US-based adventure brand National Geographic has unveiled a new retail offering in Australia and New Zealand, as the 135-year-old organisation looks to capitalise on its high level of brand awareness and strong social media following to grow its foothold in the fashion industry.
Developed by Alquemie Group in partnership with The Walt Disney Company, which owns National Geographic, the offering includes a local e-commerce site and a number of experiential retail stores selling a range of premium outerwear and accessories.
The first two stores opened in Australia in May, at Melbourne Central and Sydney’s Westfield Chatswood, with a third store set to open in Canberra in June.The plan is to roll out about 20 National Geographic branded stores across Australia and New Zealand before assessing whether there is capacity for more.
“We certainly see an opportunity for this concept to go much wider, and for this to resonate around the world,” Tim Everett, vice-president and general manager of consumer products for The Walt Disney Company in Australia and New Zealand, told Inside Retail.
The store format was custom-designed by Alquemie Group and features a first-of-its-kind digital screen running along the entire ceiling and back wall, showing videos of ocean life, jungles and other stunning scenes captured by National Geographic’s team of photographers and explorers.
Additional screens throughout the store show models wearing the brand’s premium outdoor apparel, including Gore-Tex parkas, fleece jackets and technical hiking pants and shorts, while a custom scent evokes the Australian Outback.
“The aim is to have an environment where we can showcase the National Geographic content, but also product,” Alquemie Group’s executive chair Richard Facioni told Inside Retail.
“It’s a unique design that we developed and got signed off by Disney globally. They love it and want to replicate it overseas.”
Technical gear with a fashion edge
Unbeknownst to many consumers, National Geographic has offered premium outdoor apparel and accessories in South Korea since 2013, through a partnership with Korean manufacturer The Nature Holdings.
Dubbed National Geographic Wear, the range includes more than 3,000 SKUs and emphasises quality construction, technical performance and fashionable designs.
The Nature Holdings recently expanded into China, and it is now working with Alquemie Group to make a selection of products available to the Australian and New Zealand markets.
South Korea is well-known as the birthplace of global fashion trends, and Facioni believes this factor, along with National Geographic’s heritage, will help set the brand apart in a crowded outdoor apparel market.
“It’s very technical and highly functional, and the way it’s made is very conscious of sustainability,” he said.
“You can say that about a lot of brands in that category, but I think what differentiates National Geographic is the heritage, and the fact that the product is designed in South Korea, so it’s got that fashion edge to it.”
The fashion focus can also be seen in the team that worked with on the launch campaign, including stylist Vanessa Coyle, a former senior fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar in the UK, who has worked with the likes of Stella McCartney, Jean Paul Gaultier and Givenchy; photographer Bartolomeo Celestino, whose work has appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar; and filmmaker Alice Wesley-Smith, who has worked with Condé Nast Traveller, among other publications.
“When you see the product, and the way we’re presenting it, it’s playing to that fashion space,” Facioni said.
“You can wear it to go and grab a coffee, and you can also wear it when you go skiing or hiking or climbing a mountain. It’s that versatile.”
While he believes the range will appeal to a wide range of people, including older age groups seeking technical outerwear, he expects the primary customer to be Gen Z.
Strong social media presence
Over the coming months, Alquemie Group will centre its marketing efforts on building a connection between the National Geographic brand and the apparel offering, since most people in Australia and New Zealand are not aware of it.
This will be made easier by the fact that Disney has granted Alquemie Group access to some of National Geographic’s star explorers, including Australian conservationist Valerie Taylor, who is serving as a brand ambassador for the launch.
“Disney has a lot invested in this. They want to take this global,” Facioni said. “This is the first Western market that this product is being launched in, so we’ve got their full support.”
Alquemie Group will also benefit from National Geographic’s enormous social media following, which includes 278 million people on Instagram, well ahead of Apple’s 30.2 million followers, and just behind Nike’s 295 million.
That kind of reach is unimaginable for most retail brands, so it’s not surprising that National Geographic is looking to leverage its platform in new ways.
“The opportunity to bring some of that storytelling into product and into the retail experience is the next phase for us,” Walt Disney’s Everett said.
This original article appeared in Inside Retail: