PARIS — French luxury skiwear brand Fusalp is looking to break new ground, particularly in the U.S., with the backing of new investors who will enter its capital on Tuesday.
“We are a family-owned company, so we like to know our partners very well. We had this conversation for some time, speaking about the business, getting to know each other and now we feel that we need to really seize the moment to develop ourselves, especially in America. [So] we felt they could be the right partners because [we share] the same ways of seeing business, continuity and strengthen the business in the long term,” Fusalp co-president Sophie Lacoste told WWD.
Swiss investment funds Mirabaud Patrimoine Vivant and Mirabaud Lifestyle Impact & Innovation, founded and led by David Wertheimer, Renaud Dutreil and Luc-Alban Chermette, will take a combined minority stake through a 12.5 percent capital increase.
Founded in 1952, the French company based in the Alps is best known for its early technical advancements such as contour-fit ski pants, ski stirrup pants and one-piece suits worn by the French national ski teams in the 1960s.
After hitting hard times in the mid-1980s, Fusalp was purchased by siblings Sophie and Philippe Lacoste, grandchildren of tennis legend and Lacoste founder René Lacoste, and former Lacoste executive Alexandre Fauvet in 2014.
The deal was several years in the making, a process that is part of the trio’s overall slow-and-steady approach to doing business.
That said, Sophie Lacoste said Fusalp had grown its 6-million-euro turnover in 2014 to an expected 40 million euros for the current fiscal year, which ends in May, to the tune of 30 percent a year — excluding the 2020 fiscal year impacted by the pandemic.
“When we choose a partner and when they choose us, we need to make sure that our values are aligned — business-wise but also in a more general way — because we like to see things long term,” Philippe Lacoste said, describing that vision as “building a high-quality brand with high-quality products bringing something unique to the market,” one apt to grow internationally.
“We are very happy to join the Fusalp adventure alongside passionate entrepreneurs who have style, sport and France in their genes,” stated Dutreil, a former LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton executive who served as French minister in charge of small and medium-size enterprises in the early 2000s.
The executives at the investment funds lauded the successful relaunch led by Sophie and Philippe Lacoste, the brand’s combination of style and technical performance as well as its global potential.
The funds have previously taken stakes in companies that “represent the French industrial know-how and lifestyle” such as footwear brands Clergerie and Heschung, sportswear label Le Coq Sportif and shirt specialist Anne Fontaine. They will join individual investors such as Frédéric Biousse and Elie Kouby, the founders of Experienced Capital, and Galeries Lafayette managing director Nicolas Houzé. The Lacoste family will remain majority shareholders.
Through the new partnership plans are to further develop the business in North America, a market that is currently the brand’s second-largest on its e-commerce, said Sophie Lacoste. In the U.S., a boutique in Aspen is slated to open in November, followed by another on New York’s Madison Avenue. These openings will bring the brand’s retail footprint to a total of 55 boutiques by the end of 2022, up from three in 2015.
Developing wholesale in the U.S. will be the next order of business, with the recent recruitment of an executive to handle this territory and help establish the brand in high-end department stores.
Further afield, the Fusalp executives plan on “seeing what works there…we feel we can really build something strong” before pursuing opportunities in places like Chicago, Los Angeles or Toronto, Canada.
While France remains the main market for the brand, accounting for 70 percent of sales, the growth in the rest of the world is progressing apace with last year’s doubling of overall revenues.
While South Korea has emerged a strong entry point into Asia, developments in China are on hold due to the country’s closed borders and despite the recent Beijing Olympics, where Fusalp dressed the U.K.’s GB Snowsport alpine and para-alpine ski teams.
Also on the cards is the launch of footwear, slated for the fall. This comes as the brand looks to leverage its sports heritage into a wardrobe fit for consumers who expect their clothes to accompany them seamlessly from biking to work, working from home and heading into business meetings, as she put it.
With a near-even split between male and female consumers, Sophie Lacoste described the brand as “transgenerational” with its core market aged between 30 and 45 years old.
“A jacket can be worn by a 25-year-old and almost their grandfather. The durability of our clothing — in terms of quality and style — is also very pertinent for us. It is stuff that you can wear with great pleasure for a long time,” said Sophie Lacoste, who described Fusalp customers as “a population of people that are passionately educated and look for products [offering] great value.”
This segues into current conversations around sustainability, an “ongoing process” that Fusalp started looking into two years ago. “We need to make sure that sustainable development is at the center of everything we do. But we still have many things to learn both ourselves and as an industry,” said Philippe Lacoste.
For now, the brand, which signed the Fashion Pact in 2021, will continue to focus on offering durable, repairable products “because that’s the best way to do it…and then look at other subjects,” said Sophie Lacoste, citing the impact of natural fibers and a current lack of transparency on recycling as some of the issues to close the loop.
“It’s really about thinking deeply about what we do before doing [them] because sometimes you have some ideas coming that proved to be very wrong. So you have to be very careful on the decision you take — this matters,” she added.