Mr. David Cummings
President & CEO
U.S. POLO ASSN.
The U.S. POLO ASSN. brand is the official brand of the United States Polo Association, the non-profit governing body for the sport of polo in the United States since 1890. It is the only brand that truly represents the heritage and tradition of the sport of polo, not just a lifestyle.
Fibre2Fashion: In your opinion, is the U.S. Polo Assn. brand currently more of a sports identity or a fashion statement?
Mr. David Cummings:
Well, we hope it’s a little of both. As we say in our most recent ad campaign, “Before fashion, polo was a sport.” U.S. Polo Assn. is the only brand that truly represents the heritage and tradition of the sport of polo in America, instead of just a lifestyle. Our connection to the sport goes back as far as 1890, when the U.S. Polo Association was founded, and we are still invested in the growth and success of the game of polo in the United States; that’s what makes us different. Designing an authentic sportswear brand means that the product has to be true to the sport itself. Our clothing and accessories represent the spirit and traditions of polo – classic yet comfortable, sporty yet well dressed, high quality yet accessible.
Fibre2Fashion: With your focus being on designing sportswear that is comfortable and authentic to the sport of polo, how does your collection maintain its style quotient?
We believe it’s not an “either/or” game, but rather an “and” game. U.S. Polo Assn. clothes are both authentic to the sport and fashionable. Global Design Director Brian Kaminer is our brand visionary. He travels around the world to not only discover emerging trends, but to truly understand what our customers are looking for. With all of this knowledge, and through collaboration with our global licensees, Brian and the design team are able to inspire clothing that is stylish and functional; you could wear it to a polo match or just simply around town.
Fibre2Fashion: U.S. Polo Assn. stores have images of real polo matches, championship trophies and authentic mallets. What experience are you trying to create for consumers?
As with everything we do, we want to create an atmosphere that is authentic to the sport of polo. From the photos on the walls and the props around the store, to the music and even the scent of the environment, no detail is left to chance. To reach our goal of authenticity, we use genuine equipment to recreate the mood of the sport and underline our heritage, while the finishes and furnishings help to create a polo club atmosphere. Clubs offer comfortable settings that encourage members to socialize and have fun while feeling a sense of belonging. We strive to create the same warmth and comfort in each of our stores.
Fibre2Fashion: U.S. Polo Assn. brand has done tremendously well in the last several years. Where do you see the brand in the coming years?
We are very proud of the fact that U.S. Polo Assn. has become an internationally-recognized powerhouse brand. We continue to see strong sales growth and demand for U.S. Polo Assn. branded products around the world. In 2011, total retail sales amounted to more than USD$1.2 billion and we believe there is still much more growth potential. Going forward, international expansion will continue to be a key pillar of our growth strategy. We have aligned ourselves with global partners that have sourcing and design capabilities, as well as established wholesale distribution channels. Most importantly, we have engaged with licensees who have proven expertise in opening and operating retail stores. Along with our recent sales growth has been an increased number of mono-brand retail stores, so ultimately our destiny depends on opening more U.S. Polo Assn. stores. Currently, we have 225 retail stores; I believe this number will double over the next 12 to 14 months.
Fibre2Fashion: The Asia region has been a particularly successful market for U.S. Polo Assn. doing well in Asia ever since it started its journey here. What are the keys to your success in the region?
Since 2005, our business in Asia has boomed – we’ve experienced steady growth year over year, with the region making up almost 20 percent of our international sales in 2011. And our partners in Asia are continuing to open new stores across the region to meet the strong demand in these markets. Why have we been so successful in the region? First, we promote value by offering a quality product at a reasonable price. Also, consumers around the world respond to our classic American style, based on the enduring heritage and tradition of the sport of polo in the United States. The Chinese market in particular is a huge growth area for our brand and a location where we’re investing much energy and focus. Recently, we announced a new master licensing agreement with LF Asia Limited, a subsidiary of Li & Fung Limited, which will ensure our continued growth in the region. With this agreement, LF Asia Ltd. joins our extensive network of over 50 licensees worldwide that are bringing the authentic style of polo to consumers around the globe.
Fibre2Fashion: Given the current global economic concerns, how do you see the apparel industry fairing?
Even during the difficult economic times of the last few years, we have seen very strong growth in our brand and this is continuing. Global buying habits have shifted and many brands are being forced to offer deep discounts to remain competitive in today’s economy. Because we have positioned our brand properly, in regards to quality and pricing, we haven’t experienced the erosion that many other brands are facing. That said, we believe there will always be demand for well-designed, classic clothing and accessories that provide great quality at competitive prices and, importantly, represent more than just an item of clothing, but also a genuine connection to the sport.
Fibre2Fashion: By licensing the U.S. Polo Assn. brand region wise, do you worry that this will affect the uniformity, style and standard?
In each region, we partner with leading licensees to make full use of their local expertise and leading market position. Using their knowledge, licensees adapt our design vision to fit within the culture of each region. So, while colors and sizes vary across borders, the style remains. These partnerships ensure that we meet the specific needs of each geographical market, provide the best consumer experience and maintain consistent brand standards. We firmly believe that this smart strategy is one of the keys to our continued success. We maintain very close relationships with our licensees to confirm quality in products and services, and to make sure our basic operating and business principles are met in each region our products are sold.
Fibre2Fashion: Being Eco-friendly is both in-trend and the need of the hour. What do you feel?
Environmental and social sustainability is very important to us, as our entire business model is built around giving back to our community. All of our profits go to the non-profit U.S. Polo Association to support its promotion of the sport. Regarding manufacturing, each of our licensees is responsible for producing products for their territory and all are required to follow internationally-accepted standards of ethical manufacturing. Our licensees are professionals with extensive experience in production and can respond to the preferences and buying behaviors of their customers in terms of sustainability and supporting the local communities in which they operate.
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