The 65,000-kilometer Olympic torch relay is the longest catwalk Russian sportwear clothier Bosco Group will ever get.
Bosco, little known outside of Russia despite having outfitted the country’s Olympians for the past decade, is dressing more than 18,000 torch bearers currently carrying the flame on a four-month journey to Sochi, the southern city hosting February’s winter games. As a main Olympic sponsor for the first time, closely held Bosco has also designed patterns for the games and will outfit the 45,000 staff and volunteers.
Owned by Mikhail Kusnirovich, the businessman who runs the GUM mall on Moscow’s Red Square, Bosco is seeking to capitalize on an opportunity to strengthen its market position against the likes of Giorgio Armani SpA and Ralph Lauren Corp. (RL:US), both at home and beyond. Russia has spent more than $50 billion preparing for the competition, the most ever for a winter games.
“We are like surfers waiting to take the wave,” said Teimuraz Guguberidze, Bosco’s general manager, who has carried the torch, as has Kusnirovich. “Sochi will be the maximum point of the wave, and then the surfer needs to be professional enough to keep going,” he said in an interview in Moscow.
Rather than supplying vests and shorts, the company designs casual sportswear that athletes wear during opening and closing ceremonies and at medal presentations. It outsources garments and production to countries including Italy, China and Portugal.
“We aren’t like Adidas and Puma, we are more like Polo Ralph Lauren and Moncler,” Guguberidze said. Ralph Lauren is outfitting the U.S. Olympic team, while Emporio Armani’s EA7 will dress Italians in parade uniforms during the Sochi games.
President Vladimir Putin lit the Olympic torch earlier this month, and Bosco’s owner Kusnirovich participated in the relay, pounding Moscow’s streets in his sportswear.
“With Olympic sponsorship, Bosco will get access to television and their bright and emotional sportswear will be shown worldwide,” said Ivan Fedyakov, general director of researcher INFOLine in St. Petersburg. “It’s a great chance for their promotion, although it will take years to become a meaningful competitor to the global fashion houses.”
The company, whose patchwork patterns include elements of traditional Russian design, anticipates that the games will help sales of its sports clothes reach a record of more than 100 million euros ($137 million) next year. It has total annual sales of about 500 million euros, with the majority from selling international fashion brands including MaxMara, Alberta Ferretti and Kenzo from stores in Moscow and other Russian cities.
Bosco is benefiting from the expansion of Russia’s fashion-retail market, which grew 11 percent last year to $50 billion, according to INFOLine. Russian consumers are more loyal to global brands than domestic ones, according to Fedyakov, explaining why Russian retailers often use foreign names.
Bosco followed that principle: the company’s full name is Bosco di Ciliegi, meaning “cherry forest” in Italian.
The retailer now has 80 sports stores under its brand in Russia and has opened pop-up outlets in each city that has hosted the Olympics since 2006. The company plans to add 40 more stores before the Sochi games, Guguberidze said.
“Russia has no fashion brands successful abroad,” Fedyakov said. “Bosco is seeking to become one.”
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