Established in 2003, 361° is an integrated sportswear enterprise which principally engages in brand management, research and development, design, manufacturing and distribution in China and across the globe. In this interview, RLI sits down with Stephanie Jin, Group Vice President and General Manager, Overseas Business to talk about the brand’s major expansion drive into Europe.

The 361° company is a global sports footwear and apparel brand whose mantra is ‘One Degree Beyond’, a concept which helps drive their customers to go further than they previously believed possible, using their products to do so.

Originating in China, most of its brand stores are located in the mainland area, but it also has a growing number of concept stores appearing outside of China. Today, the brand has in total around 8,000 stores across the world.

The company is currently focusing its efforts on expansion across the European region through its performance category. This is built around the fantastic core range of high-performance running shoes including the best-selling 361-CENTAURI, which features best-in-class technology that suits the needs of both the independent running retailers, which is the best place to find their products in the EU and UK and ultimately their end consumer of runners of all levels and abilities.

Taiyuan City Shanxi Province, China

“Going forward, the opportunities for our business are unlimited. We will continue to heavily focus on performance running, whilst also beginning to introduce other high-level performance lines, such as basketball, as we develop our positioning and brand awareness in the region,” explains Stephanie Jin, Group Vice President and General Manager, Overseas Business.

“In the EU, we feel we have a strong point of difference compared to a lot of bigger, more established brands. We aspire to be “the brand” of the independent running retailer by focusing our attention on specialty running retail, using marketing efforts to drive consumers to our retail partners instead of buying on our web shop. By being a brand you would only see in a specialty running store, 361° is able to be marketed differently as a legitimate high-performance running brand.”

When discussing initiatives to maintain their presence in the market, Jin highlights that the process for the business involves identifying trends and gaps in the marketplace, using their team of talented experts and designers to then move quickly in a way to capitalise on these gaps and bring products to market. They are constantly pushing boundaries, thinking about how they can use their resources to further support the needs of their customers, which includes incorporating fresh concepts such as using carbon dioxide as a foaming agent in their supercritical midsole platform “ENGAGE”.

In the EU and UK, their marketing strategy has been built around the idea of engaging with the best running specialist retailers in the region, using an omni-channel approach of digital, social and in-person activity to build trust and awareness through them. They act responsibly in the way they choose the partners they work with, helping them to present themselves as a running brand to the consumer.

The key focus for Spring/Summer 2023 has seen them begin a ground-up approach. For 361°, this has meant being visible in-store, often working with key retailers to build community focused events, where potential customers have the chance to test out their shoes on a run, free of charge. By being active in the community, they can build long-term relationships with the selected retailers and help potential customers to associate 361° with the store, so that the next time they are in the market for a new pair of running shoes, their company is the one they think of.

“In the future, for key products such as Centauri and the upcoming trail shoe Futura, we will make use of emerging technology to present information in an easy to digest, digital format through scanning a QR code attached to the shoe. This allows us to offer an immersive view of both the brand and individual product’s story, sometimes acting as a sales tool at the point of sale, or as follow-up information post-sale,” Jin explains.

Social media is an important aspect for any company, but for 361° it forms a crucial cornerstone of their omni-channel approach to marketing. This means keeping the message consistent, whilst adapting the content in order to better engage with each platform’s audience.

One emerging platform that is key in their industry is Strava, which is used by all athletes to share their activities with their friends. Much like other social media platforms, a brand is able to create a page (called a Strava Club) in order to appear in feeds.

“The runners and athletes of Strava often use the platform as a much more personal ‘journal’ of their sporting endeavours when compared to Facebook or Instagram. With this in mind, wit is vital that we match the sentiment of these users, allowing for us to hopefully be heard through the noise,” highlights Jin.

Like a lot of actions in the running footwear industry, the sustainability commitments of the company are very much product-focused. As mentioned earlier, their all-new platform design incorporates industrial carbon dioxide as a foaming agent in a supercritical process. By using CO2 gas, the midsole is able to take on bouncier, lightweight properties compared to previous types of midsole foam, whilst also helping to remove carbon dioxide from the environment.

In addition, they now make use of recycled yarns to produce upper fabric. As a complete package, Jin says they are still a long way away from being fully sustainable, but they are really proud of the steps they have taken so far and excited to keep innovating, both in their processes and their products to help make the world we live in a greener place in the future.
As our time begins to run out, we ask Jin what lies ahead and what is the greatest challenge facing the business?

“Like many newer brands, the greatest challenge is breaking through the noise. We understand our brand awareness in the region is still relatively low. This, coupled with widespread overstocking in the running industry from other famous running brands, has slowed down the growth of 361° for a few seasons, particularly post-pandemic. However, we have seen excellent growth in recent seasons and it is important that we stay the course, rise to the challenges faced and make use of the talent we have at our disposal, acting as a close-knit team, pushing to go ‘One Degree Beyond’,” Jin concludes.