Kartel is synoymous with Padraig Harrington, who signed for the Dublin-based clothing company in 1996 and went on to spread its name worldwide through his numerous successes on the golf course. Now, with the brand entering the US market, Graeme McDowell has come aboard as an ambassador with his own clothing line, G-Mac by Kartel.
Telephone number sized contracts have never been part of the conversation when Harrington’s relationship with Kartel is discussed. But he loyally stuck with Karl Swan, the managing director, even after winning three major titles when far more lucrative contracts were thrust under his nose.
Swan has a knack of spotting talent and in 1999 he took on a Scottish journeyman pro called Paul Lawrie. Just a few weeks later, Lawrie won The Open at Carnoustie in that memorable play-off featuring Justin Leonard and the hapless Frenchman, Jean Van de Velde.
Swan had a winning bet on Lawrie that week and also managed to back Harrington before his win at the Angus venue eight years later.
And one suspects that he has picked a winning horse in McDowell as the face of Kartel in the United States, where he is a popular figure since claiming the US Open at Pebble Beach, the winning point in the Ryder Cup and that play-off victory over Tiger Woods in the American’s own tournament at Sherwood over the past 18 months.
No doubt, Swan would have jumped at the chance to make Rory McIlroy his ambassador in the US, where the world No 3 will ply his trade this year. But whatever the exact nature of the deal with McDowell in terms of finance or other brand building vehicles. Association with McDowell automatically means being associated with his young, curly-haired stablemate at Horizon Sports Management.
It looks like a win-win situation for Swan and Horizon’s Conor Ridge - the former gets a big name to back his new line of clothing and the latter, another revenue stream for his client.
Naturally, the launch comes with some PR spin and the company has decided to hook into the McDowell name and its connection with “the warrior MacDougal Clan of Scotland.”
We are told: “The history of the family is littered with incredibly strong symbolism, and it seems almost ironic that now the sporting figurehead for this family is bearing the clans motto on his ball marker: ‘Vincere vel Mouri’… meaning ‘Win or Die’.”
This collection will be a combination of the crafted style and vibrant colours that Graeme has become synonymous with, using only the most luxurious technical yarns, Pima cottons and fine wools, and will be available through some of the most prestigious golfing and high street establishments throughout the World.
“Since signing their first endorsement deal in 1997 with Padraig Harrington, Kartel has gone on to become Irelands number one brand in men’s golf apparel and achieve huge global success, selling in 26 countries worldwide. And now with McDowell set to join Padraig Harrington and LPGA Star Anna Rawson as a Kartel Ambassador they are sure to continue their success at home and abroad.”
The Golf Press Assocation’s ‘Apparel Wire’ published an interesting Q&A with Karl Swan at the end of last year, explaining the origins of the company and its expansion plans in the US.
Q & A: Karl Swan — Managing Director, Kartel apparel
By Janice Ferguson
(GPA Style Editor)
In October, Kartel, a leading Irish golf apparel label, announced its entrance into the U.S. golf attire market with a spring/summer 2012 men’s collection. The Apparel Wire recently conducted an email question-and-answer with Karl Swan, Kartel managing director.
Apparel Wire: How was the name Kartel established and what, if any, meaning does it have?
Karl Swan: In 1985, an in-house competition was set up to find a name which a, could be registered internationally; b, could easily be pronounced; and c, was legible for embroidery. With these details in mind, one staff member suggested the name Kartel, and after careful consideration, we decided to adopt the name. The staff member who suggested Kartel received a $150 prize for their participation.
AW: You are part of a 64-year family-owned company. What relation are you to the founder, John Swan, and what other family members have roles in the operation?
KS: My grandfather John Joseph Swan set up the company in 1947. In 1971, after completing his degree at Trinity College, Dublin, my father John Alan Swan began working for the business. I myself joined Kartel full-time in 2002 after finishing my own Business degree at Trinity and having spent a few years in Australia and the UK gaining business experience.
AW: The G2 Golf Suit will be part of the collection debuting in the U.S., and co-designed by Padraig Harrington. How long have you been his apparel sponsor and what is it like working with him off the golf course?
KS: In 1996, shortly after Padraig Harrington turned professional, we became his official clothing sponsor and I am delighted to say we have worked together ever since. Padraig is a super guy, extremely loyal to the brand and very generous with his time. He is a down to earth guy, just one of the lads really.
AW: Currently you have distribution in 26 countries, but is it safe to assume Kartel’s production will need to significantly increase to provide product in a large golf market like America? What are some of the things you are doing to ramp up your business and fulfill U.S. orders?
KS: It is true that the market size of the U.S. will require an increase in our volumes, but we are being realistic and have set modest sales targets for the first few years. We have also established a warehouse and embroidery station in Miami and plan to maintain a sizeable stock holding there throughout the year.
AW: The initial men’s offering includes performance polos made from polyester and also a series of luxury shirts made from mercerized cotton. What is Kartel’s strategy or mindset for offering both?
KS: The golf shirt business in recent years has seen a strong move toward performance fabrics, largely at the expense of mercerized cotton shirts, however for the moment there is still a demand for both. Our target retailers are on the better end of course facilities and although some purchase only performance shirts, others demand cotton. We believe that one of the strengths of Kartel is our color pallets, which is reflected not just in our shirts but also our sweaters, windbreakers, soft-shell garments, rain suits and trousers. In order to offer a very comprehensive range it was necessary to include luxury mercerized cotton.
AW: Do you plan on introducing a women’s line in the U.S. as well? If so, when?
KS: We do have a women’s line for U.S. but for year one it is limited in scope. This will expand exponentially for 2013.
AW: Is the collection you are introducing here different than the ones you manufacture for other countries? Are they more tailored to this market or do they have a Euro look and feel to them. And do you consider pricing at the high end or medium or somewhere in between?
KS: The garments we are producing for the U.S. market are identical in every way to those offered in Europe. We have however modified our size specs, and of course our labeling in order to comply with U.S. demands. As I mentioned earlier, we believe color is extremely important in the golf market and we feel we are very strong in this area. This may have what is known as a “European look,” but we do think it will be very commercial in the U.S. Regarding pricing, we are being very aggressive in this area, offering extremely competitive prices right across our collection. We are targeting medium- to high-end facilities with prices lower than normal for this segment of the market. We concentrate on service and after 64 years in business, we are confident that this is an area in which we excel. Having proven this in Ireland and Europe, we now intend to prove it to our U.S. customers.
Visit www.kartel.ie for more information