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Seeing the brand develop immensely over the last year, we get another chance to speak to Kyle Pulli, an integral member of the current Pony revival. Although only a few seasons deep, perhaps any “comeback” or “revival” tag is something that can be placed fully in the past, as the brand has reached full-steam. This time around, we speak with Kyle in regards to Pony’s success over the last few seasons, the direction of the brand and some interesting projects on the horizon.
Interview with Kyle Pulli
Hey Kyle, what’s good? It’s been awhile since we last spoke, how are things going over at Pony?
Keeping things flowing, making calculated decisions to help get through this less than stellar economy. The brand keeps picking up momentum as we continue to push our Vintage and Vintage-inspired products. In a market overflowing with knock offs and false authenticity, we are quickly discovering consumers want the real thing. This has been a great indicator for Pony as we are a true, authentic sports brand. We believe this shift in consumer mindset gives us a clear advantage over other niche brands and is where we will focus our efforts in 2010.
No doubt. Your creation of product at the sweet-spot for pricing, in and around the $60 price mark, has garnered a lot of attention as well as resulted in sales I’m sure. In terms of authenticity, how do you think you’ve strived to establish and highlight this characteristic for Pony? In general, how do people view the quiet years of Pony between the present and its pinnacle awhile back?
Everything we’ve created thus far has been a blend of classic and innovative design, pulling inspiration directly from our rich heritage. Think newness with authentic undertones. Just about every shoe proclaims our prominent chevron logo on the side. Consistency is such an important ingredient when re-launching a brand, requiring a lot of discipline and confidence to stay the course. With that said, having such a rich history as a true authentic brand is such a competitive advantage and we’d be foolish not to aggressively push this unique quality as a vehicle to reconnect with the consumer. This transition into a more blatant, authentic product approach will be more of our focus for seasons to come. Pony was established in 1972 in Brooklyn, NY and quickly became one of the most dominant sports brands in the world. Specifically, from the mid 70’s to the 80’s in which Pony was a multi-billion dollar company, was on professional fields and courts of play, and had a true brand presence globally. It was a great era for the Pony brand and we are simply trying to recapture this spirit. Because Pony has been dormant for so long there really isn’t any tarnished perception of our brand. “What ever happened to Pony? just disappeared,” is the often the response we hear time and time again. Fortunately, consumer’s reconnection with the brand mark has been a fond reunion thus far and is a great indicator.
Throughout many of the drops we’ve seen over the last few seasons, the designs and colors within the lifestyle collections have ultimately been quite subdued and timeless. As you gain traction, will your design language become more diverse allowing for the familiar aesthetics you’ve engrained in the brand’s last few seasons alongside more bold and risky designs? Or will things continue along the same familiar path? I would assume as you become more well-known, the opportunity to be less conservative presents itself.
This kind of relates back to the previous topic regarding brand consistency. Trying to maintain a consistent level of Pony design cues while incorporating subtle, fresh material and treatment updates has been our goal to date. This is where we excel. I think we actually went a little too aggressive regarding this Fall/ Winter collection considering the distribution channels we are currently in. On the other hand, our Spring 2010 collections bare a more understated thematic approach than those showcased in Fall/Winter ‘09. Despite a more understated material and color methodology, I believe we still were able to maintain an elevated level of freshness. Wearability is definitely the focus here. It’s all about clean, simple looks, subtle yet sophisticated detailing while still maintaining a balance of personality and wearablitiy. It’s all about clean, simple looks, subtle yet sophisticated detailing while still maintaining a balance of personality and wearability. Basic versions should be basic, not boring.
For our readers that are unaware (feel free to elaborate if you wish), Pony maintains three different channels of product in PLAY, VINTAGE and PERFORM. How do you dedicate your resources to each collection. While some big athletics brands out there can dedicate huge budgets to R&D, how does Pony cope with what is presumably less resources when creating high performance PERFORM category footwear?
On paper it would seem as a huge disadvantage, I agree. As odd as it sounds though, this is actually a huge advantage, providing you have the knowledge and expertise to operate this way. It is amazing how much more you are able to produce with less, when focused and efficient minded. I feel that this is one of our biggest advantages and makes us unique as a company. Sometimes less resources is easier for maintaining consistency in fostering initial concept to final product. We don’t have to deal with layers of corporate bureaucracy, draining meetings that suck the life out of you and ultimately the creative process. This is exactly the culture you’ll find with the larger brands. Believe me, if any competitors are reading this they know exactly what I’m talking about. If a creative idea emerges and makes sense for our brand we are off to the races. As you mentioned, we do have 3 collections. The reality though is despite my performance based background building footwear for world-class athletes, we are only producing a fraction of performance related product compared to our competition. For us, the performance category is primarily used as vehicle that’s two fold; use athletes to gain brand credibility and establish Pony as a knowledgeable, reputable footwear manufacturer (separating us from hundreds of lifestyle brands) and help set up future revenue streams when the performance pendulum begins to swing back towards a consumer driven opportunities.
I can understand what you said regarding the difficulties in maneuvering the corporate landscape at times. Many industry friends often echo the same sentiments regarding getting anything done, big or small. However as Pony grows, how do you minimize, or better yet, eliminate the growing pains that comes with a company that’s becoming larger and larger, or will by virtue of being made up of a “new guard” of management and approach, everything from the top to the design team can be stream-lined into one cohesive unit?
I’m not sure you can prevent this transition from happening. I saw this happen first hand during my days with adidas. It was almost as if a cultural shift happened over night. I guess being wide eyed to this potential phenomenon as we continue to grow will hopefully act as checks and balances in helping control a complete shift. And just to clarify, I wasn’t necessarily knocking the corporate giant infrastructure as a whole, just trying to express how both scenarios are diametrically opposed and this new landscape is a refreshing change from a designers perspective.
With the lifestyle component of products all too often involving collaborations, how have you approached these scenarios and marketing tools? I know that you’ve put together a select few collaborations, what are some of your criteria for moving forward with a collabo?
There was clearly a time when collaborating within the footwear industry was a very progressive, impactful marketing strategy. Recently though, I think this concept has become very watered down and has even reached critical mass to some extent. The consumer has come to expect this marketing angle, ultimately putting more pressure on the actual product resulting from the collaboration. With that said, collaborations can still be very effective in growing brand awareness if done strategically with a level of caution. Our primary objective for collaborating is obtaining access to a consumer base and distribution channel that would be difficult to crack independently. We do however try and limit the number of c-labs because we are still in the initial phase of the Pony re-launch and it is extremely important not to confuse consumers with too many mixed messages that could potentially overshadow our own brand message. This can be a slippery slope and ultimately be more detrimental than effective in gaining consumer confidence. As our brand position continues to become more understood and accepted, we’ll look at pursuing more collaborative opportunities that are business responsible for Pony.
For the 2010 spring collection, what can we expect? For the 2010 What sort of inspirations are integrated into this season? Do you often come across interesting concepts but have difficult converting them into shoe form?
As I touched on earlier, our SS’10 collection is a continuation of our FW’09 styles with more understated, versatile color and material stories appropriate for the spring season. Vintage and Vintage inspired designs make up the bulk of our offerings. 3 overall themes “Perfect Imbalance,” “Throw Forwards”, and “Suitable” primarily drove the collection. The inspiration for the Perfect Imbalance theme is primarily based around the historic and influential Bauhaus design movement from the early 1900’s. Bold, stark color blocking combined with radically simplified forms communicates harmony between the function and the uniqueness of the design construction or material. This theme is all about the balancing of capturing attention without screaming too loud. The throw forwards theme is all about celebrating our authentic sports brand roots. PONY Throw backs from vintage catalogs are the driving inspiration behind these “restored” products. Nostalgic, athletic inspired color and material stories from yester-year reemerge on these fresh yet subtle classic updates. Throw Forwards offer a glimpse of our past while maintaining relevance for today. The “suitable” theme is built around versatility and subtle sophistication. In this theme you will find subtle, fresh updates of traditional, classic materials such as canvas, suede, and plaid integrated in understated, but smart combinations. Whether the occasion requires dressing your attire up or down this collection is versatile and suitable for any social setting.
I think that’s sometimes an unfortunate aspect to product development in that the journey to fruition is often swept aside. But moving forward, what are some interesting projects in the works for 2010 spring? We’ve caught wind of something created with Tim Burton?
We have a couple capsule collections in the works that should turn some heads. The first is classified as our Pony Archive collection. Conceptually, this collection is all about “restoring” rare, old school styles from our past. This is exciting because we are carefully replicating these models down to the exact shape, stitch, and even including quirky inconsistencies seen on the original version. This is the first time to date that Pony will be re-releasing this level of authentic product and will be designed and manufactured to the exact spec’s of the original. We’ve searched high and low, far and wide, pulling from our old catalogs and archives in recreating these rare styles from yesteryear. The look and feel of these shoes will appear as if they have been sitting in its original shoebox since the early 80’s. The second capsule collection is called P.O.N.Y (Product of New York) and takes on a more sophisticated, refined direction. Inspired by our rich heritage as an authentic, performance sport brand, the Product of New York collection reinvents timeless silhouettes from our extensive archive. The Brooklyn Bridge metaphorically represents this assortment “Bridging” Pony’s Brooklyn roots with the progressive, fashion forward nature of “The City.” This collection is crafted using only premium materials and constructed for supreme comfort resulting in the perfect balance of innovation and wearability. This clean, minimalistic-based footwear will retail from $80 – $110 representing our premium footwear assortment.
And yes, you heard right. We did collaborate with Focus Features on a project celebrating Tim Burton’s latest fantasy based movie 9. Both film and shoe have a coinciding release date of 9.9.09. The inspiration of the shoe was based on the design of one of the “stitchpunk” characters from the film made of burlap. Feedback for this limited edition novelty item has been nothing short of positive.
Seems like some great projects on the horizon including a team-up with Tim Burton and 9 as we all know the popularity traditionally achieved by his movie exploits. For the Product of New York and Pony Archive collections, how would you say they fit in the marketplace? When placing different capsules, ultimately how do you control the overlap, is too much overlap between collections something that needs to be controlled and carefully fine-tuned?
Both collections are super relevant in terms of conveying our brand position and connecting with consumer needs. They’re classified as “capsule” for spring 2010 because they’ll be limited in the beginning, offered only within specialty distribution channels. We’ll follow up this soft launch approach with more comprehensive collections in the fall. The Pony Archive collection is vital because it represents our brand product backbone, influencing all peripheral projects moving forward. Pony Archive communicates our brand authenticity in the most honest, and direct way, giving us a reason for being. A complete departure from so many contrived, wannabe authentic brands out there. And ultimately, it’s what consumers want from us. Now, without our Archive collection in place Product of New York would be non-existent. Because the entire P.O.N.Y concept was derived from our archives both collections must coexist to complete the story. I believe this halo effect methodology will help us stay focused and prevent any potential conflicting initiatives as we move forward.
What kind of stores will we be able to find the capsule collections you’ve just described?
A lot of the interest for these collections has come internationally, primarily in Europe. With Europe often at the forefront of trends, this is a good sign. In terms of the US, better department stores and various boutiques within larger markets will carry first. We anticipate this assortment will transition into a wider distribution channel for fall 2010.
It seems each time we re-connect you guys are consistently advancing in leaps and bounds. It’s been fun to watch the whole progress go down. Thanks a lot for the opportunity Kyle, did you have any last words?
“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” – Arnold H. Glasow
Interview: Eugene Kan
Photography: Mr. Chan
Art Direction: Season Chan & Jason Chow