AKU Italia, SRL, is a privately owned company founded 30 years ago by Galliano Bordin. The iconic brand, headquartered in Montebelluna, Italy, is well-known in the trekking and outdoor footwear industry as an iconic heritage brand. In the past year in the U.S. and Canada, AKU had 16 percent growth attributed to expanded distribution at specialty retail with an increase in the number of doors for AKU’s F/W19 boot collection.
We sat down with Richard Cook, owner of AKU Outdoor, Inc., pictured right, headquartered in Canada, to learn more about the brand and what it offers to today’s active outdoor consumer.
This year has proven to be a significant milestone for AKU’s growth in North America. Yes, the AKU brand is extremely well-known and has a strong market share in Italy and throughout Europe. One of our important national retail partners tested AKU boots in their stores and on their website last year, and we are excited that they have decided to maintain their AKU web presence and triple the number of stores offering AKU boots in 2019.
What is the difference between AKU Italia and AKU Outdoor Inc.? The ownership of AKU Italia is both myself and the Bordin family. Originally the family owned the company 100-percent. About 10 years ago they were looking for a financial and operational partner. The resources we had at Genfoot, the company I worked for at the time, drew interest from the family, and we worked out a deal where Genfoot would acquire 50 percent interest in the company and the remaining interest would be retained by the Bordin family. The success of Genfoot’s investments has been highly correlated with the quality of the people that work at the AKU Italia family in general. Of Northern Italian heritage, the family is very much attached to the brand, are hardworking, loyal and dedicated.
You were the President at Gen Foot for 18 years during the period. Yes. One of my responsibilities was to oversee the AKU investments in an advisory position. We were able to capitalize on certain synergies between the brands. Recently I left Genfoot to work exclusively with AKU.
AKU Italia is the Italian arm, operating in Italy, Europe and elsewhere around the world outside of North America. AKU Outdoor Inc. is a separate Canadian company, which I run, and is the North American distribution company for the AKU brand. We offer a personalized focus to be more flexible and more responsive to the sports specialty channel with our key independent and national chains in North America.
What separates AKU from competitor brands? One, it’s an Italian brand, and with that goes a long-range history of technical competence and manufacturing roots in Europe with Italian craftsmanship and attention to detail. Two, we use a three-dimensional last to manufacture our boots both at the forefoot and the underfoot. Your foot sits in the boot in unique way, and the impression you get when you put on a pair of AKU boots is a comfortable fit. There is limited to no break-in period.
What is the core of your business? Technical hiking boots are the core of our business, but we have expanded our offering into mountain-inspired footwear to give regional retailers, connected with the AKU brand, a collection for the customer that not only wants to hike but also wants to run around in the city with shoes with the same craftsmanship as our boots. AKU Rapida pictured above.
Our primary market are the people who have a real connection with the outdoor and share their enthusiasm and respect for nature. We offer footwear that gives them the ability to enhance their enjoyment of the outdoors with our boots that are secure, comfortable, supportive and light-weight.
Our collections fall under three general categories—trekking, hiking and urban—with a separate category for Outdoor Sportsmen. We have a following with Special Forces in the U.S. and NATO countries because our boots are so well made, lightweight and waterproof.
What is AKU doing to address sustainability in manufacturing? Europe has been leading the charge in sustainable manufacturing for a long time. The U.S. has recently caught up. Because AKU manufacturers locally in Italy, there is a real focus on the level of sustainability we use through the supply chain all the way up to manufacturing, using raw components and processes that are less environmentally harmful.
We use leathers that are certified to have been processed using chemicals that are less harsh to the environment. AKU is staying ahead of the pack by staying focused on the consumer’s interest in how manufacturing effects the environment. We design and produce all of our footwear in Europe. More than 90 percent of our raw materials and components used in our shoes are locally sourced and 100 percent traceable.
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What are the key products we should be watching? The Alterra collection, the Alterra boot pictured left, has received tremendous accolades. We’re very proud of that. It has an outdoor design tailored to the walking stride of your foot. The boot has a heel strike on the outside of your heel so as you walk, you have a push-off onto the toe of your foot.
The outsole and insole have been tailored to accommodate an individuals natural stride with better propulsion, stability and comfort. The boot has a neoprene last so there is no tongue. As you put your foot in, there are no pressure points when you lace up the boot. It’s incredibly comfortable. The shoe has great distribution at retail in the U.S. and Europe for Spring 2019, and we expect to continue to generate more momentum.
The Bellamonte, pictured left, is the other shoe. It is an urban-inspired hiking boot. The third product is the Rapida, pictured above left, a very light, mountain-inspired shoe that’s also fashionable and comfortable to wear. We are introducing the shoe for Spring 2019.
What inspires you about the brand? The AKU family are young individuals who are incredibly engaged in the business and the brand. It’s very inspiring when I go to Italy and interact with them. They have a real passion for the outdoors which comes through in everything they do. And they are very keen not only on talking about sustainability but actually doing something about it. And our ambassador athletes. They are so full of life and energy with a love of the outdoors. It is contagious.
Photos courtesy AKU Outdoor
Written and posted by Teresa Hartford
Group Publisher | Creative Director, SGB Media