In today’s article we retrace the history of the Fila clothing brand, from its success in the 70s as a sportswear brand, to the crisis at the end of the 90s up to its rebirth in the 2010s, thanks to well-thought-out rebranding operation.
The history of brands is made of successes, failures and rebirths. What we present to you today is a story that has known all these phases.
An iconic brand from the 70s to the 90s, Fila suffered a setback that led the company to oblivion for several years. However, thanks to a well-thought-out strategy and also a bit of luck, the Fila brand is back in the limelight, attracting the attention of even the elusive Generation Z.
In today’s article, we retrace the history of Fila, the causes that led to its near failure and those that allowed its rebirth, focusing particularly on the marketing and communication strategies adopted by the brand.
Table of contents
The beginnings and success of Fila
Perhaps not many people know that Fila is an Italian brand founded by the Fila brothers in 1911. Initially an underwear manufacturer, in 1973 the company established itself on the market as Fila Sport, with a tennis clothing line that brought colour to a sector dominated by white up to that moment. Its contribution to the tennis world is what helped Fila gain popularity off and on court: tennis aces of that time such as Björn Borg, Guillermo Vilas and Adriano Panatta all wore Fila.
In the 90s there is a first change of gear: from being a European elite sports brand, Fila launched on the American market as a streetwear brand that combines sport and casual wear. It also started focusing on sports shoes, which will remain one of the company’s flagship products for a long time. In that time, Fila also approached the world of basketball, launching sports shoes that recorded unprecedented sales and popularity, thanks also to the collaboration with basketball player Grant Hill and the Grant Hill 2 basketball shoes – an iconic piece at the time and to this day.
The decline of the Fila brand
After having established itself in different fields and having been successful for more than a decade, something begins to crack. In Fila’s case, the decline is perhaps due to too much diversification, in too short a time frame. In fact, although for many brands diversification is precisely what determines their success, in the case of Fila, the inability to focus on selected but corroborated strategic sectors has contributed to its decline to the point that in 1998 sales dropped by almost 50%.
The rebirth of Fila
By the early 2000s, hardly anyone talked about Fila anymore. In 2007, all the activities of the Fila group worldwide were sold to South Korean entrepreneur Gene Yoon, who had already acquired the South Korean branch of Fila in 2005.
Gene Yoon immediately began a tight relaunch operation, starting from Korea, where the brand was advertised through a campaign starring Paris Hilton, who was at the height of success and popularity at the time.
In September 2010, Fila Korea presented an IPO and officially entered the stock market.
So, how was it possible to relaunch an almost failed brand in such a short time? Certainly, thanks to a repositioning strategy, also target-wise.
In fact, instead of targeting professional sportsmen as in the past, the new Fila speaks to Millennials and Gen Z, both probably unaware of the company’s past. At product level, Fila has wisely exploited the theme of nostalgia for the 80s and 90s, playing on the fact that many associate the Fila brand with those years. It has therefore revived the aesthetics of the past in a modern key, remaining faithful to the bright colours that helped the brand stand out in the 70s and focusing above all on streetwear, although clothing lines dedicated to sports persist.
To reposition its brand and its products, Fila has also invested heavily in partnerships, testimonials and marketing strategies. Let’s see some examples.
Collaborations with brands, personalities and influencers
One of the best-known collaborations that has created buzz both online and offline is certainly the one with Fendi, a brand of the LVMH group, and Scottish artist Hey Reilly, who reinterpreted the Fendi logo using the Fila lettering to create the Fendi Mania capsule collection.
The garments – including sweatshirts, bombers, jackets, tops and sneakers – are a mix of streetwear, sportswear and luxury wear, sporting the colours and lines of both brands. The collection was previewed in Milan during Women’s Fall/Winter 2018-2019 fashion show and then launched simultaneously worldwide through the opening of seven pop-up stores and special events in different cities around the world with deejays and celebrities.
Since 2015, Fila collaborates also with Urban Outfitters, through a collection that focuses entirely on the revival of the 90s, with sporty and casual garments with a marked retro flavour.
Recently, Fila partnered with Airbnb to launch an influencer marketing campaign during the Spring/Summer 2020 fashion week. As part of the campaign, celebrities and influencers attended the Fila fashion show, wearing the brand’s clothes, and were hosted by several Milanese Airbnb hosts.
Many of the well-known faces with whom Fila collaborated in the past – including Grant Hill, Björn Borg and Reinhold Messner, who back in 1978 brought the brand to the top of the world during his ascent to Mount Everest without oxygen – are once again brand ambassadors. They were joined by other personalities from the world of sport and entertainment. Among these are BTS, the K-pop hit band that signed with Fila “Project 7”, a capsule collection of clothing, accessories and footwear.
In addition to collaborating with celebrities and highly successful brands, Fila also managed to create extremely “Instagram-worthy” garments – a major goal for a brand that targets Millennials and Generation Z. The items that have obtained the most success on social networks are the Fila Disruptor, the Fila Disruptor 2 and the Fila Electrove – “chunky sneakers” with an imposing structure, available in different colours and sported by many influencers on social media.
The history of Fila is an example of how poor strategic choices can damage even the most established brand. However, if there is something that we would like you to take away from this reading is that this is not so much a story of failure but rather one of rebirth. In fact, Fila succeeded in its intent to reassert itself on the market without distorting the brand and remaining faithful to its values, re-proposing in a modern key what made it famous in the first place by leveraging extremely current trends: nostalgia for the 80s – ’90 and the passion of the new generations for streetwear and “logo mania”.
In 2021, Fila Holdings recorded group revenues of 3,793,959 million Korean won ($ 3.3 billion): a growth of 21.3% compared to 2020. Annual net profit increased by 71%, amounting to KRW 337,809 million ($ 295.2 million).
Although there is still a long way to go, especially to build a brand and a history that can resist and thrive in a market as competitive as that of sportswear and streetwear, it seems to us that Fila is on the right path. What are your thoughts on this? Let us know your opinion in the comments and contact us to learn about our marketing and communication consulting services.