Having paid careful attention to the revival of the once iconic sportswear brand Pony, it was a great feeling to re-visit the brand over a period of approximately a year to see how far along Pony had come. In some of their most visible moves, we saw additions to the brand with the likes of Randy Moss and Wilson Chandler on the performance side of things. However, beyond their PERFORMANCE line reside two other collections that perhaps resonate more profoundly with their lifestyle offerings which break down into the PLAY and VINTAGE collections. The VINTAGE collection probably strikes instant images of iconic Pony classics closer to its previous styles and silhouettes. On the other hand, the PLAY collection takes an interesting new vintage approach. The PLAY collection’s interest lies in its ability to juxtapose and integrate the old and the new. New methods of production and technology are fused on some relatively traditionalist styles.
To get a good idea of what has exactly gone down in the last little, I spoke with an integral part of the Pony design team, Kyle Pulli. Throughout the interview, he offered some interesting insights as to how a brand must adapt and play amongst a sea of well-established sporting authorities as well as some of the highlights of this season.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Interview with Kyle Pulli
How far along have you guys come since the initial re-launch?
As you can imagine redefining brand strategy and direction is a process that takes time and doesn’t just happen over night. A lot of heavy lifting was involved to ensure we were setting ourselves apart. With that said, we have managed to make tremendous strides since our re-launch. We are now functioning on all cylinders regarding product direction, timelines, commercialization, and even PR. Its easier to get people geeked about your brand direction and ideology when you have tangible product to push. And as expected, initial reaction to our product has been extremely positive.
How competitive is the current footwear market? Has this required you to approach things differently as a younger company as opposed to your work with larger companies such as adidas in the past?
I think the footwear market is more competitive than ever. As a consumer you have so many choices. Ironically, as bad as things are with the economic uncertainty in the marketplace, I think it will ultimately have a positive effect within our industry once the dust settles. It will essentially “trim the fat” in this over saturated market and allow only the strongest brands to survive. In addition, it will hopefully raise the bar for innovation, as we know it. This is where we hope to flourish. Our company functions in a true entrepreneurial fashion and employees are forced to wear several hats. A smaller more intimate brand of our size offers clear advantages. It allows us to act swiftly to continually market change and therefore our response can be more efficient and tactical. While the larger brands are playing “damage control” and holding on to their assets we on the other hand are pushing innovation. We have often found ourselves at the forefront of a market trend because of this. Because we are only in the early stages of our brand re-launch we can afford to try new things with out worrying about losing existing business by anniversarying the same old things. History has shown time and time again that this philosophy is a clear advantage during such an economic downturn.
In your eyes, has the current economic conditions had a profound effect on the design and aesthetic of footwear design?
As a manufacturer, the effects have certainly been felt behind closed doors. We have to find new ways to be creative in bringing costs down without compromising value. This is a difficult juggling act. Not sure these internal, brand-centric challenges have transitioned into the consumers eyes just yet. Despite this “fear” driven economy we feel this is the most opportune time for us to take a different approach. Rather than focusing on a “band aid” approach we are using this time as an opportunity to innovate and redefine traditional manufacturing and construction methods. A perfect example of this was the development of our “5oz” last year. Completely unique and minimal construction all based on searching for ways to reduce cost. This thinking resulted in a radically innovative trainer for $55. Once again, we were ahead of the curve on this one.
Were there any particular themes you guys set out in creating and enhancing this season?
Regarding our lifestyle product vision, I believe strong material stories are where we are able to excel. We aim for the “unexpected” and focus on contrasting fabrics to emphasize uniqueness of construction. Mixing elaborate treatments with simple ones to create the perfect synthesis of innovation and wearability. For Fall/Winter ’09 we based our collection around four themes: Well Suited, Back to the Future, Inside Out, and Great Outdoors.
Within “Well Suited” we focused on using accents of suit inspired fabrics such as tweeds, herringbones, and micro plaids to give a more sophisticated feel. We also used satin tie inspired material for the tongue linings throughout the collection.
Withinn “Back to the Future” we focused on creating a juxtaposition of our past and present. In this category you will find offerings that look strangely familiar. Like they could have been original color and material make-ups from the past but because of a subtle, new material accent it looks current. “Inside out” focuses on the notion of revealing and diffusing materials. You will find a clever use of layering shear materials over loud typographical graphics to ensure a more subtle and wearable offering.
In “The Great Outdoors” we focused on using color schemes that wouldn’t traditionally be found on athletic styles. We wanted to use combine cues found in outdoorsman retail stores such as REI with our athletic silhouettes. Again, focusing on combining two elements that don’t normally go together in order to create something new.
I’ve noticed that the PLAY collection comes complete with a little technical hang-tag that features a list of different technologies, could you explain that a little more?
One of our clear point of differences in re-launching as a multi-categorical brand is that we don’t build and market gimmick based technologies. We take a good old-fashioned approach to performance, focusing only on relevant features and benefits. This philosophy is labeled PONY ELEMENTS. Although, you will find more of these Elements within our performance division, they do exist on certain products within our PLAY collection.
What has been your best-selling model these past few seasons? Do you feel there’s a particular reason?
Our Feed the Cat program has really put us on the map. Simple style, link to our past, innovative construction, wearable, and the right price are all reasons for the initial success. This program also symbolizes our unwavering commitment to have a unique point of view even on mainstream styles. In a sea of vulcanized offerings in the market we have managed to build ours with a twist; our signature “holistic” tape construction, which connects from the sidewall up through the eyestay. The Feed the dog concept was inspired from our vintage “shooter” model and redone to fit within our “PLAY” collection.
How important are the athletes and personalities that Pony signs to endorsement deals? How do they factor into the lifestyle segment of Pony?
Extremely important because we need vehicles to drive brand awareness. Due to our modest marketing budget we must be extremely strategic in our selection process and have to make sure we are building a true partnership that will benefit us cross categorical. Ultimately we aim for athletes that compliment and support our brand ideology and direction.
Do you have a personal favorite of yours this season?
It is hard for me to single out only one shoe as we have a fairly large range of exciting product. If I had to choose, it would be the “Well Suited” Feed the Cat mid.
With that said, my role is to ensure we have a solid collection of shoes that communicate a story to the consumer hopefully resulting in a lasting connection with our brand. Some brands are fortunate enough to have that one shoe that defines their entire existence and everything else becomes a halo. We hope to become more than a one item brand.
What does the future bode for Pony?
We are in a great spot right now. We finally have a moment to reflect and evaluate our progress and current positioning. This “incubation” phase is a refreshing departure from the head down, light speed approach thus far. Until now we simply haven’t had the time to take a deep breath and evaluate things on a rational level. We have made some headway with our lifestyle portion of the business and are looking forward to 2010 to be a key player in the performance arena. Basketball, baseball, and football are all categories PONY has a solid heritage in and therefore we are attacking aggressively.