How Aigle's CEO is bringing the humble rubber boot into fashionistas' closets
MANILA, Philippines – I can’t shake off Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” in my head. Talk about cliché, but it’s mainly because I’m looking at fashionable rubber boots by French brand Aigle. I wouldn’t think rubber boots could get any more creative but here I am on the internet, devising a plan on how to stylishly pull these off in Manila’s rainy season.
Founder Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent for the vulcanization of rubber from Charles Goodyear – yes, that Goodyear. Hutchinson pioneered rubber boots as protective footwear. Eventually, Aigle became a global brand specializing in outerwear. The brand name, which directly translates to "eagle," is a tribute to the American eagle.
At the helm of the company today is Paris-born Romain Guinier. I was fascinated by how the former L'Oreal brand representative became the Deputy Managing Director in charge of European branches of retail brand Celio, moved on to be the Deputy Managing Director for Europe of global luxury label Louis Vuitton, and is now the CEO of Aigle International.
While in Manila for a short visit – Aigle just opened its first local flagship store in Uptown Mall in BGC – I had a chat with Guinier on his very interesting career in the notoriously fickle world of fashion.
After graduating with a marketing degree, did you, at that early stage in your career, already want to be in beauty, fashion, or the retail industry?
No. I wouldn’t say this was the most important topic to me. What really inspired me was to have the opportunity to work for French brands with a DNA. I had a gut feeling this was the most important raw material to work on.
If I look at the 4 companies I've worked for, all these companies were born in France with different positioning and level of premium. All these companies were brands that had something to tell. Being part of the creative process was as important to me. The reason why I decided to join L’Oreal at the beginning was I knew I would be at the heart of the creative process; from the design of products and the opportunity to market the product lines that I work for.
On top of that, knowing that these companies were deeply rooted in France, I knew there was an international adventure to follow. L’Oreal gave this opportunity and I started traveling and working with other colleagues in other countries to see how new products are launched and understand the market of different cities.
How was your first job?
Very competitive with very talented people working on different sectors within the company on a daily basis. Seeing stress as a positive value, it was quite unique. Very intense in terms of work, but having a fantastic opportunity to work with a very wide and grand portfolio where marketing is supported by significant financial resources. You had the feeling that the product you were working on was your product and you had all the leverage at that time to make it a success or a failure.
What are key skills and attitude that you believe young marketing professionals should have?
1. Make sure you are consistent and everything you do is to build a consistent positioning.
2. Do not accept to do something if you consider that it will twist your brand and not make it consistent.
3. Always put yourself in the mind of the consumer: you can have wonderful ideas but your consumers, will [they] get your message and understand it?
4. Be in an idea confrontation; working and accepting that your ideas will be challenged is the best way to finetune it.
5. Think on an international perspective. Most of the initiatives today are meant to be launched internationally and accessible to foreign markets.
What motivations made you better?
Not following routine and be passionate. Each time you wake up, ask yourself, “Am I doing the job I want to do, or is it time to change because I am not bringing anything to my team?”
What did you learn from the global companies you’ve worked for?
L’Oreal gave me this gut feeling about the importance of brand and how important it is to over think, feel it, make it premium or not.
Celio had given to me this agile vision and sense of detail relative to retail execution.
Louis Vuitton, for me, was the opportunity to reconnect my first two career points of interest: On one hand, branding because it is the top in terms of the art of luxury branding; and also a retail-inspired business model because its strength and uniqueness when it comes to luxury is that everything is purely integrated retail.
Aigle has been offering master rubber craftsmanship to create soft and comfortable rubber boots and outerwear for its clients. Let’s play the numbers game to add more fun to the trivia: Aigle has one production site in France; 1.2 kilograms of rubber used to produce one pair of boots; two years required training to learn how to make a boot; 60 steps in the production process; 100% handmade and checked by hand; 160 years of expertise; 240 rubber master craftsmen; 4,000 pairs of boots produced by hand every day. Adding to that are the constant developments in their jackets and parkas that boast of French design and heritage.
Going to Aigle, why do you think the Philippine market will appreciate the brand?
First of all, I think there is a very strong taste within the Philippines for Western brands driven by quality and expertise. This sense of very precise products carrying a specific lifestyle speaks to Filipinos.
The second reason I would say is that the attitude of Filipinos is changing – they are traveling more and more. They are [becoming] more and more open to the world. Aigle is the brand that is totally the expert in leisure and travel. Most of the products we do are exactly what people need when they travel – to have lightweight parkas and outerwear with style and technology.
Our core product is the rubber boot. It is [no longer] the major part of the sales but they are still here and it is for the rainy season. We saw that in the first pop-up store experiment: we had good sales [for] the rubber boots. We are quite sure that this product will definitely perform.
If I look at the market today, there are already a lot of very nice and solid classical outerwear brands present in the market. There is an opportunity to open and grow this segment where we are 100% legitimate. We call this the premium outdoor lifestyle segment – the unique combination of products that are inspired by the outdoors with the lifestyle that relates to French heritage and design.
What is the design process for your pieces?
When it comes to design, everything is done internally with the French team. They travel a lot, they see the trends, and they work both in the European and Asian market. They get a lot of inputs when it comes to the Asian markets from our regional team based in Hong Kong where we have a rather international team from many countries. They give to the team the inputs on the trend, feel, and need that come from the market. But the design remains in France because we want it embodied that it is a French brand.
We have a specific collection for Asia. It is a combination between core iconic products from the international collection, but also some that will be adapted to the Asian market. You won’t see the difference. It will be impossible to tell if it is the Asian collection or the international collection because it is totally consistent in terms of design. Still, when it comes to women’s [wear], these are pieces that maybe more fitted because it is crucial to our Asian customers, lighter fabrics with slightly different trims or color ways, but all these still carry the Aigle DNA. 50% of the offered products are specifically designed for the Asian market, and 50% comes from the international collection.
Except on the rubber boots where 100% is [under the] global collection. Designs are available today in all the market but have been highly inspired by the needs of the Asian market where we could feel that lower cut boots were a trend or specific prints that are highly desirable in the market.
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