After an absence of two decades, the Elho brand of skiwear is marking a much remarked upon comeback with a 1989 Heritage Collection, in time for sale through its own website for the imminent autumn/winter season, although its delivery to customers has yet to start. The limited edition consists of 15 items of colorful ski and street apparel, launched by a new company founded in Cologne a year ago with a capital of €100,000.
Taking on a multi-year license for Elho from the brand’s owner, Otto Schwarz, the new licensees believe that it has a chance to again break into the market as an authentic sports brand with a strong heritage like Champion, Ellesse or Fila, but with a special twist. They are making a lot of noise around the brand on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, where they are only paying €50 per day for the publicity, carefully selecting the target groups, but they plan to go more mainstream and ”lifestyle” later in the future.
Schwarz, who was the chief executive of the former Elho Brunner, had managed to raise the German brand’s annual sales to the equivalent of €130 million by diversifying its apparel range from skiing and snowboarding into hiking, surfing, sailing, tennis, golf and horseback riding, after the brand created a sensation with a very colorful freestyle ski collection in 1989. However, the company then ran into big liquidity problems, partly because it was unable to take a large batch of merchandise through U.S. customs in time for the season. It was liquidated around 1999, and Schwarz bought the rights to the brand in the proceedings, keeping it dormant until now, but many former customers and retail clients remember it.
Schwarz is now a member of the board in the new company, which is being run by Simone Pitow. She created her own consultancy after serving as German country manager for Ellesse through 2007. Pitow is being aided by her husband, Ulrich Hautzel, a former German distributor of Billabong who launched in 2008 a brand of lifestyle apparel called WLD. The name stands for “We Live Differently.” He is one of the investors in the new company along with Christoph Schaefers, a passionate skier who runs Falkenstein Nebenwerte, and Torsten Orendt, whose eponymous creative studio supervises Elho’s style direction.
Elho called in selected buyers from the alpine ski resorts to an office at the last Ispo Munich fair to show the present line. Many showed interest and provided useful feedback, but then the coronavirus pandemic disrupted its production in China. The new company is now waiting for the merchandise to come into its warehouse before taking orders for them and before honoring the pre-orders placed by many end consumers.
To put the collection together, a small team of ski and fashion enthusiasts digitized the cuts of the original 1989 Elho freestyle ski collection, modified the oversize fit, retained the detailing (pleats, decorative stitching, collars, appliqué logos) and had the items manufactured with present-day materials. The centerpiece is the ski overall, which is waterproof, windproof, breathable and available for men and women.
If this first line finds a market, the brand will be “extended step by step,” says the company. It has already developed a somewhat quieter spring/summer collection of rainwear and functional lifestyle clothing.
The original Elho was founded in 1948 by a Bavarian master tailor, Ludwig Hohenster, who made use of innovative textile engineering to produce elastic ski pants. The brand was an official sponsor of the Winter Olympics in 1956 and 1972.