The perfect balance

The Stuttgart start-up company ID Sports is celebrating global success with its Gibbon Slacklines brand
09.04.2010 | 

Gibbons live in Southeast Asia and are the smallest members of the ape family. Gibbons are the only species in that family to stay with the same mate for all of their lives. The Stuttgart company ID Sports GmbH is hoping for some of that loyalty from its customers. Since 2007, the founder Robert Kaeding and his team have been developing and selling slacklines under the Gibbon brand name. Slacklines are straps of up to 25 meters in length that are stretched tight at knee height between trees or lanterns in order to balance on the lines and do all kinds of artistic tricks. The resulting balancing movements are not unlike the movements of gibbons.

A key to the success of the Gibbon brand lies in the simplicity of the product, which Kaeding and his team have refined even further and have thus made accessible to a wide audience for the first time. At first glance a slackline is just a strap with the suitable fasteners. But that already posed the first obstacle for many people. This is because, as a by-product of climbing as a sport, since the 1980s slacklines were practically always secured in the same way using knots, carabiners and pulleys. "Our idea was a "plug and play’ approach", says Kaeding. And so he developed a system comprising just two parts: a long strap with a loop and a short anchor part with a sewn-on ratchet for tightening the strap. This means that only a few flicks of the wrist are needed to set up a slackline.

Kaeding and Co. used the video portal YouTube to show the world how this was done. Their idea was that the green phase of a pedestrian traffic light at a busy street in the centre of Stuttgart should be long enough to set up a slackline between the posts of the traffic lights, to cross over and to remove the slackline again. The marketing idea was a complete success, as the video quickly developed cult status. This was followed by TV appearances, and since then new YouTube clips are popping up on a daily basis with fans all over the world showing off their newest slackline tricks.

The roots of the company lie in the creative agency IPDD, a service provider for product development and design based in Stuttgart. Since 2003, Kaeding had been designing products there that were commissioned by other companies. In the summer of 2007, a friend of his brought him back a slackline from his vacation. "Initially I thought "not another new trend product’", laughs Kaeding. Nevertheless the 32 year old set up the strap in his garden, "and then I just couldn"t stop", he says. "I practiced and practiced and after half an hour I was able to balance, after two hours I was able to take the first steps, and the next day I was able to walk across it". Full of enthusiasm, he showed the new sport device to his boss Stefan Lippert at IPDD. He in turn was immediately very taken, and supported Kaeding’s idea to develop slacklines without being commissioned by other companies and to bring them to market independently. They founded their own company for this project, and ID Sports was born.

ID Sports sold 64,000 slacklines in the first year of founding, making it the global market leader. There are now 11 permanent employees in Stuttgart, who manage the development, production, marketing and sales to 37 countries. "Maybe our success is also due to the fact that we are all slackliners ourselves", says the founder. "The whole company is completely dedicated to this project. Both employees and customers identify strongly with the Gibbon brand".

And it is not just young people who slackline. With products with different designs for the 5 to 99 year old age group, ID Sports is opening up slacklining to a broad target group that encompasses everything from the market for toys to the sports equipment market. "We are currently targeting the areas of therapy and sport promotion", Kaeding reports. The three-dimensional wobbling movement is ideal for training balance and muscles in ankles, knees and hips.