In Ep. 114 of Earned, Conor sits down with Ahmet Mercan, the CEO of Red Bull’s premium fashion line AlphaTauri, which saw an 81% YoY EMV growth in 2023.
First, we dive into why the beverage brand decided to foray into fashion, and hear how innovation is the throughline across the Red Bull family of brands. Ahmet details his experience building the AlphaTauri brand from the ground up, and shares why he believes the brand has been successful amid a challenging market. Ahmet explains why, despite AlphaTauri’s impressive accomplishments over the last few years, he never lets his team get complacent, and constantly encourages them to push the boundaries of innovation. We then switch gears to the world of F1 racing, and discuss how AlphaTauri’s involvement in F1 helped fast-track the brand’s growth, as well as how AlphaTauri overcame the challenge of being known as a racing brand rather than a fashion brand by hosting memorable brand activations. Next, we explore the differences of marketing a luxury brand, before learning how technology plays a major role in AlphaTauri’s product development. To close the show, Ahmet shares the challenges and opportunities that have come with expanding the European brand’s footprint into the U.S. market.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“Keep on challenging and pushing the boundaries”: Ahmet Mercan on How AlphaTauri Continually Strives for Innovation
Conor Begley: So you joined Red Bull in 2014, and then became the CEO of AlphaTauri in 2015 when the brand launched. What's most interesting for me is, I think that most new apparel brands fail or don't make it to any considerable success. What has it been like to watch the brand grow over these last seven to eight years, and then why do you think it has been successful when so many other apparel brands haven’t gotten to the same level of success?
Ahmet Mercan: Having the chance to build up a new fashion brand in the context of this environment is definitely an amazing opportunity. I always call it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When we are looking from the angle that we are a beverage brand or a lifestyle brand, and we want to enter into a market of apparel or fashion, and with the fact that no one was waiting for a new fashion brand out in the market, we were starting with a blank sheet of paper, honestly. It was an idea—the vision was more or less established or further developed, and then we put the strategy together to bring the people in.
On the one hand, there were several synergies with our mothership that we could definitely benefit from, because it's a brand like none other in the world of lifestyle and the whole environment we’re claiming for ourselves. And then on the other hand, we have the industry boundaries of lead times and development and calendars and all of these difficulties within the structures of the fashion industry or the apparel industry. It was totally different than what the beverage business was doing, and therefore it was also not the easiest way to find the balance.
We started in 2020 with 20 premium retailers in two countries, and today, only three years later, we are talking about more than 200 retailers in up to 20 countries. And we want to further establish the brand through a strong network of retail partners. It helps, of course, to belong to Red Bull, and to take the advantages and the synergies we have together with our mothership.
We do have ambitious goals, and we’ve already achieved a lot, but we're always at the beginning. This is what I tell my team, because otherwise we would say, “Okay, we achieved something and now we want to keep that momentum.” No, it’s, “Keep on challenging and pushing the boundaries." Every single day, we do have to challenge the status quo. I always see things through the lens of innovation because innovation doesn't stop, and we strive to optimize what is and what will be.
“Our objective at AlphaTauri is to deliver products with a real benefit to the wearer above and beyond looking good”: How AlphaTauri Leverages Technology to Fuse Fashion and Function
Conor Begley: I think the made-to-fit technology is really interesting, and I know that's something that AlphaTauri has invested in pretty heavily. Can you talk a little bit about how that works? What are you guys doing that's different?
Ahmet Mercan: To repeat what I said at the beginning, there was no need for a new fashion brand out in the market. It's oversaturated. There are a lot of brands, and very good ones, so you have to create the USP (unique selling point). Especially when you're coming in as an industry outsider, because you have to create credibility as well. You belong to a strong, powerful brand, it's a beverage brand, and then you are coming in and saying, “We want to challenge the fashion industry,” and then everyone's saying, “Okay, what is your credibility on that?” Therefore, you need a clear USP and benefit.
Our objective at AlphaTauri is to deliver products with a real benefit to the wearer above and beyond looking good. We are not sacrificing the beauty of the product, because as soon as people are buying products, they want to have beautiful products. This is the first trigger for a fashion item, because the people want to buy it because they love it, because it looks good. Therefore, our exercise was more or less to fuse the functional items, the innovative items, with all the elements without sacrificing the beauty. And this makes the whole exercise much more difficult for us as a brand, especially for the creators, for the designers, for the developers, because you have limitations. Limitations in colors, in fabrics, in yarns and all these things. Back in the day, five plus years ago, it was much more limited.
Luckily, lots of things are changing at the moment because the demand is also increasing. Therefore, we’re applying that work to the product and saying, “Okay, this has done something unexpected.” This is what the whole team is doing. Everyone is trying to add value to the products, and ideally with our own technologies. We are creating our own technologies like Taurobran, which is an innovative solution that we created together with Schoeller Textiles, who is one of the industry leaders. Or this whole 3D Knit technology with the garments and with the seamless execution—it's not new, but we created a new way of how we are taking advantage of the tools and the capabilities and the methodologies of the apparel industry, and we’re trying to create a completely new product out of it.
We have key competencies at AlphaTauri, and we want to strengthen that. We are looking into that whole exercise and claiming something, and then translating it to a certain product. When we look into the assortment, when we look into the collection, when we look at [the end product] hanging in the showroom, then we are saying, “Okay, this product is reflecting the vision of what we are promising.” This is not the easiest exercise, honestly speaking, with all of the limitations that I explained before. And of course with the boundaries that you have out in the market, some people don't care about all these advantages. But the younger generation, the upcoming generation, is definitely questioning things much more than we did, and this is something that gives me confidence.
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