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THE STRAITS TIMES - Bata steps up its game

THE STRAITS TIMES - Bata steps up its game

SINGAPORE - Bata steps up its game

Stores in Singapore will carry a new range of shoes featuring comfort technology - from acupressure to dry-fit and from air float to air vent systems.

The brand synonymous in Singapore with white canvas school shoes - Bata - is turning to new technology to woo customers.

Over six months, staring from August, the footwear company will release a new range of shoes every month in its Asia-Pacific stores. Each range will feature a different type of comfort technology, from acupressure to dri-fit technology, and from air float to air vent systems.

The air vent technology, to be rolled out in September, for example, allow air circulation within a shoe through small openings while ensuring that water and dirt are blocked out. This is for leather shoes, while the air float technology, which boosts comfort, will be applied to sandals.

The use of technology is one of the brand’s strategies to remain relevant to consumers, noted Mr Marcos Canovas, 48, Bata’s global brand manager.

He said Bata chief executive Alexis Nasard has set goals on the percentage of models on sale that must incorporate technology and these goals will be adjusted upwards every few years.

“Through technology, we are trying to say that Bata is changing and refreshing itself with the consumer, but without losing what made Bata big in the past, “the Bata veteran of 25 years told The Straits Times at the brand’s third annual fashion weekend held in April at Prague’s Zofin Palace.

The event, held in conjunction with the company’s 125thanniversary this year, showcased its new collections and featured a public interactive area with activities for children, including the chance to design their own Bata shoes.

On display were its current ranges infused with technology, such as Bata Flexible (a premium leather collection with an ultra-flexible outsole), Bata Light (a casual collection with built-in shock absorption) and Bata Insolia (a collection featuring medium to high heels that are said to improve posture and balance).

Speaking at the gala event for the fashion weekend, Mr Nasard said: “Today’s show is not only about history, but it is also about the future and how we will be pertinent today and tomorrow and after tomorrow.”

Mr Nasard, 53, who has 24 years of experience in consumer goods at companies such as Heineken and Procter & Gamble, wore a black suit paired with Power Mello sneakers.

These come under a new line of premium walking shoes with air pods to resemble the bounciness of marshmallows and were launched during the Bata Fashion weekend. They are available in Singapore stores at $95 a pair.

At the event, Bata also launched its first Asia-Pacific collection, which features monochrome python prints, floral embroidery and watercolour poppy prints on fabric wraps as accents to solid coloured shoes.

“Asia, for us, is a very important market,” said former president of Bata Asia Pacific, Mr Roberto Longo. Singapore, in particular, may be small, but is “our best in class”, he added.

“Singapore gets influence from all over the world. The trillions of dollars that pass by the businesses in Singapore make it the centre of Asia. If an idea succeeds in Singapore, it will succeed as well in other areas,” said Mr Longo, 62, who oversaw markets such as Vietnam, Malaysia and India till June 30 and is now Bata’s president for Latin America.

Singapore has been a testing ground for Bata over the years for new concepts and collections. The AW LAB, a multi-label sneaker store under the Bata Group targeted at millennials, for example, was Asia’s first when it opened in Singapore in 2017. There are now four such stores here.

Across Singapore, there currently 41 Bata stores – the newest opened in Jewel Changi Airport in April – and while there are no plans to open any more soon, Mr Longo said it is always on the lookout for opportunities to do so.

Bata has 5,300 stores in more than 70 countries, with 1,950 of them in the Asia-Pacific.

As it is a family-owned business, profit and loss details are not publically available, but Mr Longo noted that sales worldwide saw a double-digit growth last year.

While Singapore remains an important segment of Asia-Pacific market, Bata acknowledges that there are significant challenges in attracting local shoppers.

Singapore consumers may be willing to spend, but they are spoilt for choice at home and in the region.

“Singaporeans are contemporary and fashion forward and can get advanced design and styling in other countries. The currency is also strong so they are willing to travel to Europe and Hong Kong to buy luxury items during sales, “said Mr Feliz Pang, branch manager at Bata Innovation & Style Centre (Singapore).

Singapore consumers are also “very brand conscious”, added the 46-year-old. “In a way, people are sometimes slightly embarrassed to say they are wearing Bata. It has been a mindset for decades. It’s not easy to do a brand revamp in two or three weeks. It’s not possible, it’ll that time.”

Bata’s image as a school shoemaker, however, is not unique to Singapore. While actually from the Czech Republic, it is often mistaken for a local brand in many countries, including Brazil, Bolivia and Malaysia.

Mr Canovas said: “It’s tough and we know it’s tough. This image (of being a school shoemaker) that the consumer has in Asia is not just in Asia, it’s also in Chile, Bolivia. This is the image we created for a long time for an area we are very good in.”

Mr Longo agreed that such a view of Bata is inevitable as past of its success story is built on its “First to Bata, the to school” marketing campaign, but he hopes consumers will step into its stores with an open mind. “It is not a stagnant, sleeping company. We are progressing.”

Besides new technology, there are new shoe models introduced in stores every week.

Bata’s designers and buyers need only a three-month lead time to get newly launched designs at international trade fairs, such as MICAM, which is organised by the Association of Italian Footwear Manufacturers in Milan. The shoes are designed locally, tested in Singapore or other Asia-Pacific countries, the produced in China factories before being shipped and stocked in Singapore stores.

Said Mr Longo: “We just want (consumers) to give us a chance to believe they will be pleasantly surprised when they step into our stores.”

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