By Eric Smith

Kari Traa is the eponymous women’s sportswear line that Traa—a Norwegian former professional freestyle skier and winner of several Olympic medals—launched in 2002, though the brand didn’t enter the U.S. until the 2015 Snow Show in Denver, CO.

And what an auspicious debut it was. Active Brands, the parent company that owns and operates Kari Traa plus six other brands, had decided only a few months earlier to launch in North America, so a late application for exhibiting at Snow Show relegated the brand to one of the last booths available—right next to a bathroom.

That locale proved to be fortuitous, however, according to Henrik Lumholdt, general manager, Active Brands North America. He said steady traffic past the Kari Traa booth throughout that event gave the brand invaluable exposure it might not have enjoyed elsewhere on the show floor.

“It turned out to be a stroke of luck,” Lumholdt told SGB Media at the most recent Snow Show. “The show opened at 9 a.m. and at 9:05 a.m., the head buyer for Title Nine out of San Francisco was in the booth. She looked at everything and said, ‘I need this brand. Where do I start, who do I contact, how do we do this?’ I thought, ‘Wow, we barely opened the door and we’re already doing business with Title Nine.’”

Of course, optimal booth placement wasn’t the only reason Kari Traa got noticed and started landing in prime retail doors like Title Nine and REI. “The brand really stood out as well,” Lumholdt said.

The next few years would see Kari Traa continue to stand out as it steadily gained both mind- and market share in this newest market. The same thing is now happening for the other assets in the Active Brands portfolio. The Oslo, Norway-based company also owns Daehlie (running and cross country skiwear) and Sweet Protection (helmets, protection and apparel), both of which are now sold in the U.S. and also gaining traction.

Active Brands also owns Bula Europe (baselayers), Vossatassar (kids wear), Johaug (women’s sportswear) and Asnes (skis), all of which are sold overseas.

Active Brands’ 2018 annual revenue was €110 million (US$125 million). The company, whose North American office is in Broomfield, CO, where it employs 17, has seen sales of Kari Traa, Daehlie and Sweet Protection either double or triple since launching here, Lumholdt said, and the long-term goal is for North America to become a third of sales.

Here is the rest of SGB Media’s conversation with Lumholdt, including his comments on how the Kari Traa brand has gained popularity in such a short time and the company’s goals for this market.

How do you think Active Brands has positioned its portfolio, especially Kari Traa, in the North American market? If you look at Kari Traa, timing is always everything. We happened to hit the U.S. market at the time when there was a real need or desire for something new and fresh in the marketplace. Obviously, you can’t just introduce products; there needs to be a story behind the product that the consumer can relate to. With Kari Traa, Kari is a real person and has done some amazing things in her life, not just in terms of products but also a lot of the things that she stands for as a woman in a very male-dominated world. In Norway, for example, she started an anti-bullying campaign online, and she talks a lot about women’s issues in general. At the same time, she’s fun and feminine and loves to hang with the boys. The point she tries to get across is: “We want to be treated equally and we deserve the same respect that men get whether it’s in business or on the slopes.” In Norway she’s a rock star. She cannot walk down the street without being asked for her autograph.

How has Kari’s “rock star” story translated to U.S. retailers and consumers? Over here, nobody really knows who she is, but she has a compelling story, so once her story comes out at events or we explain it to U.S. retailers or consumers, they love everything she’s done. That’s something that we need to build upon now. Our objective for the first couple of years was really just to build distribution, get product to the stores, make sure it’s merchandized properly. Trying to get a story out wasn’t the biggest focus for us, but now that we’ve reached a level of solid distribution, we’re going to try to build the brand and give the brand her voice over here. We’re not just another brand in a store, but a cause behind the brand.

As an exclusively women’s brand, what kind of response have you seen from women in the U.S. in terms of adoption? They feel this is real. It’s not a bunch of guys sitting in a room coming up with women’s collection. Everything is built from scratch, and if you look at the Kari brand itself, outside of sourcing, there are roughly 70 people working on it and it’s 67 women and three men. It’s a women-driven brand and there’s a lot of female empowerment. That is so much in the DNA and it works. We’ve been very successful with everything we’ve done so far. For the consumer who has taken the time to go on the website or Google Kari, they’ve gotten a sense of who she is and what her beliefs are. They have said to us, “I love the clothes, but I always really appreciate the fact that there’s a strong female voice behind the brand itself.” That means something to them. So I think we’ve been lucky that way too.

Where does North America rank in terms of percentage of revenue now and where do you see it going? Does this market have the largest potential for Kari Traa, Sweet Protection and Daehlie? We believe so based on everything that’s going on right now. We have doubled or tripled our sales every year in North America since we launched the brand four years ago … and our long-term goal is for us to be roughly 30 percent to 35 percent of total worldwide sales. The way we see it: Scandinavia will be one third of total sales, Europe outside of Scandinavia will be one third and North America will be one third. That’s the plan right now. We haven’t done anything in the Far East, and I’m not sure when we’ll do that. Right now we’re growing so quickly here and we want to make sure we can keep up with production and the whole infrastructure and be able to support that. We’ve invested a lot in ERP systems and other capabilities, which will get us ready for the next stage.

What does your channel strategy look like around that growth ambition? Is this primarily (or entirely) specialty, and is the goal to get into more doors or grow in the doors you have? It’s really a matter of growing with the doors we have. The largest we have is REI—and some people would say they’re not specialty because they’re so big, but we see them as specialty. In Canada we’re in MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op). If you look at our distribution channels right now, it’s probably 30 percent ski, 40 percent outdoor and 30 percent hybrid stores, like Paragon Sports in New York City, which is really more of a sporting goods department store that you can’t classify as ski or outdoor. We’re also in a number of running stores, but that’s the mix right now.

Any direct-to-consumer? We launched e-commerce in December, but the plan is not so much to drive e-commerce from our site. Instead, we’re really trying to make it a place to showcase the brand. Our website should be almost like a magazine where you can opt in to content about Kari. Obviously, there will be options where you can buy online or be directed to our store locator, and pricing-wise, we’re always going to be at MAP. Our thought with the site is to offer products that our consumers won’t find elsewhere or products you can’t find at REI or other retail doors.

Any plans for your own branded retail stores? Possibly. We’ve talked about it, but we don’t really have an owned-retail strategy at this point in time. Maybe a partnership store at some point. Maybe if Vail or Alterra comes to us someday and wants to start a partnership store, we’d be open to that.

Photo: SGB Media


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Eric Smith is Senior Business Editor at SGB Media. Reach him at or 303-578-7008. Follow on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.[/author_info] [/author]