How Bally Plans to Become a Billion-Dollar Brand

After being acquired this year, heritage label Bally is banking on its history and authenticity to connect with consumers while it restructures its brand positioning. Bally, which has lagged behind in the U.S. market amid intense competition, is starting to see a turnaround.

“It’s an important moment,” said Claudia Cividino, CEO of the Americas. “We have tremendous opportunity. Year-to-date, we are tracking 20 percent growth. It speaks to strategy, product and [CEO] Frédéric de Narp’s bold moves.”

De Narp and Bally are forging ahead under the ownership of Chinese textile and apparel giant Shandong Ruyi Group, which took a majority stake in the accessories brand in February. (Bally’s former owner, JAB Holding, will retain a minority stake.)

Detailing his quest to make it a $1 billion brand, de Narp sat down with FN to discuss his plans for Bally.

Bally Frederic de Narp
Bally CEO Frédéric de Narp.

It’s been five years since you took the helm. How has your vision developed?
“I decided that we had to take a stand on who we are. You cannot be everything to everyone. We aren’t a red carpet brand — it’s not who we are. Bally is set to win on the more casual everyday wear. We are bringing a stronger [approach] to this ’80s retro category. Inclusivity is something we worked on. We don’t want to be that arrogant brand or [too] exclusive. We want to be approachable.”

Has your target consumer changed?
“They’re younger. We have clientele from the past 40 years and have succeeded in keeping them because we don’t compromise on quality. With new designers, we have attracted a younger consumer.”

Speaking of designers, there’s no singular face behind Bally, and you don’t reveal their identities. How does the design collective work?
“We went with a platform that I find much more modern. Creative directors are talented, but all brands are doing the same product in the same location and designed by the same [people]. They circulate from one brand to another. For me, our team [of four designers] is fitting. It stimulates an environment where everybody plays a role.”

What kind of challenges does this present?
“For a CEO, it’s easiest to hire one creative director, but that’s not what we wanted. We make it work by having them connect to one another. Once a season, they travel together for one week and get inspiration. They don’t care about themselves; they care for the brand and its DNA. And they have 35,000 shoes, thousands of logos and stories from our archive to be inspired by.”

What’s your strategy on making a heritage brand fresh?
“Who would have guessed that luxury brands, including Bally, are selling shower sandals made from plastic for $200 to $300 — by the thousands? You have to follow the world and be open.”

What do you mean by wanting the brand to be inclusive?
“Close to 25 percent of our sales in total retail is coming from e-commerce and omnichannel. That’s a way of being inclusive and approachable because millennials want an ecosystem they can be a part of. For them, it has to be seamless. Also, it’s inclusivity through product by offering the best prices.”

How important is digital to the overall strategy?
“What is important is engagement and connection. It’s not numbers or followers; it’s quality. We are investing, testing and learning to be more agile in social media. We need to push it. Eighty percent of our budget worldwide is for digital marketing. Two years ago, it was 40 percent.”

Bally Spring 18
Bally spring ’18 campaign.
CREDIT: Bally Spring 18

Where will growth come from?
“Accessories and footwear will be the categories with the most growth — specifically shoes. Bally is both men and women, where women represent 40 percent and men 60 percent, and they are equally important. The shoe business is core, but it’s not the majority of our business. We do more than 50 percent with accessories, footwear is 44 percent, and ready-to-wear is about 6 percent.”

As you continue to rebrand, what are your goals for the U.S. market?
“Growth in America is the highest for us. It’s a 360-degree approach through omnichannel [markets], our own retail stores and wholesale partners. The expectation is to grow the women’s segment in wholesale even further. The Americas at large is a huge opportunity for us, and we are developing now in Canada and Latin America.”

What is your focus in the product arena?
In casual streetwear — where Bally was 30 years ago. It’s the natural segment that is influencing the rest of the world. Collaborations are important because they allow us to have fun. They stimulate creativity in the entire enterprise, because when you do them, you work with artists. It stimulates the supply chain like crazy. These are short-term. It adds enormous stress, but it pushes the boundaries of creativity and flexibility. It also brings new clientele to the brand.”

What’s next on the agenda?
“Our second collab with Swizz Beatz. It’s going to be daring and cool, coming in October. Plus, tripling our Milan flagship store, which is opening in September.”

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