While its business is improving strongly in China, 361 Degrees International has been making rapid strides in Europe after it teamed up with Zitra, an arm of the Otto Group, to establish European distribution earlier this year. This hard-hitting partner has already started selling the Chinese brand's international range in most European markets.

Four years ago Zitra started to handle the distribution of a gaggle of fashion brands around Europe. It takes advantage of the infrastructure of Hermes Group, the company issued from the Otto Group that specializes in sourcing and logistics, to offer various levels of services to external brands. 361° enables Zitra to diversify into the European sports market, for which it has set up a separate sales force.

If the brands have their own sales people in Europe, Zitra may offer an “order to cash” package in which it takes care of delivery, financing and other services. Then again, it may take care of the entire sales, marketing, delivery, after-sales and financing process with a “sales to cash” package that comes with a higher service fee. In both cases, Zitra firmly buys the products from the suppliers.

The European managing director for 361° is Derek Binns, who has been in the sports industry for many years as one of the founders of Gore-Tex in Europe, and then as a consultant. The sales manager in the German-speaking countries is Ricki Höhn, who previously worked for companies such as the former Carli Gry, S. Oliver and Mexx. Höhn spent four years until 2012 as commercial director at O'Neill.

Zitra started distribution for 361° in the German-speaking countries and the U.K., where Zitra itself is most strongly established. Over the recent months it built up its own sales force in other large European markets, while teaming up with distributors and agents in smaller countries. The company is also preparing to launch a pan-European online store.

The deal with Zitra is part of the Chinese brand's international strategy, which has already led to the opening of offices in the U.S. and Brazil, as previously reported. The company wants to capitalize on its sponsorship agreement with the organizers of the Rio Olympics and to have established the brand at retail level before the Games take place in 2016. The secondary-level sponsorship deal should yield strong exposure, since 361° will supply about 111,000 uniforms for torchbearers, volunteers, technical and other officials – and it has obtained some accompanying marketing rights.

The group's international range is almost entirely distinct from the 361° marketed in China. It has been developed in the last two years by a team based in Taichung, Taiwan. The entity currently employs about 50 people led by Otto Lin, a former director at Pou Chen Corporation, the company behind Yue Yuen Industrial. The international range is much more performance-focused than the Chinese range and manufactured separately.

Zitra's marketing activities in Europe are focused on performance sports, such as running and fitness. It drew interest by sponsoring the Runner's World running shoe symposium at Ispo Munich, and last month it offered free tee-shirts and shoes to the participants at a public fitness training session organized in Cologne in conjunction with Fibo, the fitness fair held in that German city. The session was a pre-opening event for Fit Deutschland, an initiative to provide free local fitness training and web-based support – starting in Cologne in May and later covering other German cities. 361° is the strategic partner and supplier of Fit Deutschland.

The distribution concept calls for Zitra to sell 361° as a brand offering top value for money for consumers, an ample mark-up and very flexible replenishment. 361° products are to be sold through independent specialist stores, sports retail chains and department stores.