For nearly two decades Australian sportswear company Skins has produced high-quality compression clothing while continually challenging the industry it supplies. From boasting its wearers “cheat legally” to announcing itself as the ‘official non-sponsor of FIFA’, Skins’ uncompromising advertising campaigns have defined the young brand against its larger, less abrasive competitors. CEO Jaimie Fuller has been at the forefront of the company’s growth into a global player, sold in 31 countries and counting. Will Skins mellow in its twenties? Ask a stupid question...
On early difficulties
The first difficulty, in a practical sense, was in 2002 convincing the most butch athletes and players in the world that they should wear tights. Today, guys in tights is pretty standard, but 14-15 years ago tights were still synonymous with ballet dancers. The second difficulty, and this is applicable to every business, was finding the right people. As great as the technology is, as great as the product is, at the end of the day the brand succeeds or fails on the quality of the people around you.
On the moment he knew Skins had made it
I bought the business in December 2002. In 2003 the majority of our revenue was coming from sales to elite athletes in Australia and the UK. In 2004 we started to push into retail, and in the middle of 2005 we did our first advertising and marketing campaign. In the wake of that campaign we saw the uplift in the business – I could even tell you the date! It was January 2006 when we realised we had something pretty special. The product was flying off the shelves and we were suddenly being contacted by retailers.
On his favourite Skins advertising campaign
Jesus. That’s like asking who’s your favourite child. There are two which sit at the very top. The ‘we don’t pay sports stars, they pay us’ campaign. [Portraying athletes with upside-down Nike ticks across their mouths.] That was a piece of creative brilliance. The other campaign was last year, launching ourselves as the special non-sponsor of FIFA because everything we stand for, they stood against – and vice versa. Both the FIFA and Nike campaigns made me wet myself. [continued below]
On the banned Skins campaign
We did another campaign in 2009 that was banned by multiple countries. We interviewed black and Hispanic athletes about what life was like being non-white in sport. No script, they just spoke. We cut this incredible 90-second video that was subsequently banned. What was interesting is we played the video in Australia and New Zealand, and the majority of negative comments came from people I’d describe as ‘white supremacists.’ The video was bold, it was challenging, but in my opinion it certainly wasn’t racist.
On the Skins Partnership with Investec
We have a clear perspective of what our brand stands for, which is fuelling the true spirit of competition. We’re also a challenger brand, up against brands much bigger than us. Those two aspects sparked our interest in Investec. Their stance on apartheid and their status as a challenger in a massive global industry really resonated with me.
On the obligation of a brand to its industry
All brands and all businesses have an obligation to leave it better than how they found it. Our attitude can’t be “we’re going to make as much money as possible and fuck the consequences”. Specifically around sport, there is no question that all brands have an obligation to act ethically. Sport is in public ownership. Sport has a massive impact on society – I’d suggest that outside of family, the three most impactful areas are sport, media and culture. Being involved in the sport’s business isn’t a right, it’s a privilege and obligation to act accordingly.
On the ethical failure of Skins’ rivals
When I see doping in athletics or other sports I am immensely frustrated by the lack of fortitude and moral fibre from our competitors in not being prepared to take an ethical stand. Having said that, it falls nicely into our marketing and business strategy that they don’t, because it enables us to take a point of view and stand out. If every other brand was doing this then we wouldn’t have a platform. [continued below]
On challenging the governing bodies
We’ll take on anyone that we see – these guys are the custodians of our jewels. This sort of stuff isn’t particularly sexy. Going after the issue of governance in sport doesn’t really resonate with the consumer. The IOC [international Olympic Committee] is a big one. That really needs the torch shone on it very closely, because they claim to be the leaders in ethics and integrity in sport, and we’ve seen recently that’s not the case.
On keeping sight of the big picture
We’re looking at big issues, we’re not picking at little things – we’re looking at cultural and systemic problems. As I say, we see it as an obligation. It’s hard to celebrate the acts of sportsmanship on the pitch if you’re not prepared to do the hard yards.
On the greatest threat facing sport today
Match-fixing and betting. I don’t think the public really understand the danger it poses. We need a big chunk of money invested to bring forward bodies that investigate match-fixing, work with police forces, go out and gather the intelligence. We need to see a coordinated, cohesive attempt to do this and my challenge to the betting companies is for them to take a leading role in the resolution of the problem and make it happen.
On whether age will mellow skins
Absolutely not. We’re nowhere near this stage but Nike is a good example. Nike started off as a challenger brand and still today they act as a challenger brand. Once you become more mature you continue to act as a challenger. If anything, I want to push the challenger envelope, explore even riskier areas. I certainly don’t want us to become safe and go into a shell. We’ve got a very clear brand identity, and I’d rather push it than dull it down.
Jamie Fuller is featured in the Investec Private Banking Restless Spirits campaign, which champions pioneers of business with social purpose. For more information visit thestand.investec