As reported in more detail in The Outdoor Industry Compass, our newsletter on the outdoor market, last week Columbia Sportswear announced record financial results for 2011 on a 14 percent increase in its total turnover to $1.69 billion. Some of the increase was due to a spectacular progress at Sorel, which became the second-largest brand within the American outdoor group after a 68 percent sales increase to $150.3 million.

With an even stronger increase on the European market, where its sales have been doubling from one winter to the next, Sorel also contributed to a 24 percent sales increase for the group in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region to $275.4 million.

One main reason for these impressive scores is a strategic decision made three years ago to develop this Canadian brand of waterproof boots in the fashion segment, where other less-technical brands of rubber boots such as Aigle and Hunter have found their fortunes lately, but with a stronger component of functionality in its blend with fashion. Le Chameau, a brand of hunting boots owned by the French Lafuma group, is going in the same direction, working together with Filson on some styles.

Geneviève Couvreur, a former key accounts manager at Columbia who was made European sales manager of Sorel two years ago, has put together a large dedicated team of 25 sales employees operating in all the major markets including France, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, the Benelux countries, Scandinavia, Finland and Poland. Of those, 12 started to work for Sorel only recently, indicating that the brand's momentum is likely to continue on the continent. Previously, the Columbia brand of hiking shoes and Sorel were being marketed by the same salespeople.

At the same time, Sorel has widened its collection, addressing an urban clientele, while focusing on multiple versions of its best-selling Caribou boot. It launched desert boots and a line of sandals for the spring/summer 2011 season. It has added boots stuffed with duck feathers for fall/winter 2012-13.

Sorel has developed specific ranges for the various retail circuits, especially for female customes, and this has helped the brand to double the number of doors serviced in Europe to about 3,500 in the last three years. Of those, 47 percent are shoe shops now. While sports and outdoor retailers remain the core target in the Nordic countries, where Sorel has traditionally been strongest, the proportion is of shoe retailers is higher in southern Europe.

Sorel has shown at many different trade fairs in the last few weeks, including Pitti Uomo in Florence, Bread & Butter in Berlin and Ispo in Munich. It will show also at the Micam fair in Milan through its Italian distributor, Tutti Frutti.

Sorel started in Canada in 1962 as a brand of vulcanized shoes with a waterproof leather upper and removable lining. Previously owned by the Kaufmann family, the brand was sold to Columbia in 2000.