Footwear Plus | June 2022

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JUNE 2022 VOL 32 • ISSUE 5 • $10




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The next generation of comfort is here. Our revolutionary patented CellStretch® Comfort Technology is now engineered in traditional western profiles for the first time. Explore our entire Tech X Collection by visiting TM

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JUNE 2022

Caroline Diaco President/Group Publisher Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL PA G E


Kathy Passero Editor at Large Ann Loynd Burton Fashion Editor Bernadette Starzee Contributing Editor Melodie Jeng Marcy Swingle Contributing Photographers ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Belinda Pina Director of Sales Noelle Heffernan Senior Account Manager Laurie Guptill Production Manager Kathy Wenzler Circulation Director

Clockwise from top left: Musse & Cloud suede boot with embroidery detail; cowboy boot with embossed leather piping by Stivali; side-zip bootie with perforated shaft by Secret Celebrity.

Catherine Rosario Office Manager Mike Hoff Digital Director WAINSCOT MEDIA



12 Full Gallop Ron Owens, vice president and brand manager of Dingo, a division of Dan Post Boot Company, on why his latest run—in a career of big runs—is poised to be the biggest yet. By Greg Dutter

4 Editor’s Note

16 Barn Burner On the heels of a record year that blazed past the $1 billion sales mark for the first time, Boot Barn’s growth is just heating up. By Greg Dutter 22 Worn in the U.S.A. Designers embrace America’s rustic roots. By Ann Loynd Burton

6 This Just In 8 Scene & Heard 20 A Note to My Younger Self 21 Trend Spotting 34 Shoe Salon 39 Trend Spotting 40 Last Shot

On the cover: Black Star full-grain leather cowboy boots adorned with gold inlay stars and stud embellishments. Photography by Trevett McCandliss; styling by Nancy Campbell; fashion editor: Ann Loynd Burton; models: Nadine Stracqualursi/Fenton Model Mgmt.; Zac Madeira/Wilhelmina Models; hair and makeup: Nevio Ragazzini/Next Artists; photo assistants: Kevin McKeown, Raymond Collette. Photographed at Long Island Yarn and Farm, Yaphank, NY.

Carroll Dowden Chairman Mark Dowden President & CEO Steven J. Resnick Vice President & CFO OFFICES ADVERTISING/EDITORIAL

One Maynard Drive Park Ridge, NJ 07656 Tel: (201) 571-2244 editorialrequests@ CIRCULATION

One Maynard Drive Park Ridge, NJ 07656 Tel: (201) 571-2244

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 Wainscot Media, One Maynard Drive, Park Ridge, NJ, 07656. The publishers of this magazine do not accept responsibility for statements made by their advertisers in business competition. Periodicals postage paid at Mahwah, NJ, and additional mailing offices. Subscription price for one year: $48 in the U.S. Rates outside the U.S. are available upon request. Single copy price: $10. 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. Wainscot Media 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 Wainscot Media. Printed in the United States.

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Propét Footwear, Inc. 800-877-6738

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Torn and Frayed

Exile on Manhattan FOR THE PAST 25 years I have lived on an exotic island. Not the tropical paradise kind, rather the concrete jungle of Manhattan, a.k.a. “the center of the universe” and “the crossroads of the world.” Living with such lofty and self-centered monikers can skew one’s views about how the rest of America, a.k.a. “flyover country,” lives. I’m reminded of this Manhattan vs. ’Merica disparity every time I venture off the island—and I don’t have to travel very far to see it. It happens whenever I visit my mom, a 90-year-old, born-and-raised Brooklynite who retired to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, of all places. Talk about another planet! Although it’s a mere 90 miles from Gotham, this flat, sandy-soiled, heavily forested and downright spooky region (reputed to be the home of the Jersey Devil) is nothing like Manhattan. As my mom kiddingly likes to say, “It isn’t the last place on earth, but you can see it from here.” Then there are the locals. They are a million miles from Manhattanites in terms of dress, mannerisms, accent, values, hobbies, diet, transportation preferences… you name it. I’m not saying the differences are better or worse. To each their own. But the fact is the Pine Barrens are very different from Manhattan. Even as a kid growing up in the northern New Jersey suburbs, we thought our southern state brethren might as well have been from Mars. The differences are equally pronounced whenever I venture northeast, to the Connecticut coastline, where my mother in-law lives. New England and its locals are a world unto themselves. Thanks in part to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, most of America knows that the letter “R” is absent from the region’s accent. Much of Red Sox nation is also quick to notice my New York license plates. And their dagger-like stares speak volumes. For the record, I’m a (long-suffering) Orioles fan. But that’s neither here nor there. In my experience, New Englanders are insular. Get beyond Greenwich and you’ll soon discover that Nutmeggers don’t all wear black or work white collar jobs on Wall Street. In fact, the region can get pretty rustic when you venture off the New England Thruway. Scattered among those quaint tree-lined towns and farms, you’ll see leather-clad dudes riding motorcycles without helmets—legally! Hit a Walmart in early summer, and you’ll likely find a vast display of fireworks for sale at the entrance. Those are two things you just don’t see in Manhattan. The reality is that most of America, excluding Manhattan, is pretty

uniform when it comes to what people drive (the top three vehicles sold in the U.S. are pick-up trucks), listen to (country music is the most popular genre) and watch (Yellowstone is the No. 1–rated TV series). And as for what most of America wears, think western-inspired fashion that often includes denim-driven attire and cowboy boots. (They currently rank as the 35th most searched of all items on Google.) It’s why Boot Barn, the subject of our retail profile (p. 16), is growing like wildfire. The now 300-store western lifestyle chain tripled earnings last year and just raised its projected future store count from 500 to 900 doors over the next decade. CEO Jim Conroy goes into convincing detail on why Boot Barn’s updated and fine-tuned formula is poised for explosive growth nationwide. That includes further penetration in core markets—like Texas (66 locations), California (56) and Colorado (14)—as well as fertile areas in the Southeast, Midwest and even Northeast. Despite (usually Manhattan-based) doubters and deniers in the investment field, Conroy has supreme confidence in the continued economic power and cultural influence of so-called flyover country. Ron Owens, vice president and brand manager of Dingo, a division of Dan Post Boot Company, is also a firm believer that the western lifestyle market will continue to grow. The 50-year industry veteran, and subject of this month’s Q&A (p. 12), speaks from vast experience. In fact, Owens was the man who first guided Dingo to great success in the late ’70s. He was lured out of retirement, in 2019, to relaunch the brand—an opportunity that he deemed too good to pass up. This rodeo, Owens believes, has far more growth potential ahead, thanks to the convergence of macro factors including film, music and demographics. Western fashion is no fleeting fad, he says. Its popularity reflects a long-lasting lifestyle shift. Whether this lifestyle shift will ever fully take Manhattan remains to be seen. In the meantime, I can report firsthand that life on my exotic island has changed dramatically since the pandemic. While we still talk and walk fast—and we still fold our pizza slices—life hasn’t completely returned to normal, and I doubt it ever fully will. The great reset has changed how, when and where many of us work. And that has changed how many of us dress—namely, casual and perhaps a little more torn and frayed. This is one time when Manhattanites are looking more like ’Merica. If I see a Boot Barn open in Times Square, or in my Upper West Side ’hood, I’ll know our entire country is on the same page, fashion-wise. Just imagine if that could inspire greater unity among our divided selves…Fuhgeddaboudit.

Greg Dutter

Editorial Director

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Giddy Up, Gotham How the West is worn in the East. Photography by Marcy Swingle

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An Ecco Design Studio Grows in Brooklyn

The Ecco Design Studio includes a showroom.

ECCO, THE DANISH comfort lifestyle brand, wants a deeper connection with the United States, one of its largest markets. Specifically, it wants to develop meaningful relationships with an array of key wholesalers, vendors, designers and other creatives. So, what better way than its first-ever, U.S-based design studio, a 7,000-squarefoot, state-of-the-art facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, smack

dab in one of the nation’s cultural epicenters. Brooklyn, in general, and the Navy Yard, specifically, were chosen for three main reasons, according to Tom Berry, president and CEO of Ecco USA. “First, it gives us access to New York—a global brand needs to be a part of this city,” he says. “Second, both Brooklyn and the Navy Yard are world class creative communities and provide both the network and venue required to drive creativity forward. And third, both Brooklyn and the Navy Yard are places that share many of Ecco’s core values around sustainability, responsibility, authenticity, inclusion and craft.” Berry adds, “Some brands are Manhattan brands. Ecco is a Brooklyn brand.” The space will focus on footwear and bag design, prototyping, product line development and leather sales. It also will serve as a creative hub, hosting events and programs that emphasize sustainability, economic and social best-practices. To that end, Ecco will maintain an open-door philosophy as it believes connecting with neighbors and industry allies is key to organically telling the brand’s story. A recent event, Berry notes, was Decom, which saw Ecco’s leather business unit engage with a diverse group of people. “We had creatives from all over the country and industry, and the response was great,” he reports. Other events have included sales launches, key account meetings, media events and industry collaborations. “We like to think of our culture as open source, and we’re confident that this will benefit us in the long run as the act of creativity doesn’t always fit neatly into a transactional framework,” Berry says. The collaborative efforts are expected to also inspire greater creativity within Ecco. “We’re confident that the result will be products that work not just for the U.S., but globally as well,” Berry says, citing the studio’s benefits of greater agility and relevance. “We’ll be able to move faster and make products that resonate more deeply with our consumers.” The Brooklyn studio has already exceeded expectations, reports Berry. “We’ve started to build a great network and, most importantly, the first products designed in the studio will be on the floor this fall,” he says. “The response during sell-in was great.” The response has been so positive that Ecco will soon open a second design studio—in Portland, OR. “We want to make sure that we’re an accessible and great partner to the vibrant footwear industry headquartered there,” Berry says. “Having studio locations in key cities globally and our home base in Denmark makes us stronger.”

Floafers Opens First Concept Store PART LAB, PART retail experience, Floafers’ first concept shop opened for business last month in Bell Works in Holmdel, NJ, a destination for business, retail, recreation and dining. The 1,000-square-foot store is located in the same building as Floafers’ corporate headquarters—a close proximity that offers many advantages. “We get instant feedback from consumers on a daily basis,” says Larry Paparo, CEO of Floafers. “Like our Test & React program, where we fly in select latest styles and colors already on order to see how they perform. If they do well, we’re able to add more orders before the initial shipment arrives.” The store, designed in collaboration with Wisconsinbased 5 Axis Innovations, also serves as a model for future franchised stores and shop-in-shops. Its modular design can adapt to various shapes and sizes. “Many of our distributors have been asking for shop-in-shops, and this will enable us to present a consistent face to consumers,” Paparo says. “It’s a fun and easy way for people to step into the world of Floafers.” That world, in Holmdel, showcases Floafers’ entire collection (currently 150 SKUs). Also on display are giant replicas of a Floafers shoe and a Crayola crayon (promoting the brand’s licensed scented kids’ collection) to draw in shoppers. Additional sensory touches include a pulsating light show and a beach scent. Paparo credits Sandy Morelli, operations manager, with the store’s vision and execution. “The moment shoppers enter, they’re hit with the fun Floafers vibe while learning all about our unique comfort features,” he says. Paparo expects this store to be busy. Bell Works is a hive of activity. “There are many businesses, and events are happening all the time,” he reports, adding that the store’s location is an ideal kids’ draw. “Nearby is a Jersey Freeze ice-cream shop, a public library and a Montessori school. There’s also a turf area kids play on in front of our store that’s busy all day long.”

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Angel to the Rescue JEN SIDARY HAD to do something to help Ukrainians reeling from the Russian invasion. Time was of the essence. Millions of livelihoods and lives were at stake. So, Sidary zeroed in on what she knows best: fashion footwear. Specifically, she launched (AFF), an ecommerce site featuring Ukrainian designers. As the Jenn Sidary former head of Zappos Couture for seven years, followed by a stint as president of sales for Vivienne Westwood, Sidary has the expertise. She also already had plenty of connections as the creator of the Ukrainian Fashion NYC Project and working in Ukraine for a year, in 2021, for USAID Competitive Economy Program. “When Alina Kachorovska called me five days into the war asking how she could sell all the inventory in her two stores in Kyiv, as well as all the raw materials in her factories, I knew I must take on this challenge,” Sidary says. “The Ukrainian fashion brands needed to immediately come together on one platform to showcase all their incredible designs and begin to generate revenue immediately as their businesses had been halted by Russia’s war.” Building a fully functioning ecommerce site from scratch—one featuring collections from 30-plus brands and completed in mere days— was no easy feat. Indeed, Sidary didn’t sleep much during the build phase leading to AFF going live in early April, but that was a small price to pay. Fortunately, she had a great team assisting her, including Barcelona-based site developers, Maktagg, that she says crank out custom web pages in no time. Also on board was refugee fashion designer, Valery Kovalska, who was crashing on Sidary’s couch in Los Angeles. She helped enlist fellow Ukrainian designers to join the site. “We worked extreme hours, as Los Angeles is 10 hours behind Ukraine,” Sidary says, noting that one intense stretch saw them upload 800 products in five days. “Luckily, I had help from Alina’s site merchandiser and even my ex-boyfriend in Paris helped. We just pushed hard to make it all come together!” So far, so good. Sidary reports the site had more than 15,000 unique visitors, from over 80 countries, in just the first month. “We’ve sold every product category from our opening

price point to our highest, including orders from presell and live inventory,” she says. “I’m absolutely thrilled with the results so far, but I won’t celebrate until every brand has received sales. I have a bottle of Billecart-Salmon for this day!” That may take a while, as Sidary reports there is now a waiting list of more than 60 brands wanting to join AFF. In addition, three already featured on the site—Riot Division, SNDCT and POHUY—haven’t been able to provide inventory yet. The owners and employees of these brands are fighting on the front lines and haven’t had the time. “The boys still respond to me all the time, even while fighting for their country’s freedom,” she proudly reports. Sidary says, above all, AFF is a shopping site. The initial mission remains the same. “We are here to do business,” she says. “We want to see more customers become ‘Angels for Fashion’ as the money from sales goes directly to the brands.” Sidary adds, “This war could last a long time. The fight for the world’s freedom isn’t ending any time soon.”

In the meantime, AFF also gives these Ukrainian designers hope. “The most inspiring part of the project for me is how it has helped give the designers a positive outlook during this horrific time,” Sidary says, noting that many have received heartfelt messages of support. “Many have also reopened their own sites, which I feel is partially attributed to us showing them they can still do business during this war,” she adds. Next up for AFF: brand extensions, like pop-up stores possibly this summer to meet consumers in person in the U.S. and Europe. Sidary is also being honored for her efforts at a women’s luncheon for the Delivering Good charitable foundation this month, where many influential industry professionals will learn all about the platform. AFF is a labor of love for Sidary, which is an extension of her love affair with all things Ukraine—one that fully blossomed after living there while working for USAID, where she assisted small- and medium-sized fashion enterprises. “I felt an instant connection the minute I landed on Ukraine soil,” she says. “The people, their attention to detail, their outstanding cuisine, cocktails and their fashion industry had me enamored immediately. Once you visit Ukraine, you completely fall in love.” Sidary adds, “After Ukraine wins this war, everyone must visit! Slava Ukraini!”

My Twenty Five is one of 30plus designer brands featured on the ecommerce site.

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Ukrainian refugees employed at Gabor’s Slovakian factory.

German Brands Step Up for Ukraine KANNER CORPORATION, U.S. distributors of Gabor and Haflinger, reports the two German brands are doing what they can to aid Ukraine. The efforts include donating funds to support victims of Russia’s invasion and employing Ukrainian refugees to work in their factories. To date, Gabor has hired 17 refugees to work in its Bánovce, Slovakia factory, which borders Ukraine. Most of the workers are women, and many of them brought their children and the children of relatives and acquaintances. The children are cared for in the city’s municipal kindergartens, while the women go about performing their new jobs. “At least some can now make a living working for Gabor—a ray of hope in such a difficult time for them,” says Achim Gabor, chairman of Gabor Shoes. The new employees are also a valuable support for Gabor, as the manufacturer is increasing production capacities following the pandemic’s slowdown. In fact, the company is looking to hire more Ukrainian refugees at its Slovakian factory, which currently employs 1,000-plus people. In addition, Gabor has donated ¤25,000 to the Slovak Red Cross as well as 3,500 pairs of shoes to people who’ve fled Ukraine war zones. Many Gabor employees are also taking part in the efforts to donate funds. “We watch this war with horror,” Gabor says, noting that the company ceased shipping goods to Russia in March. “Many refugees urgently need help, and more are arriving every day.” Against all odds, Haflinger proudly reports its factory in Lwiw, Ukraine, remains up and running. The wool clog company produces 200,000-plus pairs annually in the facility. It’s a partnership that dates back 15 years. The company, founded more than 50 years ago, is committed to doing everything possible to keep the factory, which employs about 200 people, operational. “Admirably, our Ukrainian factory continues to run at full capacity while trying to overcome significant transportation and logistics obstacles,” says Edward Kanner, CEO of Kanner Corporation. The fact that those employees are able to even show up for work amid the chaos is a testament to their dedication, Kanner adds. What’s more, keeping workers employed provides income as well as a sense of normalcy. It’s a win-win for the factory workers and Haflinger. “We stand side by side with our German headquarters in support of our Ukrainian friends and colleagues,” Kanner says.

Wrangler Marks 75th Anniversary with Eco Collab GREEN IS GOOD, as well as a good way for two western heritage brands, Wrangler and Twisted X, to show their passion for protecting the planet. That’s the impetus behind Wrangler’s 75th anniversary collab with licensee, Twisted X. The shoes feature the latter’s proprietary Zero-X no glue construction, ecoTWX fabric created from recycled plastic bottles, leatherTWX fabric utilizing recycled scrap leather and rice husk blend outsoles. Each style is topped off with a commemorative logo in honor of Wrangler’s 75th anniversary. “Sustainability is nothing new for either of these brands as both are committed to responsibly made products and take great care in what materials are put into them and what processes are used,” says Prasad Reddy, CEO of Twisted X. “Wrangler uses materials such as sustainable cotton, recycled fibers and hemp to create their denim, and as Wrangler expanded into footwear, it only made sense to tap into the expertise of Twisted X, an established leader in sustainability.” The commemorative collection of casual slip-ons include two men’s styles and two women’s styles. The interlocking stitching method ensures a secure fit and long-lasting durability. Reddy adds that palette—steel gray, khaki/golden honey, shitake and gray ice—are designed to go well with Wrangler jeans. The collection also pairs well with the brands’ target customer base. “Wrangler and Twisted X both share a passion for protecting the planet that stems from a deep respect for western heritage, where people truly love and live off the land,” he says. Reddy reports Wrangler footwear, which debuted last year, is gaining traction. Despite pandemic headwinds, the brand Green shoes that go great with blue jeans.

is being exposed to more retailers and sales are growing. He credits the success, in part, to the two brands similar focus on quality, comfort and sustainability. “Wrangler is an iconic brand, especially in the western market, that consumers know and trust,” Reddy says, noting that Twisted X coordinates closely with its apparel team to ensure every style is tied in with Wrangler’s design aesthetic to maintain a cohesive brand experience for customers. “By tapping an expert in the footwear category, Wrangler is delivering on that brand promise.”

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August 2-4, 2022 San Diego Convention Center




more to come...






Ron Owens, vice president and brand manager of Dingo, a d i v i s i o n o f D a n Po s t B o o t C o m p a n y, o n w h y h i s l a t e s t r u n — in a career of big runs—is poised to be the biggest yet.

DINGO’S BUSINESS IS BOOMING. Over the past three years, sales have doubled annually—pandemic be damned—and are expected to do so again when the company completes its fiscal year at the end of July. The outlook for the next few years is even more bullish as Dingo rides a macro lifestyle shift while also expanding into a licensed head-totoe brand. In fact, Ron Owens, the man at the reins, believes Dingo has just burst out of the gate. In his half century of working in and on the fringes of western fashion, he’s never seen so much growth potential—for Dingo and the category overall. This is no fleeting Urban Cowboy craze or Yellowstone effect. Owens says western—and by extension Americana, vintage, boho and denim—is much broader and deeper, driven by an array of large-scale demographic and fashion trends snowballing like never before. “This is the first time I’ve seen any trend crossover ethnicities, age, gender, music, film. I’ve never seen one this universal in my life,” Owens says, noting that cowboy boots currently rank in the top 35 of all product searches. “This represents a much bigger and longer-lasting, lifestyle shift.” What is causing the tectonic tilt? Owens cites several key factors, starting with America’s great migration. Specifically, the millions of Americans who’ve moved or plan to move to destinations where western fashion is everyday attire. “People are moving in droves from the entire Northeast, and from big cities in the Midwest, California, Oregon and Washington to North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas,” he says. “These are people who never wore a lot of denim, and certainly never wore western boots. A month or so after moving, they are. Half of them end up buying hats, even.” Owens adds, “The South just brings with it a more rural feel and always embodies a stronger sense of Americana than other parts of the country, and that’s having a big effect.” Factor No. 2: It’s a Gen Z thing. “Western boots are the favorite shoe of that generation, as well as for a lot of Millennials,” Owens reports, adding that white boots are so hot now that they’ve developed into their own category. “The number of hashtag postings of these looks on TikTok is

unbelievable.” Owens adds that the definition of western footwear has broadened greatly; that’s to the benefit of the category and, especially, a hybrid fashion brand like Dingo. He cites the boots worn by Gwen Stefani at her wedding to Blake Shelton last summer as an example. The media described them as “western,” but the sky-high white Le Silla stiletto boots embellished with Swarovski crystals on the toe and heel could just as easily be deemed fashion. “I think fashion is fashion,” Owens says. “If it has western connotations or flair but isn’t really true western,

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Q&A it doesn’t matter.” What does matter, he adds, is that the No. 1 item on The RealReal, Poshmark and other vintage sites is western-type boots. “There’s a growing niche where, if we interpret the product correctly, we’ll have a huge opportunity for success,” he says. Factor No. 3: Western footwear is versatile, especially for guys. “Look at how men are dressing these days: jeans, a leather jacket or blazer over a dress shirt and boots or sneakers,” Owens says. “Anywhere you can wear a sneaker, you can wear a western boot. It’s just easy, and people want fashion that they really don’t have to think about.” Owens adds that western footwear is also travel-friendly. “People are traveling much more, and they want a uniform look because nobody likes to check luggage anymore,” he says. “You can wear boots to dinner, a concert, a walk in the city…You can dress them up or down. Just as sneakers are practical and comfortable, so are western boots.” Factor No. 4: They offer good value. Owens agrees with Giorgio Armani’s recent statement that consumers are going to buy fewer pairs overall. “As a result, what they buy will be much more universal,” Owens says. Similarly, whenever the country is struggling economically and Americans are under a lot of stress (like now), the western category performs well. (The same rule applies when patriotism is all the rage.) “It comes back to people buying less and wanting more universal product,” he says. Factor No. 5: The film and music industries are crushing on western. The popularity of Taylor Sheridan’s series Yellowstone and 1883, as well as his highly anticipated 6666, 1932 and Landman series are serving as western fashion runways, showcasing prairie dresses, dusters, shearling coats, barn jackets, jeans and, of course, lots of western boots. “Beth Dutton (Yellowstone’s ruthless banker played by Kelly Reilly) is doing more for women’s fashion right now than I’ve ever seen,” Owens says. “She’s become an entity unto herself.” Sheridan is also working on Bass Reeves, an eponymously named series about the first Black deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River, widely considered the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. “AfricanAmericans have played a huge role throughout western history, and this show should only extend the crossover appeal of western fashion to that audience,” Owens says. That crossover is already happening in country music. The recent Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus hit Old Town Road is one example. “It’s great to see so many rising Black country music stars,” Owens says, adding, “Who’d have thought 15 years ago that country music would be the most inclusive of all genres.” All these factors add up to huge, sustained growth potential for Dingo and western fashion. Owens has never felt more excited about the future—and that’s saying a lot from a man who’s spent 50 years in the industry and enjoyed some epic runs. These include the explosive debut of Dingo in the’70s, the Charlie Cole-led Candie’s craze of the early ’80s

(one out of every four American women owned a pair), the salad days at Sam & Libby under Sam Edelman in the late ’80s, and the relaunch of Candie’s as part of Iconix Brand Group in the mid ’90s through the early aughts. Owens, who then ran his own business, Mojo Moxy, for about a decade, retired briefly but the potential for another big run (and feeling like he’d played enough golf ) lured him back. “I love the business now more than ever,” he says. “Finding new ways to market product, researching consumers, discovering what’s important to them, how they’re shopping versus the past, how their lives are evolving post-pandemic, determining what styles will sell…I love all of it.”

Dingo boots span bold to beautiful and everything in between.

of color right away, which you don’t traditionally see in the black and brown western world. So, we had some immediate success, but we were sourcing out of China and that held us back a bit. China gives you a lighter hand in traditional western looks. That’s not conducive to what western boots are about. When did you move production to Mexico? We started shifting to Mexico a little over two years ago. Then, right before the pandemic, we introduced a black-and-white, hair-on-hide boot (pictured). It just took on a life of its own and set us on a big upward swing. That boot has been shown on social media probably more so than any other footwear item over the last two-and-a-half years. It was also featured on (season 17) of Bachelorette. Who gets the credit for that boot? We have tremendous product teams at Dan Post, but it was my decision to put it in the line. I love product, and while I’m not a designer by any means, I have a knack for determining what will retail and what won’t. What made you feel that boot would be a hit? One of the rules that I learned as a stockbroker (see side bar, p. 36) that has served me well is the Odd Lot Theory. If everybody is buying, you should be selling. The masses are always wrong. So, I went against the grain. I’d seen little of that material in Europe, but I didn’t see anything with that kind of look and pop. It just felt like a good time to try it. Most people in this business follow the herd. They do. But pretty much all I’ve ever done is pioneer new labels, and I believe there are only two ways to do business in this business: Either you’re the cheapest or you offer consumers something that they don’t already have in their closet. Nobody wins the battle of being the cheapest.

What makes you believe Dingo has another big run in it—40-plus years after its first? When I was running Mojo Moxy, I was already doing similar kinds of Dingo product. I could see a shift going back to those looks. I also understand the brand. I know what it was in the past and how it should fit in the future. Dingo has always been a denim-based, young fashion, lifestyle brand with western flair. It was never strictly a western brand. The potential for growth is huge. How did your return debut go? Right out of the box, we gained some traction. That was a pleasant surprise because, as a rule, first seasons are never that great. But there was such a fondness and acceptance of the brand. People remember Dingo in a great light. They remember the heavy advertising we did in the ’70s with Joe Namath and Joe Montana. Plus, we introduced a lot

How did you follow up on that boot’s success? Immediately, we added cowhide styles in different colorations and patterns. They all sold extremely well, and Dingo became known for cowhide. We had a great run for a couple of seasons, but the rule is to expand into new growth areas. I noticed there were a lot of vintage looks trending, notably wood bottom styles. So, we introduced a wood bottom style exclusively online. It sold out immediately. Then we brought it back in six colors, and it sold out again. We still have ready-to-wear chains asking us to do that shoe again. More importantly, the collection expanded our offering beyond western boots and booties. It told us that this new Dingo customer isn’t going to pigeonhole us into just boots. Since then, we’ve done sneakers, sandals and work boots for men. Our customers have accepted anything we’ve put out that’s fashion-right and priced well. Who is this Dingo customer? It’s pretty much everyone. That’s what’s driving 2022 june • 13

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Q&A western fashion, in general. This is not a fashion trend; it’s a change of lifestyle. Unlike before, when different age groups and ethnicities embraced separate trends, western is defying gender, age and ethnicity. Never before have we seen this in fashion. Trends are short-lived. This is a lifestyle shift, which is much longer lasting. How much of this shift is attributable to Hollywood, particularly the popularity of Yellowstone? There are many factors converging at once. But Taylor Sheridan (creator of Yellowstone) is singlehandedly changing fashion. There’s also the massive influence of country music. Just look at what Lil Nas X has done to bring in the African-American demographic, as well as the LGBTQ community. Then there’s two of the biggest mega-stars on the planet, Beyoncé designing a western fashion (Ivy Park Rodeo) collection with Adidas and Jay-Z producing an all-black western movie (The Harder They Fall). That will only extend this crossover appeal. In addition, the Hispanic market has always embraced western fashion, and they account for $1.5 trillion in buying power, which is larger than the GDP of Australia. And the pandemic didn’t impact sales much? Not at all. We have such a strong ecommerce business with our retail partners that it sustained us once we got through the shutdown. Our entire company, especially Dingo, which has more of a fashion connotation, performs particularly well online. I’m also very proud of how our management never panicked during the pandemic. We calmly made plans to move forward, we didn’t let go any employees, we remained in constant contact with our retail partners to see what they needed and how we could help, and we’ve had enough inventory on hand, and more is coming.

O F F T H E C U FF What might people be surprised to know about you? In the mid ’80s, I took a hiatus from the footwear industry and became a stockbroker in New York. What are you reading? I’m rereading Faith Popcorn’s The Popcorn Report, Clicking and EVEolution. They always generate a lot of new ideas. I also just reread Never Make the First Offer by Donald Dell, plus new ones, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch. What was the last show you streamed? Outer Range. In what way has the pandemic changed your life most? Having almost lost my wife to Covid, I came away with a more enhanced set of priorities of what’s most important: love of family, freedoms we so take for granted and the outdoors.

What’s on tap for this fall, and any hints about Spring ’23? Fall will still have a tremendous amount of color, but we’ll see a big shift to metallic shades in addition to basic metallics, like gold, bronze, silver and pewter. Snake and animal prints will also continue to be strong, as will embroidery designs and denim featuring a lot of studding and rhinestone treatments. Denim was the premier focus at Paris Fashion Week, often covered in crystals and multi-colored beads on jeans, jackets, skirts, corsets, leggings and even chaps. The washes were very intense in dark black and indigo, and it spanned clean, ripped and deconstructed with taping, belts, garters and sexy cutouts. To compliment all that denim, western boots will be playful and fun for Spring ’23 with lots of unique colors and western whimsy. Western boots are just the right boho addition to any spring/summer wardrobe. And since there’s little seasonality anymore, that’s another reason we expect color to be big next spring. Basically, the same pallets, only not as deep as fall. Do you envision a return to pre-pandemic behaviors, or have consumers forever changed in how they work, shop, dress, recreate, etc.? I don’t think we’ll ever find our way back to what was considered normal. Just as I witnessed in China after the SARS outbreak, there’s a percentage

What did you want to be when you grew up? A professional baseball player. What is your favorite hometown memory? I’m from Statesville, NC, and the one that stands out most is summer nights, after playing baseball, the neighborhood getting together to rehash the game while making homemade ice cream. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? That’s a hard one, as I’ve been mentored by some of the industry’s best. But the advice I follow to this day came when I was a young buyer. Every day at lunch I’d look at our competitors’ windows and report back to our owner. Finally, one day he told me that our success

would come from staying focused on our business, not worrying about what our competition is doing. What is your favorite word? Team. Nothing is more gratifying than working with a group of people who you greatly respect, all focused on one goal and achieving the result. What is your least favorite word? Assume. As the old saying goes, “Assumption is the mother of all mistakes, and she has many children.” What are five words to describe your life? Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. Time goes by so fast, so I’ve always promised myself that I’d never look back with regret about what was missed. And I haven’t. What is your motto? “Be present.” Always be in the moment, with honesty and clarity about where you are, and knowing where you’re going and what it will take to get

of the population that always wears masks. I expect we’ll see that here. This pandemic has brought about a deeper understanding of the world stage and how something halfway around the globe can affect us all, as well as how little control we actually have in our lives. And while I believe most of us want to be more accepting of differences, it’s with a responsibility that we also protect ourselves and families. This is having a big impact on how people shop and work. For example? I expect people will increasingly work from home, and companies will move headquarters and/or downsize offices. There are also fewer people returning to malls, choosing to shop in strip centers and free-standing stores, where they feel safer. We may continue to be somewhat guarded in crowded spaces and flinch when someone coughs. I believe we’ve emerged with a newfound attitude and priorities. The pandemic presented an opportunity for many of us to slow down and reassess. Many embraced the outdoors and committed to personal growth. Most emerged with a desire to become better people, and in turn build better organizations that find more ways to be more tolerant of other views. From a fashion industry perspective, I agree with Giorgio >36

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Barn Burner

On the heels of a record year that blazed past the $1billion sales mark, Boot Barn’s growth is just heating up. By Greg Dutter

PSST. Want in on a little secret? Boot Barn is a big business—and it’s poised to get a whole lot bigger. The chain is expected to triple in size over the next 10 years. We’re talking a projected 900 stores in nearly 50 states. But a lot of people—particularly the investment intelligentsia, which largely resides along America’s urban coastlines— don’t have a clue about Boot Barn. Even when informed of the chain’s solid growth, now going on 11 straight years, they remain skeptical. Chalk it up to a coastal bias blind spot, one that prevents them not just from recognizing what a behemoth Boot Barn is fast becoming but also leads them to pooh-pooh the enormous economic significance and social influence of so-called “flyover” country. Not even the fact that Boot Barn just reported having the best year in its 44-year history—one that saw the now 300-store chain total $1.5 billion in sales (fiscal 2022) and every store turn a profit—is enough to make investors take notice. What’s more, comp store sales grew 54 percent and earnings tripled. The Irvine, CA-based company is looking to open roughly 40 to 50 stores a year over the next 10 years, which sets the stage for billions more in annual sales. That expansion includes further market penetration in states where Boot Barn already does well and virgin territory in towns and cities across the country that also live and breathe its merchandise mix. The chain’s destination store format has been updated and is running like a well-oiled machine. Yet, in the days that followed last month’s impressive earnings call, Boot Barn’s stock price actually fell. The general consensus was that a horrendous quarterly report from Target and a slew of other poor retail earnings reports dragged Boot Barn down with them. The retailer was guilty by association. Yet the fact remains that the chain’s numbers were record-smashing. What’s more, comp store sales are up 12 percent this year. Neither the pandemic nor rising inflation have taken the wind out of Boot Barn’s sails/sales. So, forgive Jim Conroy, president and CEO of Boot Barn, for having a bit of a chip on his shoulder. The organization deserves a lot more respect than it gets for what it has achieved and expects to achieve, especially in an age when popular opinion says it can’t be done. Equally irksome to Conroy is the corollary assumption that consumers don’t want to shop in stores—and that they don’t regularly wear western fashion. Wrong on both counts.

Boot Barn’s makeover appeals to core and casual customers alike.

Conroy knows this because he sees it firsthand. He recently visited a Boot Barn location in Weatherford, TX, about 60 miles west of Dallas and found the store (which opened in May of 2021) buzzing with customers shopping the extensive array of functional merchandise as well as “a whole bunch of what can now be viewed as pretty mainstream” apparel. “It’s doing three times its original budget,” Conroy reports. “Now, I can’t put my finger on all the aspects that are working in that store, and whether they’re attributable to internal or outside macro factors, but my sarcastic side says, ‘Yes, it’s a trend, and evidently one that’s been going on for 11 years, because we’ve had 11 years of positive comps.’ But nobody will listen.” Nevertheless, Boot Barn will keep doing what it does best— and keep growing, Conroy assures. The chain is on pace to hit between $2 billion and $3 billion this fiscal year. Perhaps eventually it will win over the doubters and deniers. In the meantime, Boot Barn just doubled its total addressable market to $40 billion. Conroy, for one, sees enormous potential. “We’re miles away from maxing out the growth of our business,” he says, describing Boot Barn as a momentum play. That includes core customers replenishing their wardrobes for work and fashion as well as a growing adjacent customer base that wears the product casually. “We’re just scratching the surface of that Jim Conroy (latter) market potential,” Conroy says. “That’s a giant market

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A timeless collection of western boots that honors the traditional craftsmanship, iconic styling, and remarkable comfort. FOP JUN 2022.indd 17

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OFF THE CUFF WHAT ARE YOU READING? The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. WHAT WAS THE LAST MOVIE YOU SAW? The original and the remake of West Side Story. My boys (ages 13 and 15) recently switched to the Orange County School of the Arts, where my older son is now learning to sing opera and my younger son just appeared in a production of Gypsy. I don’t know if they’ll become performers, but if they’re ever handed a microphone to do a presentation, they won’t hesitate, and they’ll do it well. WHO IS YOUR MOST COVETED DINNER GUEST? My parents. They passed away several years ago and I’d love to just have them see what’s happened in my family’s life. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE HOMETOWN MEMORY? I’m from Dix Hills, Long Island, and my favorite memories are of my senior year in high school and just a collection of amazing friends—many of whom I’m still in touch with, even though we’ve all gone different ways. WHAT IS THE BEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED? It’s not specifically business-related, but my dad always said: “Keep it simple, stupid.” The KISS method toward everything was his mantra. And that approach is alive at Boot Barn. We have a very simple and straightforward strategy, and we focus on nothing but executing it. WHERE IS YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN? Every Sunday morning, my two boys and I drive to the same local park to play pick-up basketball for three hours. We’re always on the same team. And win, lose or draw, I’m a 52-year-old dad playing basketball with his two teenage kids who still talk to him. Lifelong memories are made every Sunday. Recently, we won all four games. We held the court. That became quite the story when we got home to Mom. WHAT MIGHT PEOPLE BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU? I was a pre-med major in college. In fact, the only reason I wound up in retail was when, trying to earn money for medical school, I applied for a consulting job at Deloitte & Touche. I put my resume into what I thought was the management consulting folder for healthcare companies. Turns out it was the folder for retail companies. The first question asked: “Why do you want to be in retail?” I quickly spun a story, and the rest is history.

and expected to be a big part of our growth going forward.” Capturing the adjacent customer has already been quantified. Over the past two years, Boot Barn’s customer count is up 35 percent and sales are up almost 70 percent. “Basically, half of our growth is new customers,” Conroy says. “I couldn’t be happier with that ratio, as we’ve been able to get our legacy customer to shop more frequently while, at the same time, convinced new customers to shop with us without having upset the apple cart.” Still, some investors remain skeptical that the fashion customer base actually exists and even more doubtful that Boot Barn can capture it. Others fret over the risks associated with a greater focus on fashion, but Conroy believes they’re wrong. He cites the chain’s successful expansion into new markets as proof. “We’ve been opening stores in states that people didn’t think were ‘western,’ like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia,” he says, noting that Boot Barn now has outlets in 38 states. “And we’ll be opening a store in Cherry Hill, NJ, and outside of Albany, NY, this year.” Indeed, Boot Barn’s concept seems to have nationwide appeal. What’s more, the chain’s best-performing doors are located not in rural areas but in cities, like Houston, Dallas, Nashville, Phoenix and Charlotte, NC. “It’s not like every store is in a small, farm town,” Conroy says. “And if we’re successful in North Carolina, why can’t we go north to Pennsylvania? There are a ton of consumers who wear our products living between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.” New York is another example. While Conroy says Boot Barn may never open an outlet on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, there’s a huge potential customer base stretching from New York City to Syracuse to Buffalo. “That’s a gigantic triangle of customers who wear our products,” he says, adding that the merchandise mix has expanded to appeal to a broader audience. “It’s not just cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans and hats. There’s product virtually for everybody in our stores. You don’t have to own a horse to shop there.” Conroy says Boot Barn’s ability to appeal to a broader customer base is quantifiable. “Typically, we want our new stores opening in states near New York to do $2 million as an average first year store, and they’re doing like $4 million,” he reports. Perhaps even more reassuring is the fact that Boot Barn’s growth is not being driven entirely by fashion sales. In fact, if the chain excludes women’s fashion sales, the business overall is still performing exceptionally well. Sales, compared to two

years ago, are up 71 percent. “Even if we take zero credit for all the women’s product that has some fashion tailwind to it, we’re still up 63 percent,” Conroy says. BALANCING ACT Boot Barn stores strike a delicate balance between function and fashion, blue and white collar, core and casual customer, and men and women. The key is to appeal to a diverse audience without alienating anyone—to look upscale enough for a customer spending $500 on alligator skin boots while not turning off a guy buying work boots for $179. Conroy says his team has been laser focused on getting that balance just right. It includes segmented categories within the stores that are separate yet inclusive. So, for example, there’s the alligator skin boot that could be worn with a suit at a charity gala and, two shelves below that, the work boot for the guy who swings a hammer for a living and wears them six days a week. “We want to expand our ocean of customers, but we can’t lose sight of our core customer,” Conroy says. The use of targeted marketing helps ensure that “A guy working on an oil rig won’t receive a promo about the latest fringe purse by Miranda Lambert.” Conroy adds, “Based on the success of our recent store openings, I believe we’ve found that balance.” Byron Wortham, president, Core Brands Sales for Rocky Brands (Durango, Georgia, Rocky and Muck) says Boot Barn’s ability to appeal to both function and fashion customers under one roof is a key to its success. In addition to a consistent floor plan and aesthetics, he cites the merchandise team’s understanding of the fashion shift brought on by the pandemic. “With the proliferation of work-from-home, people wear what they want all day long, and boots are part of their lifestyle. CEOs are also wearing boots and jeans in the boardroom,” he says. “Boot Barn understands this and has created a more upscale and lifestyle-oriented environment in its stores. They are not a traditional western store. This has allowed them to capture not only core western consumers, but also new consumers who may have previously made their purchases at an upscale department store.” Prasad Reddy, CEO of Twisted X, says Boot Barn is doing a lot of things right. That includes product presentation (appealing), customer service (tremendous), stores (clean) and merchandise mix (really good). “It’s a combination of all those aspects that has led to Boot Barn’s exceptional growth,” he says. Another factor, Reddy says, is Boot

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This is one instance, however, where Conroy doesn’t mind the prevailing misconception; it works to Boot Barn’s advantage. “I love the fact that everybody thinks the world is going online, because we’re going to continue to open stores,” he says. “We’re attracting customers from more mainstream channels partly because those retailers drank the Kool-Aid that everyone is shopping online.” That belief, he says, has led to a vicious cycle of neglect. “As those stores underperform, they pull out inventory and reduce staffs, and then they underperform more, and then they pull out more inventory and more labor…if you do that enough times, you’ll destroy your concept,” Conroy says. Boot Barn, by contrast, remains focused on its LET’S GET PHYSICAL profitable brick-and-mortar channel. “Most of Another factor contributing to Boot our customers interact with us in our stores, we Barn’s success is its firm, albeit old make more money in that channel, we have a more school, belief that its customers prefer Boots bonanza: an extensive selection of core, work and loyal customer there, we’re more competitive, we to shop in its stores. While many in western-inspired fashion await shoppers. have higher exclusive brand penetration,” Conroy the investment community believe says. “And while we want to grow our digital business—and it’s growing quite the world has moved on to a DTC/digital landscape, Conroy begs to differ. nicely—we spend half of our time with our digital team figuring out ways to “The numbers within our company, and the industry overall, show that most get more customers into our stores.” of retail is still conducted in traditional stores,” he says, adding, “I just don’t Over the past several years, Boot Barn’s split between in-store and online understand how so many people have convinced themselves of something sales has remained steady at 85 percent to 15 percent. It’s a ratio Conroy >38 that is so blatantly untrue.” Barn’s expansion into new markets. “They’re expanding where western footwear hasn’t traditionally been, but consumers are hungry for this product based on the wave of western fashion trends we see,” he says, adding that this is helping Twisted X broaden its reach. “Boot Barn is the only western retailer that’s nationwide, and that exposes our brands (includes Black Star and Wrangler) in states where we’re not as prominent, which gives us the opportunity to reach and retain new consumers.”

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YES MAN A n d y S m i t h , v i c e p r e s i d e n t o f s a l e s f o r Fr y e B o o t s , l i c e n s e e o f Fo o t w e a r Un l i m i t e d , on how saying yes paved the way to success. DEAR ANDY, It’s 1987 and I’m writing to you from the future—2022, to be exact! Mizzou has been a blast, but it’s time to leave the college confines of Columbia and your two jobs, at Mister Guy Clothier and Nowell’s liquor store, and move on in life. But before you go, thank your bosses, because you’ve developed great people skills working retail. It’ll come in handy in your future endeavors. Also, thank your lucky stars, because you somehow avoided getting into trouble for selling liquor to your under-aged friends! I’m thrilled to inform you that you’re about to embark an incredible journey, where you’ll work alongside amazing people and at cool companies. And it’s all made possible by uttering a three-letter word: YES! Life is for the living, and if you want to experience it all, you must be willing to say yes. Saying yes will open doors and provide you with amazing opportunities. Like when you say yes to the job offer in Brown Shoe’s executive training program. That kicks off your lifelong career in the shoe business. Before you wrinkle your nose, I assure you that this is no dead-end, Al Bundy existence! (Although, you will endure plenty of Bundy jokes; that comes with the territory. And you will work nights and weekends early on in a Dillard’s shoe department because student loans don’t repay themselves. At least, not in 1987, they don’t.) Saying yes leads to a year-and-a-half stint in Miami, working in the Burdines buying office. A young Rick Ausick, future president of Famous Footwear, will be your DM. He’s a terrific mentor, and he’ll always answer the phone. After learning the department store model from the inside, say yes to being a rep for Brown Shoe’s Life Stride division. You’ll be based in Dallas, where you’ll meet your future wife! Your territory spans Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. You’ll love it, love it, love it! And pay close attention, as these sharp southern retailers will show you how can-do attitudes create successful businesses. Also, be sure to get involved with great rep organizations, like SWSTA and SESTA. It’s where you become friends with many fellow Shoe Dogs, affirming that this is where you belong and the career you want for life. In 1995, say yes to becoming a major market rep for Life Stride and take your wife to Charlotte, NC, a.k.a. God’s country. You’re now the salesman for Belk, Mercantile, Proffitt’s and McRae’s department stores in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions—400 stores! This is when the job gets really fun! Cliff Sifford, Brett Wortham and Charlie Beecham welcome you into Belk’s big and bustling Shoe Dog family.

There’s plenty of golf and basketball with this bunch in between business. This is NASCAR and ACC basketball country. Life is good! Above all, a happy employee makes for a good one. And with that comes good fortune. One of your proudest career moments, in 1997, is when you receive Brown Shoe’s Account Executive of the Year award. In 1999, it’s time to say yes again, and take your family to Brown Shoe headquarters in St. Louis. Your first stop is national sales manager for department stores in the Life Stride division, where Jeff Sanders and Gary Rich groom you to eventually take over as GM of Life Stride in 2004. In 2008, you say yes again, assisting Gary in bringing Fergie and Fergalicious brands to life. What a ride and education, and Fergie is as nice as they come! Just as things couldn’t be going better, in 2012 you say yes again, heading across town to Footwear Unlimited to work with Mike and Pat Mooney. You’ll help launch Latigo, then move to Baretraps and work in make-ups. Great shoes and great folks. Then, in 2021, say yes when Pat signs the license for Frye. It’s a brand dripping with heritage. Even better, western fashion is all the rage, so good timing! Saying yes will serve you well in work and life. Let that be your guiding principle. Also, here are some time-tested wisdoms passed down by generations of legendary Shoe Dogs that will come in handy. 1. Put your heart into all that you do, take care of everyone around you and live. 2. Every situation is temporary. 3. Life’s challenges are always remembered fondly. 4. Feed dogs dog food, e.g. give people what they need. 5. Sing from the same hymnal; e.g. teamwork is best. 6. Ain’t no flies on that, e.g. it’s great looking. 7. Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered, e.g. don’t be greedy. 8. The fish stinks from the head down, e.g. don’t work for a company with bad reputations. 9. The fool isn’t the one who asks. 10. Don’t get mad, get their business. 11. Picking fly poop out of pepper; e.g. don’t obsess over minute details. 12. It’s not the elephant in the hallways that should concern you, rather the quiet ones hiding in the cubicles. 13. Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey—always. Take care, Andy P.S. You should’ve stayed in touch with your classmate, Brad Pitt. Who knew?

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PALET TE PLEASERS Te m p t i n g s h a d e s t h a t l i v e n u p t h e m e n u . 1. Black Star 2. Dingo 3. Chelsea Crew 4. L’Artiste 5. Seychelles

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Old Gringo booties with embroidered toe and fringe-embellished heel. 23

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L’Artiste suede ankle boots with floral appliqué. Opposite from left: Durango cowboy boots with inlay detailing; BC booties in exotic and off-white vegan leather with contrasting appliqué. 25

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Slouchy wedge boots by Bed Stu. Opposite, clockwise from top left: Chelsea Crew Victorian-style boot with satin laces and stacked heel; Minnetonka five-layer fringe boot with suede braid and metal conchos; harness boot with stud detailing by Dingo. 27

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From left: Square-toe waterproof wellington boots featuring Goodyear welt construction by Georgia Boot; Rocky square toe pull-up boots with slip-resistant rubber outsoles and Rocky VP waterproofing. 28

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Sage by Abilene Boot harness boot with ankle chain and contrast embroidery. 29

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Ankle boots with floral embroidery and fringe embellishment by Ariat. Opposite: waterproof wellington boots with tonal embroidery by Wolverine. 31 31

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Twisted X square-toe rancher boots with CellSole comfort footbeds and walking heel construction. Opposite, from top: Jo Ghost bootie in tonal metallic and exotic print leather; metallic ankle boot with embroidered detail by Matisse; studded bootie by All Black; apron-front ankle boot with braided and perforated detailing by Miz Mooz. Fashion editor: Ann Loynd Burton; models: Nadine Stracqualursi/ Fenton Model Mgmt.; Zac Madeira/ Wilhelmina Models; hair and makeup: Nevio Ragazzini/Next Artists; photo assistants: Kevin McKeown, Raymond Collette. Photographed at Long Island Yarn and Farm, Yaphank, NY.


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No Surrender

Katya Lysenko, founder/designer of My Twenty Five, reveals how the Ukrainian label continues to fight the fierce fashion fight. By Greg Dutter to leave their homes in nearby Bucha and Brovary. So we’ve moved our stock SINCE LAUNCHING MY TWENTY FIVE in 2016 in Kyiv, Ukraine, founder/ to Europe and are trying several new factories in Italy. I met them at Micam. designer Katya Lysenko has been living out her dream of creating shoes that enable women to feel both “confident and comfortable.” From the get-go, Could you pause operations? I feel better doing something, instead of being her company grew steadily, but then came the pandemic and the Russian sad or angry. I feel almost happy when I fall into my work. I also feel inspired invasion—a one-two punch that could KO the strongest of businesses. But helping friends and customers. Not shutting down is a source of great pride. not Lysenko’s. She is adapting—for instance, temporarily shifting production It’s our little way to show Ukrainians and the world that from Ukraine to Italy—and fighting tooth and nail for life goes on—just like our country has shown the world survival. She’s worked too hard, and loves her work too how brave and strong we are. We know we’ll win this war much, to surrender. against the dark side. It’s a struggle for truth, freedom, Take the overall theme of My Twenty Five’s upcoming beauty and life. fall collection, for example. It’s called Inferno, in reference to Dante’s vision of hell. “It’s a mix of tragedy, punishment What is My Twenty Five’s overall design aesthetic? My and sexiness in one bottle,” Lysenko says. “Our brand is Twenty Five means you can never have enough. It takes at ‘made in Ukraine’ and we’re facing a real-life hell. The least 25 pairs to quench our customers’ thirst. That recipe huge tragedy cannot be forgotten, so we decided to create mixes passion, smart sexiness and a dash of drama—all something emotional.” That translates to inspirational ingredients of modern women. Feeling confident in our design elements such as bullets, chains and cobras. “It’s shoes is key. Comfort is also key, which is why we researched all about metal constructions, snakeskin, vinyl and sharp hundreds of women’s feet to get precise measurements. edges,” she says. “Hell can also be interpreted as a kind Our last enables women to spend eight hours-plus in of punishment with shades of sexiness, which aligns our heels and still feel comfortable. Her feet are worth it. with our DNA.” My Twenty Five’s DNA dates to Lysenko’s childhood shoe Who is the My Twenty Five woman? She’s a self-made obsession that involved her spinning in front of a mirror in businesswomen in whatever field she chooses. She’s her mom’s high heel pumps—a black suede pair with gold confident and courageous. She doesn’t have to prove details and a white napa pair. “I don’t remember anything anything, to anyone. She knows the perfect combination that could make me so happy,” she says. That love was of style, quality and price. rekindled 25 years later, following a failed shoe shopping trip with her girlfriends. “We were looking for the perfect In what ways has the pandemic impacted your busiNew Year’s Eve shoes and discovered there were only two ness? Not as much as many might think. First off, I options: Italian brands that we couldn’t afford or cheap believe deep inside every woman’s soul, they can’t wait and uncomfortable ones,” she says. “From that moment, I to dress up again. That’s why I added more celebratory decided to start my dream to make women feel confident details, like Swarovski crystals on some styles. I wanted and comfortable in beautiful shoes.” my customer to celebrate life, even if it was just going out While Lysenko has no previous design experience, she to dinner, the best way she could! I also consider heels to credits her 15 years working in sales and marketing as be a woman’s inner anchor. The pandemic, if anything, helping get My Twenty Five off the launch pad. Plus, a lot revealed that more than ever, as heels are now trending of old-fashioned grit. “My main teacher in this business, across a variety of categories. as in life, is working hard and following my dream,” she Katya Lysenko embraces says. “I never stop learning and ensure that every pair is Dante’s Inferno for Fall ’20. Who are some designers you admire? I’m totally in love made of love!” with Saint Laurent—the whole aesthetic of the brand. The lines, details and, most of all, daring character in rather strict styles. How are you dealing with the war? Personally, I was in the U.S. when it began, thank God! But my sister’s family stayed in Kharkiv, and my mother What is the perfect shoe? The one that makes you feel yourself. and grandfather are in Zaporozhye, my childhood home. I try to help any way I can. I donated my car to our army and give as much money as I can. Meanwhile, What do you love most about designing? Seeing and hearing how happy it gets worse each day. It’s hard to explain my feelings when my mom sends a my customers are. That means everything to me. I also love spending hours message that there are 10 air raid sirens a day, there might be no internet and choosing materials, imagining how they’ll work with various accessories and she’s hiding in a bomb shelter. Business-wise, we stopped work at our Kyiv facoutfits. It’s like a game. I want each style to be both signature and ready-to-wear. tory. The elder couple who own it had no choice, as some of the workers had 34 • june 2022

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Q&A continued from page 14 Armani, who recently said “fashion is slowing.” Thus, for products to be successful, they must be seasonless, better quality and feature sustainable design elements. Dingo fits in with this description well, starting with the fact that nothing can be worn more universally than a western boot and nothing has more perceived value. Also, many consumers are looking forward to reuniting and celebrating with friends and family, and our products are designed for people to wear when having a good time. If there’s a lingering fear of malls, where are customers shopping? In addition to Boot Barn, the farm store sector is popular. Chains like Tractor Supply, Fleet Farm and Murdoch’s Ranch & Home account for a huge number of stores collectively and are growing overall. It’s one of the fastest growth areas for Dingo. A beautiful thing about this sector is they love footwear, whereas in department stores footwear is like the bastard child because it’s the slowest

THE LONG RUN Fifty years burning down the road and Ron Owens is still running strong. THIS IS NOT Ron Owens’ first rodeo. The industry veteran of 50 years has been a key player in legendary runs, including the original launch of Dingo, Candie’s (twice) and Sam & Libby. In fact, the never-ending thrill of working with a team that’s trying to create another big run brought Owens out of his short-lived retirement in 2019 to lead Dingo once again. Ever since getting his start as a buyer for a local North Carolina department store, footwear has run through his veins. His short detour—a two-year stint in New York as stockbroker in the mid ’80s—reaffirmed Owens’ enduring love of this industry. “I hated every minute of it,” Owens recalls. “I wasn’t accustomed to being confined to a desk all day. I really missed the shoe business—the product and the people.” Owens was born to chase fashion futures. His resume reads like a greatest hits album, and he’s performed with industry rock stars like Charlie, Kenneth and Neil Cole, as well as Sam Edelman and Stephen Hoyt. Owens says he learned a lot from them. “Being part of teams that took new brands to amazing successes in very short periods was an incredible experience,” he says. “I’m forever grateful.” Owens’ Candie’s days in the early ’80s were particularly memorable. The company was filled with young, energetic people. “One day Charlie said to me, ‘You want to know how to

build a company and get rich? Hire 25 to 30 egomaniacs, give them what they need and get out of the way,’” Owens recalls. “Most of those guys became very successful.” Another favorite insight from Charlie related to business deals. “He drew a circle on a piece of paper and then drew a line down the middle,” Owens says. “Then he said, ‘That’s the pie. You eat half and I eat half. That’s a good deal. If you start eating pie on my side of the plate, then we’ve got a problem.’” Owens considers all his career stops memorable learning experiences, including the time he received his first (fat) commission check from Dingo in the late ’70s. It came on the heels of his modest salary at a local department store. “I carried it around for two weeks, afraid to take it to the bank because they would tell me it wasn’t real,” he says. But it was Owens’ days as a buyer that got him hooked on the shoe business. He doesn’t forget his humble beginnings or any of the people who’ve given this self-described “hard worker” a chance to succeed. Leading Dingo again feels like coming full circle. “Just to see Dingo become again what it once was is too good to pass up,” he says. The cherry on top: working at Dan Post Boot Company, a firm he has long admired and that is filled with longtime industry friends. “It’s been a really easy transition,” Owens says. “It’s coming home.” —G.D.

turn, least margin and bought in case packs. It’s very difficult. But in farm stores, footwear is one of the highest margins and fastest turning segments. That’s why they often merchandise it up front, as opposed to being hidden in the back in department stores. They are growing the category. Those customers are already in those stores, and they have no aversion to buying a great pair of boots, if they see them. Where do you envision Dingo in three years? As one of the most recognized fashion brands in the industry. I’m a big proponent of licensing and how critical that is to a brand’s long-term growth, which I learned from the Cole family. Not only is it a way to grow into a complete lifestyle brand, it’s an incredibly profitable business model. But you have to pick the right partners—ones that have similar taste and distribution levels. You have to always protect the brand. In addition to this, we’re constantly looking for new avenues to reach our consumers, especially through social media platforms. We’re working closely with our retail partners to become more involved in joint marketing ventures, such as video social media events. We’ll also be rolling out more in-store Dingo shops with key retailers, as well as adding more signage in general, to enhance our brand. Now, to be the most recognizable doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest. You can run into trouble trying to become the biggest. Besides, consumers today don’t necessarily want the biggest. They want to know your backstory and what you stand for. To me, most recognizable means striving to receive the feedback we’ve been getting every day from consumers about how much they love our product. For example, we’re very proud that one of our biggest compliments is how comfortable our products are from the first try-on. Comfort is imperative to younger consumers, who’ve grown up wearing sneakers and flip-flops. Above all, the positive feedback means we’re giving customers what they want. They enjoy wearing our product and believe it’s a great value. What are some challenges Dingo faces in achieving continued growth? There are always challenges. Currently, it’s the labor shortage and rising labor costs, which are up about 12 percent. Material costs are also up about 14 percent. And the price of containers is almost 10 times what we paid 12 to 18 months ago, not to mention their lack of availability. So, our overriding challenge is how to handle all this without passing too much cost increases on to our customers. Fortunately, Dan Post has long-term relationships and a reputation of the highest integrity. We’ve been able to work with our factory partners to overcome much of these increases. Another big challenge is keeping up with our growing production demand. Again, we’re fortunate that our factory base, which we’ve had for over 25 years, has kept up with our growth. We haven’t needed to switch to other factories or countries, which can take years to stabilize, if ever. You’re about 50 years deep into this industry, what keeps you going? I still love it, and my whole life has been a testament to that. I love that no two days are the same. I’m one of those suckers who just can’t pass up a challenge. Sometimes it’s just that simple: I wasn’t maybe that interested until you told me it couldn’t be done. I also love that your career starts over every season. I don’t care what your resume says, this is the one industry that your resume is only as good as your last season. It doesn’t matter how successful you’ve been, what matters is the success you’re having right now. I know a lot of people, with unbelievable resumes, who’ve since left this business, or the business left them. But I don’t think age has anything to do with success. It has to do with a desire to learn a new way, to try and improve, and to remain relevant. Maybe there comes a point for everyone when that desire goes away. Fortunately, within Dan Post and myself, that desire to be part of team to build something special is stronger than ever. What do you love most about your job? I love coming to work every day. Dan Post is family. Our president, Ken Moore, and our owner, Gary McRae, are beyond reproach when it comes to integrity. The family culture is just conducive to wanting to do your best work, always. •

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continued from page 19 is happy to maintain. Opening stores is also a relatively affordable growth strategy. “The parameters for us to build a profitable store are pretty modest,” Conroy says. “So, more stores per capita in markets that have already experienced the Boot Barn brand, plus more stores in states people wouldn’t necessarily think can support a store—and we wind up with a lot of opportunity.” The fact that those new stores won’t be in malls is another part of Boot Barn’s strategy. It’s no secret that mall traffic is depressed, and there are few signs of a rebound ahead. Ron Owens, brand manager for Dingo, a division of Dan Post Boot Company, believes Boot Barn’s destination format bodes well for attracting new customers. “There’s a percentage of consumers who aren’t returning to malls because they’re concerned about crowds and crime,” he says. “In a lot of cases, it’s a younger, more fashionminded consumer. So, it’s an opportunity for Boot Barn to pick up a new customer.” WINNING HAND Conroy believes he’s holding a royal flush when it comes to Boot Barn’s odds for continued success based on macro trends spanning film, music, fashion and consumer demographics combined with winning management philosophies. Speaking of philosophies, Conroy’s guiding approach to management stems from a life lesson his father taught him: “keep it simple, stupid” (a.k.a. the KISS approach). While opening stores isn’t exactly simple, Boot Barn has its formula down pat. “People always want us to call out some glamorous, technical strategy, but really our No. 1 strategy is to keep building more stores,” he says. “It cuts back to ‘keep it simple.’” He expects those stores to be busy for years to come. Conroy believes western movies and country music are gaining popularity for the same reasons Boot Barn is. “There’s no causality here,” he says. “The customer base is huge and vibrant, and both we and Yellowstone are tapping into it.” Those who dismiss flyover country are failing to recognize the “largest consumer market that’s been hidden in plain view for 100 years,” Conroy points out. It’s the guy who buys $179 work boots, wears through them like running shoes and, in eight months or so, comes back to buy another pair. It’s the gal who loves line dancing and buys new pairs of boots every few months. In short, it’s America. So what if investors don’t see or believe it? That’s fine with Conroy. Boot Barn sees a world of opportunity. “Our business may not be some DTC, digital-native disruptor, but we’re thrilled with our strategy,” he says. “We’ll just continue to execute against it and keep growing—even if some people still think we’re a fad.” •

THE RIGHT STUFF Boot Barn CEO Jim Conroy: the right person, with the right approach, for the right company at the right time. JIM CONROY KNEW Boot Barn had huge growth potential before he joined as CEO almost 10 years ago. But this born-and-raised Long Islander isn’t a cowboy boot whisperer, nor does he come from a long line of Shoe Dogs. The Ivy League grad did, however, take some advice his wife offered after a recruiter contacted him about the Boot Barn opportunity. “My wife convinced me that this market is a lot bigger than I’d thought,” he says. “Having grown up in New York, I had no clue.” Conroy’s wife, on the other hand, grew up in the Midwest and, after college, was a photographer at various newspapers around the country, including in Springfield, IL, and Baton Rouge, LA. “She told me, ‘Most of the country wears this product either all the time or often enough. It’s not just people in Texas and Wyoming who buy cowboy boots and jeans.’” Conroy was completely sold after his interview with Boot Barn’s board of directors. “I had an immediate connection,” he says. “The board was very competent, but also very humble. They wanted to grow a business, and they were looking a bit outside the box.” That made Conroy a perfect fit. For the previous five years, he’d served as COO and interim CEO for Claire’s Stores. Prior stops included Blockbuster Entertainment Group, Kurt Salomon Associates and Deloitte Consulting. In short, he was not a western guy—or a typical merchandise-turnedmanagement exec. “Oftentimes in retail, the hire is a product merchant type, but they wanted somebody who could grow a business, run a team and lead a company,” Conroy says. Boot Barn, when Conroy arrived in November of 2012, was a privately held, 86-store chain doing about $180 million in revenue in eight states west of the Rocky Mountains. The board’s initial plan was to grow to a point where a slightly bigger private equity firm or company would acquire it. Within months, however, Conroy lived up to his outside-the-box billing and pitched going public. Despite initial hesitancy about whether investors would understand the concept and whether the chain could become big enough, he convinced them. Boot Barn went public in October 2014, and it’s been nothing but growth since. Part of that success has stemmed from putting the right people in place and letting them do their jobs. “I love developing people and giving them growth opportunities,” Conroy says. “Promoting

people is my favorite thing in the world.” Take CMO Laurie Grijalva, promoted to her current position in 2014. “Laurie is an incredible merchant,” says Ron Owens, brand manager for Dingo and 50-year market veteran. He praises Boot Barn’s merchandise mix for serving both core and fashion customers without alienating either. “The fact that core customers aren’t buying in lieu of authentic cowboy boots but in addition to is proof,” Owens says. “That customer needs an authentic cowboy boot, but she also wants something in pink or blue that’s fun and fashionable. Boot Barn’s merchandise team understands that better than anybody.” Prasad Reddy, CEO of Twisted X, also has high praise for Boot Barn’s leadership team. They’re all on the same page and share that vision with key vendors, he says, and that’s crucial. “Because they share strategic information, we can support them in product and marketing,” Reddy says, adding that the team is always open to new ideas. “They’re willing to test new concepts instead of just saying, ‘This doesn’t belong here.’ When it works, it’s great for everyone and, if it doesn’t, it’s still a good learning experience.” Conroy says he’s “lucky, blessed, happy and fortunate” that his management team has stuck together. He credits the loyalty, in great part, to Boot Barn’s corporate culture, which mirrors his personal motto: “assume positive intent.” Translation: Boot Barn doesn’t bicker or backstab. “We don’t have political infighting,” Conroy says. “We don’t, for example, fire off angry emails. Let’s just assume that person wasn’t being antagonistic in that email, rather they were just asking you a question and maybe you interpreted it wrong. We don’t have any of that negativity.” Conroy prefers to focus on Boot Barn’s many positives. Case in point: an employee who was recently promoted from district manager to regional director. “That’s a huge deal; she’s going from overseeing 10 stores to 90,” he says. “There are a lot of these stories because we’re growing. It’s the greatest feeling.” If Boot Barn continues on its growth trajectory, there will be lots more opportunities to promote employees for jobs well done. It’s one of the many reasons Conroy plans to stick around. “If I think about why I came here, why we went public and why I’m still excited, it’s all the same answer: the opportunity for growth is enormous.” —G.D.

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