Kathmandu appoints US clothing veteran to revamp apparel offering

Kathmandu is following the consumer.

As the consumer becomes greener and more conscious of the environment, so too is the dual ASX/NZX-listed outdoor equipment and clothing retailer.

This comes following the appointment of a new head of product at the retail company, brought in from the United States to freshen up and expand its apparel mix.

Robert Fry, formerly of outdoor clothing giant North Face and outdoor equipment brands Black Diamond and Mountain Hardware, has been appointed general manager of product at Kathmandu. He has 16 years experience in the retail industry.

Originally based in Salt Lake City in Utah, US, Fry has relocated to Christchurch for the role. He started albeit remotely 10 months ago, but was unable to travel to New Zealand sooner due to restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fry said he first heard about Kathmandu in the early 90s when he was a bicycle tour guide in the Northern Hemisphere and caught wind of what it was doing with recycled bottles.

Now tasked with leading a team of 40 to rejuvenate Kathmandu’s product mix and help it reach new audiences, and ultimately more sales – it is now targeting the millennial consumer as opposed to the seasoned traveller, focused on innovative sustainable and environment-friendly products.

“If you think about the younger consumer, the more cosmopolitan, globalised kind of consumer these days; they expect a lot more from a brand, they expect style, substance, transparency, things like quality and sustainability not as a box you check but an agenda behind a brand,” Fry told the Herald.

Kathmandu is shifting away from a sole focus on traditional adventure goods and more so towards trendy sustainable alternatives. These products will be on shelves in the next couple of months with its autumn/winter 2021 collection.

“You’ll see some subtle changes in how we approach colour, colouration, colour matching across different product categories, and by the time we get into spring/summer 2022 this September, you will start to see a shift where the aperture opens up … we will include more aesthetics into the mix.”

Fry said Kathmandu identified a gap in the market among millennial consumers between three to five years ago and the opportunity to broaden its customer base.

On the sustainability front, the retailer’s product team has been busy developing what it calls the Southern Hemisphere’s first bio-degradable polyester fleece. It is said to be able to break down in landfill in two years compared to 100 years for a non-biodegradable jacket.

“We’ve really made a leap forward in sustainability that I’m sure other brands are going to follow,” said Fry.

“We’re looking at very aggressive new solutions that five or 10 years from now the entire industry will adopt or have adopted.”

By 2025, Kathmandu has committed to have all of its product developed and manufactured using materials that can be reused, in line with principles of a circular economy.

In the six months to January 31, Kathmandu grew group sales by 12 per cent. It forecasts its Ebitda for the first half of the 2021 financial year will be in the range of $47 million to $49m, according to latest unaudited financials.

Sales in its outdoor equipment and apparel business took a hit in the period, which the company attributed to low demand for insulation and rainwear as a result of the lack of international travellers to the Northern Hemisphere.

It will release its full audited FY21 half-year results on March 23.

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