Footwear Plus | February 2017

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Bold Silhouettes, Rich Materials and Saturated Hues Headline the Season







Purveyors of luxury European comfort footwear

Tel: (800) 361-3466 -

SEE THE BORN FALL 2017 COLLECTIONS at TASM | FN Platform and at FFANY | New York Showroom | 575 7th Ave | New York, NY




AS Classic

Corrente Molyer

Turkish Touch and Turkish Sensitivity


La Pinta

Ilhan Esen

The TASD (Turkish Footwear Association) together with Martin Berendsen invite you to visit our booth at the PLATFORM SHOW. Booth number 81828



SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2017 7: 3 0 A M – 9 A M


PREVIEW FALL '17 ATLANTA – GALLERIA RM. 106 February 11th – 13th PLATFORM – BOOTH #82342 February 21st – 23rd BSTA – BOOTH #1010-14 NORTH HALL February 26th – 28th MICHIGAN SHOW February 26th & 27th WINDY CITY SHOE SHOW March 7th & 8th




F E B RUA RY 2 0 17 F EAT U R ES 16 Under the Influence Marketers are increasingly turning to social media stars, a.k.a. influencers, to generate brand awareness. By Ann Loynd 18 Returning Champion Gary Champion, president of Clarks Americas, reports on righting the ship his first year back at the helm. By Greg Dutter 24 Local Heroes For six decades, Towson Bootery has focused on expert service, fit and family. By Kathy Passero 28 Trend Spotting The Fall ’17 preview: leading silhouettes, materials and colors. By Ann Loynd

Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL Ann Loynd Fashion Editor Emily Beckman Associate Editor Kathy Passero Editor at Large Melodie Jeng Contributing Photographer ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher

52 Stepping in It A recent spate of social media–driven fallout has forced a handful of brands to atone for accused missteps. By Greg Dutter

Allison Kastner Operations Manager

60 Leading Lady Sturdy yet feminine block-heel loafers land a starring role this fall. By Ann Loynd

D EPA RTM ENT S 8 Editor’s Note 10 This Just In 12 Scene & Heard 50 My Turn 70 Shoe Salon 72 This Just In 76 Outdoor 78 What’s Selling 80 Last Word PA G E


Greg Dutter Editorial Director

46 Proven Winners Designers focus on versatile and dependable styles for kids to meet the demands of cost-conscious parents. By Emily Beckman

56 Color Story Designers go deep on indigo, a lush and versatile hue. By Ann Loynd

This page: Clarks penny loafer, Whistles turtleneck, Tahari jacket and Elizabeth & James culottes available at Bloomingdale’s.

Caroline Diaco Publisher

On the cover: block-heel loafer from LFL by Lust For Life, Eileen Fisher pants and Elizabeth & James top available at Bloomingdale’s; vintage vest, stylist’s own hat. Photography by Trevett McCandliss; fashion editor/styling: Ann Loynd; hair and makeup: Nevio Ragazzini/Next Artists; model: Olivia H./Fenton Model Management.

FOOTWEAR PLUS ™ (ISSN#1054-898X) The fashion magazine of the footwear industry is published monthly (except for bimonthly April/May and October/November editions) by Symphony Publishing NY, LLC, 36 Cooper Square, 4th fl., New York, NY, 10003-7118. The publishers of this magazine do not accept responsibility for statements made by their advertisers in business competition. Periodicals postage is paid in New York, NY, and additional mailing offices. Subscription price for one year: $48.00 in the U.S. Rates oustide the U.S. are available upon request. Single copy price: $10.00. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to FOOTWEAR PLUS, P.O. Box 8548, Lowell, MA 01853-8548. Publisher not responsible for unsolicited articles or photos. Any photographs, artwork, manuscripts, editorial samples or merchandise sent for editorial consideration are sent at the sole risk of the sender. Symphony Publishing NY, LLC, will assume no responsibility for loss or damage. No portion of this issue may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. ©2008 by Symphony Publishing NY, LLC. Printed in the United States.

Katie Belloff Associate Art Director Production Manager

Bruce Sprague Circulation Director Mike Hoff Digital Director OFFICES Advertising/Editorial 135 W. 20th St., Suite 402 New York, NY 10011 Tel: (646) 278-1550 Fax: (646) 278-1553 editorialrequests@ Circulation 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300 Corporate 9Threads 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300 Xen Zapis Chairman Lee Zapis President Rich Bongorno Chief Financial Officer Debbie Grim Controller

We present the New AW17 Collection at the Atlanta Shoe Market, February 11 - 13, and at the FN PLATFORM Show in Las Vegas, February 21 - 23.


Heal Thyself

the dawn of a new retail age MUCH CONTINUES TO be written about the demise of brick-and-mortar retailing, department stores in particular. If you took many of the headlines at face value, you’d think only a handful of decayed and desolate stores (tombs, really) were hanging on by a frayed thread that Amazon will soon rip with its e-commerce clutches. In the case of some Sears outlets, that seems accurate. The once venerable American retail institution is the poster child for what’s wrong with traditional stores. Its selection and format are staler and stiffer than a week-old bagel, and some locations look like a Third World flea market—after the hurricane blew through. Is it any wonder these former mall anchors are disappearing? In retail, you reap what you sow. The New York Times recently ran an article, “Department Stores, Once Anchors at Malls, Become Millstones.” (How’s that for a doomand-gloom headline?) Not surprisingly, online retailing was cited as the main reason the format is struggling, followed by discounters and fast fashion chains. The best analysis, however, came from the comments section. Mr. Anonymous wrote: Visiting a department store used to be an experience. When you go into them now, they are almost empty of staff. There will be one manned register in some obscure corner. You will be asked to show ID if you want to use your credit card. You will be looked at as if you are insane if you want to pay with cash. Either way, you will be made to feel you are inconveniencing the lone checkout person. If you’re in a lower-priced store, the air-conditioning may not be working. There may be a shoplifter alarm that goes off every time someone enters. Why put yourself through this when you can shop online? What Mr. Anonymous and the article didn’t mention is that the country is over-stored—a house of cards bound to tumble eventually. Online competition, which includes a growing number of brands selling direct to consumers, is just the biggest wrecking ball. Also

overlooked in this article is the fact that store closures, while painful, are restructurings aimed at improving the overall health of sick retailers. Macy’s, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney haven’t said they are giving up on brick-and-mortar. Being leaner, nimbler and wiser should help their bottom lines and allow them to upgrade existing formats or invest in new ones. It should also be noted that many digital retailers are investing in physical store expansions. Far from signaling the end of brick-and-mortar retailing, these changes represent the end of retailing as we’ve known it. It’s the dawn of a new retailing era, one filled with new technologies that will blend the worlds of online and in-store shopping seamlessly. It’s an exciting time! Resisting it is futile and counterproductive. Retailers must be willing to look in the (dressing room) mirror and ask themselves if they’re doing what it takes to remain relevant. And today that mirror should have an interactive touchscreen offering styling tips, information on what’s in stock and online ordering capabilities. Consumers expect sophisticated shopping interaction and service—just like they get online. Gary Champion, president of Clarks Americas and the subject of this month’s Q&A (p. 18), believes technology is the key to enhancing the in-store experience. Despite the challenges, he foresees a leaner, healthier store landscape that includes plenty of independents. The tier, he notes, has already weathered department stores and big box dealers. And with the right mix of service, selection and technology, Champion believes independents can thrive. This month’s profile (p. 24) of Towson Bootery is a good example. The second generation-owned family shoe store is alive and well—in a mall, no less! Owner Alex Rudolph and his daughter Stefanie are remodeling to accommodate growth and better serve their clientele. For 69 years (and counting), the store has seamlessly blended a selection of leading brands with expertise in “fitting shoes the old-fashioned way.” While new technologies are changing the face of retail, some bedrock facets remain as vital to survival as ever. That aside, the near term looks to remain rough as many brickand-mortar retailers reconfigure, reinvest and reinvent—all at once. Reality sometimes bites—hard. Then again, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Greg Dutter

Editorial Director

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Purveyors of luxury European comfort footwear

Tel: (800) 361-3466 -


Hear Me Roar! Genuine or faux, New York women look furocious in fuzzy coats, boots and scarves. Photography by Mary Kang

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Forelli ankle boot and wingtip by Corrente showcase Turkey’s craftsmanship and modern style.

Turkey on the Menu FUN FOOTWEAR FACT: Turkey is the world’s fourth largest producer same capabilities. “The ability for a customer to order an overall number of shoes, making approximately 700 million pairs annually. Its primary of pairs but not have to commit to specifics on colors or styles because export markets have been Russia and Eastern European countries, and we can adjust as we get closer to season is a huge selling point,” he says. now the Turkish Footwear Association is seeking to expand its reach to “If somebody receives a delivery in February, we can deliver more pairs North America and Western Europe. It recently named industry veteran by end of April or early May.” In China, Berendsen notes, factories are Martin Berendsen as export manager for those regions. already working on the next season’s orders and reordering isn’t possible. Berendsen has been sourcing shoes from around the world for decades, “This type of flexibility and speed is exciting,” he says. working in executive positions at Reebok, Dr. Martens, Camper and Vans, The Turks’ eye for design and craftsmanship also makes the country among others. The list of sourcing partners has included factories based an attractive sourcing partner. “They work in an artisan way. It’s not in China, Vietnam, England, Spain, Portugal, Italy and, as recently as a like some factories, where it’s like the cows come in one end and the few years ago, Turkey, where he was CEO for the Turkish shoes come out the other,” Berendsen offers. The fact that brand Inuovo. The man knows a thing or two about Turkey is considered a European country is another selling which countries have strong footwear manufacturing point. “There are very few people who only want to buy bases. After a recent tour of about 25 Turkish factories, product from the Far East,” he says. “If they could buy Berendsen believes that Turkey is one of them. shoes elsewhere for better quality and style and not much “Many of the factories I visited are well organized, more in price, they would.” Berendsen believes Turkish produce incredibly nice shoes and at very reasonable quality is on a par with Portugal, but for a lower cost. prices,” he says. He is representing 12 factories to start, Berendsen will be at the Turkish Footwear Association’s which make a range of men’s and women’s styles in booth at FN Platform this month showcasing about dress, fashion and comfort categories. Suggested retail 20 styles from each factory. He will also lead factory prices run mostly from $80 to $300 and all include tours for select customers at the Turkish government’s healthy markups. “These are shoes that I’m very proud to expense. It’s all about finding the right match between Martin Berendsen represent,” Berendsen says. “This is a great opportunity customer needs and factory capabilities. “Some factories Export Manager for companies to partner with these Turkish factories.” are looking for agents, others want to do big numbers Turkish Footwear Association Berendsen cites several reasons he believes Turkey has with a handful of customers, and some lower-priced the potential to be a major sourcing partner for the West. They include factories are seeking a bigger volume of customers,” he says, noting flexible production capabilities, design talents and strategic advantages. that pricing is the same whether ordered through him or straight from With regards to the latter, he notes that in today’s rapidly evolving retail the factory. Berendsen would also like to consider a deal with National landscape speed to market is critical. The days of ordering six to nine Shoe Retailers Association where a brand is offered exclusively to its months in advance and hoping one guessed right on trends is too risky. independent retailer members. “Exclusivity is becoming more imporHe points to the success of fast fashion chains H&M and Zara and the tant,” he notes, adding that once a partnership is running smoothly his recent struggles of many department stores as proof. Those chains focus will turn to bringing new factories into the group. “We haven’t deliver goods on much shorter lead times and are able to fill in during even touched the surface of Turkey’s overall sourcing potential yet,” a season. Berendsen says some of these Turkish shoe factories have the he says. —Greg Dutter

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Larry Paparo Joins Esquire Footwear

Shoebuy’s New Jet Engine

THIRTY-YEAR INDUSTRY VETERAN Larry Paparo—most recently CEO of LJP Intl. and licensee for Mootsies Tootsies, Nine West Kids and Robert Graham—has joined Esquire Footwear as president, sales and business development. Esquire Footwear’s portfolio of licensed brands includes Disney, Nickelodeon, Marvel, Limited Too and, its most recent acquisition, Build-A-Bear. The collections span kid’s, women’s and men’s styles. “It’s just an amazing stable of great licenses and characters that consumers relate to in so many different ways,” Paparo says. “They have very strong legs, and they are global.” Indeed, Paparo’s successful track record, particularly in the kids’ market, coupled with Esquire CEO Lee Cohen’s aggressive growth plans look to be an ideal match. “I like the team atmosphere and being able to fulfill the charter and not just dreaming about something,” Paparo offers. “We definitely both have similar vision to grow this business.” “With Larry joining our team at this extremely exciting time in the growth of our company, we gain footwear industry savvy, business-building know-how and strong leadership skills,” Cohen states. “These attributes are essential as we continue to grow and push deeper in the footwear marketplace.” Fall ’17 includes a “first-of-its-kind” DIY slipper program in its Build-A-Bear line that will expand to include other character properties in the portfolio. Kids stuff the pillow-like character heads at the toe and attach a heart patch. They are then instructed to kiss the heart to bring their slippers to life. “The child engages and bonds with the slippers,” Paparo explains, noting that the concept is in step with children’s desire to personalize items. “Everything is so cookie-cutter today, and this is a great way kids can feel unique and special,” he says. Paparo reports that the company has great expectations for the concept as well as its Beanie Boos slipper collection. He says the latter is “the best-selling slipper by far in the market right now.” Paparo believes licensed characters offer multiple connection points for consumers. Not only is the character a draw, but the right products add to the equation. For example, he says Esquire’s Peppa Pig and Minions styles will cause kids to tug on their mothers’ arms to demand the shoes. But to ensure a sale, the shoes must fit the child’s needs, be it a rain boot or a performance sandal. “My aim is to build shoes that meet the child’s needs and then layer on the character,” he explains. “The key to success is making the product a good experience for both the child and the parent.” Paparo has high expectations for the Esquire portfolio and looks forward to future additions. “Long-term, we have created an incredible foundation for growth,” he says. “We are well-positioned to acquire more prestigious brands and licenses as well as expand the categories in our existing properties.” To that end, he notes that the open-to-buy is already often on the table, thanks to the fact that many of the properties are in stores in the form of jackets, clothing and backpacks. “We have one foot in the door because they want this character to complete the wardrobe,” he says. That said, Paparo knows quality is the key to generating repeat business. “We must build shoes that work, fit and have staying power,” he says. “We are striving to be the pair that always sits in the front of their closets.” —G.D.

WHEN NEWS LAST month broke that Jet, the online retail engine of Walmart, acquired ShoeBuy for $70 million, most pundits viewed it as a potential win-win for all parties. For Walmart and Jet, it ramps up their entry into the online footwear space, instantly tapping into ShoeBuy’s long-standing industry partnerships it has developed since launching in 1999. It also presents a potential counterbalance—down the road—to Amazon/ Zappos. For ShoeBuy, it gives a broader consumer audience, increased financial muscle and greater technical knowhow to gain market share. “In order for ShoeBuy to realize its full potential, we needed a stronger strategic fit as part of a forwardthinking e-commerce organization,” says Bob Mullaney, president. “The increased marketing spend focused on both brand and revenue driving will up sales.” ShoeBuy had previously been a division of IAC, a media/online conglomerate that includes the sites, The Daily Beast and Mullaney projects Jet’s reach and resources to improve ShoeBuy’s brand awareness, customer volume (shopping both ShoeBuy and Jet sites) and introduction of new shopping experiences. In regards to the latter, the key word is curation. “It will evolve into an enhanced curated shopping experience versus transactional,” Mullaney says, noting that it’s a development process Jet is moving quickly on. “Jet realizes the need for a curated, shopping experience with stronger navigation,” he says. “Expect individual athletic, outdoor, fashion and trend shops in the near future.” Mullaney also cites Jet’s SmartCart technology as an asset to ShoeBuy and its wholesale partners. “With SmartCart, Jet has set out to restore balance to e-commerce by not lowering prices on items, rather offering value associated with cutting costs in the supply chain, such as in the use of debit cards or opting out of free returns,” he explains. “This isn’t a discount of brands or products, rather a conscious decision of the services our consumer is willing to forego or not.” In a letter sent to its partners following the sale, ShoeBuy CEO Mike Sorabella noted that the deal comes at an optimal time. The site had just completed its “strongest revenue growth in almost a decade” and he expects the business to grow this year and beyond. ShoeBuy and its approximately 200 employees will remain headquartered in Boston as a standalone brand and a complementary site. It currently sells about 800 brands spanning shoes, accessories and clothing. —G.D.

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blogger “The Tie Guy,” adding, “They’re looked at as inspirational.” “These are people who your audience wants to trust,” adds Felicia Sullivan, founder of marketing collaborative Marketers are increasingly turning to social Phoebe & Kate. media stars, a.k.a. influencers, to generate brand Experts define an influencer as someone who has a following on social awareness. By Ann Loynd media and communicates a targeted message to that audience regularly. “It’s someone with a specific point of view, who is able to share that with their followers in a way that [resonates],” says Sullivan. “[They] connect with their readers in a way that propels them to buy. There’s an element of trust.” These taste makers range from micro VER THE SUMMER, Los Angeles–based women’s influencers with 1,000 Instagram followers to macro—those with millions of apparel and footwear e-commerce site Revolve rented fans, says Sullivan. Brands define “true influencers” as those with 500,000 to a Hamptons mansion for the month of July. The guest a million followers, notes Hawker, and the price of a single Instagram post list was a Who’s Who of social media starlets and fashion from them can run upward of $25,000. “Underground, cult influencers” bloggers including Chiara Ferragni, Eleanor Calder and with 15,000 to 20,000 followers are more affordable and can provide highly Natasha Oakley. While in residence, these influencers effective niche opportunities for brands, she adds. posted a steady stream of carefully staged shots and The challenge for brands is separating legit influencers from the multitude commentary to their millions of followers in real time on Instagram and of poseurs. The Internet is filled with wannabes who think they’re the next Snapchat—all with the hashtag #RevolveintheHamptons and all while wearing Kardashian or Jenner. They Tweet, blog, vlog and Snapchat like real influthe trendy shoes and clothing available for sale on Revolve’s site. encers, but marketers need to do their due diligence to avoid phonies who Such influencer campaigns are central to Revolve’s marketing strategy. The buy followers and use software that generates automated likes or comments retailer also partners with blogs like Sincerely Jules and Fashiontoast to proon social media platforms, warns Sullivan. She tells of a friend who posted mote festival style and an exclusive bash it throws at Coachella about her dog passing away and got each spring. The strategy appears to be working: Founded in the following comment: “Love your 2003, Revolve attracts 40 million page visits each month and jewelry line!” has a loyal, 1.2 million–strong following on Instagram. For a “The content market is flooded, company that targets Millennials, as Revolve does, experts say and it’s getting more and more difsuch influencer-driven marketing can be highly effective. ficult to weed out who actually has “Social media has replaced traditional advertising for any influence,” agrees shoe expert Millennials,” says Erin Hawker, owner and founder of Agentry Meghan Cleary. PR. “Millennials seek social media out.” Software designed to root out frauds Revolve’s chosen influencers aren’t necessarily can help. Tools like Social Blade (which household names. They are not famous musicians, illustrates gains in followers over the Menswear actors, designers or fashion editors. Their talents blogger Taylor past two years) and Follower Check lie in their ability to attract massive followings (which analyzes a random sample of Camp, a.k.a. on social media and convince their followers “The Tie Guy,” followers) unmask imposters with fake to buy the brands they wear and/or endorse. followers or bots. Armed with those in sponsor It’s a trend that has turned the media world on Allen Edmonds. tools and some good old-fashioned its head. Gone are the days when reaching the scrolling, it’s relatively easy to spot masses required expensive celebrity endorsement pretenders, experts say. deals and traditional media outlets. Today, social media allows The hallmark of true influencers relative nobodies to become influential somebodies if they’re is a deep knowledge—and love—of savvy enough to create a unique image and develop a following. their chosen topic, and the ability “An influencer is someone constantly aware of trends and to use it to connect with others who what’s happening in fashion,” explains Taylor Camp, menswear share their passion. As bestselling >77 16 • february 2017

[ H ER I TA G E ]

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CHAMPION Marking his first year back, Clarks Americas President Gary Champion reports on righting the ship and steaming toward bigger and better results.

ARY CHAMPION KNEW he had his work cut out for him when he returned to Clarks Americas last February. He’d spent eight years away, first serving as president of Geox, North America for a year and then heading Earth Shoes for six years. Clarks, where he had spent 25 years, was not the same company he had left. Not by a long shot. As senior vice president of sales, Champion had been instrumental in building the brand into one of the industry’s marquee businesses, with annual sales north of $800 million, and creating a revered corporate culture among its 300-plus employees. But a lot had changed after his departure, and much of it was for the worse. The missteps stemmed largely from new management’s decision to globalize the business, according to Champion. Perhaps the worst “streamlining” move of all had been transferring U.S. product development to England. It didn’t take long, he says, for the styling to become out of touch with the tastes and demands of American consumers. Making matters worse, the bugs in Clarks’ new state-of-the-art distribution center hadn’t been worked out, creating numerous shipping delays. These led to markdowns that further ate into profit margins. It became a vicious cycle. On top of that, the company had shifted focus to the volume end of the market, ignoring premium independent retailers who had been key to its earlier success. In a word, Champion says, the business had become a mess. “They siloed out the divisions and stopped communicating with one another,” Champion explains. “It got to the point where they

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O&A paralyzed employees and couldn’t get anything done because no one could get answers. Then we lost the connection with our consumers and retailers.” Things got so bad that Tom O’Neill, Clarks’ chairman of the board, embarked on a worldwide, months-long due-diligence tour, interviewing upward of 2,000 employees to find out how the company had gotten off track. He concluded that the business wasn’t stabilizing, nor were solutions being put into place where one could envision significant improvements. Changes had to be made, starting with the departures of Clarks’ global CEO, CFO and head of HR. Not long after, O’Neill, as interim CEO, determined that the U.S. division president wasn’t getting the job done either. Then he gave Champion a call. Over dinner the two talked about why he had left, what he’d been doing since and whether he’d be interested in coming back. Champion said he would, but only with the autonomy to recreate the structure in place during his first stint with the brand. “I want people to be working for me and with me,” he explains. Another What are you reading? stipulation: Bring product development Extreme Ownership back to the States. Done and done. Thus by Jocko Willink, the began the return of a Champion—literally commander of American and figuratively. Sniper Chris Kyle’s unit When Champion walked back into the in Iraq. It’s about office, he received a standing ovation from their training methods employees. Some had tears of joy running and philosophy of taking down their cheeks. Far from deeming ownership, which are himself a shoe messiah, Champion believes great principles to live their reaction showed how difficult the by. It’s phenomenal. business had gotten and how debilitatI just bought the book ing the downturn had been on morale. for everyone in my Still, about 50 percent of Champion’s leadership team. old team was still there, a credit to the

are everyday value propositions. “There’s a real strategy now that’s built for success,” Champion says. The days of losing business are over, as he assured the team at its recent sales conference. “I told them that this is the day we turn the corner. We are not giving up any more market share,” he says. “We’re going to show people again what Clarks can be.” Champion is thrilled to be leading the charge. In fact, leaving the first time was the toughest business decision he ever made. “I grew up with the brand. This was family to me,” he says. “To walk away from the business when it was very healthy and with [former President Bob Infantino] still in charge was really tough.” But Champion was determined to run a company, and Earth Shoes’ rapid growth during his tenure as president proved he could. “We basically built that brand from scratch,” he says, noting Earth’s negative heel design was the starting point. “The brand driving that business today is our interpretation of it.” What’s more, the experience made Champion a better executive. “I’m not the same person a very interesting time I was before,” he says. “I’ve learned so in the U.S. I think it’s an much about managing businesses, brands exciting time, but there’s and people. People rely on you to make also some trepidation the right decisions so they can work for because you just don’t a healthy company and provide for their know where this guy families.” Champion says he welcomes the [Donald Trump] is going challenge and responsibility of running to go. Clarks Americas and making the business bigger and better than ever. “The company What is the best busihas always treated me well,” he says. “The ness decision you’ve opportunity to come back to the brand I ever made? Returning to love, to fix it and move it forward…It was Clarks. just too good to pass up.”

strong culture that had once existed at What is inspiring you? Clarks. “They are still here because they Watching my son become love the brand,” he says, noting that the a father for the first time. Clarks family has always treated employees How he is handling that well and provided room for advancement. is amazing and inspiring. “The company has traditionally bred opportunity for good people,” he adds. In a word, the shoe (Champion himself started as an entryindustry right now is... level HR person before moving to sales Stagnant. four years later and climbing the ranks to senior vice president.) “That creates The state of the United loyalty and passion, and the people here States? Time will tell. It’s truly care about this business,” he says. Indeed, Champion believes that much of the talent required to return Clarks to its marquee position is already in-house. His main task is providing the focus and direction they need to excel. “We have 358 combined years of experience in our sales force just in selling Clarks,” he says. “We have both the knowledge the relationships to run a successful business. It’s all here.” Building on that experience, Champion has overseen the introduction of a tiered business model—one loaded with fresh product to be cleanly distributed. (Now that the distribution center is up to speed, the goods are being delivered on time as well.) At what he calls “the halo,” sits Clarks Originals, a relaunched lifestyle collection for Fall ’17, and a revamped Privo brand. Below that is the contemporary Clarks line, which includes more sophisticated styling. At the base sit the Cloudsteppers by Clarks and Clarks Collection products, which

How would you grade your first year back? As far as getting control of our business is concerned, I think we’ve done a terrific job. But we are only a quarter of the way there. We understand now where and how things are moving, what and how much we are selling and how much we are earning. We also have an Which talent would you adequate product line for spring, and our most like to have? ESP. fall line is strong enough to start getting back the market share that we’ve lost What was the last movie over the last three or four years. While you saw? Allied. I’m not expecting to get it all back in one season, we will start getting it back that season. Our team recognizes the big step forward we’ve taken in product, and we are shipping again on time for spring. We won’t let our inventories get out of line again because we’ve got the right controls in place now.


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If you could hire anybody, who would it be? Condoleezza Rice. She’s brilliant, a great statistician and very strategical. I have always admired the way she handles herself.

All systems are go? It’s just about getting that machine working in the right direction again. Dawn Porto, for example, really knows our product lines. She’s been here for 12 years and learned under the engine that was driving our business forward. She was part of the women’s product line then and now oversees all wholesale product development. She knows our retailers. She and her team have been on the road visiting our key accounts and getting their feedback. We are making the right decisions about product again. When you put that

O&A in the hands of salespeople who know how we operate and what we need to accomplish, we will get this company moving in the right direction again. The goal is to grow beyond the business Clarks lost, correct? Absolutely. First, we need to start gaining market share back. While it’s not a huge amount relative to overall sales, we had been losing the premium comfort casual business, which was hurting our profit margins and the brand overall. The product mix got screwed up, basically. Our new chief brand officer, Jason Beckley, gets this totally. He had been here for a year and a half trying to figure out where to take the business, but he had no one to help him lead. Where can Clarks go from where it currently sits? There are plenty of opportunities. We have Cloudsteppers, which was introduced in Fall ’15, that will be close to a three-million-pair program this year—and we’re not in half the distribution we should be in. That, along with Clarks Collection, presents huge growth potential. At the other end of the spectrum is the relaunch and repositioning of Clarks Originals. It includes our classic Desert Boots in Italian suede and lizard-skin Wallabees, all made in England and priced at $350 retail. The line also includes a full collection of new styles for men and women, which are offshoots that target, younger-aged consumers. We are taking a social media approach to let Millennial-aged customers discover it on their own. This represents a consumer who traditionally doesn’t buy our other shoes—younger even than our contemporary Clarks customer. It’s the first time we’ve directly approached that market. How many styles, exactly? Forty. Originals is a complete lifestyle line. We showed it at FFANY and Agenda, and the response was terrific. Remember, Clarks has been making 161106_Cougar_FootwearPlus_HalfHorizontal_7.75 x5

shoes for more than 190 years. We’ve been innovative throughout that time. The Desert Boot and Wallabee were both before their time. Privo was also before its time—selling athleisure-type shoes before athleisure was popular. How is Privo being updated? We are reintroducing Privo as if we were launching it today. It has seamless insides, where it’s almost like the shoes have been turned inside out. Think lots of cup soles with triple-density PU and all one piece—very cool stuff. But it’s not just another sneaker, nor is it athleisure specifically. It’s an interpretation of casual and athletic, a different attitude for that type of customer. The distribution will be a tier below Originals in premium comfort specialty stores. It’s a sophisticated look, but not necessarily for Middle America. And the Clarks brand? We are getting a little more contemporary—more sophisticated styling than our traditional customer. It’s the same Clarks comfort systems, fit and beautiful leathers now layered with more contemporary styling to attract that consumer who seeks a little more style. We are just starting to get on track with that. We expect that to be our bread and butter and drive sales through the roof. Are you more optimistic now as opposed to when you first came back? I’m optimistic for this year. I think it will be a reset year for us. The question is: How quickly can we rebound from the three or four years that we were off track? That’s tough to project. In the meantime, we’ve just been squaring everything away and regaining control of the business to the point now that I believe we are making the right product again. Now it’s a matter of getting our sales, marketing and logistics teams around that so we can move this business forward. By the end of this year, we’ll know better what the next five years will entail.

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How much might the overall disruptive state of retail impact those efforts to move forward? I would be more worried if the brand didn’t have the recognition that it has. I think consumers find comfort in walking into a store and trusting that the Clarks brand is on the floor. They know what they are going to get. Now, are retail and the overall economy flying high? No. But we have a good base, and if we start doing the right things we should move the needle. You described the industry overall as currently “stagnant.” (See side bar, p. 20) How so? There’s nothing new, really. The lightweight story that’s been going on for a while represents the underbelly of the business. It squares up and it’s a good price point, but it’s not driving innovation. It’s driving commercialization but, other than lightweight EVA and a lot of padding, it’s not something so innovative that it is pushing the whole market forward. How do you take that up market? I think there’s opportunity to take the DNA found in a Skechers GoWalk sneaker or one of our Cloudsteppers styles and make it in leather and essentially Clarksify it. I believe that could be an innovative and successful venture. We are working on that now. Leather is the key word. It’s a knitted-uppers world right now, but that leaves the door open for something different, correct? Yes. Our Clarks Originals and Privo collections give us an opportunity to do just that. What’s more, we will be able to test those styles in our A-level stores. Overall, we will use our stores as a test market. If we get a good reaction, then we can move quickly to commercialize it and drive it through our retail partners. Clarks wasn’t testing product before in its stores? No. They had been more focused on opening new stores, which amounted to 20 to 30 in a little over two years. Our current retail portfolio, in fact, is too large and diverse. We are getting that back in line as well. We want to have a good package of stores that can drive our business and tell us what our consumer wants. And once we start driving the business forward again, I want to offer franchise opportunities to retail partners to open around our remaining flagships. It’ll be a great opportunity for some of our retail partners—the ones who helped build our brand. So why not let them benefit from it as well? In five years, that’s what I envision. What’s your policy on direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales, particularly online? We have a DTC site, but we have cut back on a lot of the promotional activity that had been going on. Our inventories are back in line, so we won’t have to discount as much. Going forward, our e-commerce site will be full-price except when it’s the season to promote like everybody in the market might also be doing, but only on the items where it’s necessary. That should take some pressure off the marketplace. We also need to start sharing what we learn from consumer insights at the point of sale in our stores and online. Who and what they are buying? We should share that information with our independent retailers. Our best practices can help them with their own sites, Amazon Marketplace or wherever it might be. Is the mood overall at retail as dire as being reported? No, but it’s not great. The holiday season wasn’t great. It wasn’t in the tank, but it wasn’t what it was built up to be. Do you expect this year to be as bad as last? Can the industry correct some of its problems? I think some are in the process of doing that. For example, Macy’s laying off 10,000 people and closing 100 stores. Those 100 stores probably weren’t profitable. The revenue might go down, but the profit could rise because they can cover some of that online. Those kind of changes as reported in >79

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Local Heroes For six decades, Towson Bootery has focused on expert service, fit and family. BY K AT H Y PA S S E R O

PEER IN THE front window of Towson Bootery, prepares to welcome a Trader Joe’s later this year. and you’ll see a genuine stuffed polar bear rear“Everybody knows the polar bear. Kids look for ing up on its haunches amid the latest family it and parents remember it from when they were footwear fashions. Unexpected and memorable, little. It’s been with us since we were in our first with an interesting history, the bear is a lot like location on York Road,” Stefanie explains. the store itself. R. Richard Rudolph—father to Alex and grandAt a time when independent retailers are almost father to Stefanie—opened his York Road shop an endangered species, this 68-year-old, familyback in 1948, when the street was the bustling owned stalwart in Baltimore County, Maryland’s downtown center of Baltimore County. Even then, Shops at Kenilworth mall is still going strong. Towson Bootery was the little shop that could, In fact, father-daughter team Alex and Stefanie opened on a shoestring and flourishing thanks Father-daughter duo Alex and Stefanie Rudolph; Rudolph are in the midst of a major renovation to the dedication and diligence of the gregarious hear me roar: the store’s honorary mascot. that will contemporize decor and streamline Rudolph family patriarch, who earned himself a layout in the 2,000-square-foot store. The bear stays, of reputation as the unofficial mayor of Towson. course. As the Rudolphs know, some things are worth “Back when my dad was running the business, people preserving. Among them: personalized service, fitting would come in and say, ‘I can’t pay you, Mr. Rudolph, but can expertise and a bit of history. you let me take the shoes and I’ll send you a check?’ He kept “At first, mall management didn’t want us to take our records of who owed what. It was a different way of doing polar bear with us, but then they realized it’s our signabusiness. My father was very personable. People gravitated ture,” explains 34-year-old comanager and buyer Stefanie to him,” remembers 68-year-old Alex. In those days, young Rudolph of the bootery’s temporary move to the second Alex would often board one of the streetcars that trundled floor. The relocation is part of a mall-wide revamp that’s along York Road to his dad’s shop, where he’d spend Saturdays underway at Kenilworth as the 30-store shopping center cleaning, polishing, running stock and repairing shoes. His

24 • february 2017


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Top to bottom: Towson Bootery’s original location on York Road and inside, the classic sit-and-fit setting; father and son, Richard and Alex Rudolph, on the floor— as always.

biggest fear as a 12-year-old was waiting on customers. By the 1970s, York Road was falling on hard times. Busses replaced streetcars and parking grew scarce as office complexes encroached. Then a mega mall opened with a Nordstrom and a slew of other footwear stores a mile away, recalls Alex, who began managing the business when his dad went into semi-retirement in 1980. Towson Bootery moved across the street in 1976 as the nation celebrated its bicentennial (the sight of a polar bear crossing York Road stopped traffic, the Rudolphs recall), but even this wasn’t enough. By 1996, it was time to go. Alex chose The Shops at Kenilworth as his new site for its small scale and family-friendly vibe. “The [mega] mall hurt everybody, and I saw our business slipping away slowly. I was the last merchant to move, and it was a very tough decision, very scary, because we liquidated the store,” Alex says. “We took what we could from the old location, but it was like starting all over again.” 26 • february 2017

MOVING FORWARD Happily, the move paid off. Loyal customers sought the store out in its new location (perhaps recognizing the bear in the window) and usually found three generations of Rudolphs on hand to welcome them. “Pop-pop said he was retiring, but he didn’t really,” remembers Stefanie, who, like her dad, grew up in the family business, stamping checks, sweeping and doing odd jobs. “He would hang out in the mall with his friends. Everyone knew him. He was very giving, very generous,” she adds of her grandfather, who was known for supporting local charities, donating food to the needy and giving shoes to those who couldn’t afford them. Though he passed away in 2002, Richard Rudolph’s legacy lived on. Nowadays, second and third generations of families show up at Towson Bootery’s Kenilworth location to continue the tradition of having their first shoes fit by a Rudolph family member. “About 60 percent of our business is in kids’ shoes,” Alex estimates. “Parents and grandparents bring in their babies and first walkers to get measured and fitted because they trust us and feel comfortable here. They know we’ve been in business all these years, we’re honest and we know what we’re doing. The children’s sales drives our men’s and women’s business because adults end up buying, too, when they’re in our store.” Among the bestsellers in kids’ are See Kai Run, Pediped, Stride Rite and Josmo. (Adult sales are strong in UGG, Cole Haan, Rockport, Bass, New Balance, Asics and Bogs.) A bevvy of popular private schools in the area also brings Towson Bootery a healthy dose of kids’ footwear sales to complete school uniforms, Alex adds. (Sperry Topsiders are a popular choice in this category, he says.) Ballet, jazz, character and other dance shoes round out the store’s children’s sales. “Back when my father owned the store, he had what looked like a real miniature tree with branches cemented into a big pot. He drilled holes in the branches and stuck lollipops in them,” Alex says. Today, they keep things simpler, with a container of lollipops and a gumball machine holding prizes to reward pint-sized shoppers. While Towson Bootery was building a clientele in its new location, its once-formidable competitor—the mall—began to face struggles of its own. “Things changed,” Alex says. “The area got a little rough around the edges and people were afraid to shop there. They put a curfew in at the shopping center. Nowadays, being located where we are feels more comfortable for shoppers, especially for moms with babies in strollers who don’t want to deal with a parking garage. The Shops at Kenilworth have become more and more popular. I’ve survived all that.” Adding to the small shopping center’s appeal are seasonal events like storeto-store trick-or-treating, which draws about 300 kids every Halloween, and festive model train displays around Christmastime and other holidays. With the Shops at Kenilworth already a draw for families, Towson Bootery is a logical stop for parents. “We give very personalized service, and that oneon-one connection with customers is hard to find these days. Moms and dads come in because they want their kids to have that experience,” says Stefanie. “I never end up sitting on the benches when I work with little kids. I sit on the ground because it’s easier for them to communicate with me.” “I grew up in this business, so I’ve met all these different families through the years. Now I see their kids getting married and new generations coming in and trusting me and my daughter and my girlfriend, Beth Hankin. I see them leave the store feeling good about their purchases, and that makes me feel great,” says Alex. GOING SOCIAL Admittedly, there are some challenges to pleasing a multi-generational clientele that includes everyone from toddlers to college kids to their grandparents. For example, older customers still enjoy getting catalogs in the mail, Stefanie points out. And many of them loathe social media. Younger shoppers, >79

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Decorative fabrics weave a rich story across a range of fall silhouettes.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSEPH PLUCHINO From top: BC, Poetic Licence, Sixty Seven, Musse & Cloud. Opposite, from top: SAS, Patrizia, Penny Loves Kenny

2017 february • 29

SLIDE RULES Metallic ornamentations push mules in a glamorous direction. Clockwise from top: Badgley Mischka, Restricted, Poetic Licence, Seychelles

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GUYS AND DOLLS Fe m i n i n e t o u c h e s a d d c r o s s o v e r a p p e a l t o c l a s s i c m a n s ty l e o x f o r d s . From top: Rockport, Gabor, Earthies, Clarks, Pons Quintana

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BUSINESS CASUAL Spiffy sneakers are suitable for a suit and tie. From top: Clarks, Rockport, Geox, Cat, Cole Haan

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SHARP-DRESSED WOMAN C r o c , l e o p a r d , s t u d s , o h m y ! Po i n t y t o e b o o t i e s g e t a n e d g y m a k e o v e r. Clockwise from top right: Azura, Musse & Cloud, Naot, Bella Vita

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SMOKIN’ HOT Studs, animal hair and embroidery pump up the punk volume on chic smoking slippers. Clockwise from top: Jon Josef, Musse & Cloud, Azura

38 • february 2017



ALL THAT GLIT TERS Subtle sparkle to all-out bedazzle adds a charge to sneakers. From top: LFL by Lust For Life, Blossom, Hashtag Hype, Gabor

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2017 Collection My Islands take me to my friends, my special places, and the things I love.

Platform, Surf Expo, North West Buyers, WCTS


G O DUTCH Sturdy and stylish, the timeless silhouette is making the (rounded toe) rounds this season. Clockwise from top right: Alegria, Wolky, Rocky 4EurSole, Dansko, Soft Comfort, Naot

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44 • february 2017





FALL ‘17

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children’s preview

FA L L 2 0 1 7

Proven Winners Designers focus on versatile and dependable styles to meet the demands of increasingly cost-conscious parents.



ACCORDING TO DATA pulled by Google from iQuanti, “spend less/save more” ranked among this year’s top 10 New Year’s resolution searches, with nearly 16 million hits—up 17.5 percent from 2016. Clearly, many consumers are looking to stretch their dollar this year, and children’s brands are in step with the trend, offering a bevy of reliable and versatile styles for Fall ’17. Think plenty of sneakers and short boots. “Athleisure is shifting from being a trend to an everyday part of our lives and how we dress,” says Lucy Thornley, vice president of women’s

46 • february 2017

and kids’ product at Crocs. “With this in mind, fresh styling, comfort, versatility and ease will be prominent factors when consumers are making a purchase.” Jenevieve Froncek, footwear designer at Pediped, says kids are increasingly sporting hi-tops as the new, more casual boot. “I just don’t think people dress up as much as they used to, so there’s not as much of a need for those beautiful, tall leather boots,” she explains. “People are a little more casual now, so mom wants something that can be warm and functional [for her little ones].” The elongated “hybrid” sneaker is expected to run the style gamut for fall, dipping its toe into several microtrends from Western to celestial spaces. Arielle Suberi, senior designer for Steve Madden Kids, agrees the sneaker will continue to be a huge fashion statement this fall. “The sneaker is particularly important in the buy-now-wear-now spirit of back-to-school,” she notes. “You’ll be seeing it all—lots of patches, embroidery, charms and rhinestones across the biggest silhouette of the season.” For Megan Linke, founder of Lili Collection, social media and blogger influencers are also to credit for the growing sneaker movement that is now trickling down to children’s fashion. “I feel like every blogger in the fashion industry is wearing a sneaker,” she says. “Whether it’s Nike or a more generic brand, we are seeing more embellishments to the sneaker across the board.” According to Tony Castano, Vida Kids’ vice president of design and development, the warmer winters have also helped the shift away from tall boot silhouettes to the shorter shaft of the Chelsea, which exploded last year in womenswear and is now reaching down into kids’. “We’re definitely seeing shorter shaft heights than in the past,” agrees Brandy McCarty, global brand sales and strategy manager for Khombu. “Anything that could have more functionality is what’s selling,” he adds. “Customers don’t want to be restricted to outdoors, indoors, dress up or dress down. They want more opportunities in one shoe.”

Steve Madden Michael Kors Kensie Girl

Trouble Maker

The grunge aesthetic that returned for an encore performance in adult fashion last year is making its presence felt in children’s with patchwork, metal hardware, embroidery and kitschy character details. “The return of ’90s styling and rebellious attitude have really given children a way to express themselves and be slightly rebellious in a fun way,” says Chris Askins, brand manager at Esquire Footwear. “This allows kids to personalize their style with patches and metal accents while giving them a reason to push their limits.” Askins sees an overall trend of bold styling that isn’t afraid to “break the rules,” spanning angst-filled gunmetal studs and patent leather to bright stitching and zipper detailing.

Hanna Andersson Mia Kids

Celestial Solutions

Designers have looked into the heavens for inspiration this fall. Think star motifs, metallics, glitter (i.e. space dust), LED lights and other outof-this-world influences. Modeled after Fendi’s whimsy characters of last year, look out for celestial pals such as aliens and robots popping up in the form of patchwork, embroideries or printed graphics. “Stars are a must,” stresses Heather Cohen, design director at Mia Kids. “We’re calling it superstar. Whether it’s a sneaker, boot or jacket, stars are huge this season.” According to Heather Dady, designer for Western Chief Kids, recognizing the evolution of metallic is imperative. “For fall, they are really taking on a luminescent futuristic look,” she says. “It creates a hardsoft feeling, which is really interesting.” Western Chief is capitalizing on this trend with a collection of new metallic glitter rain boots. “At a glance, it just looks like metallic silver but when you really pop a light directly at it, you get this incredible explosion of light bouncing back.” Overall, Dady says to expect an overall cooler colorway with charcoal and pewter taking the lead.

Livie & Luca

Wild West

From glittering cowboy boots to hybrid sneaker interpretations, a Western aesthetic gallops across a range of silhouettes this fall. But it’s short of a full gallop, so to speak. “The Western-themed styles are not necessarily straight-up cowboy,” explains Sammy Esquenazi, owner of Josmo Shoes. “We have focused a lot on ornaments and trims, including studs, eyelets, faux fur, tassels and fringe.” According to Cohen of Mia Kids, the most consistently popular style over the past three years has been the Western boot. “We just update [from season to season] as the girls want to wear it with their shorts all the way through the fall with their jeans.”

Jambu KD M.A.P.

Frozen Frenzy

The children’s industry just can’t “let it go” when it comes to the Disney Animation film Frozen. Released in 2013, the musical fantasy about a fearless princess on an epic journey to find her magical, estranged sister captivated audiences worldwide—and subsequently the kids’ market. From toys to apparel, brands have jumped on the fairy taleaesthetic bandwagon, bedecking their merchandise with everything from Frozen-inspired characters to colorways. “Disney did a beautiful job capitalizing on Frozen,” says Castano of Vida Kids. “Shades of plum and turquoise are huge—everybody wants to accent with those colors for fall.” Castano adds, “I remember in the past when you would tell a buyer turquoise, and they would frown and say, ‘No way, I’m not going to do that!’ But now, it’s like, ‘I’ve got to have it!’” Experts agree that little girls particularly are asking for the purple/ teal colorway more than ever. A few brands have even taken it a step further. “We take little nods to pop culture in the way we name our shoes,” notes Megan Vinton, product line manager at Keen. “We have the ‘Elsa’ boot for women and girls on the market now.”

2017 february • 47

children’s preview

FA L L 2 0 1 7

Laura Ashley Sam Edelman Bearpaw

Ivanka Trump

Secret Crush

Velvet just may be the material of the season. The posh fabric shows up across a range of silhouettes and collections. “We are definitely paying a lot more attention to luxurious materials,” says Froncek of Pediped. “I’ve been seeing the velvet trend everywhere from adults down to kids, so I figured it was a good one to jump on.” For Fall ’17, Pediped released baby styles in velvet and a youth story in fur. “People want to look good, but be warm—a perfect demand for velvet and fur,” Froncek says. Designers note subdued hues as the most popular in crushed velvet, spanning soft blues, dusty pinks and tranquil plums. Not to mention classic black velvet which, Froncek says, is, “Forever a holiday staple.”

Hair Brands

Fur, real or faux, is the must-have embellishment of winter couture. Gucci, a few seasons back, ushered in the crazy hair trend with its Princetown slippers, and now kids’ designers are letting their hair down in the form of fluffy trims and pompoms. The playfulness of fur can also be seen in the colorways, with some designers rocking cobalt blue wool or pink-dyed Sherpa. Denise LeMons, senior designer for Bearpaw, says the short boot trend has been a great way to showcase plush faux fur in its collection. “One of our top-selling styles is the Boo, a short little bootie with long curly lamb in fun colors,” she says. “We like to add details, like pompom accents or knit shafts, that make a traditionally cozy boot really stand out.”

Pediped Keen

Lili Collection Western Chief

Heavy Accents Election Selection

Shades of red and blue run deep in many kids’ collections this season. “Colors usually follow politics,” says Lisa Cronin-Arida, vice president of design for Synclaire Brands. “This year was an election year so we saw a lot of Bordeaux and navy.” It’s not just the saturated hues, though, being influenced by politics—metallic accents are also tied into Cronin-Arida’s theory. “Whenever a Republican is in office, gold becomes very big—we saw a lot of gold this season,” she says. “Silver and pewter also have made a strong showing this fall.”

48 • february 2017

Bright color pops incorporated into lacing, knits and even hardware are bedecking fall’s most popular styles for an eye-catching and playful athletic appeal. Bearpaw’s LeMons notes that these bright-colored details are key for helping a brand’s fall styles stand out on the shelves. Connie Gil, merchandising manager for Geox North America, agrees that color accents are imperative this season. “In the palettes for Geox, we see grays accented with a lot of pop color,” she explains. “In the new line, for example, the active collection has toned grays but then you have a neon yellow to pop it up.” Gil adds that Geox is also trying to vary the color combinations between the upper and bottom of their fall styles. “An upper may be orange and the bottom gray, or vice versa. You won’t see a lot of monochrome.”


FALL 2017

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Dear fellow brick-and-mortar shoe retailers,

FIRST, THE GOOD news. By just doing what you do and doing it well, you will become more competitive. You won’t have to change. Really. You’ll just need to last. Here’s why…To quote J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison: “There isn’t a pure player e-commerce retailer of any scale that’s making money.” In my opinion, that’s because they must offer free shipping as part of their business model. It’s a massive drain on profits, but it’s also a key component in their scheme to outlast us. The likes of Amazon and Zappos currently have us at a disadvantage. Outsize inventories plus free freight equals increased sales for them and less for us. These Titanosaurs are bent on causing extinction-level events for us small raptors left to nibble at their feet. Once numerous, we have been getting crushed by these giant beasts. The barren malls and main streets force consumers to shop ever more online. But I believe there will come a day when our destruction is so nearly complete—when we have become so small and feckless—that, lo and behold, these monsters will decree that shipping is no longer free! Great shock and consternation will reverberate throughout the land. Those of us brick-and-mortar retailers who have survived will benefit greatly. We shall affirm our long-held traditions of service, competitive pricing and good fit. Consumers will seek anew the social experience of shopping, and we’ll gladly provide it to them. We’ll confirm their good choice. They’ll find security in our professionalism and expertise. They’ll come in and

50 • february 2017

ask for their new favorite salesperson once again, as they have always done with hairdressers and barbers. As we patiently wait for that day, we must find a way to survive. We’ll do what we’ve always done, only better and with more scrutiny of inventory and payroll management—and by forming deep partnerships with our vendors, landlords and bankers. We’ll also hone our marketing skill and refine our promotional calendars. We’ll get better at exploring social media opportunities and cross-promoting with other retailers. Of course, we’ll have our share of sleepless nights. But we’ll be secure in the knowledge that, once again, our day will come. —Mark Jubelirer, president, Reyers Shoe Store

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A recent spate of social media–driven fallout has forced a handful of brands to atone for missteps—even if they deny the accusations or affiliations. By Greg Dutter VER THE PAST few months, a handful of shoe companies have become political footballs of sorts—and not in a good way. Not when touchstones to these stories include white supremacists, trade wars, bullying blitzes, Swastikas and insults to a cultural icon of peace and tolerance. In today’s “Divided States of America,” any cultural bias—right- or left-leaning, intentional or unwitting—can trigger enormous fallout, thanks to the viral nature of social media. “These are heated times. Consumers on all political sides are feeling very threatened around their core values, which is likely causing a strong

52 • february 2017

reaction to something they might otherwise ignore,” says Jacqueline Van Dine, vice president of merchandising for Birkenstock USA. She doesn’t think the general hostilities will subside any time soon. “People are digging in their heels, getting more vocal and even dropping ‘friends’ on social sites based on political bias,” she says. “I think that demonstrates just how far they’re willing to go, and extending that rejection to a retailer or favorite brand becomes easier with the click of a button.” Scott Prentice, director of Haflinger USA, agrees that the recent backlash that has put companies in the spotlight is a sign of the (hostile) times. A lot of people are upset with the election, he says. “We may see a shift to made-in the-USA goods by some consumers, while others make less frequent pur-

chases as they are living with fear and uncertainty following the election,” he adds. Take the New Balance employee’s tweet that went viral right after the presidential election. The comment, which was not an official company statement, (rightly) suggested Donald Trump’s victory would be the final nail in the coffin of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), thus improving the viability of making shoes in America—something of which the Boston-based company is a big proponent. Within hours, the anti-Trump crusade seized on the perceived political bias and launched an all-out attack on New Balance. People called for a boycott of the brand’s goods and some burned its sneakers. New Balance tried to stamp out the firestorm, claiming the tweet was blown out of proportion and only referenced TPP. The company released a statement saying it “believed in humanity and community” and it “welcomes all walks of life.” Fortunately for New Balance, Adidas collaborator Kanye West diverted the media’s attention when he stated a couple of days later that if he had voted, he would have cast it for Trump.

and cloth panel. As one industry exec stated off the record, “I call bulls--- that the company didn’t know.” One retail exec speculates that the move might have been a marketing ploy. How else could a brand with little name recognition generate millions of views on social media overnight? Controversy can be good publicity. “I tend to view such things more cynically,” he says. “It would normally cost millions for a small company to generate that amount of awareness. So maybe a company is desperate and this is their last shot to gain attention, and social media enables them to do it.” That said, the exec also believes that a rogue designer could slip nefarious messages past company safeguards. “A CEO can’t be expected to catch every single design detail,” he says. “Not when collections can number in the hundreds each season.” Speaking of boots, Trump made headlines when he took to Twitter to urge his legions of followers— a different sort of Red Army—to shop L.L. Bean. The missive followed word that company co-owner Linda Bean, who had donated $60,000 to a PAC supporting the new president, had come under heavy fire from those on the left. They advocated boycotting the retailer with the Twitter handle #grabyourwallet. The hostility didn’t stem from the fact that Bean’s donation far exceeded the legal limit, but that she had given at all. Nonetheless, L.L. Bean jumped—with both duck boots on—into damage control, issuing a release stating that her views did not reflect the views of the company or other Bean family members. Team Trump claimed to have won the early rounds, as L.L. Bean’s sales and share price initially rose following the dustup and thousands of supporters flocked to the brand’s Facebook page to voice their support. How it plays out over the long term remains to be seen. Studies have shown that people committed to a cause are more likely to stick to a brand boycott. But for the less politically motivated, price and convenience often win out in the end. Some say the battle involved intense bullying from both sides and that First Lady Melania Trump might want to use it as an example in her anti-bullying crusade.

ext, Conal International Trading, Inc. found itself in the social media crosshairs when a post on Reddit pointed out that its Polar Fox (more on that name in a moment) combat boots had Swastika-print sole patterns. The post has since been viewed more than two million times. The company, based in City of Industry, CA, claims the print was in “no way intentional” and an “obvious mistake” made by the manufacturer in China. Conal immediately pulled the product off its site and posted an open letter stating that it would “not be selling any of our boots with the misprint.” The company added, “We would never create a design to promote hate. We don’t promote hate at our company.” The decision displeased some white supremacist groups that had urged followers to buy a pair. It also generated a stream of retweet-worthy sarcasm, including “heily recommended,” “a nein hat brings us, perhaps serFrom top: New Balance made-in-the-USA out of 10” and “good for marching into Poland, endipitously, to Mahatma sneakers, Conal Internatonal’s controversial Polar but not so good for much else.” Kidding aside, the Ghandi. The icon of peaceful Fox boot, L.L. Bean headquarters in Freeport, ME, style’s name, Polar Fox, sounds awfully close to resistance got dragged into Ghandi-themed flip-flops by CafePress. Operation Arctic Fox, the code name given to a the mud when his likeness World War II campaign by German and Finnish appeared on the insole of forces attacking Soviet defenses. Just another coinflip-flops made by CafePress. cidence? Conal claims to be an unwitting victim in the social media storm. The sandals—priced at $16.99 on Amazon—irked an external affairs minister However, skeptics say someone had an agenda in the boot’s design, from India and Ghandi fans, who considered it offensive and demeaning. pointing out additional nods to Nazi fashion, including a zipper, buckle Aggravating the situation was the fact that Amazon has recently carried

2017 february • 53


India flag doormats, a sneaker by N.Y.L.A. featuring the nation’s flag and dog sweaters with pictures of Ghandi. The country’s foreign ministry stated that even though Amazon is providing a platform for third-party vendors, it still “should respect Indian sensitivities and sentiments.” It also warned of tough action unless the retailer stopped selling the merchandise. Amazon has since pulled the sandals off its site and reportedly plans to invest $5 billion in efforts to expand its reach into India’s market. CafePress, too, pulled Ghandi sandals off its direct-to-consumer site. What’s the lesson for brand-image minders? Tony Post, CEO/founder of Topo Athletic, believes that in today’s social media age, companies must expect that some people will disagree with their values. But so long as those values are not patently offensive, the company has every right to stand by them. “If it’s something you are passionate about—if it’s an extension of your philosophy or brand message—then I think it’s natural to speak your mind,” he says. “As one who is passionate about the outdoors and outdoor recreation, I’m concerned about climate change and recreational access to and preservation of public lands.” Post believes those two issues weren’t raised enough in the presidential campaign. If discussing them opens Topo Athletic up to backlash from the mining and coal power communities, he is willing to accept the fallout. Van Dine says a company’s values should align with those of its customers. “It’s not about you; it’s about your consumers,” she says. “If you can stay true to ‘their’ needs and desires, then your social communication should deliver a positive outcome.” Prentice believes social media can be a blessing and a curse, so it’s best to use caution. “You will never please all of the people all of the time, so reviewing your social media campaign prior to posting is of the upmost importance,” he says. Likewise, Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group, advises nipping such potential controversies in the bud. “Control the messages and be quick to refute any that bring on the storm,” he says. “Be consistent, passionate and true to your brand and be clear in the message.” Cohen doesn’t foresee firestorms abating any time soon. Blame it on powerful people setting (bad) examples. “Some leaders are using their position to speak their mind with little regard for the consequences,” he says. “You need to be careful. Anyone can bring your brand into the eye of a storm, and then you end up spending a lot of time crawling out.” •

COLOR STORY Designers go deep on indigo for fall, a lush and versatile hue that pairs well with anything—just like a good pair of blue jeans. By Ann Loynd PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSEPH PLUCHINO

Left to right: Naot, Wolky, Taos, Durango




Chelsea Crew and Restricted Mary Janes. Opposite, clockwise from top left: Cole Haan, Gabor, Thierry Rabotin, Minnetonka 58 • february 2017


Photography by Trevett McCandliss


PA G E 6 0

Lola Cruz metallic loafers, DKNY cropped sweater, Bar III wide-legged pants, stylist’s own fur scarf and earrings.


Soma block heel with kiltie, Two by Vince Camuto striped blouse.


Penny Loves Kenny purple kiltie. Opposite: Loafer with gold block heel by Poetic Licence, Alice and Olivia slacks, Cupcakes & Cashmere top, belt by Zadig & Voltaire, stylist’s own earrings.


Left: Hispanitas mixedmaterial loafer. Below: Zadig & Voltaire hat (top left), stylist’s own accessories, Cynthia Rowley square satchel and Bar III tassel crossbody (bottom right). Opposite: Sebago kilties, Maje T-shirt, vintage trousers, stylist’s own watch and earrings.


Block heel loafer by Mauro Teci, stylist’s own accessories. Opposite: Restricted patent slip-ons, vintage jumpsuit and brooch. *DKNY, Two by Vince Camuto, Cupcakes & Cashmere, Zadig & Voltaire, Alice and Olivia, Maje and Cynthia Rowley all available at Bloomingdale’s. Fashion editor/stylist: Ann Loynd; Hair and makeup: Nevio Ragazzini/Next Artists; Model: Olivia H./Fenton Model Management.




Seychelles LFL by Lust For Life


MASHIZUM MASJUM KNOWS how to tell a story. For the first 18 years of his career, he wove together documentaries for the likes of National Geographic and History Channel. But in 2013, at the age of 40, he put all that aside to tell stories through fashion, pursuing a lifelong dream to design women’s footwear. His story began in Italy, where he moved to learn the art of shoemaking. “I was transfixed by the experience,” Masjum says. “The Renaissance city of Florence—its decorated murals, its hanging chandeliers, its cobbled streets. Something was awakened within me.” At first, Masjum considered shoemaking more as a temporary endeavor, a creative exercise rather than a new career. “I was pretty content to just follow my heart and learn how to design shoes,” he says. “I thought I was going to return to TV. But every step of the way, the universe kept opening doors for me.” One of said doors was to a factory in Florence, which began sampling the designer’s work and soon after introduced him to distribution partners. With those contacts in place, Masjum launched his eponymous brand, Mashizan, in 2015 in select retailers in New York, Milan, Singapore and Kuala Lumpar. “Throughout the process, I always believed that this was what I was meant to be doing,” he says. “I think I voiced my desires so often that the universe responded to it in more ways than one.” The designer, however, hasn’t completely abandoned his filmmaking past. Each collection is inspired by one of his documentaries. Signature details (like geometric cut-out heels, iridescent patents and textured, stamped leathers) draw inspiration from Masjum’s world travels. “My background has shaped me as a person and added texture to my design voice,” he says. Masjum reports that the slightly off-the-beaten-path designs have generated “cult” followings around the world among trendsetting women looking for luxury with a twist. Indeed, he knows how to create that certain something in each collection that keeps consumers coming back for more. “Shoe love, after all, is driven by gut, by instinct,” Masjum muses. “Buying a pair of shoes brings such delight and pleasure.” —Ann Loynd What’s the theme of your Fall ’17 collection? It’s inspired by a History Channel documentary that I produced in 2011, The Lost 70 • february 2017


COZY CORNER Plush furr y slipper-esque sandals bring sleep fashion to the street.

City of Jinsha. It was filmed in Chengdu, China, and uncovered the story of a lost civilization that predates the oldest previously recorded Chinese civilization by almost 1,000 years. Archaeologists found bronze and ivory artifacts along with skeletal human remains that hint of a society that practiced nature worship and human sacrifice. Other hidden treasures were gold, jade and bronze sculptures. I incorporated vivid colors like emerald green and bronzed patina into the collection. Who is the Mashizan’s woman? She’s fiercely independent, a trailblazer when it comes to fashion. When she goes to an event, she doesn’t want to be wearing the same shoes as everyone else. She’s elegant yet unafraid of charting new territory.

Who is your fashion icon? Sophia Loren. Her elegance and sophistication transcends all eras. A more-recent one is Blake Lively. She has impeccable taste. What celebrity would you like to see wear your shoes? Rihanna on the red carpet. She’s unapologetic with her opinions and her sense of style is unrivaled. What do you find most rewarding? Discovering the joy our shoes bring to our clients. I’ve had women who were going through tough times put on our heels and momentarily forget their pain. What’s the greatest shoe of all time? The simple pump. It gives lift, elongates the legs and is so easy to wear.



Fall head over heels. Come for the shoes, leave with the business.





Top it off

Statement wool coats: the accessory of choice during a cold Milan Men’s Fashion Week. Photography by Melodie Jeng

72 • february 2017

Easy Picking Two Ten awards nearly $1 Million in scholarships to footwear employees and their families, each year. Apply by April 1st Learn more at


Brooke Burke-Charvet for Skechers

FIT/Pikolinos footwear competition winner Dan Ly.

Spanish Class

Out of This World LONGTIME SKECHERS SPOKESPERSON Brooke BurkeCharvet (Celebrity Apprentice frontrunner) has a new commercial coming out to promote the new Skech-Knit Galaxies sneaker. The actress/TV personality/fitness instructor/mom says the brand’s versatile styles, like the Galaxies’ knit-upper with sock-like fit, help her don so many hats. “I truly wear them probably every single day,” Burke-Charvet says, “whether for fitness or taking care of my family.” —Ann Loynd

Easy Spirit

PIKOLINOS HAS NAMED Fashion Institute of Technology student Den Ly as the winner of its first design competition in partnership with the school. Ly was elected by a panel of industry experts for his modern design that stayed true to the brand’s artistic vision, winning $1,000 and a two-week internship at Pikolinos’ headquarters in Spain. Additionally, Ly’s design will be featured in the brand’s Spring ’18 collection. “This process has been very interesting for us as a brand so far,” says Pikolinos Founder Juan Perán. “It’s a great way to see how young designers are interpreting the message of our brand and translating the DNA styles in a fresh way.” While in Spain, Ly will learn some of the ins and outs of shoemaking. “Not only the design but the whole production process—the tannery, the color choice, brush finishing, etc.,” Perán says. “Once [his design] is finished, the product will have the final test of how it stands up to sales and merchandising.” —A.L.

A Sort of Homecoming THE ACQUISITION OF Easy Spirit by Marc Fisher Footwear Company from Nine West Holdings marks a family reunion of sorts. Marc Fisher, son of Nine West cofounder Jerome Fisher, used to work at the brand during his tenure decades ago at his father’s company. Fisher has added the 35-year-old women’s comfort brand to its portfolio that includes Guess, G by Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Tretorn, Kendell + Kylie, Ivanka Trump, Indigo Rd., Unisa, Sigerson Morrison and eponymous brands Marc Fisher and Marc Fisher LTD.

74 • february 2017

“I always enjoyed working on Easy Spirit because it combined technology and comfort in a stylish and versatile way,” Fisher says. Along those lines, Fisher says the company plans to “maintain the essence” of Easy Spirit while further expanding its product assortment to a broader market worldwide beginning in Spring ’18. “Our goal is to modernize the line and attract customers while maximizing the current customer base by adding new silhouettes that have never before been part of the collection,” he says. —A.L.


Lighting the Way Absolute Canada enters the U.S. market led by a bright idea—literally.

Weather or Not Sporto introduces all-conditions lifestyle collection for Q3. COLD-WEATHER BRANDS have been feeling the heat, literally, after a recent spate of warm falls have cooked seasonal boot sales. Instead of flailing like a duck out of water, however, Sporto—the self-proclaimed Original Duck Boot brand—is adjusting swimmingly with an expanded Q3 offering for Fall ’17 that focuses on versatile and stylish all-weather styles. “We’ve seen 50-percent growth [in the third quarter], and the product is gaining continuous ground as fashion-and-function footwear,” says Mark McCormick, president, Sporto Division at Eastman Group. “We’ve shifted product offerings by entering the back-to-school market with staples that are versatile for all types of weather.” Hero styles from the expanded Q3 collection (retailing for $69 to $119) include the Flip wedge lace-up hiker with roll-down shearling cuff, Corbin side-zip leather-and-suede bootie, Maddox suede lace-up with felt collar, and Darci slip-on duck clog. All styles are fully waterproof and feature Thermolite insulation or wool footbeds and “street lug” outsoles for traction. “From breathability to the added thermal and water-resistant features, these styles are crafted to be worn through the early fall to deep winter as go-to fashion with hidden functionality,” McCormick says. “The collection is more specialized with a focus around comfort, fashion and practicality.” The new styles are also aimed at extending Sporto’s distribution beyond its current base of sporting goods and outdoor specialty dealers. “We have opened new and more fashion-driven doors from Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s to independents,” reports McCormick, adding, “It’s a pinnacle year, as we focus on developing the collection beyond the heritage styles.” Sporto is backing the effort with a new multichannel marketing program for this year that includes a focus on social media. “Our footwear collections are championed by women whose everyday lives call for chic, fashionconscious commuter shoes for the outdoor world,” McCormick explains. “Our customer is extremely prevalent in the digital space and spends a lot of time online.” Last year, the brand established a presence on social media and has since partnered with like-minded bloggers and influencers. Sporto will continue to foster such relationships in 2017, McCormick adds, but isn’t leaving print publications out of the equation. “It’s as integral as ever to have a multichannel approach in order to make a splash in the market,” he says. —Ann Loynd 76 • february 2017

A FAMILY OWNED business with 25 years of experience in footwear, Absolute Canada, as its name suggests, crafts winter-ready boots that provide the upmost in protection from the elements. In some instances, the protection extends to as low as minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit. The brand made its U.S. debut at last month’s Outdoor Retailer show, standing out from the bevy of exhibitors with its Northern Lights collection that features LED lighting built into the boots. “There isn’t anything quite like it on the shelves right now, and we’re excited to be pioneering the concept with a full winter line,” says Kristen Yu, manager, development & sales. From built-in LED piping to motion-sensor panels and illuminated outsoles, the Northern Lights collection (available in men’s, women’s and kids’) offers increased nighttime visibility for added safety. Some styles, like the Icebeam and Cosmos for women, feature color-changing LED outsoles while Furpuff and Furball for girl’s sport an illuminated faux-fur collar. The boots are all easily rechargeable with built-in USB ports. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” Yu reports. “Quite a few attendees at the show stopped in their tracks when they saw how the LED systems were incorporated, especially those with young kids at home.” Yu notes that the added visibility is not only a potential lifesaver for hikers, snowmobilers and night-shift workers, but also for schoolchildren who must commute to and from school when it’s dark outside. For adults, Yu says there are also a few less conspicuous lighted styles. “Our men’s Ascent, for example, offers more-subtle LED piping for nighttime visibility that can be easily turned off,” she says, adding, “Temperature rated up to minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit, it also features a removable multi-layer liner, frost plug insole and proprietary Thermoshield insulating fibers.” That top-of-of-the line model is priced at $130 retail, and Yu says the brand’s prices run as low as $30 for its infant Neoprene Drizzle bootie. Absolute Canada is targeting both national chains and specialty independents, and the company is currently in the process of expanding its sales team. “The focus is really on expanding our presence at brick-andmortar because it’s one of those collections you have to see for yourself,” Yu says, noting, “At OR, many people heard about our LED boots through word of mouth and we believe the first step is to really ‘light up’ store shelves.” —A.L.


S P E C I A L R E P O RT continued from page 16 author Malcolm Gladwell put it in his book The Tipping Point, influencers are “mavens” with expertise in a specific area. Case in point: Kevin Ma, founder of the blog-turned-street-lifestyle-site Hypebeast, began as a blogger who loved posting about the world of sneakers. It wasn’t until he started overhearing his name mentioned in conversations from fellow sneakerheads (as he stood in long lines with them waiting hours for the latest drop) that he realized he was considered an authority on sneaker fashion. He earned his influencer status one blog entry at a time. For brands, finding the right influencer can be a challenge. Bloggers and other self-styled arbiters of taste often approach Helm—a boot brand handmade in America—offering their influencer services, says COO Bradley Day. Before deciding whether to work with them, the company considers whether they have influence with its target audience—shoppers who can appreciate and afford $500 boots. Blogger Caycee Hewitt for Rack Room Shoes “We often seed product to people behind the scenes, like photographers who interact with a lot of celebrities or creative directors producing a TV show,” Day says. “These people have great style and an appreciation for premium, American-made product.” Companies also look for influencers whose sense of style is a good match with their designs and who truly want to wear their products. “I’m working with Allen Edmonds because I really love the product, even though they’re not paying me,” says Camp (“The Tie Guy”). “We choose influencers who best represent our values and have a similar passion for an active lifestyle,” explains Erika Gabrielli, senior director of marketing for Teva. “We research the target audience of the influencer/blogger to ensure that the post or collaboration styles are organic to their followings to maintain an authentic match.” Similarly, Rack Room Shoes and Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse chains work with influencers who are on-message for specific campaigns, according to Jan Mauldin, senior director of corporate marketing. “Rack Room typically partners with influencers who are mothers of young children,” she says, “and Off Broadway partners with young women who are fashionable and trendsetting within their respective communities.” Keds, on the other hand, works only with female influencers who embody women’s empowerment and are genuine fans of the brand. “These relationships allow us to work with personalities who give dimension to our mission and purpose,” says Lindsay Binette, marketing director. Some manufacturers include carefully chosen up-and-comers in the mix— those with a smaller following but big potential—knowing that if any hit the big-time, they might remember who helped them get their start. Hawker has had success gifting product from clients like Claudia Li and Christian Siriano to select influencers who have 20,000-some followers and post during fashion events. Minnetonka had great success working with local influencers during South by Southwest and Coachella events, she says. “We gifted product and had them do a giveaway to their followers,” she remembers. “Minnetonka’s social media grew leaps and bounds because of that.” Giveaways and other interactive strategies can be very effective for brands partnering with influencers, Cleary agrees. “Don’t just gift a pair of shoes. If it’s a green shoe, do a green shoe contest along with the post.” Such tactics increase engagement, but it can be difficult to quantify the

success of influencer campaigns in more concrete terms. Rack Room uses unique links to review referral traffic, click-through rates and purchasing decisions made through specific posts. “In addition to analyzing referral traffic, we review comments, questions and interactions to understand how engaging the content was and how effectively key messages were communicated,” Mauldin explains. When it comes to clicks, likes and other metrics that measure success, “There’s really no magic number,” according to Sullivan. “If brands figured out the direct ROI, everyone would be doing it. It’s not all about the reach—it’s about reach and influence.” It’s also about keeping up with the times. For brands targeting Millennials, an influencer program is de rigueur. “Our girl lives a great deal of her life in the digital realm,” notes Latigo footwear designer Naomi Reid. “It’s a sector that can’t be ignored.” Nor can one ignore the dramatic shift in how consumers are being influenced today—by whom, how and when. The days of waiting for the traditional powers to decide what’s cool are long gone. As of last month, Vogue, the 100-year-old fashion bible, had 14 million followers on Instagram. Fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni, also known as “The Blonde Salad,” had just under eight million. Ferragni also happens to have her own eponymous shoe collection, now sold in more than 300 retailers around the world, and an e-commerce site. What’s more, she’s a global ambassador for Pantene and the face of Amazon Fashion in Europe. A new breed of tastemaker is exerting a growing influence on what’s hot or not. And the more, the merrier, as far as Cleary is concerned. “Influencers make fashion more democratic,” she says. “Twenty years ago, you only had Anna Wintour saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and now you have a million voices. That’s fashion: freedom and expression.” •

Designed exclusively for the independent,

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RAW 03611 Colville


Comfort Specialty

specialization and unique product are the key aspects for survival amid a turbulent retail landscape. “On both sides of my store, I’m trying to find things other people don’t have,” he says, adding that traveling to European trade shows has helped diversify his product assortment. “Customers say, ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ and they can only come back to us to get it. That way, we’re not competing with the internet or brands with their own retail locations.” Competing with the brands themselves, Bentvelzen notes, is next to impossible. “Brooks has 13 colorways in one shoe, and some of those are Brooks-only. I can’t carry 13 colorways,” he says. Instead, nurturing his key relationships with podiatrists (and visiting them frequently) as well as engaging runners have proven successful strategies. Part of that effort involves encouraging people to take up running by holding four “Be You Training” classes a year for those who have never run a 5K before. Armed with those types of community programs, Bentvelzen predicts growth for Shoes-n-Feet going forward in a market of fewer competitors overall. “We have that niche, and it isn’t going away,” he says. —Ann Loynd What’s your leading resolution for 2017? We’re going back to fourwalls marketing—paying attention to everything we can do with our store. We do a lot of knowledge-based selling, so expertise product-wise is key. Customers look at things online before they come into the store. If we can provide that much more knowledge about running their first half marathon or 5K, or how they can heal faster if they have a foot ailment, they feel more empowered in a purchase. Look at when Circuit City and Best Buy were competing: Circuit City closed. Best Buy was struggling but went back to knowledge, becoming the leader in expertise on electronics. That’s what we’re doing. Who is your target consumer? Our sweet spot is 35 to 55. We’re 70-percent women, but men’s is starting to pick up. We brought in Samuel Hubbard, which brought an increase to our business, and we have done well with Dansko men’s since it came out in the fall.



B e l l e v u e , WA

HRIS BENTVELZEN, OWNER of Shoes-n-Feet has just what the doctor ordered—literally. Located east of Seattle on the other side of Lake Washington for nearly 20 years (there is a sister location is in San Francisco), Bentvelzen has forged relationships with the area’s best podiatrists who provide countless referrals to his store. “We’re dealing with 80 percent of the population who has a foot problem,” he says. “The medical community trusts us to take care of their patients, and we service people with foot ailments who don’t want to wear orthopedic-looking shoes.” Shoes-n-Feet does well with such stylish comfort brands as Azura, Aravon and Dansko, but the store is no one-trick pony. The 2,000-square-foot space houses a specialty running department as well, selling the likes of New Balance, Brooks and Hoka One One as well niche brands 261 and On. For Bentvelzen,

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What’s the biggest challenge facing your business? There are two. The first involves the internet—direct business websites from vendors and pricing on Amazon. It devalues the brand when it’s not being controlled and MAP isn’t being checked. The other issue is, particularly with athletic, a lot of these brands are making too many shoes. They make one shoe in 23 colorways and can’t keep it in stock. It makes it difficult because if we don’t have it [the customer] often looks online. To combat that, I’m focusing on inventory control to make sure we have stock in the categories we need. I’m also being more selective in the brands we carry. If you’re only one of five to 10 stores that carry a brand, it’s probably not going to be as readily available online. Or, if it is, it will likely be at full price. Anything unique about your location? We don’t have extreme weather normally, so we don’t need to stock super cold boots or other types of seasonalspecific products. If it’s a good shoe, it doesn’t matter if it’s Miami or Seattle, it’s going to sell. Where do you envision Shoes-n-Feet in 10 years? We have a lot of growth potential. I think we’ve established a strong niche. People with foot problems will keep coming back to us. You can’t be “just another shoe store” these days. With all the consolidation happening in retail, I believe the next 10 years presents a great growth opportunity for us.

O&A continued from page 23 the news are doom-and-gloom, but they are healthier for the market overall. Even with all the closings so far and those announced, are we still over-stored? Yes. But we are not selling fewer shoes overall. So how do you play in that game and survive? I think the most resilient retailers in our industry are independents. They’ve survived department stores and big box, and I believe they are going to find a way through e-commerce. Some, for example, have found a way to play on Amazon Marketplace and are building relationships with vendors in a full-price way that is helping offset declines in their brickand-mortar stores. They are also learning things from their Amazon sales to pull into their physical stores. Those are nuances that they must grasp if they are going to be around in the longer term. The other piece is how to get interactive with the customers who are coming into their stores. How do you make it interesting for them to come in and shop? They need to get technology on the floor. That’s a tough one for independents, but it’s what they need to do. Do you think the majority of consumers will still want to shop the oldfashioned way? I do, but it’s going to require a more interactive environment. You’ve got to give consumers a reason to come into your store other than treating them nicely. Price, honestly, has never worked. Those types of stores have historically thrived because of their selection, but now consumers can find a bigger selection online, and often at a lower price. So how do those retailers attract consumers now? What’s the interaction? What’s the experience like on your floor? Something needs to be going on in the store, whether it’s videos or events—whatever interacts with that consumer. Retailers need to create special experiences. There are ways to make it more interesting and to tell better stories. It seems like a lot of potential remedies lie in common sense. Like don’t over distribute and create a store environment where customers may be less inclined to whip out their phone to find it for a few bucks cheaper online. Easier said than done, but... It’s pretty close to that easy. But that kind of easy requires hard work and sticking to your guns. Where do you see Clarks Americas in five years? I see us on a healthy growth path with different options within different sub brands and maybe a mix of franchise-owned stores and our full-price stores. Overall, I see a very healthy business that’s well over $1 billion business in annual sales. What do you love most about your job? I love the idea that this marks a rebirth of Clarks Americas. When I started in this company the first time around, it was about a $20 million business. I remember sitting in my first sales meeting in the Mendenhall Inn just outside of Kennett Square, PA. We were sitting in chairs with only a women’s Sunburst sandal and a men’s style on the floor. But we made a stance to go after every retailer we could find starting with those two shoes. We made a commitment then to growing the business. It was about drawing a line in the sand and telling ourselves we could do better than who we were that day. We grew it to more than $800 million. While we are a much bigger brand now, we have drawn another line in the sand. We are going to grow this business again. I would love for the company to be in the shape I left it in the first time, only bigger. It would mean so much to me to see that come to fruition. Stepping back in and seeing it unhealthy made me feel ill. I want to build it to something that we can all be proud of, and then I’ll have someone great step in to keep it going. That’s what I would love. That’s what brought me back. •

continued from page 26: Local Heroes meanwhile, love it. “The biggest change for us is definitely the digital age,” she says. “When I started in 2003 full-time, everything was different, from styles to pricing to materials, but the move to online was huge.” Stefanie decided to build the store’s social media presence, creating a website two years ago and then adding a Facebook page and a Twitter account. “I realized word of mouth online was bringing people in, so I started to do social media to keep people up to date,” she explains. “Instead of calling to see what’s in, they can check online. And they can get in touch with me through email or through Facebook Messenger.” She uses analytics to find out how many people are viewing her posts, as well as who and what times of day to figure out what posts generate the highest levels of interaction. The strategy has helped her connect effectively with moms of young kids—women around her own age—who tend to use their smart phones in the mornings and at lunchtime and appreciate being able to ask questions and find out about the store’s latest offerings while they’re on the go. They help Stefanie keep up on the mommy brigade’s needs and wants, and spread positive word of mouth online to their fellow parents. “I enjoy the social media part of my job,” Stefanie says. “I get to be a little creative and take photos.” She also promotes the store on local online community sites for parents like Mobtown Mommies and connects with The Shops at Kenilworth’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. “If I post something, the mall will share or retweet it, and they have a huge social media following,” she says. That’s not all that’s changed through the years at Towson Bootery. Trends from x-ray machines to dyeable shoes have come and gone. The store still offers shoe repair, with the majority done by an expert offsite, but the Rudolphs keep a close eye on what sells and what stays on the shelves. “Trends change all the time,” says Alex. “If it’s not hitting, I’ll buy less or jump off. I’m always looking for new things to try and introduce to freshen things up. “With the big hitters and the Internet, surviving isn’t easy,” he admits. “And some companies are tougher to deal with than in the past. They only care about volume. They can sell thousands of shoes on Amazon, and you’re just a little pea to them. There’s no loyalty anymore with some companies in the shoe industry. But I’m hanging in there.” His advice for fellow independents trying to do the same? “Location is key, and you’ve got to be willing to work hard. Do more than most people,” says Alex. “You can’t come from nine to five and expect it to work. I’m here seven days a week because people come in and expect to see me. They come here for me.” Right now, Alex feels “rejuvenated” by the redesign. “After 20 years at this location, it’s time for a facelift,” he says. Plans call for new display cases, metal shelving to replace old wooden shelves and a switch from carpeting to hardwood floors to achieve an uncluttered look that will make navigating the many brands the store carries easier for customers. Towson Bootery’s walls have long been lined with a visual history of Towson and other nostalgic touches, including a collection of antique shoehorns and vintage shoes from the 1800s to the 1970s. “Mall management wanted us to get rid of the old-school feel, but we told them that’s one of the things people like. People come in just to read the history,” says Stefanie. “It’s what my grandfather started and part of what we’re about. Now they’re realizing that history is part of what’s cool about us.” Which brings us back to the bear. Legend has it the specimen was brought back from one of famed explorer Admiral Byrd’s arctic expeditions. From there, it found its way to a furrier, a nightclub, a car dealership and even to the set of the early 1950s TV show Arthur Godfrey and His Friends before Towson Bootery’s founder gave it a permanent home in his store in the 1960s. Apocryphal or not, the story adds to its allure. “There’s a lot of history with this bear,” says Alex. The same could be said of Towson Bootery. • 2017 february • 79


An Elegant Walk

Sole Visionaries An exhibition of footwear designs by Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design celebrates the avant-garde approach. By Ann Loynd

JERUSALEM’S BEZALEL ACADEMY of Arts and Design this month hosted Walk of Art: Visionary Shoes, an exhibition illustrating the art and cult following of women’s footwear. Held in New York’s Parasol Projects gallery, the show featured more than 60 contemporary designs by alumni and students of the academy. Works ranged from saltcrystalized and 3D-printed shoes to fanciful interpretations of traditional materials like porcelain, glass, metal and wood. “While this exhibition focused on contemporary designs, we could see how the vast history of shoes is rooted in the exhibition’s artifacts,” says Yaara Keydar, curator. “The exhibition was arranged thematically to reflect on the depth of subjects that can be explored through footwear— from shoes focusing on fragility using glass and porcelain to shoes exploring the relationship between fashion, sexuality, fetish, ritual and more.”

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Artworks, clockwise from left: “The Beauty of the Temporary in Life” by Nimrod Gilo; “HyBird” by Aya Feldman; “Penetratio” by Rotem Arbel; “Between Two and Three Dimensions” by Shira Manor; “Jenga” by Gal Souva; “Armor” by Sapir Tzidon.

easy street ®