Interview by freelance reporter Khanjhariya Vichayasuthi
Last August, Craft Sportswear opened another free-standing branded store in the popular East district in the city of Taipei. This follows hot on the heels of the brand’s recent Pop-up store in Bangkok last April.
I caught up with David Thomson CEO of Aspire Brands who hold the rights to Craft Sportswear across Asia and the Middle East as well as Vincent Chan, the Company’s COO.
I asked them about the latest store in Taipei. “We are delighted to see another Craft store open in the region. We are committed to expansion across the region and where free standing branded stores make commercial sense then these too are part of our bigger picture of sustainable omni-channel growth in Asia Pacific” said David Thomson, “this latest store in Taipei comes after already 3 years since the brand entered the market so it’s quite a natural progression as the brand continues to grow and gain traction in the eyes of the running and overall sportwear consumer” he went onto say.
Since entering the Asia Pacific market in 2020 Craft has established presence in 10 markets in the region spanning from Australia/New Zealand in the south of the region up through South East Asia, to South Korea in the north. “Launching a brand when a global pandemic hits isn’t great timing”, said Vincent Chan, “ but the upside was we experienced a major boost in people getting out and running and overall fitness training across all markets so our brand as a premium sports brand was well positioned to offer a growing consumer base high quality products with technical performance at its core”.
David Thomson went onto say, “We have spent a long time ensuring we partner up with the right strategic partners in the respective countries as we see this as a long-term play and we want to work with distributors and retail partners that understand the sports consumer across the spectrum of activities and performance levels. As our brand mantra states, Craft is a brand for world champions and everyday heroes. This is in fact a true statement as we work with some of the world’s leading athletes and runners to develop our products and bring them to a general population of aspiring athletes or as we say, ‘everyday heroes’ and that’s how we want to continue to position ourselves.
Craft has forged strategic alliances across the region with some of the most prominent players in the industry including Central’s Super Sports and Rev Runnr in Thailand, SureStep in Hong Kong, YoHeng in Taiwan and Epic Global in South Korea.
Aspire Brands also have rights to Craft Sportswear in the Middle East and Africa region and have recently secured agreements for Israel, UAE as well as North Africa. We are pleased with our progress here said David Thomson as our initial focus was Asia and only recently have we begun to focus on a wider geography. In addition to this we will be entering the China market in 2024 which is a very exciting chapter for the brand.
I asked Vincent Chan why the market needed another sports brand and why Craft? ‘Well in fact Craft is not a new sports brand. Craft was founded in Sweden in 1977 so it’s already more than 45 years established with its own strong heritage of Scandinavian simplicity of design, focus on developing performance products through technology as well as a commitment to sustainability. David and I then set about bringing the brand to the Asian consumer in 2019. David added, “We don’t believe Craft is a ‘me-too’ brand. We are obsessed with performance and develop products that have the direct input from world class athletes based on their own experiences and needs. Tommy Rivs, a professional and prolific ultra-runner, was instrumental in developing the Craft CTM Carbon Ultra Race Rebel road shoe, the finest in its category and that’s not just our view it was also the feedback from the most prominent and highly regarded running magazine, Runners World who awarded the shoe ‘Best fast shoe in 2022’. The Race Rebel is just one example, our Pro Endurance shoe was recently awarded the ‘Best overall running shoe’. In fact, many of our products in the range today are award winning products and that’s how we plan to continue.
So, what’s next for the brand? “Actually quite a lot”, said David. “In the next 2 quarters we are planning on opening more retail presence in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea as well as set up our first Pop-up project in Australia. Moreover, I was recently in our Los Angeles footwear development lab to review the product plans and pipeline for 2025 and 2026 and talk with the technicians as well as our stable of athletes who are very involved in our next generation product development and it looks really exciting both in terms of designs and materials we are planning to bring to the running consumer. We also have lots to do in our continuance of rolling out Craft sportswear across the region. We have yet to establish the brand in Indonesia, Vietnam or the Philippines for example so we will look to focus there as well as Japan and more of the Middle East markets where we are also looking to grow our presence.