A Remarkable Revitalisation: How K-Way rose from the flames
The resurrection of an old and outdated brand is a daunting challenge at the best of times. For clothing brand K-Way, a phoenix-like revival was literally needed. A fire razed the French-based factory to the ground in 1992, destroying all the product and also the brand’s historical archives. The company struggled to recover, eventually stopping all production in 1999.
In 2004, K-Way was brought back from the dead by BasicNet group, owners of classic Italian footwear brand Superga, who bought the brand. Then began an remarkable story of brand rising from the flames, with the brand still going strong almost 20 years later.
K-Way was founded in 1965 by Leon Claude Duhamel. “On a rainy day, he observed as people rushed by in soaking wet clothes, with uncomfortable umbrellas in their hands,” the brand’s website explains (1). “He had an insight: creating a waterproof object that could be carried all times, but which was neither an umbrella nor a raincoat”. He invented a lightweight, waterproof jacket that could be conveniently folded and zipped into a small, wearable pouch. K-Way was viewed primarily as a practical and not particularly fashionable. In particular, it became a popular choice for schoolchildren needing reliable protection against possible rainstorms. The association with schoolyard days lent it some nostalgic charm, but limited its appeal as a fashion brand.
1. Look back: what made you famous?
In rejuvenating the brand, the K-Way team looked back, assessing the roots of its initial success. The team stayed committed to the core product principle that made it famous: creating outerwear designed to combat unpredictable weather, particularly rain, while maintaining style and comfort. This is illustrated by the core rain jacket still taking centre stage on the brand’s online store (below).
Distinctive brand assets
The other key element that the brand has stuck with in the distinctive visual identity. The brand’s iconic blue, yellow and red coloured stripes continue to be used throughout its product line and branding. In addition, the brand’s logo has remained constant, almost 60 years after the brand’s birth (see advert below from the 1960s). The revival strategy drew upon nostalgia associated with these brand assets, whilst infusing them with a modern twist to renew K-Way’s appeal.
2. Look forward: refresh made you famous
The product range received a refreshing facelift, combining the brand’s heritage with cool, contemporary designs. The line now boasts an array of clothing items. These include contemporary takes on the classic rainmac. And a broader range including sweatshirts and hoodies that bear the distinct K-Way touch. It was one of these hoodies (see below) that I bought on a recent weekend away in the French seaside town of St Malo, inspiring this blog post.
I also love the way the brand riffs on its iconic products in communication. The example below features the famous colourful raincoat (left) and pouch (right) but presents them in a fun, impactful and humorous way.
3. Refresh your retail presence
Retail strategy played a key role in the brand’s rejuvenation journey. A first flagship store was opened in Turin in 2010. Further openings followed in famous fashion centres including New York, Paris, Milan and London. Store locations were picked to be in buzzy, trendy areas, such as Soho in New York. Sleek fixtures, natural light and open layouts were used to create an inviting atmosphere. Interiors also highlighted the brand’s iconic tri-colour theme.
The St Malo store is a great example of the brand’s fresh, colourful and contemporary retail approach. Chatting to store manager Killian I learnt that St Malo is in fact the biggest K-Way store in France. This could reflect the fact that Brittany is famous for being quite rainy!
4. Create smart partnerships
To bolster its brand equity, K-Way has also embarked on smart partnerships with other iconic brands. Done well, this is a great way for a brand seeking to rejuvenate itself to “borrow” memory structure from the partner brand. In the St Malo store I spotted two such collaborations, both utilising the distinctive K-Way colours to create a distinctive product concept. The first was a cooler sleeve for champagne brand Veuve Clicquot. This cleverly creates a sort of raincoat for the champagne bottle. The second was a notebook designed with iconic stationary Moleskine, which also found its way into my shopping basket!
In summary, the K-Way story shows remembering and refreshing what made a brand famous can literally bring it back to life. It is a great example of staying loyal to your brand’s foundational elements while reinventing your range and presentation to resonate with today’s younger consumers.