German brand Maloja has won an international fan base with a distinctive offer that spans performance sports apparel and streetwear. Here, co-founder Peter Räuber sheds light on the team’s creative and strategic approach.
Tell us about Maloja and how the brand has developed since it was founded in 2004?
The cherished memory of a magical day in fresh powder snow in the Swiss village of Maloja has inspired both a name and a brand philosophy. The idea behind Maloja was, and is, to combine function with style. That's still the most important part of our DNA. This is a strategy we’ve continued to nurture over the last 15 years, and our attention to detail and the passion that goes into our selection and creation of high-end materials remains. Another key aspect is that we give the collection a new theme every year to define the design language of the range, meaning that we’ll basically redesign the entire collection annually.
Peter Räuber (Co-Founder)
What’s the inspiration behind the latest collection?
The latest collection is inspired by the Alpine legends of Dialas – folkloric goddesses who protect people, flora and fauna. Water, forest and mountains are the three habitats of the Dialas, and references to these feature in illustrations, embroidery and patches. Additionally, the Dialas often occur in threes and therefore this number is recurring throughout the collection. In keeping with this natural theme, we worked very carefully to further increase our emphasis on sustainability, paying even more attention to the materials we use, and the products’ relationship to the natural environment.
What are the most challenging aspects of redesigning the collection annually, which is far from the technical sportswear industry norm?
Indeed, it’s quite unusual in the sports gear industry, and it involves a lot of work, we’ve fine-tuned this process, and the positive effects by far outweigh the negatives. Our clients really enjoy the "fresh" look of a new collection, while it inspires our design team and reignites their passion. In the past, the idea of offering new themes annually was quite risky. Some of these collections appeared quite overwhelming in their modernity, especially for sporting retailers, and it was a learning curve that we had to pay a price for. But in return, we've got a much better grasp on what we can achieve and what we want from the market.
What sets Maloja apart from the competition?
We serve up a unique range specifically designed for sports that few other brands in the world cater for, including MTB, road biking, MTB freeride, mountaineering, climbing/bouldering, running, cross country skiing, ski freeride and ski mountaineering. We’re very passionate about all of these sports, which motivates us to constantly improve the function of the individual products by using new, innovative materials, developing our own fabrics and maximising the creative potential of our own employees. Our creative team is a very mixed bunch made up of designers, graphic designers, artists and former professional athletes who all work closely together to develop new collections. To manage this, space is needed and we provide plenty of that here in our Chiemgau farmhouse. Also, modern and stylish streetwear items are an important part of the overall collection; they make up about 40% of the range.
The biking world is never stagnant. What’s been the biggest shift in the past few years, and how have you responded to this? How do you meet the needs of bike athletes today?
For us, the developments in road cycling are the most distinctive. The bicycles themselves have come so far in recent years, technologically speaking – and aerodynamic clothing is an ideal complement to these developments. By working with our professional Roadbike Team, the “Maloja Pushbikers” (www.pushbikers.com), we’ve been able to move forward at the highest level. We’ve tried a lot of stuff, invested in aerodynamic testing, and used new technologies for the padding in shorts, all of which has led to what is now a highly functional and very sophisticated collection – combined with a superb style factor, which plays a major role for athletes.
E-bikes is another topic that's been coming on strong for the last few years and has become more prominent among freeriders, who have in turn helped to make e-bikes into something young and cool. We’ve reacted to this movement by developing a nice range of e-bike products that caters to the specific needs of e-bikers.
Which textile technologies and functions do you bet on the moment?
Seamless is a concept that fascinates us as it sets new standards in functionality and fit while at the same time remaining very competitive to produce in Central Europe due of the high level of machine-based production found in this region. Sustainability also plays a massive role for us. There have been new developments in recent years that make it possible to use recycled and natural materials such as hemp to create functionality features. We’re sure that there’ll be a lot more to come in this area.
You cater to many breeds of cycle sports as well as activities beyond this category, including running and skiing. Will you focus more or less on either of these in the future?
For us, cycling in summer will always be at the forefront. This is our foundation and we’ll stay true to it. There are of course shifts in focus (see road biking), but we will still serve all of the styles.
"Outdoor" plays a massive role for us in general, and we've been able to establish a strong presence in climbing/bouldering in particular.
In winter, the popularity of cross country skiing and ski mountaineering has been growing wildly of late, and our collection has grown in those areas, but we'll keep making warm wind-blocking jerseys and pants for cycling.
Cross-country skiing, which has been growing here for ages, is now gaining traction in North America. Starting this season we will be providing the US Biathlon Team with its gear and we created a unique collection for them – you'll have to wait and see it!
You’re expanding internationally – do you find that certain pieces sell well in some territories and less so in others?
There are country-specific sales, yes. For example Japan and South Korea have become strong markets for Maloja (in road cycling).
The Koreans put an extraordinary amount of value on the combination of function and style, as in the road cycling outfit has to match the frame of your bike, from the socks and jersey all the way to the helmet. A good product example is the Spacebody, a very functional piece with loads of style that we almost exclusively sell in South Korea. The Scandinavians, meanwhile, buy warmer gear due to cold climate, preferably made of natural materials. In Central Europe, consumers typically go for the more colourful gear while the North Americans like to keep it subtler. Thanks to our large collection with over 300 styles, we’re able to cater for everyone.
What’s your sales and retail partner strategy?
We are generally very selective when it comes to our dealers. Our products typically require a bit more consultation, so store staff need quite a bit of training. It's also important that our dealers have a customer-base with an affinity for our products as they’re a little more expensive than standard outdoor products. Not everyone’s prepared to spend more on the higher-end craftsmanship or details that are important to us. We respect that, but we still follow our own path.
What have you achieved by being selective in the wholesale partnerships you’ve struck up?
We've seen in recent years that dealers are looking to create closer relationships with the brand. They don't want to just sell it. They want to represent it. As a result we classified our dealers with a bit more precision. Now, depending on their selections from the range, there are standard dealers as well as premium dealers and brand stores. Last but not least – our own flagship stores in Munich, Oberstdorf, Wiesbaden, Innsbruck, Aschau and Seoul offer nearly the entire collection and feature Maloja as their main brand.