FILA - Merlatti Silvano's brand that brought style & colour to the world of tennis
Fila is a renowned brand of sportswear and accessories, favored by many sporting greats for the quality of its materials, unique designs and practicality.
Tennis championBjorn Borg, mountain climber Reinhold Messner and alpine skier Ingemar Stenmarkare but a few sport legends that have endorsed the brand, making it famousthroughout the world. An extraordinary achievement for a family business thathad a humble beginning in the early 1900's in Biella, a small town located atthe foothills of the Italian Alps in the northern Italian region of Piedmont.
Fila was not alwaysa manufacturer of quality sports apparel. In 1911, in what must be one of themost unusual cases of industrial conversion, two brothers, Giansevero andEttore Fila, took the family business from woodworking to the manufacture oftextiles. They created Fratelli Fila, a spinning factory for carded and combedwool, soon to include weaving and produce fabrics for the Biella market and itssurrounding townships.
In 1926, the familybusiness entered a new phase of growth. With the manufacture of underwear formen, women and children under the name of Magnificio Biellese, it was the startof the company's vertical integration. The entire production cycle fromspinning to weaving and packaging to distribution, was brought in-house, itsproducts spreading across Italy. By 1950, Fila had reached a peak of productionwith sales in excess of one billion lire and a workforce of more than 2500people.
Enter of EnricoFrachey
From here we stepforward into 1968, when Giansevero Fila realised that an impetus for sustainedgrowth was needed. He appointed Enrico Frachey, a visionary entrepreneur, asmanaging director to oversee the development of new markets both within andbeyond the borders of Italy. Frachey, also known by the respectful title of Dottore,had taken note of two important events that would transform Fila into theglobal sportswear brand it is today.
First, as a resultof Italy's economic boom in the post-war period, Frachey perceived that thequality of Italian daily life had changed to include time for sports andleisure. Second, he was aware that the tubular machinery used by Fila toproduce underwear would be perfect for making upmarket sports clothing,particularly for tennis.
Fila and the Worldof Tennis
Tennis in Italy andacross Europe in that time was an aspirational sport. Over the next few yearsFrachey introduced a plan that would not only transform Fila - it wouldultimately transform the world of tennis. With the confidence that Fila'scircular knit could produce a seamless polo shirt that would fit evenly andsmoothly around a player's body, Frachey enlisted designers Pierluigi Rolandoand Sergio Privitera to create designs that would highlight quality, style andinnovation as the driving forces behind Fila.
Tennis outfits weretraditionally and resolutely 100 percent white back then. Fila's new tennisapparel, which was smartly named the White Line collection, was uniquelystylish, colourful and flew in the face of tradition. Rolando, inspired by theuniform of the New York Yankees, came up with a design both classic andprovocative, the pin-striped polo shirt; while Privitera created thedistinctively red and blue "“F-Box" logo. For the collection to be a success,Frachey's implemented an innovative marketing strategy by having Rolando's andPrivitera's designs worn by the world's best players.
The White Linecollection debuted on the courts in 1973, first with Italian greats AdrianoPanatta and Paolo Bertolucci, and then, quite famously, with Swedish championBjorn Borg. Borg faithfully wore Fila'spin-striped polo and colours as he ruled the courts throughout the 1970's,winning the French Open six times in a row, and five consecutive victories atWimbledon.
Everybody wantingto emulate a champion was the guiding principle behind Frachey's marketingstrategy, and it paid off. It was a strategy that could be replicated in othersports - the White Rock collection and Reinhold Messner, who in 1978 scaledMount Everest in solitary and without supplemental oxygen, using mountain geardesigned by Fila; Snowtime and world champion skiers Ingemar Stenmark andAlberto Tomba; and Fila's swimwear line, Acquatime, with several times Olympicchampion swimmer Marcello Guarducci and diver Gregory Louganis. The list goeson and on to this very day: Fila's history is a dazzling roll-call ofinnovative sportswear designs coupled with adventurous feats.
An Eye forChampions
Fila's successfulassociation with Bjorn Borg was a 'game changer'. Indeed when Fila sought toenter the US market, its adopted slogan was Change the Game! Soon afterthe debut of the White Collection in 1973, Fila brought Australian tennisplayer Martin Mulligan into the fold. Mulligan, who was well respected in Italyhaving won the Italian Open three times during the 1960's, was the coach of theItalian Davis Cup team when approached by Fila, and had even represented Italyin the 1968 Davis Cup.
Mulligan was livingin Italy at the time and working in the field of sports apparel. Filarecognised it could benefit from his experience and asked him to move to SanFrancisco to oversee marketing and sponsorship, and in particular to look fortalent to represent the Fila brand. For Mulligan, as for Fila, this meantidentifying athletes who could adopt a strong work ethic -practice, practice andmore practice! -in order to reach their full potential. Still today, Mulligan is accompanying thetennis athletes around the world to support and look after them.
Since 1973, Filahas had an eye for champions and given support and inspiration to a legion ofyoung tennis players the world over, empowering them to reach the top of theirgame. To the tennis greats Panatta, Bertolucci and Borg, Fila can add PamShriver, Boris Becker, Mark Philippousis, Jelena Dokic, Jennifer Capriati,Gabriela Sabatini and Kim Clijisters among others. To our days Fila wasdistinctly visible on the likes of Andreas Seppi, John Isner and Sam Querrey inthe finals of the Australian Open.
It would seem thatFila's international growth in the 1970's started off due to its strongpresence in the men's side of tennis. It would be remiss however, to forget therole of Australian tennis champion Evonne Goolagong, who won both the FrenchOpen and Wimbledon in 1971, had four wins at the Australian Open singles from1974 to 1977, and gained a second Wimbledon title in 1980.
In those earlyyears, Fila was particularly popular with women in Australia; mostly due to thestyle and materials used in the Fila tops and warm-ups worn by Googalong, whichcombined well with Goolagong's equal measures of gutsiness and elegance on the court.Her endorsement marked Fila's first true presence in Australia, whose tennisapparel back then was made available through a series of importers and onlysold in boutique stores.
Since the 1990's,Fila foresaw a burgeoning market, particularly in the years leading up to the2000 Sydney Olympics. Fila Australia was born. The logo became a distinctlyvisible feature in Australian sport, not only through the flagship sport oftennis, but also through many AFL teams: Adelaide Crows, Essendon Bombers, GeelongCats, Melbourne Demons and Western Bulldogsand Rugby League teams: Melbourne Stormand Newcastle Knights. By the year 2000, Fila was appointed the officialsupplier of on-field and training uniforms for the Australian Cricket Team.
These eventsheralded a new phase of growth, reflecting the old days. In 2002, SilvanoMerlatti, who had headed up Fila in Hong Kong since 1995, arrived in Australiaas licensees with a long-term view of expanding Fila's range and outlets and tomake it the strongest brand of sporting apparel in Australia. Cogs were set inmotion and Merlatti established a new company called "“SM Brands" to act as avehicle for Fila. Fila now boasts 18 stores across Australia, most are locatedin Sydney and Melbourne, but also in Queensland, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth,with more to come. Fila is available online as well, at FILA.com.au .
In Australia, aselsewhere in the world, Fila epitomises the winning combination: quality,style, innovation, an adventurous spirit, and keeping an eye on durability andaffordability. Fila is synonymous of style for everyday wear and sport outfit.