Arvo Kivikas, the owner of Ilves-Extra, discusses his business in Vietnam, cooperation with Andrus Veerpalu, and the reasons why a winter jacket produced by his company costs 200 euros in Estonia and is sold for 1,000 euros in London and Stockholm.
This year’s weather – the frost and thick snow everywhere (the interview was done on 23 February – author) – is very good for your business, right?
It would be even better if the weather was a bit warmer – more people would go skiing. Because, let’s be honest, money is made on volume and the few top-level athletes like Andrus Veerpalu and Justyna Kowalczyk may ski all the time and serve as very nice models and spokespersons, but from a business perspective, it is important to have thousands of people wearing our clothes. And these crowds will not go skiing if it is so cold. Minus five to ten degrees Celsius would be the best temperature for our business.
As far as I understand, Ilves-Extra wants to make excellent garments with exceptional quality. So when you say ‘quality’, it isn’t just an empty word or slogan – you actually do strive for world-class excellence?
Everything starts from the materials; that is essential. You can always test the cut, such as how the clothes fit or having athletes or ordinary people try them on. But with poor materials, it will be very difficult to create a quality garment no matter what the cut. Unfortunately, this also means that our clothes are not going to be very cheap, as good-quality materials already cost a lot.
Estonia is a small country. Yes, winter sports are popular here, but this does not really provide any significant market for a company like Ilves-Extra, does it?
This varies a lot. At one point, our own brand did account for as much as 60 percent of total sales. With the recession, the domestic market has slumped and we are mostly surviving on export. Activewear sales, which includes clothing for skiing, running and orienteering, are definitely lower than the sales from jackets or outerwear. Without a doubt, warm jackets are our most important product.
Interviewed by Jennifer McFadden
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