The families that own these two brands have decided to set up a 50-50 joint venture, called Aku Italia, that will take over all the assets of Aku, a leading Italian producer of outdoor boots in Montebelluna that has been trying to complete a gradual transition from the status of a contract manufacturer to a fully-fledged brand. The process will continue with Aku relying on its relative strength in summer sports and Kamik on its strength in winter sports.

Based in Canada, Kamik is the premium brand of Genfoot, a Canadian company that is also a big supplier of private label outdoor footwear to the likes of Wal-Mart. With sales estimated at about $110 million in 2008, Genfoot is a private company owned by the Cook family. Owned by the family of Paolo Bordin, Aku had sales of €13 million in 2008.

Due in part to the declining value of the U.S. dollar, Aku decided to get out of some private label contracts with American retailers a couple of years ago, except for a few majors such as Cabela’s. This has led to a major decline in its U.S. revenues, which fell by almost one-third to about $2.2 million last year. Instead, sales in the rest of the world increased by 12 percent to €11.5 million, and were mostly under the Aku brand name.

For its part, Genfoot has been expanding the footprint of its Kamik brand in Europe. The company recently acquired control of its German distributor, located near Friedrichshafen. It renamed it Genfoot Marketing Europe and placed it in charge of the German and Austrian markets.

To complement their respective businesses, Aku took over the distribution of Icebreaker in Italy and Genfoot Marketing Europe took over the distribution of Trezeta in Germany and Austria. There was also a discussion regarding Genfoot’s possible distribution of Trezeta footwear in the U.S., starting with the spring/summer 2010 season, but the project was then frozen.

It was unclear at the time of going to press whether this will happen and whether Genfoot will continue to market Trezeta in Germany and Austria, considering the Cook family’s new tie-up with Aku. Pointing out that Genfoot is not directly involved in Aku financially, Charlie Marschner, managing director of Genfoot Europe, said his company will continue to distribute Trezeta until further notice.

Likewise, it’s not sure whether Crispi will go on representing Kamik on the Italian market. With annual deliveries of more than 100,000 pairs to Italian retailers, Aku is the leading supplier of light Gore-Tex hiking and trekking shoes in the country.

Technically, Icebreaker would have the right to walk out of its distribution deal with Aku for the Italian market, if it wanted to because of the new financial set-up, but this has not been settled yet. The former company Aku has not filed for bankruptcy or liquidation, at least until now, and company officials said it may not have to do so because its debt is relatively low.

No layoffs are planned at Aku in Italy, where the staff has already been reduced to about 35 employees. The new company will also take over Aku’s nine-year-old factory in Romania, which has been carrying out most of the manufacturing, but it is possible that Aku will rely on Genfoot’s strong sourcing capabilities in the Far East for a portion of its production.