With April Fool's day long gone, this is no joke: As pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia reported on Friday, Russia's famous rifle maker Kalashnikov is on a diversification drive and has decided to try its luck in fashion, not surprisingly with a range of "military style"-inspired casual clothing and accessories.
"I worked for many years in the automotive industry and do not understand how it could be that we do not have our own line of branded clothing and accessories," said Kalashnikov's marketing director Vladimir Dmitriev as quoted by Izvestia. "Giants such as Caterpillar and Ferrari recorded an increase in revenue by up to 10 percent just from the sale of apparel under their own brands. Kalashnikov is a global brand and we rightly believe that clothing and souvenir products with our symbol [on it] will be in demand among buyers on par with the main products," he added.
Dmitriev explained that the move is inspired by western sanctions, which have caused the company to lose access to major markets in Europe and the US. In 2014, after Russia's annexation of Crimea, the US and European Union had imposed sanctions against Russia, which they have since extended over the country's ongoing involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Maker of famous AK-47 rifles is looking to diversify
Since then, Kalashnikov has lost a big chunk of its business in the EU and US, which used to make up close to 70 percent of the company's hunting and sporting weapons market. Thus, Kalashnikov is focusing on the domestic market, where it plans to carve out a niche for itself in unlicensed civil products, namely its own line of sportswear and casual wear as well as souvenirs. The company is planning to open 60 branded apparel stores in Russia by the end of the year itself.
"Military-style and military-themed clothing is very popular around the world," commented Vyacheslav Zaitsev, fashion designer, when speaking to Izvestia. "And if we approach the creation of a professional clothing line, I think it will be a very good business. Especially in case of Kalashnikov, playing the role and using the name of the company itself - a brand that is associated worldwide with one of Russia's main symbols."
Kalashnikov is by no means the first to cash in on the connection of military-style merchandise: The Russian manufacturer of armored vehicles Uralvagonzavod produces t-shirts, caps, sweatshirts, jackets and shoes as well as accessories like laptop bags, tablet and phone covers and briefcases under its own brand, UVZ. And then there's the Russian army, advertising military-style clothing and accessories with its own bright logo - a red star, divided by two white stripes - and operating stores in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities.
Though no doubt, there is a market for everything war-themed and patriotic, initially potential customers may be skeptical and Kalashnikov could be the butt of jokes - already comments online range from questions about the extend of the company's "killer fashion" and what calibre it will be to requests for underwear with special defense features. James Bond, anyone?