A life completely without sport - can you imagine that? No? What is an attitude to life for you personally is also reflected in the professional framework of the sports industry. Sport, as well as its related fields of health & wellness and outdoor, are among the world's continuously growing industries.
(Online) Marketing is now considered an essential part of each company, from small start-ups to large corporations. This is mainly due to the further development of the online infrastructure and a trend towards the use of digital channels. In the post-epidemic era, not only large companies but also many small businesses have shifted their focus to online communication: In addition to sales through stationary shops (retail), more and more companies are offering their products via e-commerce, through their own online shops or other online sales platforms, and are using the reach of the internet for their communication.
To cut a long story short, a career in sports marketing is a good idea, because
the sports industry is a continuously growing industry
Sport Marketing jobs are among the most frequently offered vacancies on Sportyjob and other career platforms
Sport Marketing offers many options for your professional development
Sport marketing is an exciting professional field, as it is constantly evolving and poses new challenges to marketing professionals.
Sport marketing expertise is also applicable outside the industry and therefore expands your potential employer market to other industries as well.
Sport Marketing offers you the chance of a career change, even without a marketing degree, if you acquire the necessary skills.
This naturally brings us to the follow-up question: How do I start a career in sports marketing?
Studying Sports Marketing - yes or no?
As a large segment of the marketing industry, sports marketing has now become a popular direct degree programme in Europe. Contrary to this, marketing is one of the areas where a particular degree does not play such a big role for recruiters. In concrete terms, this means that you do not have to study marketing to work in marketing.
On the one hand, this is due to the fact that there are many related degree programmes that partially touch on marketing, such as communication sciences, economics or sports management. On the other hand, many degree programmes cover the necessary skills or practical know-how that you need for a sports job in marketing. These are, for example, writing skills or dealing with (audiovisual) media - things that you learn in many programmes.
So why study (sports) marketing at all?
Gaining professional experience
The main advantage of studying marketing is the practical experience you gain alongside your education. Working student positions or even compulsory internships are mainly filled by students, preferably from a related field. Sports colleges and universities have the advantage that they are closely networking with companies in the industry. This means that students from the respective universities are often given preference when it comes to filling vacancies.
The work experience that an internship and part-time job in a sports company gives you is also what gives young professionals a huge competitive advantage. Furthermore, the internship offers you the chance to make contacts that can help you get an interview after graduation.
Prove your perseverance
No matter what you study, any degree shows that you are willing to invest time and effort to achieve a goal. It shows a potential employer that you are disciplined and don't falter in your resolutions. This makes it an important part of your CV to show character strengths, so called soft skills.
What is the best way to a career in sports marketing without a marketing degree?
Online courses & certificates
An effective way to gain online marketing skills alongside an existing job or degree is through online certificates. Many IT companies and marketing software providers offer courses that familiarise you with the use of their programmes. This way you gain practical experience in the use of e.g. Google Adwords, Hubspot, and co. This will give you tangible knowledge that you will need for a job in sports marketing.
Start your own project
Learning by doing may sound worn out, but it is still a true component for gaining qualifications. Especially in IT, e-commerce and online marketing, autodidacts, i.e. people who teach themselves, are widespread, as almost everyone in the modern world has the possible means (read: hardware and software) to try things out for themselves.
Build your own website and test how content and technique affect search engine rankings. In SEO, where the slgorithms of search engines are constantly changing, agencies and experienced SEO managers use this way in practice to develop new methods to improve their clients' rankings.
Create social media channels, develop a strategy and create content. If you create a successful channel or some of your posts go viral, this is a potential reference in your application.
Content creation, be it textual or audiovisual, is not an innate talent, but something you learn and improve with constant practice. The more you write, photograph, film and design, the better you get at it.
Online blogs and guides can help you establish the basic rules you need as a foundation for your expertise - the rest will develop with regular practice.
We also don't want to ignore the role of the company or industry - after all, we are talking about a career specifically in sports. Even if you have acquired enough knowledge to be qualified for a marketing position, it does not mean that it is in the sports industry.
Many companies are looking for staff who are already familiar with the industry. So it is worthwhile if you have worked in a sports company already, no matter in which role. On the one hand, this offers opportunities for promotion within the company or a change of department, as positions are often filled internally, and on the other hand, the experience is also credited positively by other employers from the world of sport and opens doors for you in the sports world.
The great thing about sports marketing is that you can learn a lot of knowledge and experience on your own or take it from other fields. So you don't have to follow one specific path to start your career. Study Sport Marketing and get an insight into all areas. Or if you want to learn your own way, choose a career focus, e.g. event marketing, SEO or social media, and acquire the necessary skills yourself. Many paths lead to the same goal - one of them is sure to suit you!
Remember the days when E-Commerce and Online Marketing used to be mutually exclusive? Nowadays, both departments are often completely entwined in a full-force digital team. Over the last two years, Eastpak, part of VF Corporation, is one of those brands setting their strategy to focus on digital-first. Their employees in Online Marketing and E-Commerce have since been working together closely in a powerful collaboration to realize the common goal of optimizing the Eastpak online shop while also meeting their individual goals. To name just a few, their teams aim for creating a great user experience (UX Designer), representing the brand and telling its story (Content Manager), positioning and selling products (Merchandising). That’s a lot of to dos that need to be balanced. And with the different targets in mind, seem to be an invitation for conflict. Because even though both E-Commerce and Online Marketing aim to sell more products, the way how to do it might differ and even be at odds with each other. So how does this work out for Eastpak?
Christine Goode, E-Commerce Trading Manager, is one of the people juggling the various goals in Eastpak’s digital team. She is responsible for the long term strategy of merchandising on the website and thus, developing the medium by making sure that all products are presented on the website the right way. She plays a key role in connecting the product, market, content and CX in the shop. Making her one of the best people to ask about how to bring a team together, enable good communication, solve conflicts and realizing common and individual goals in a digital team. In this interview, Christine shines some light on how to maintain a good spirit across teams and how to enable each other to produce better work.
Sportyjob: Let’s start by taking a look at the realization of Eastpak’s Online Shop. How do the various roles in your digital team come together when launching new products on the website?
Christine: I’ll explain it with the launch of a special collaboration with a designer. Because for important collab-launches and peak commercial moments, we really come together with all colleagues from cross-departments, like the digital content team and the customer experience team. It’s like a task force approach.
The aim is to make sure we got the right product at the right time in the right place on the website. And it needs to look great, it needs to be appealing for the user. So, we all play a role in realizing that. It will all begin with a combination of product performance knowledge, being up-to-date with market trends and trying to be in line with the marketing strategy. We will brainstorm where everyone can bring in their ideas. Once we are all aligned, we will proceed in covering all points: What are the key points of that product or collaboration? What sort of content are we going to have? What experience do we want the consumer to have? How do we wanna make it fun? How do we wanna make it look amazing? And you know, all of these things. Once we have our plan of what we want to do, the work begins.
Sportyjob: Working so closely together, where does one role start and the other end? For example, where does Merchandising end and the Content Marketing and Storytelling begin? What would you say?
Christine: Ultimately, they all go hand in hand, right? Because we need to. We never just work on our individual part. The common approach is: „How are WE going to do this?”. We play on our individual strengths on what we know from the data, from our insights, skills and experiences. It’s always good to get an external perspective if it’s not your direct area. You know, I contribute my direct insights, for example which country loves which products or colors. And then we build on it the content and the user experience, you know. That’s ultimately our goal.
And we always have fun in the process, that’s the other thing. It’s an enjoyable process. It's not a drag. It's together. So, in the end it’s something that we all feel proud of and no one is saying like - and I have experienced it a lot in the past in other jobs - “Oh but why did they do it like that? Maybe it would have been better if they had done it like this.” We don't have that in the digital team because we work together.
Sportyjob: So basically, the part about there being a conflict between Online Marketing and Merchandising is something you don’t experience at all. From what I’ve gathered, you’re actually getting along great. Why do you believe that is?
Christine: Of course, Marketing will have their goals and objectives. And so does Merchandising. I’m trying to drive performance, I have financial targets, so I need to hit that sitting on my shoulders. But I can't do it without the support of the Content Marketing. That would be really hard. I can plan all the actions and promotions in one, but if we don't have the communication and the content, it's pointless.
I think it comes down to empathy. It comes down to having a conversation about your to-dos, workload, targets. What you’re under pressure with. And my lovely colleague Bryony, the Digital Content Manager here at Eastpak, fortunately is someone who shares the passion for working collaboratively. So, we both discuss our individual to dos and pressures. But instead of taking it all on individually, we are supporting each other. The conflicts get kind of removed, because we’re both very open and honest with each other. We have lots of conversations, we have lots of meetings, we plan together, so we can see immediately what might be a problem because of whatever reason. So we work around it and come up with a solution.
Instead of finger pointing or blaming the other person, it’s important to be united. And if we all just support each other a little bit more, there're fewer conflicts and a better work atmosphere for the whole team.
Sportyjob: So you are definitely working around this. But more in general, would you say the conflict is an outdated prejudice?
Christine: It definitely still exists. I have experienced it in previous workplaces. It's a very different pressure. It’s having different goals, different targets. For my part of the business, it’s always financially driven and VF is financially driven, aimed at driving profitable growth. I have to push, push, and push. Although marketing don’t have financial targets, digital marketing are always supporting in helping to achieve our targets.
Sportyjob: So you really have a good fusion of the different departments. Apart from Content Marketing, you also work closely with the CX team. How do you encourage a better connection with the other teams?
Christine: So, my professional contact points are the CX manager and the UX analyst as much as Digital Content Manager. Depending on what the initiative is, one of them will set up the task force. A small group of people with relevant knowledge and experience to work on things, for example a product page redesign or a new homepage feature. The UX analyst, she is amazing, she’ll come up with great ideas. We have regular follow-ups. Depending on what the initiative is, for example, one department will lead the project. It can be led either by the digital content manager or the UX specialist, or sometimes myself.
Sportyjob: Looking at the recent work conditions due to Covid-19: How have you managed to stay connected on a professional and personal level during the last year, especially with remote work going on?
Christine: Well, of course with the zoom calls like everyone else. We have also organized a lot of fun team moments, like quizzes, for example. So especially in the beginning, we would have a Zoom call with the whole team on Friday afternoons. It’s not work talk. Let’s just hang out for a bit on Zoom and chat.
When we come together for let’s say a Monday afternoon meeting. We call it the “didgeridoo”. I can’t remember where it came from but anyways, that’s the title of our meeting. So it hasn’t got a very corporate name in our agendas. We do cover our points of business like: What do we have coming up? Does everyone have what they need? Are we all OK? Does anyone need support on a project? We get that out of the way and we’ll just hang out a little bit and talk about the weekend or share some funny stories.
And these moments are everything.
When you’re having a really busy, focused day, then it’s really nice to take that moment out and just talk about some silly stuff. And we all have a laugh. You know, my last intern, she started during COVID. So she was in the office like once or twice and we were never really together physically but she was very much part of the team anyways. So it didn't feel like strange or weird. She was totally in.
Sportyjob: That sounds like fun! And apart from the more personal meetings, is there any advice you have to maintain or gain a good team spirit?
Christine: I mean empathy. Again. It's a bit repetitive but EMPATHY. You have to be understanding to each other. Someone might be having a really bad day, but maybe there is a really good reason for why they’re having such a bad day. So again, rather than being like: what’s wrong with her? What’s her problem? It’s more like: Hey guys, I think she’s having a bit of a bad day. Let’s do something fun or nice. We always try to support and uplift each other, not back people down.
Honesty. You can always be honest without being mean.
And positivity. Like I’m a very positive person and so is Bryony, the Digital Content Manager. We’re very positive people and love to give the team members credit. Push them to share, so that they get good visibility with management. We share the glory, we don't take it for ourselves. Because it's so easy and we've all seen it a hundred million times: Something goes well and you will always have someone leading take the glory. We don’t do that.
And it works the other way round. If something goes wrong, we don't just let one person take the hit. We all did it. To keep it moving. If someone is down, we're gonna pick him up.
Playing on the strengths of the team, of course, and letting everyone have a moment to shine.
Wouldn’t it be nice if outdoor brands shared concrete strategies on doing good for the environment? Sharing insights into new technologies of producing materials more eco-friendly? Together, ensuring that carbon emissions decrease a lot faster, and product development becomes more and more sustainable to combat climate change.
It’s a mission already realized across nations, with The Paris Agreement bringing them together for a common cause. So why not integrate shared goals into businesses as well?
Of course, the logical (or economical) answer seems to be that companies won’t share their business advantages. In 2021, it’s more important than ever for brands to behave environmentally-friendly to strengthen their customer relationships, with consumers favoring products which meet their own requirements of sustainability. A shared-value approach that is uniting businesses with sustainable and community-building progress. Having a thorough sustainability strategy set up is creating a competitive advantage - giving that away doesn’t appear to be in line with capitalism. Nevertheless, it might be a great chance to achieve a bigger impact in bettering the world. But is it merely a fantasy?
Who better to ask than the outdoor industry itself - or at least, key players in roles having the power to make change happen. One of these people is Julian Lings, Senior Manager, Brand Sustainability at VF Corporation. He makes it clear that the necessity of partnerships has long since reached the outdoor industry. Be it under one roof at enterprises who are uniting brands for common sustainability goals, or industry wide, with brands coming together for the good cause of bettering the world in the European Outdoor Group. So, what is happening in the world of the outdoor industry? Giving us an insight into the walls of his own work, we asked Julian to shed some light on the change happening in the industry.
Building sustainable businesses across brands in an enterprise
In the last years, we’ve seen companies putting sustainability on the top of their agendas, publishing ambitious goals in reducing their carbon footprints, choosing responsible manufacturers, focusing on recycled and reusable materials, and designing with circularity principles in mind. Of course, so does VF Corporation.
VF is one of the largest apparel retailers in the world, leading the way in cross-brand sustainability strategy in the outdoor industry. In total, they unite 13 brands under one roof, outdoor being one of their main sections with brands like The North Face, Icebreaker, Smartwool and Timberland. Under the motto “We are made for change”, VF is looking for a way to improve people’s lives and make the world better, with the necessary power and influence only a company of this size and (wo)manpower can have. Uniting brands and respectively their consumers for the same goals, creating shared values. Their shared sustainable practice makes it possible that those brands enable each other while staying true to their own identity, reach bigger successes in acting sustainable - or with purpose - together instead of alone - and at the same time, generate a better revenue.
In 2017, they decided to transform from linear to circular production. Realizing this for 13 brands simultaneously, that's a change happening on a grand scale.
To ensure that their goals are met according to their plan, VF is acting on two levels: Brand and Global. Each respective brand sustainability teams take care of improving the environmental impact for its brand, focusing directly on the aspects that concern each specific brand. The global sustainability team supports each brand team and keeps track of the overall process across all brands and corporate-wide. A must if change is supposed to happen: “The goal of shaping a sustainable future for people and the planet is going to require radical changes, from government policy, private and public finance, to the way that we do business every day. For business, those changes won’t happen by individual functions acting in isolation. The systemic changes that are needed will require a business wide response that brings together the skills and expertise of all functions to shape the sustainable future that we must strive to create.” (Julian Lings)
When actual change happens: Reducing the carbon footprint
A concrete example of what they have achieved in the last years is their collaborative effort of reducing the carbon footprint. According to Julian, “60-80% of our carbon emissions are produced in material processing and product manufacturing. How material is made into products. Consequently, one of our main goals is shifting to materials with a low carbon impact. For The North Face, it is polyester and nylon, where we prioritize recycled materials. For Smartwool, it is about transitioning to recycled or regenerative wool. Each brand has its unique targets.“
One of the most important materials to focus on for most brands is cotton. Around 50% of all textiles world-wide are made from its fiber. Unfortunately, conventional cotton farming processes are a significant contributor to biodiversity loss, soil erosion, and carbon emissions. With 1.5 million units of apparel and footwear produced by VF’s brands, this is one of the biggest chances to deliver results by collaborating to meet their targets until 2030. That's why they are changing their course from conventional farm methods to innovative ones.
„Soil acts as a vital carbon sink by sequestering carbon into the ground. Normally, conventional farming and agriculture is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. However, regenerative farming solutions allow us to turn it around by enhancing soil carbon sequestration, for example, by no-till farming technique, or enriching the soil with compost.“, says Julian.
A development of new cultivation, especially with exchanging synthetic fertilizers with organic compost, results not only in better soil health and biodiversity, but also offers the tantalizing prospect of having a net carbon positive impact. Obviously, this isn’t done by VF alone, but in cooperation with responsible manufacturers and companies that focus on developing innovative ways to act more sustainably.
When companies come together, change happens
Or how the popular saying goes: "Alone we are a drop, together we are an ocean".
What we can learn from the example above is that the moment that brands are focusing on partnerships outside of their own walls is where the collaborative effect is becoming clearer.
„Using our scale for good is intrinsically linked to a recognition that despite our size, only by working in partnership with others can we truly leverage our scale to address the biggest challenges the world faces. Breaking new ground on sustainable innovations such as regenerative agriculture can only be done by cultivating partnerships with NGOs, companies, and external experts.“ (Julian Lings)
A great example would be the development of The North Face Cali Wool Beanie project. This project was the brand’s first foray into regenerative agriculture and was only made possible through their partnership with Fibershed – a non-profit that develops regional and regenerative fiber systems on behalf of independent working producers. The growing and sewing took place regionally in California, bringing it back to their North American home. As a so-called “bioregional garment Project", regional fibers are integrated into the existing global textile supply chains, which are normally dominated by foreign manufacturers.
The partnerships from brands with NGOs allow for embodying an all-encompassing approach of environmental values and social responsibility. Adding an important step to the ladder of product design & manufacturing, which starts way before recycling and reducing, or creating awareness for environmental products. It’s a necessity to truly turn the outdoor industry around, not only on the outside, but inside its core.
From competition to collaboration - for a sustainable future across brands in the outdoor industry
Now that we have seen what is possible for one company and its partners alone, the question is: Will there ever come a day where competitive outdoor brands act together to make a change? A question that we want to direct to Julian: "Definitely. Collaboration between brands has been well-established in the outdoor sector for many years. We’ve been collaborating on a range of subjects, and the output of that work has been very important on specific topics. For example, the outdoor brands in Europe came together on the issue of microfibres, and helped to establish The Microfibre Consortium which has since become one of the leading organizations on textile microfibres. Similarly, these same brands have come together more recently to establish the Single Use Plastics Project to accelerate the work being done to address this critically important challenge."
The collaborative approach cross-industry and on a global level of The Microfibre Consortium and Single Use Plastics Project accelerated the progress of research and development, which couldn’t be done on this scale as stand-alone companies. A positive outlook for a near future where sustainability becomes at least as important as creating revenue. It’s a way of changing the industry as a whole, with VF being a strong pioneer pointing in the right direction.
Content Marketing has reached a new peak in significance. It has become more than a marketing tool to distribute product information in a clever way but has developed itself to be the heart of a company. With digital transformation evolving, content can now reach people wherever they are, in all forms possible.
In their process of becoming a digital-first brand, Eastpak, a brand part of VF Corporation, has managed the integration of a well-executed content marketing strategy in which storytelling has become one of the most important assets. Their memorable campaigns don’t focus on product selling alone but tell stories out of the bag by starting conversations about Pride, Diversity, and Inclusion.
One of the people coming up with new ideas and making sure everything is communicated well is Bryony Collingwood, Digital Content Manager at Eastpak. In her role, she is managing all digital content on all digital platforms together with a small, but great internal team of creators. In this interview, she shared with us her insight into the content side of the digital development at Eastpak and her own passion for purpose-led storytelling.
Being in charge of all digital content and its strategy, you are the person combining content marketing and digital transformation at Eastpak. How do those two come together?
When we changed our structure and focus as a business to one that is digital first, that’s when everything started to align.
This isn’t just a case of resizing and refitting, but actually tailoring content to what is right for each platform. You have to think about each campaign differently, taking into consideration the consumer and how they consume content on each platform. When we are launching a new collaboration, what kind of content should we create, what story do we need to tell and where do we need to tell it? It’s about building that bridge between our Digital team and our Brand team so we’re working in partnership with each other.
What tools do you need to ensure strong storytelling across digital?
The biggest challenge we have within digital is juggling all the different needs, communication points, and requirements, especially when everything is always changing. We need to support eCommerce with an ad-hoc promotion required in just a few days' time while planning our next seasonal campaign with our brand team for the year ahead. We can’t do this without strong communication between teams and clear briefing processes to make sure that nothing is missed – we’re always busy, that’s for sure!
So all in all you’re developing a very agile working flow!
Yeah, and not only from a technical perspective. I think that the people who work in digital are those who are most reactive to change, who like to come up with new ideas and try new technology. We‘ve always got something new going on. And digital transformation supports this fast-paced environment – the need to create and adapt at speed. We benefited from this strong set-up as soon as we went into Lockdown and our needs and requirements changed with the consumer. We were able to put together campaigns within weeks in collaboration with other teams, taking into account consumer insights so we could communicate in the right way and at the right time.
You mentioned before that you like telling stories of people. Maybe there’s one particular story that you told across the different channels, where you can give us an example of how exactly digital content is told.
We supported Pride this year by telling the inspiring story of female boxer Nicola Adams and her fight for equality. We truly believed in the value of her story and when editing the video, decided we should test keeping it at the full seven minutes – shortening it just didn’t seem to do it justice.
Amazingly, the data showed us that not only were people watching and enjoying it but they were also watching the full video. This shows the power of a strong story even in this age of distraction and poor attention spans. We filmed dedicated shorter content for Instagram Stories and were able to edit shorter sections from the full video as well for other channels. We then used quotes from the video and combined them with images taken during the video shoot to create animated banners – trying to get the most out of the one shoot and the time we had with Nicola but tailoring it for the different platforms.
This is part of VF Corporation's „Perfomance Driven“ strategic filter. What’s the importance for you personally?
For me, it’s about bringing my own personal passions into the work that I do at Eastpak. And that’s actually what I mean when I talk about the power of storytelling. It’s not just about highlighting products, but telling stories or letting people tell their stories that inspire our consumers and fit with our brand mindset of positive resistance. It’s also about working with creatives to tell their stories in their own way – through photography, illustration, dance videos etc. That’s the other great thing about digital, the way people share their stories is constantly changing and evolving. It keeps us on our toes!
Keeping it natural, especially when it’s done in a context of a campaign that clearly also has the goal to create revenue, and also with the recent events going on, seems to be hard to do. How is your approach to make it natural?
I don’t think it should be hard. You always have to educate yourself. To learn to use the right language, to not patronise people. To meet them at eye-level. So I would say you need to always inform yourselves on the topics that matter to you and to your consumers.
In your LinkedIn profile, you state that you are „passionate about people and awareness of Mental Health“. How does your own personal schedule of telling a story concerning these topics fit into the schedule of Eastpak?
I believe all managers should have an awareness of mental health and take the time to ask their teams how they are, to understand how they react to stress and how they can support them. It’s about having an open and honest dialogue. Inclusion and diversity are also important to me and I don’t believe you can create honest brand storytelling without ensuring you are telling everyone’s story, especially those that aren’t being told.
I don’t believe you can create honest brand storytelling without ensuring you are telling everyone’s story, especially those that aren’t being told.
Bryony Collingwood - Digital Content Manager at Eastpak
‘Built to Resist’ is carried through in the culture at Eastpak. Our values of Empowerment, Freedom, Creativity, Collaboration, and Positive Resistance colour everything that we do and who we are as a team.
Eastpak is a subsidiary of VF, the world’s largest apparel and footwear company comprised of over 30 brands.
Digital Transformation can be found on almost every company’s agenda that wants to stay relevant with technology advancing further and further each year. Transforming doesn’t only require new technologies, updated and innovative business strategies, but an overall change of a company’s mindset and culture. Successful digital transformation relies on a top-down approach with backing from above and collaboration of all departments.
One company showing how it’s done is Eastpak, a brand of VF Corporation. The international bag & fashion company set their strategy to be a digital-first brand at the beginning of 2019 to keep up with their customer’s expectations and has been following through ever since.
One of the people responsible for making this work is their Digital Marketing Director Chris Delahunty who we had the pleasure to interview. We asked him about the details of Eastpak’s progress, the highlights, and the challenges of the digital transformation. While he gave us a detailed insight, he has also shown how it’s not only a chance to grow your business but to actually become worthwhile as a brand.
Chris, you’ve been at Eastpak for 5 years now. How has your career evolved?
I started in Digital 20 years ago. I got into digital marketing and kind of build a career around wanting to try new things, be innovative, and learn what’s going on in a market that was at that time very new. I set up my own creative agency which was working with big UK-based companies around how to take physical retail and make it work in the digital world and how to make the digital world work in physical. These two worlds were always very separate and I helped to bring them together. A lot of companies are still struggling there.
Then I moved to Eastpak five years ago and the reason I was brought in is, because VF as a Corporation and Eastpak in particular, were looking at how to do digital. Eastpak has launched E-Commerce in, I think, 2010, so it’s relatively new. And they had no internal digital marketing skills. I came in to look at how do we produce content, how do we advertise online, how do we attract consumers in this world. And we’ve done that pretty successfully.
So I came in as Marketing Manager, got promoted to Senior Marketing Manager, and now am Digital Marketing Director. My job is gone from just doing eastpak.com to looking after amazon, zalando, looking at new territories. It has become this big all-encompassing global role around how digital works and how to grow the business.
That’s quite a successful evolution in 5 years.
Yeah, yeah, I think so! The thing is: Although I’ve worked in the industry for that long, it’s still very exciting! And there are still so many exciting and new things that we can do. It never feels like we’ve run out of ideas, out of things that we want to investigate, or new things to try. There are always new interesting people to meet as well. So I really enjoy working in this area, it’s great.
At the beginning of 2019, Eastpak decided to become a digital-first brand. Why was this decision made?
There are a few reasons. VF Corporation is looking at how do we get closer to our consumers. And how do we become more effective as a business? What we as a company have seen in the past few years is that our consumers use more and more digital media, whether this is social media, whether it’s streaming videos, whether it’s research online for advice. Even if they’re in the store, they will use their phone. So it makes sense to go where the consumer is if you want to grow the business.
In 2018, we did a review of the business and looked at how do we make the most of this untapped potential. And decided that rather than to make small steps, we should make this big, bold transformation. And say we’re going to put a jetpack on this business by making it digital. And that requires a fundamental change in the way you’re thinking. You don’t build a business anymore by just putting posters outside and hope that people see them. There’s a lot more that we can do around digital marketing, advertising, and sales.
Is there a specific expert team taking care of the digital transformation at Eastpak?
The way we approach digital transformation is that digital needs to be in every area of the business. We as a digital team specialise in our area, but work with the more traditional areas as well as to help them understand what influence digital has in their world. So if your work is wholesale or sales what does digital help you with, what are the tools you need, what are your consumers doing, and actually what’s happening in the digital world that you can then use to influence your customers. It’s everyone's responsibility to make sure digital transformation happens.
So, each department has its own projects and tasks regarding their digital transformation and are working together.
Yeah exactly. Normally, if something involves digital, we get involved, because we have the expertise. But that doesn’t mean things don’t happen if we say they shouldn’t happen.
The different departments use digital, our product team investigates new digital techniques for designing, they use digital technologies to research the market, our brand marketing team will get involved with digital as well. Everyone is involved in their own way.
Which part of the digital transformation strategy of Eastpak has impressed you the most?
Bringing together the departments into one big digital department. That was a total mindset change for people! There were three teams in very different areas and they all came together into one area under one leader.
What happened is we came together and said: we now have a collective aim which is to drive this business forward using digital.
Because of that, we have been able to look at how does our business work, how are we able to grow, and what are new options to make this work. That change of mindset and that we have the backing of management to do it - this was the most impressive part.
That’s quite a positive example of how digital transformation should be processed in a company. But surely you also had to face some challenges?
There are always challenges. But my mindset is that you can sit there and complain that you don’t have it or you can go and do the best job that you can. I tend to look on the positive side. Anything where you’re missing something, take it as a challenge and don’t waste that challenge.
Could you elaborate on what projects, especially in regards to digital-first, you’ve been working on in the last year?
Yeah, the transformation is just one half of what VF is doing. One of the big campaigns we did last year was about Pride in June. It was a purpose-led message, it was content that started in digital, that went live in digital. And it wasn’t „please come and buy this product“. It was ten stories of people in the LGBTQ+ community. Letting them tell their story. We used to expand this to advertising as well, to create a story that people would see and share and engage with online. So, I think the reason why I bring this up is a digital-first execution that allowed us to build and drive the brand online. We will do something similar this year.
We don’t only want to do business, but something that’s worthwhile as well. About one and a half years ago to now, VF has become a purpose-led business. It’s not only about driving revenue, but also about powering movements to have a positive impact on people and communities as well as on the planet where we all live. Sustainability is a very big thing for us. Also, we are committed to creating an inclusive and diverse work environment for our people. That is the kind of project that says more about us as a brand than a product can.
If you talk about purpose-led projects like that, is there really a priority in doing good while neglecting the return of investment?
At Eastpak, we measure effectiveness differently. What we do is, we don’t look at each campaign and the ROI of each campaign. We look at how we as a business are doing in total. Of course, this doesn’t only rely on purpose, but performance and purpose. Our main goal is that the business grows. And the business grows by being effective in channels where you strive for revenue, it grows by making sure that the consumer can find you, it grows by good brand awareness, and by being a brand that people want to be associated with. Within digital, we have to do all of these tasks which is a lot, but it’s also exciting. We’re doing well as a business, so I guess we’re doing something right.
Coming to the end. Since we are a career platform, we are finishing off with some advice for possible candidates. What would your advice be for someone who wants to start a career in digital or switch their career to digital?
For people switching their career: One bit of advice I give to people - which is horrible for you as a job board - is sometimes it’s best to stay where you are. Because sometimes people think they have to switch jobs every 18 months to two years to stay fresh. Actually, there’s somewhat to be said about staying a bit longer, because it enhances your skills. So when you do jump, you’ll jump to a better job than where you would have jumped to after 18 months. Sometimes it’s good to stay where you are.
In terms of starting that role. Everyone can do digital marketing. Most CVs kind of look the same when you get them. So what I look for is something that makes a candidate stand out. Whether it’s something interesting they do outside of work. Or their cover letter is just crazy. Personality attracts me. It does come down to the personality of a person quite a lot more than the skills. Because you can teach skills. Especially in marketing.
I will give you an example. We were looking for a copywriter a couple of months ago. We had a lot of experienced copywriters come to us with a full portfolio and they had experience up to 10 years. And we hired someone who had no experience as a copywriter and had no university degree as well which all jobs ask for. The reason we hired her was that we found articles that she created online and they were really good. And her attitude is really good. And she’s really nice. So we thought: We will hire you because you fit the brand.
I think it is an important point to research the brand before you apply for the role and understand what their culture is. Because then it is more likely you will get an interview. Then when people do interview you, you are more likely to be accepted into the role.
I still think that digital people tend to be more forgiving than people in traditional roles. We are quite relaxed around professionalism. That’s a horrible way of putting it. We like people to be professional, but at the same time, we want there to be something else as well. We want them to make our jobs fun and interesting. So that’s the advice that I would give to people trying to get into digital. It’s be bold in what you’re trying to do.
Eastpak tagline ‘Built to Resist’ is carried through in the culture at Eastpak. Our values of Empowerment, Freedom, Creativity, Collaboration, and Positive Resistance colour everything that we do and who we are as a team.
Eastpak is a subsidiary of VF, the world’s largest apparel and footwear company comprised of over 30 brands.
We asked David Mateo, Product Designer and Stylist at David Mateo Design how he made the switch from employed to self-employed. While we mostly thought about getting an insight into his daily life as entrepreneur, this interview turned out to be an inspirational guide for aspiring Design Entrepreneurs. So:
This interview is for (Product) Designers who think about starting their own brand. It's an insight into the advantages of designing for more than one brand, it's a motivational piece on becoming self-employed when you have gained enough experience. It's also a chance to get to know more about the creative man David Mateo.
Your Job / Company Name:
Product Designer & Stylist at SARL DAVID MATEO DESIGN
Your Field of Profession:
Product Design for bags, shoes and eyewear.
Your Company (Idea) in 2-3 Sentences:
To be recognised as an expert in bags, shoes and accessories design and development. A long experience and a lot of projects in the same domain makes the difference. To make the smartest design and the most beautiful product. To understand the DNA of each brand and bring the appropriate design, at the right moment. To push the creativity out of the boundaries to innovate. To work as a team with the customers on all steps of the project!
Careerwise, what have you been doing before you got self-employed?
I started in the car industry as I love cars and transport design. As a surfer, I moved to the surf industry in 2001 to design bags, accessories, footwear and eyewear for 6 years at Ripcurl, 2 years at O'Neill and 5 years at Oxbow. These jobs left me with a lot of experience!
Before you started David Mateo Design SARL, you’ve been working as an employed Product Designer for more than 20 years. How did you move from employee to Entrepreneur?
I worked as a Product Designer for 17 years before I started my own business. Indeed, I didn't go from employee to entrepreneur straight away because I wanted to check if it was doable. I did one super freelance project in the same time: MUB was born. And then, Pataugas, a famous french shoe brand, were seeking for a freelance designer to create a bag collection. I made it! I was employed at Oxbow at the same time and I went to the far east to visit luxury bag factories during my holiday! Then, another project came and I left Oxbow.
When I had enough experience and an extended network to start, I started my own business. I wanted to work on different domains with different people.
How would you say did the freelance projects prepare for starting your own business?
I would always recommend to proceed so. It permits to test if it's works, if you can make enough money, get several customers while having the security of employment. But I would not recommend to do both for a long time; I remember I worked day and night at this time.
What advantages and disadvantages does entrepreneurship have for you in comparison to being employed?
The main advantage is the freedom to balance private and professional life the way we want. I can go surfing in the morning and work after diner instead. I have time to pick up my kids at school. The other advantage is the opportunity to work on different domains, projects and people, making my work quite varied.
The main disadvantage is the fact you never really know in advance how much turn over you can make at the end of the year. The advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages though :-)
Would you say it's advantageous becoming an entrepreneur 40+ than in your twenties?
For me, in my domain, in product design, it's crucial to gain experience first by being employed in different companies for a couple of years before you can start your own brand. Only through this you'll be able to learn from others and create a relevant network.
For many, the fear of failure is the reason not to start their own business. What would you say to someone to convince them to go through with it anyway?
The fear of failure is normal but I would say it's better to regret things we've done than things we haven't. Every success comes with a risk. It's worth the try!
What’s the biggest reward(s) of having your own business?
To work on super cool projects! As the designer of Ashoka Paris, I recently created a handbag collection for Pamela Anderson in collaboration with Ashoka. I worked with her for 16 months and it was an awesome experience!
The North Face is the largest outdoor brand in the world, not only in regards to their gear and products, but especially in terms of a strong identity. They are not plainly selling products, but have managed to create a voice that communicates their values of Authenticity, Empowerment, Perseverance and Environmental Responsibility. The North Face has been creating a brand experience which is involving their customers directly and invites them to live their slogan "Never stop exploring" instead of just reading or hearing about it.
One of the people making this possible is Marco Mombelli who is the Brand Experience Manager of The North Face. In his role, he develops and manages the brand experience strategy, especially by optimising their physical touchpoints to create a community and enable them to go outdoors. Furthermore, Marco is a great interlocutor and thus, has been up to an extended interview about his role and the very big topics of brand experience and brand purpose.
In this interview, we got insights into:
how The North Face's brand experience inspires, connects and enables their customers to explore and protect the Outdoors
why every lifestyle & outdoor brand essentially has to develop a strong identity and voice
how purpose affects VF Corporation and its brand The North Face and why to strive for doing good and doing well
As we talked to Marco back in the beginning of May 2020, we also took the opportunity to address the Covid-19 crisis and how The North Face managed to still enable people to explore in times of a lockdown.
When looking at your career, you’ve been working in the sports business since 2002 for different brands before you became part of The North Face in 2015. What has drawn you to work at TNF?
MM: I actually started working at VF in 2008 and recently celebrated my 12th anniversary which is amazing. How did I end up working at The North Face? Wow, where do I start? I mean, everything in my life has led me to my current role. My family used to run a small business selling building materials, and after studying accounting in high school I felt it was my destiny to do something entrepreneurial. But I realized I had more to learn so, I decided to continue my education and go to university, where I studied Communication and Public Relations.
I started working in 2002 for Red Bull as a Student Brand Manager and after a year I was promoted to Assistant Brand Manager. At the time, I was still studying and I was in a punk rock band that was becoming popular - we had a video on TV and a second album due, which obviously took up a lot of my energy! I knew I was taking on too much, but I knew if I quit school, my parents would kill me! So, it was a decision between Brand Management and Rock’n’Roll. I decided Brand Management could wait – and I chose school and rock’n’roll
MM: I kept studying and kept working hard with the band. Being part of a band was a great experience, but I soon realized that Rockstardom wasn’t for me, so I got back on track. I found a great job at Connexia, one of the biggest PR companies in Milan. After a few years there I was contacted by the Country Manager of Vans Italy and I started to work for Vans in 2008. I was the Marketing Manager in charge of pretty much everything - from athletes to PR to events.
I was based in Milan for the role and although I loved the city experience I missed the mountains, the lake and my family.
I was eager to move to the VF EMEA HQ in Stabio, Switzerland which was closer to the mountains and closer to my hometown. Unfortunately, there were no positions at Vans, but there was a good opportunity at the Reef brand instead. At the time, my manager said, “It’s a small brand, but it could be a good platform for you to have a more European role”. Not a big team to manage, but I was in charge of the whole brand at the European level, which again was a great learning experience for me. After some time with Reef I realised I wanted to join a bigger brand, with more structure and when an opportunity to join The North Face came along I took it.
The role was maternity cover, stepping in as Wholesale Marketing Manager in charge of Spain, Italy, the Nordics and the Netherlands. It felt very natural. Even though my previous experience was with action sports brands, I have a real love for the mountains and have snowboarded since 1991. I felt an immediate connection to the TNF culture and people and I knew it was the right step.
And how did you end up becoming The North Face’s Brand Experience Manager?
MM: Once the maternity cover position ended, I swapped roles again, moving to the Retail Team and working on retail transformation - shaping the way for stores to move from shopping spaces to brand experience platforms and finding new ways to interact with and to engage consumers.
Your responsibility is optimizing the brand’s physical touchpoints. How do you actually improve the experience at a retail level?
MM: I was challenged to create the first TNF Community Program in 2016. We created the first one in London, using our physical stores as a Hub for the Community to meet up before going outside to explore, to meet for workshops and to listen to talks from our athletes.
We now have 9 Communities across Europe and we engage with more than 20,000 Community Members on a yearly basis. The Community Groups take up most of my focus and I’m very proud of this. You really get the chance to have a positive impact on people’s lives. On a weekly basis, we offer sessions with personal trainers specializing in outdoor activities who lead either outdoor workouts or activities such as indoor climbing. After London, we developed Communities in Munich, Berlin, Paris, Milan, Stockholm, Chamonix, Manchester, Bolzano – focusing on key cities and awesome outdoor destinations.
So, you’re saying that a shop is not a shop, but a place for a community to meet. Where they can exchange their minds, their opinion, just watch a movie together, connect.
MM: Yes! I could tell you a thousand stories of people making new friends through our Community Program! In our Community Groups, you are sure to find likeminded people with whom you share the same passion for the Outdoors.
In the end, we are successful because of the passion of our Community Managers and Community Members. If you talk to someone who is a snowboard enthusiast, a skateboarder or an Outdoor person in general, they love (and will talk forever) about their passion, whether its hiking, climbing, skateboarding or snowboarding. This passion is behind every product we sell. Behind every jacket and backpack and shoe. It’s a culture, you know. It’s something that brings people together.
In you could put it as simply as possible, what does the term ‘brand experience’ mean?
MM: Our team of Community Managers and I take our inspiring campaigns and stories and bring them to life by providing a platform for people to participate. Without this approach, our consumers would be spectators, looking at pages in a magazine or films online. We want to enable people to actually experience our brand stories, The North Face brand, and in turn become a part of it. I believe this is truly important.
And how does this affect the role of the customer and the brand?
MM: Brand experience is about enabling. In the early 2000s and in the late 90s, brands focused on inspiring consumers. You showed them an advert, they got excited and eventually they went and bought something. My generation, I’m from 77, were educated to be spectators. You watch a movie, and the actor is the star, right? The young people of today are different – they want to be the protagonist - the hero of their own story. They don’t want to only be inspired. They want to be enabled. I like that!
So how can we do that? How can I do that? I think the role of a brand is becoming more and more about enabling people to experience something. Especially, with an audience like today’s generation that have such a wide choice of options.
How are you solving experiential marketing during the current COVID-19 crisis?
MM: Of course, in this moment, being in charge of events is not ideal in any industry! But we’re focusing on how we can make training accessible for as many people as possible, as responsibly and safely as possible.
You have to be flexible and agile in these situations, so we moved our physical touchpoints to a digital channel where people who were locked down could have an opportunity to work out with our trainers. We are using our athletes, influencers and members to help keep our community engaged and inspired. Because as you know, in this situation, staying fit and staying connected is very beneficial. We are using technology to motivate them to be prepared for their next adventure, as soon as we can all start exploring again.
In your opinion, how does Covid-19 affect the outdoor industry in general?
MM: Right now in Italy, we are in phase two*, where people are allowed to do sports outside the home. So I think for us, for the outdoor industry, it presents a good opportunity. Pre-Covid-19, a lot of people used to go to the gym for fitness. Now, in my opinion, the trails are the preferable place to train, to re-energize, to experience nature, and all the while maintaining social distance.
At the moment, we want to support people, driven by our purpose of powering movements and active lifestyles. So how can we enable people to escape the city by themselves? We have the platform and the knowledge. My goal is really to use the network that we have to inspire and enable people to leave the city.
*Note from Editor: The interview was held at the beginning of May when Italy had just entered phase 2 of the corona lockdown restrictions.
The North Face is also communicating „We will weather this storm together“ through your online channels right now. What’s behind this?
MM: This is part of our Explore Fund campaign. We’ve launched a ‘first of its kind’ fund, with 1million euros available to charities and organisations in the UK, Germany, Italy and France to ensure they are able to support exploration when it’s possible again.
Do you think that the desire to explore and to go outside does help to create an environmental consciousness in society?
MM: Yes. I see that, in general, the current generation is more environmentally conscious, compared with past generations. The younger generation values sustainability. They value having the least negative impact on the planet as possible.
What is important to highlight here is that although I believe everyone has the desire to explore, not everyone has easy access or exposure to the Outdoors – especially people living in big cities. I think it’s important that we make the effort to show people what the Outdoors has to offer and to enjoy the Outdoors responsibly.
For example, what we do quite successfully in our community in Stockholm, is plogging. It’s a combination of jogging and picking up trash. Maja Tesch, who is one of our Community Managers there, is a leader in the plogging movement in Sweden. I see this as an important trend. It’s an activity that matches physical performance and doing your part.
The result is impressive after one day of plogging / trail running with garbage collecting by The North Face Trail Academy
If we talk about sustainability, we should also take a look at purpose since brand management strategies in the 21st century often revolve around those two topics. What does brand purpose actually imply?
MM: That’s a very good question. One of the things that excites me the most about purpose is the chance of doing good and doing well - at VF we call it the power of „AND“. As a Purpose Led company, our focus is running a healthy business with a return for its investors, and at the same time, working for the betterment of people and planet, having a positive impact on our society. With a company on the scale of VF, with thousands of employees and touch points all around the globe, we can really enable people to do better.
Nowadays, being a brand is more than a logo on a T-Shirt. Being a brand is a representation of a culture with rituals and with values. It is about having a strong identity. When you walk around with a The North Face T-Shirt, you are communicating what kind of person you are. If you take a look at VF’s brands, at Vans, The North Face, Timberland, you’ll immediately understand the lifestyle associated with them.
I don’t want to imply that brand management is becoming more and more important to guide society. But for sure, it’s one important factor. Brands have quite some influence, but also a lot of responsibility. We better find the right spot in between doing good and doing well.
How do you define The North Face’s brand purpose?
MM: Our brand ID is: „We dare to lead the world forward through exploration“. So, when you see our logo, you will immediately think of exploration. It’s not limited to physical and outdoor activities, but actually includes a state of mind.
For me, exploration is the sum of curiosity and courage. Curious people daring to ask „Hey, what’s next?“. Explorers strike out in new directions, with curiosity, but also courage, pushing them further. Exploration has always been essential for human progress.
So, to simplify you could say that The North Face’s purpose is to completely embody exploration. We want to improve the world around us and find new ways to do so. But again, you need curiosity and courage to get to know what’s behind what we know already. It means embracing the culture of failure. How many times do you need to fail before you succeed?
Why do you think purpose is becoming such a big topic today among so many brands?
MM: Take a look at the relevance of sustainability. Today, brands need to be sustainable or else you’re out of the market. Being purpose-led is probably the next determining factor. You need to have a voice, an identity. You need to generate disruptive change. I think the consumer is asking for that from a brand.
What role do you feel brand experience and purpose play in the internal culture of the North Face?
MM: We have five internal guiding principles. I have listed them below and explained what they mean to me personally and in my role. The guiding principles are not part of a marketing campaign, but rather part of our brand purpose. Whether you work in Finance, in Customer Service, in Sales, the principles are same for everyone.
The internal guiding principles of The North Face:
Love wild places. Of course, we have to explore and protect our playground. If there’s no outdoor, there’s no outdoor industry.
Spark curiosity. It’s important to be curious. It’s an attitude, a state of mind, which is instrumental for exploration.
Dare to disrupt. The North Face has always been bold. You can’t be a brand that pleases everyone. If you want to be authentic and true to yourself, you sometimes need to be disruptive. People sometimes need to be shocked about what you do.
Create Community. And this is particularly meaningful for me. The power of being together. In this time of social media, especially in big cities, people don’t talk to each other as much anymore – especially new people. Instead we spy on each other through a screen. Through the TNF Communities, we have the chance to connect likeminded people on a regular basis, to actually spend time with them and to make new friends, to go outside, socialize and just connect. That’s something strong. That’s what I am really proud of. It actually gives me goose bumps to talk about it.
Integrity. Very important. It’s self explanatory.
Should employees or candidates thinking about applying at The North Face have an affinity for outdoor sports, for purpose, sustainability?
MM: To be honest, I think that if you work for a lifestyle or outdoor brand you should have passion for what the brand does and represents. In my opinion, only then, will you be able to fully contribute. If you’re not passionate about the outdoors, action sports, or whatever each brand embodies or represents, it’s not going to work. Either way it is a cool job, you work for VF, it’s a great company, it treats you well. But if it’s just a job for you, you can work for any other company, for example a bank. I mean, maybe you have a passion for banking and that’s the way to go. But if you want to work for the leading outdoor brand, you need to have passion for the Outdoors.
The North Face® is part of VF Corporation one of the world’s largest apparel, footwear and accessories companies connecting people to the lifestyles, activities and experiences they cherish most through a family of iconic outdoor, active and workwear brands including Vans®, Timberland® Eastpak®, Kipling® and Dickies®.
Our purpose is to power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet. We connect this purpose with a relentless drive to succeed to create value for all stakeholders and use our company as a force for good. For more information, please visit vfc.com.
Careerwise, what have you been doing before you got self-employed?
I was a business unit manager in the Quiksilver group.
What was your motivation to found your own business?
I could not see my product vision anywhere in the watch business as this kind of product range had not been fulfilled yet, especially not in the way that I was thinking, so I wanted to bring it alive. Also, I was frustrated by the lack of vision and missing reward and recognition with my ex-employer. Having this outlook, I was thinking that my passion and vision should be used for myself instead of someone else who does not care enough at the end of the day.
How did you move from an idea to a business success?
Well, let' say 10 years, minimum. With baby steps including lots of meetings, little successes, big failures, and a huge amount of work and positivity.
What, in your opinion, makes a successful entrepreneur?
Someone who listens a lot and knows his own weaknesses. Someone who moves fast and stays focussed on his primary vision.
How do you think is it different to start an entrepreneurship 40+ than in your twenties?
Well, family and kids increase the pressure to succeed. But 40+ is probably the best moment to start your own business as you combine experience and network. And you are still full of energy to conquer the world!
For a lot of people, the fear of failure is the reason not to start their own business. What would you say to someone to convince them to go through with it anyway? Which impact did fear have on you?
I never really had any fear to fail. Leaving your comfort zone is the best thing you can do as far as your personal evolution is concerned. You learn so much and stay so much younger in your heart, body and mind at the same time.
Saint Augustine said something similar. It goes somehow like "The fear to loose what you have should not prevent you from becoming who you are."
How is your daily life as an entrepreneur?
Coffee at 7:30 in Paris to talk to people, handle some work before the team arrives at 9:30, and then managing my team and meetings all day long with a lot of shops to stay close to the market.
What’s the biggest reward(s) of having your own business?
That's easy! When people are sending me messages saying how happy and proud they are to wear my watches! After 10 years, it is still a very intense feeling. Those words give meaning to the whole adventure.
Hanane Sabri, Marketing Director of Kipling, part of VF Corporation, in Hong Kong, has been working in the sports & fashion business for more than 20 years. While this is impressive on its own, it is even more so considering Hanane’s background: Before starting her business career, she used to be a French athlete who participated in national & international competitions. She was crowned as champion of France in the 1,500 meters in 2001 in Saint-Etienne and competed in the 2001 World Championships in Athletics in Edmonton. At the same time of her athlete’s peak, she started her career in the sporting goods industry, making her a great example of mastering a smooth transition from sports to business.
And there’s still more to her story. Hanane has reached the highest level in a sport practiced in shorts as a Muslim woman and today, has achieved a top management position in a men’s dominated industry while being a mother of two. She’s challenged the assumptions about female roles in sports and economy and proved that, indeed, women can have it all.
So, what can we learn from her success about progress, resilience and purpose? Tracing her career as an athlete, marketing professional and mother, Hanane Sabri shares with us an insight into her own history, her values and a lesson on hard work.
SJ: You started your professional career at the same time as your athletic career and continued with both for almost 8 years. How did you manage to bring the two together?
HS: I come from a family of workers, so hard work was a primary aspect of my education. My parents were forced to work in very diﬃcult conditions in the North of France to support our family. So, they gave everything at work, never complaining when they returned home. From an early age, I understood that to be successful you had to work hard and be persistent to achieve your goals. My athletic career has also taught me that. I have not been champion of France in the 1,500 meters by snapping my ﬁngers and no other athlete either, not even the talented Usain Bolt!
It’s simple: to succeed in your professional career you have to work hard, to succeed as a mother you have to work hard, to succeed as an athlete you have to work hard, to succeed in your life in a relationship, you have to work hard and so on! For everything in life, you always have to give your best and above all be attentive to others, but also to your body, to achieve performance.
"I understood that to be successful you had to work hard and be persistent to achieve your goals. I have not been champion of France in the 1,500 meters by snapping my fingers and no other athlete either, not even the talented Usain Bolt!"
SJ: Are you proud to have started your professional career like this?
HS: Of course! It was an intense period, just like my whole life. In fact, I don’t really know how to stop because I’m a chronic hyperactive [laughs]. In addition, Adidas was a very good school for my early career. I had a CEO, Antoine Sathicq, who was a very inspiring manager and who managed us perfectly. I was able to learn a lot in finance, project management and marketing through my various positions at Adidas.
SJ: You are currently Marketing Director at Kipling. Has your athletic background helped you get here?
HS: Totally! My life as an athlete has allowed me to understand three things: The first is that you have to work hard to achieve your goals.
The second is resilience. The ability to keep moving forward despite obstacles, energy shortages, etc.
The last one is empathy, listening and connecting with others. You never succeed alone.
Even if I have practiced a sport that is described as individual, for me it is still a team effort. I had my physiotherapist, my trainer, my hares, my relatives, etc. It was them who helped me, in part, to reach the world championships in Edmonton. For me, it is important to move forward with a team that we respect and with which we feel connected.
In addition, my parents taught me the values of respect, sharing, empathy and performance. The notion of performance is ingrained in me and that is what brought me to where I am today whether in the sports industry or the fashion industry.
SJ: In 2018, you arrived in Hong-Kong and joined the Folli Follie group. Why did you leave the sports industry to work in jewelry?
HS: Actually, I first came to Hong Kong out of love. I wanted to learn Mandarin and take care of my family. As I could not stop working, I joined the Folli-Follie group and discovered the world of jewelry because I wanted to learn and discover new things on the Asian market. I really liked the learning process. After 3 years, I had learned a lot, but I wanted to take on new challenges. So, I applied to VF Corporation. It was not easy but after some interviews, I was recruited! Today I am very proud to work for this brand which immerses me in the world of lifestyle and millennials.
SJ: What inspires you at Kipling and what are your goals in this business?
HS: When I arrived at Kipling I was in observation mode for 3 months. This is a rule that I have always imposed myself in any new mission because you must first understand the company and the brand for which you work. The collections, the market, the brand’s consumers, employees, the functioning of internal but also local teams, cultural differences, company values, objectives and finally the strategy put in place. Beyond the specific objectives of the company, my priority remains the human being and the relationship with others in order to ensure team cohesion and the establishment of common objectives. I love to grow and see others grow. For me, the manager / employee relationship is a win / win relationship, based on respect, listening and performance.
Why did I choose Kipling? I really got hooked with the new managerial leadership in place and especially their objectives and the new vision of Kipling. Today we want to reach millennials by transmitting the message of exploring the world with curiosity but also of lightening their lives thanks to our inspiring and functional products. I totally find myself in this message. In addition, I like to work on new concept stores to oﬀer a real experience to our consumers, be it in store activations or through merchandising visuals, but above all to communicate with Asians using 80% of the digital world. And this may include the entire strategic approach of online distribution for our own sites kipling.com or on our Kipling Store on Tmall platform [the largest E- commerce platform in China and in the world] without obviously forgetting the importance of social networks such as WeChat, Weibo, FB or Instagram, etc. All these subjects are challenges to be met in a disruptive and specific way to create a real competitive difference.
SJ: After such an inspiring journey, do you have any advice for students and recent graduates?
HS: Do everything to achieve your dreams and never give up! For me, nothing is impossible. I am living proof! I have reached the highest level in a sport that is practiced in shorts while I am a Muslim. I have always worked in men’s professional circles when I am a woman who comes from a working-class family and I have done very well. Again, I emphasize the concept of resilience which is very important throughout our lives without forgetting human values such as respect, empathy and listening.
"Do everything to achieve your dreams and never give up! For me, nothing is impossible. I am living proof ! I have reached the highest level in a sport that is practiced in shorts while I am a Muslim. I have always worked in men's professional circles when I am a woman who comes from a working class family and I have done very well."
One of my daily motivations is to ask myself: which actions can I take today that could have an impact on the world, on my family, on the ecological level, and at work? I am a great player and I always take the example of dominoes, because every little gesture can have a huge impact on our lives and the lives of others. Even a smile, a moment of listening, helping someone in need even if he is a stranger to us, and so on! These little actions can give hope. And we have to share this hope because that is what makes us build a better world in the end.
This also applies to the global scale about ecology: I believe in humanity and if everyone makes small gestures, we can build a society more respectful of our planet Earth and leave a legacy for our children.
More about Hanane Sabri
Hanane Sabri joined VF as Asia Paciﬁc Marketing Director of Kipling in Hong Kong HQ in May 2019. She has more than 20 years of experience in the Fashion and Sport Retail industry.
Based in Strasboug, Hanane joined Adidas France in 2000 as a Finance Controller. During that time, she was also a national athlete representing her country in international competitions. Hanane Sabri became Strategic Planning Director in 2004 and took the role of Senior Sport Marketing and Communication Manager in 2006, specializing in Event activation plans, production planning, ﬁnance and market analysis. She oversaw international sports events such as the Olympic Games in Beijing, Athens, Vancouver and London, and was directly in charge of the French Olympic Committee and 18 national Federations for 8 years.
Between 2006 and 2015, the highlights of Hanane Sabri’s achievement involved managing contract negotiations with athletes and celebrities for adidas performance & Original, including the renowned Rap Singer Akhenaton , the two times Olympic Champion Teddy Riner in judo and multiple times gold medallist Nikola Karabatic and olympic champion in handball.
Prior to joining VF Corporation, she worked in Folli Follie in January 2016 as their Asia Paciﬁc Marketing Director, developing leading design teams, product management, marketing and communication for 7 countries and more than 150 stores in Japan and China.
Her financial expertise also plays a key role in her success in managing P&L on multi-million budgets across several product lines of the business. Hanane has a Master’s Degree in Corporate, Finance and Securities Law at the EM Master Strasbourg Business School and also a BBA and MBA in Finance at Bowling Green State University in Ohio US. She is currently living in Hong Kong with her husband and two children.
The Kipling success story started in 1987 in the heart of the fashion capital of Antwerp (Belgium) with crinkled nylon bags. By injecting our creativity and out-of-the-box thinking into developing thoughtful designs with a casual coolness, Kipling products are created to inspire mobility and enable you to Live.Light. As more than a bag brand, Kipling represents a positive outlook on life, a light-hearted mentality, free spirit, and inclusivity. Today Kipling’s well-known bags and accessories are available around the world in 436 stores in 80 countries and can be found in more than 7500 shops, and on kipling.com.
Today Kipling is part of VF Corporation. Founded in 1899, VF Corporation is one of the world’s largest apparel, footwear and accessories companies connecting people to the lifestyles, activities and experiences they cherish most through a family of iconic outdoor, active and workwear brands including Vans®, The North Face®, Timberland®, Napapijri®, Eastpak® and Dickies®.
Trust in your experience. Make your vision come reality. Be brave to start your business over 40.
Our Entrepreneurship 40+ series introduces you to personalities from the sports industry who followed through with their ideas to start their own business.
In our third interview, we spoke to Anthony Cazottes from Biarritz, owner and founder of the agency French Albion. When he lost his job in 2015, he was shocked at first, but then realised the chance to finally be free to create his own future. A vision he already had for almost 10 years.
Your Job / Company Name:
Founder of French Albion, based in Biarritz (France)
Your agency French Albion in 2-3 Sentences:
French Albion is a forward thinking agency focused on introducing Outdoor & Lifestyle brands from overseas to the European market through an innovative hybrid business model.
Careerwise, what have you been doing before you got self-employed?
I started my career in 1998 in the Action Sports industry working for Quiksilver in the UK as a visual merchandiser, then went on to become a sales rep covering menswear in London and looking after a selection of key accounts. In 2002 I came back to the Quiksilver HQ in France to look after the off price business for the Na Pali group. Then in 2004 when Quiksilver bought DC Shoes I was named Sales Manager for France. After 10 years working for the group I sailed off to NIXON in 2008 and directed sales for 4,5 years, this time on a European level. But the biggest opportunity of my career came in 2013 when I was promoted to EMEA General Manager of Electric Europe, a company then part of the Kering group.
What was your motivation to start your own business?
I realised over the years that no matter how good you are at your job and how much you represent the brand you work for at the time, you always leave with a hand shake and you never take a piece of the company with you other than memories. In my late 30s I felt a strong need to create something of my own, something I was passionate about and that I would be able develop with my life philosophy in mind, not following someone else’s strategy. In 2015 I lost my job and although it was a bit of a shock to the system it was a relief at the same time, I was free to create, to innovate, to think out of the box… That is what motivated me to create my own business: freedom to think.
How did you move from an idea to business success?
In my case things came naturally, first I was consulting for companies who wanted to come to Europe and through that process I realised there was a need to propose a solution that was different from the classic models of distribution. Once I had the model figured out we managed to attract brands that we chose carefully in the Outdoor & Lifestyle market through my connections in the US & Canada. The first clients are always the hardest to get but once you have a proven track record companies reach out to you for business regularly.
What, in your opinion, makes a successful entrepreneur?
It’s a combination of different things of course but in my opinion motivation, commitment and rationalism are the key ingredients. An entrepreneur also needs to be able to mitigate passion with reality and try not to get too carried away by things he likes doing vs things that need to be done.
How do you think is it different to start an entrepreneurship 40+ than in your twenties?
If you have a brilliant idea in your twenties but you don’t have the experience to bring it to life then you would probably have to rely on other people who can help you make it a reality. Less expertise means the idea needs to be even stronger and innovative to be successful. Starting a business in your 40s is definitely different, you are mainly relying on yourself and the baggage you have cumulated throughout your career. Your contacts, knowledge of the industry and experience are the fuel to your idea.
For a lot of people, the fear of failure is the reason not to start their own business. What would you say to someone to convince them to go through with it anyway?
The risk depends on the business idea and the means to bring that idea to life. If the idea is weak but the means are strong it’s likely that the success will be minimal, if the idea is strong but the means are weak success will come by finding investment which is always easier than finding a good idea. Rather than speak about fear I would prefer to call it doubts, I think all entrepreneurs have doubts, doubts fuel the mind to be better at finding solutions and are therefore good companions to entrepreneurs. Don't be afraid of doubts, if you are convinced about your business idea and you are fully committed then you will be successful. However, my advice would be to ask friends, family and a consortium of industry experts for their opinion before you dive in. Also don’t give up everything you have before you see traction in your new venture. Last but not least, don’t force yourself into an entrepreneurial career out of desperation, becoming an entrepreneur should be a natural path you follow.
How is your daily life as an entrepreneur?
It’s fascinating, the world is your oyster, the opportunities are huge and anything is possible. Of course the reality hangs over your head and acts as a hand brake to funnel your enthusiasm but the balance of the two is what I find the fun part. Being free to decide, working with people I love, no politics, is how my company is run everyday. My daily life as an entrepreneur resembles a lot to my daily life as a person.
What’s the biggest reward of having your own business?
Thinking of an idea, putting it together and launching it successfully is very rewarding in itself but being able to employ people and giving them long term projects is probably what I take most pride in having achieved so far. Also, when brands you look up to contact you through your web page to start a partnership is a great reward.
Interested in meeting other entrepreneurs over 40 from the sports business? We are publishing new interviews regularly in our series Entrepreneurship 40+!
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