Confirming our earlier reports on the subject, Aerogroup International of the U.S. and Tata International, India's largest exporter of leather and footwear, have announced a long-term licensing deal for the production and distribution of Aerogroup's Aerosoles brand in Europe and India.
For the Aerosoles brand of shoes, it's a partial return to the situation that prevailed prior to the termination of a similar license between Aerogroup and Investvar of Portugal, which also covered the Middle East and South Africa. Investvar replaced Aerosoles with its own new brand, Move On, with global ambitions, but the project was a flop, creating big financial problems. Tata then acquired last May a 51 percent stake in Investvar's successor company, Move On, with its factories in Portugal and India.
Under the new deal, Tata and Move On will continue to develop a range of shoes for the European market, but they are putting the Aerosoles brand name back on them, starting with the fall/winter collection that was shown at the Micam and GDS fairs earlier this month. They are combining them with items from Aerogroup's international Aerosoles collection, which is sourced mainly in China and distributed in North America and some 15 other countries including China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Israel and Turkey.
Like Aerogroup, which operates more than 200 stores in the U.S. and other countries, Tata and Move On will again develop a network of Aerosoles shops in Europe. They have recruited a retail manager for this purpose, Alain Bongard, a former manager of Ecco and Salamander in France who spearheaded the development of Aerosoles shoes in France and the rest of Europe 10 years ago.
They are buying back the 26 existing Move On stores in Spain and Portugal, rebranding them as Aerosoles before the end of this month. They will also discuss the rebranding of about 24 other stores in France and Belgium that had been taken over by another retailer, and they are open for franchising deals anywhere in Europe. Besides 10 franchised stores in Portugal, four stores are already operating in Italy under the Aerosoles banner and under the management of Studio Tollini, which had been appointed European distributor by Aerogroup.
Studio Tollini will remain as Italian distributor of Aerosoles, reporting to Tata rather than to Aerogroup. Former distributors and agents for Move On will become agents or distributors of Aerosoles and this process is expected to be rather smooth as the two brands coexist only in Austria and Switzerland at the moment.
No decision has yet been made about the distribution of Aerosoles shoes in India. For the past couple of years, Tata has been licensing another brand of Aerogroup, Aerology, at its own Westside department stores, located in 34 Indian cities. According to unconfirmed reports, the relationship between the two companies may develop further in the future.
Meanwhile, Move On has laid off 94 of its workers in Portugal and transferred stitching operations to its factory in India. The two plants currently employ 65 and 300 workers, respectively, and the Indian staff will likely be expanded.
Move On fell short of a goal to produce a total of about 1 million pairs at the two factories last year. About half of that was contract work for big clients such as Marks & Spencer, and the company has won a few more of them lately. In the meantime, the Move On brand is being put on ice, but it may be revived for private labels in the future.