like commercial price points, but also want to offer product innovation at a higher price point. Plus, it’s part of our culture to work with new yarns.
FNW: How large is your global distribution?
MB: Currently, we retail in 2,600 sales points worldwide. Plus, we have more than 260 owned mono-label stores, half of them operated by partners or franchises, the others are our own.
MB: Our own online operation is 35 percent of turnover. But if calculate the entire total online we are already at 40 percent, which helped us a lot in the crisis.
FNW: What’s the geographic spread?
MB: We are in than 40 countries, but the main share is really the DACH region. This is 65 percent of our turnover, so we have a lot of room to grow internationally. In China, we have a license partner with 60 stores, and online, but it’s still single digits of all our sales. And we are not in America but shipping there online. So, we are checking out the American market and analyzing it.
DACH is the much-loved German term for Germany (D), Austria (A) and Switzerland (CH), with a joint population of over 100 million people, and GDP of over 5 trillion euros.
FNW: Marco O’Polo annual revenues?
MB: This year we are forecasting for 577 million euros, and our eventual target is one billion. Last year it was 450 million. So, for the fiscal year ending end this May, we expect high double-digit growth. And intend to grow from between 13 and 15 percent next year.
SS: The men/women split worldwide is 70 to 30. But this is something we want to change, especially as the brand is named after a man!
FNW: What’s the key driver in your growth?
MB: We did our homework for the past three years. We didn’t just change the product. We also changed the label and marketing approach. We have new young people in the company and it is beginning to bloom.
MB: I won’t say. But we are privately owned, with bank loans and no foreign capital.
FNW: No hotel yet? And no acquisitions planned?
MB: No, no. We never say no, but it’s not our strategy to grow by acquisitions, but organically.
FNW: Meaning what sort of product development?
SS: We have some accessories, handbags, glasses and underwear. We are starting on a concept for fragrance. More probably, a full license is not right us. We want more say with a different concept. Not CK1 style, sold in all these drug stores for 10 dollars a flacon. No.
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