Since joining Formula 1 back in 2019, 27-year-old Williams Racing driver Alex Albon is no stranger to the pressures that come with competing in the high-risk, high-value motorsport.
There is glory, gold and wild gossip regularly in the Formula 1 Paddock, but Albon has maintained the status of fan-favorite for his good-natured humor and humble attitude. Case in point, before a Zoom interview with WWD from the Brazilian Grand Prix, Albon profusely apologized for being a minute late because he was sharing “a few cheeky M&Ms” with various members of his team.
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Now that Albon is more settled in his career and has more mental capacity to pursue other personal passions than just racing, Albon has debuted his own brand. Alex Albon Athletics launched its debut earlier this year in September to coincide with the Singapore Grand Prix, which the driver considers his home race. Notably, Albon is the first Thai driver to race since 1954.
Although the British driver from Thailand insists he doesn’t take himself too seriously, Albon’s thoughtful knowledge of his brand, insightful vision and passion for learning the process behind his venture shine through.
While a branded logo T-shirt or apparel would be the most logical choice for the launch of a recognizable athlete brand, Albon steered down a different road. Its first product was the Classic Marina suede and beige canvas limited edition unisex sneakers.
“I love shoes,” Albon told WWD. “I love streetwear and casual clothes. Shoes are easy because it is an obvious passion for me, which is why it is the starting point of the brand. The idea was to keep it small. Next year, my plan is to expand and make a greater variety of products.”
The sneakers evoke the feeling of a new-age fashion brand; think like Kith, Aimé Leon Dore or New Balance — “If people get it, they get it. If they don’t, it’s just great design.”
Albon emphasizes that it was important for him to be active in his product while at the same time tapping into the expertise of a non-Formula 1 racing driver friend and co-resident in Monaco who has a foothold in the fashion world.
“It’s been great to see the feedback this year,” Albon said. “When you build a brand, you have to see what people want for it. I made the product just to get my foot in the door and see the logistics behind it. How it works with tax, shipping or customer review, all to promote the brand.”
Realizing that shoes are more difficult to market and usually have a higher price tag, Alex Albon Athletics makes the sneakers for $161, Albon announced that it is difficult to make a cheaper shoe.
Maintaining quality is an important ethos for the brand’s consumer base. Additionally, accessibility within the brand’s price points and appeal to a wider consumer audience with the brand is something that Albon is very much aiming for.
“If the price point is wrong or the quality is not what people expect, it’s bad, not only as a brand but as an athlete and personally,” Albon said. “If you make things too expensive, you’re out of touch. A lot of the fans, especially now in Formula 1, are younger and even a bit more female-oriented.”
Entering the sport during the early days of Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” hype and being part of the older Gen Z demographic himself, Albon has interacted with newer fans and consumers of the sport that have put the docu-drama into the life of. racing.
Last November, Formula 1 chief executive officer Stefano Domenicali reported that women now make up 40 percent of global fans, an 8 percent rise from 2017.
Noting that 85 percent of women have the purchasing power but have long been overlooked in the racing market, San Francisco-based Formula 1 commentator Toni Cowan-Brown examines its intersection with technology, politics and internet culture caused it is not surprising that women. to be the main consumers of Formula 1 driver brands such as Daniel Riccardo’s Enchanté or Lewis Hamilton’s +44.
In general, athlete-led brands can often feel like a cash grab or an easy opportunity to take advantage of a dead end but Cowan-Brown has seen a huge change in the landscape of how athletes changed their approach to create longevity for meaningful retail business. .
Athletes today are becoming more strategic and smarter about where they end up after their careers end, as many don’t live beyond 10 to 20 years, claims Cowan-Brown. They are now creating their own brands to tell their own stories about who they are and what they stand for.
In particular, Formula 1 drivers were forced to be more creative in how they successfully marketed and created their brands; use of “Formula 1,” “F1,” “Grand Prix,” “Paddock Club,” sport logos, team names and team logos for their brands and promotions has trademark legal issues.
In many ways, Albon’s brand straddles the line between fashion and fan merchandising completely while adding to the narrative of who he is — beyond just being a Formula 1 driver. The brand’s marketing is intertwined with life. Albon’s personal by incorporating his popular Instagram family pet account run by Albon’s siblings and his longtime girlfriend and professional LPGA athlete Muni “Lily” He.
“If you want to sell anything, put it next to a cute pet,” Cowan-Brown said. “Lily and Alex are an amazing power couple that everyone loves. It’s a great idea on Alex’s part to bring components of his life that only he can into his brand and turn that into a moment of ‘If you know, you know.’ The racing subculture and the close-knit community of women interested in Formula 1 — even the most casual fans — are a big part of it.”
Albon’s brand is as light and playful as it gets, which is evident in its campaign imagery and marketing strategies. Organically, he received endorsements from fellow drivers Fernando Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda, who showed interest in his footwear and were seen wearing the snacks in Singapore.
Before the penultimate race at this year’s inaugural Grand Prix of Las Vegas, Albon wore a pair of his Marina Classic shoes in navy blue that he designed for himself for the “Netflix Cup” – a crossover event between Formula 1 stars and pro-golfers. from “Full Swing” together to competing against each other.
With the Formula 1 racing season coming to an end and having successfully overcome the hurdle of dropping the brand teaser, Albon is planning more releases for the coming year. He plans to keep the main line at an accessible and affordable price. But the special drops that are adapted to the races of the particular country throughout the year will be more luxurious and will allow the driver to be more creative and express himself more.
“For 2024, there is one range that is more casual and everyday wear – an annual range,” said Albon. “It’s a bit simpler with my logo and a few other little things but good quality. Throughout the year, we have a cool storyline and concept behind the race calendar. We’ll throw in some special pieces that are a little higher for a few races throughout the year. I hope to incorporate the marketing, my helmet and everything else about this idea.”
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