Bailo, a 60-year-old Italian producer of outdoor clothing, was going to merge with a younger Italian producer specializing in skiwear, Vist, but the combination did not work out for a variety of reasons. One of them was the pull-out of an institutional investor that was going to support their joint company, Officina Italiana.

Acting very discreetly, a leading Swiss workwear producer, Albiro, took over Bailo a few weeks ago. It already took over Frencys, a major Swiss supplier of skiwear for ski instructors, earlier last year, and it is now putting together a high-caliber management team to make the most of its diversification into the sports segment.

Meanwhile Punto Azzurro, a large Italian OEM manufacturer of skiwear, has acquired the Vist brand name and struck a five-year management contract for Vist, supporting and running the company while it negotiates a settlement of its debts. Elmar Stimpfl, co-founder of Vist, remains involved as brand manager and creative director.

The contract with Punto Azzurro does not cover the operations of Vist Tech, a separate company jointly owned by Stimpfl and his partner that takes care of Vist branded ski bindings and other hardware products.

Founded in 1984, Punto Azzurro has been making ski clothing for Vist and other brands such as Kjus at factories in Slovakia and Moldova in the past few years. It also holds the license for a skiwear line under the 48.10 brand name. Punto Azzurro was a creditor of Vist and it will continue to make garments for the brand.

The Vist line was going to be outsourced to Bailo's subcontractors in the Far East to bring prices down, but this is not going to happen. While further pursuing its “ski chic” orientation, Vist has readjusted its price structure in view of the market situation and eliminated the high end of its skiwear line, called Vist Aurum. The collection presented in the Ispovision section of the recent Ispo Munich fair was designed by an American, Kathleen Lampe, for a fresher and younger stylish touch.

For Albiro, its new diversification from its core business resembles in some ways the recent investment in Lafuma by another well-managed Swiss company, Calida. Founded 185 years ago, Albiro generates annual sales of around €70 million with workwear made at factories in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary and Morocco. It enjoys a good reputation for its processes.

Albiro, which was turned into a holding company in 2001, is run by a 43-year-old descendant of the family that owns it, Roland Loosli. He is credited with a modern and international vision of the business. The company's first step into the sports arena was the acquisition of another Swiss company, Frencys, that has its own factory for prototypes in Hungary and subcontractors in Romania. Like Frencys, which has a contract with Swiss ski instructors, Vist was and is still supplying ski clothing for Italian ski instructors ? on top of its more fashionable ski collections.

When the Officina Italiana project ran into financial trouble, Albiro considered the acquisition of Vist as well, but decided to take on board only Bailo. Sharing some synergies in product development, Albiro plans to keep Bailo as a boutique brand for skiwear, but the focus will remain on the outdoor segment. It also wants to relaunch Silvy Tricot, Bailo's sister brand for women's sports clothing.

Anna Zotta, who belongs to the Bailo family, will remain in charge of Bailo's sales operations, but she will report to Patrick Steinhilber, who joined Albiro a few days before the Ispo show as sales manager, after working for Nike and Kjus. Another new recruit is Armin Vollmer, an experienced product manager who previously worked for Intersport International Corporation and for Columbia Sportswear, where he helped to develop the Columbia Titanium concept.

Steinhilber and Vollmer report to Tomi Wüthrich, who joined the group seven months ago as chief marketing officer, also taking care of the general strategy of the group in the sporting goods sector. He worked previously at Odlo and Salomon. Wüthrich sits on Albiro's executive board, reporting to Roland Loosli, CEO.