Oberalp has announced the acquisition of Evolv, described as the first fully-fledged American brand of climbing shoes, from BRS Outdoor Holdings, an investment platform of BRS & Co. The price of the acquisition was not disclosed. The brand, which generated sales of about $8 million last year, will fit neatly into the Italian company's portfolio, complementing its Salewa brand of apparel and its Wild Country brand of climbing equipment.

Reportedly cherished by the climbing community in the U.S., with a particularly strong position in the rental programs of the nation's climbing halls, Evolv needed a strategic partner with a solid financial position to compete in the U.S. and internationally with the likes of La Sportiva and Scarpa, two international suppliers that are Italian like Oberalp, and with the new offerings of Black Diamond in the growing segment of climbing shoes.

Wild Country, a British brand of climbing gear that invented the so-called “friend” and that was acquired by Oberalp in 2012, had tested the waters in the footwear segment a couple of years ago with some styles of Wild Country climbing shoes fitted with Michelin soles, but the project didn't work out. Oberalp will help Evolv to develop better products with a touch of Italian design and more sustainable materials.

It will also use its own sales network in North America to expand Evolv's distribution in the region before targeting other markets. Climbing is expanding rapidly in the U.S., with an estimated 1,500 young people adopting the sport on average every day.

Oberalp will subsequently seek to help Evolv to establish itself in other markets where climbing is also growing strongly, such as China, where the Italian company is performing particularly well with other house brands like Dynafit. Oberalp feels that Evolv also has strong potential for development also in Japan, where Wild Country is performing well, and in South Korea.

For the moment, about 95 percent of the 120,000 pairs of climbing shoes manufactured by Evolv at its own factory are sold in North America. The brand has no distributors in Europe and only a few clients in the region including Bergzeit, the specialist online retailer owned by the same Oberrauch family that owns Oberalp. Christoph Engl, chief executive of Oberalp, indicated in an interview that it plans to do what is necessary to boost the presence of Evolv in Europe but only at a later stage, starting with the online community, and will try to respond to the demand of the market in the meantime.

The addition of Evolv to Oberalp's own brand portfolio will enable the group to offer a complete solution for rock climbers, reinforcing its position as a leader in mountain-related products, while specializing each brand in its own segment, in contrast with other market players. The timing of Evolv's acquisition is particularly good because sports climbing is growing rapidly as a fitness activity and is set to become a new discipline in the Tokyo Olympic Games next year, giving it more exposure around the world.

Evolv will also boost the group's expertise and market position in the outdoor footwear sector. Following the development of new hiking products by Salewa and Dynafit, it already represents about 27 percent of the revenues generated by its own brands.

Evolv was founded in Los Angeles in 2003 by Brian Chung, a passionate Korean climber who – in collaboration with Chris Charma, an iconic climber who is now retired in Spain – built up the brand in the climbing community of the Yosemite National Park. Some of Evolv's operations will be transferred to Oberalp's U.S. sales subsidiary in Boulder, Colorado, but Chung will remain involved with the brand, contributing his expertise in product and brand management. Chung will also continue to oversee Evolv's athlete team, which includes Daniel Woods, Kai Lightner, Ashima Shiraishi, Paul Robinson, Steph Davis and Alex Johnson, among others.