At the beginning of the year, the start-up Panther entered the market for equipment for children. Managing Director Joachim Plesch reveals details about the business and the early days.

How long has Panther been on the market and what products do you sell?

Managing Director Joachim Plesch: We have been on the market with our children and youth brand Panther since January of this year. Our products are headwear in the broadest sense, they revolve around the child’s head. On the one hand, we offer children’s ski helmets that are particularly attractive due to their removable ears. On the other hand, our range includes Öko-Tex 100 certified caps and hose scarves. For both product categories we work with licenses, for example from the shipment with the mouse, Janosch or the small raven sock. In November the Grüffelo was added.

What is the philosophy of your company? On your homepage you admit not to know anything about textiles and trade, but to appreciate beautiful products for children.

In fact, at the beginning we had no idea about textiles and retailing. Had that been the case, I don’t know if we really would have done it. Our philosophy is very simple to describe: We make products in which we would like to see our children. As sustainable as possible and above all without compromise when it comes to safety or freedom from harmful substances. In addition, we always want to be visually positive or surprising - just like with our ski helmets. Basically, we want to express sustainability, fairness and appreciation with our products.

Gorfion, the company behind Panther, exhibited at the Kind+Jugend start-up area. How was the response?

The response was basically positive. All visitors immediately wanted to try on our ski helmets and above all take off their ears. This attracted our attention and we met some potential partners. Honestly, however, we are at home with the ski helmets in a niche market that is not particularly well represented on the children and youth market. In addition, it must also be said that the start-up area is certainly expandable. I would have wished for a place like a big blackboard or a coffee bar in the centre, which invites you to stay or to communicate.

You have already mentioned your new product for the winter season: the ski helmets in 3-D mouse and panther design. How did this happen?

The impulse came from my daughter, who needed new ski poles. There was a licensed product from Disney’s Elsa in the store, which led to a certain need for discussion. This made us realize later on the piste that unlike bicycle helmets, there were hardly any licensed products for children in winter sports. If you take a look at our ski helmet now, you will see why we came up with this idea. To attach a logo to a helmet would have been a bit boring. We wanted to do something new and so we combined the round helmet shape with the ears of the mouse from the WDR show. This results in the exact head shape of the mouse with the ears in addition. This gave us an integrated design: we virtually recreated the mouse head in 3D. That was new and somehow also very funny to look at. Then we just tried it out.

Where do you have the helmets produced and how did you find the manufacturer who can?

The helmets are manufactured in Italy by a small traditional helmet manufacturer who also supplies Alpina. The search for a suitable partner was quite difficult. The helmet concept with integrated Velcro ears did not yet exist. This had to be understood first of all, as it requires an additional process step with the gluing on of the Velcro tapes. For this reason alone, it was important for us to stay in Europe. So you can meet at short notice and discuss things. Of course, we also wanted to avoid long transport distances. In addition, we wanted to be sure that our helmets for children were really manufactured in accordance with European standards in terms of safety (DIN EN 1077), environmental protection and social aspects. Unfortunately, the production of winter sports equipment is now mainly located in Asia, which made it all the more difficult. In the end, we were lucky that at Mango Sports the product manager found our idea as cool as we did.

Little Raven Sock, The Mouse or Janosch: What criteria do you use to select the licenses for which you offer products?

Our licenses must fit our simple philosophy: The characters must stand for values such as mutual trust and esteem, and they should do so in a stable manner for years to come. We don’t want hype, we want to make beautiful products in the long run. Apart from the mouse, our licenses are classic children’s books - not primarily TV series. This, too, is a statement: you read books, enjoy them and pass them on to your children later.

What distribution channels do you use?

We have a hard time with our helmets in sports retailing. Our assortment is quite small, which is often cited as a reason for refusal. This is why we are primarily present in the online trade - via our website or also via Amazon. We would like to become more present in the trade. Our helmets actually live from the fact that you can really see and touch them. This is our big task for the next years. Our textiles for children, on the other hand, are already somewhat better represented in the retail trade, but mainly in the book trade.

What tips would you give to other new companies that want to venture into the children’s outfitting industry?

As a business economist, I always thought we took everything into account, but you never did. That’s why it’s immensely important to have someone neutral analyze your own market assessment and above all your purchasing decisions again. Often you are so convinced of your product that you don’t accept the objections of third parties. However, you should listen to them very carefully and consider to what extent this cannot be a problem or how to find a solution. Especially in the area for children one should not be blinded by the fact that all children love and therefore great products are always well received. The children’s sector is just as tough a business as everyone else. The trade, for example, has to earn money - the question is, can it do that with your product?


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Link: The start-up Panther focuses on original and high-quality equipment for children.

Image: Gorfion