Footwear Plus | March 2021

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MARCH 2021 VOL 31 • ISSUE 3 • $10





The comfiest shoes that you NEED in your life.

Contact Dearfoams: 1-800-448-8752

MARCH 2021 F E AT U R E S Plus Awards Profiles in Excellence 9 Lifetime Achievement: Danny Wasserman 16 Brand of the Year:

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

Birkenstock 18 Company of the Year: Skechers 20 Boutiques: Market Street Shoes 21 Boots: Ugg 22 Comfort Specialty: V&A Bootery 23 Sustainability: Timberland 24 Men’s Comfort: Ecco 25 Insoles: Aetrex 26 Outdoor: Merrell 27 Athletic: Brooks Running 27 National Chain: Nordstrom 28 Work Boots: Timberland Pro 29 Slippers: Minnetonka By Greg Dutter 36 A Winter’s Tale Let the North Wind howl! Slippers spin an enticing yarn of cozy linings and fuzzy uppers sure to keep the coldest of days at bay. By Ann Loynd Burton

EDITORIAL Emily Beckman Associate Editor Kathy Passero Editor at Large Ann Loynd Burton Contributing Editor Melodie Jeng Marcy Swingle Momo Angela Contributing Photographers ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher Laurie Guptil Production Manager Kathy Wenzler Circulation Director Catherine Rosario Office Manager Mike Hoff Digital Director WAINSCOT MEDIA Carroll Dowden Chairman Mark Dowden President & CEO Steven J. Resnick Vice President & CFO OFFICES



D E PA RT M E N T S 4 Editor’s Note

On cover: Dearfoams nylon quilted booties with DF Adapt “no sweat” linings, memory foam insoles and skid-resistant soles.

This page: Shearling-lined fuzzy mules with slip-resistant Classic Rocker soles by Alegria. Photography by Trevett McCandliss; models: Naoki Sumiya and Rebecca Hanobik/Fenton Model Mgmt. stylist: Nancy Campbell; fashion editor: Ann Loynd Burton.

6 This Just In 32 Trend Spotting: Boots 34 Trend Spotting: Slippers 46 Shoe Salon 48 Last Shot


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.

2 • march 2021

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Rays of Light

Some Good News IT’S HIGH TIME I showcased some good news in this space. We can start with the ongoing vaccine rollout and hope it gathers momentum in the coming months, leaving no demographic groups behind. Let’s hope we will soon stop being paralyzed by Covid-19 statistics and start being spurred by rising employment and retail sales figures instead. We can look to The Atlanta Shoe Market’s recent in-person event and rejoice that our industry met face mask-to-face mask to conduct business for the first time in over a year! Attendees saw living colors—not Zoom-filtered misrepresentations—and actually flexed shoes and smelled the leather again! Hats off to show director Laura O’Brien, the ultimate Mama Bear, who always makes sure her attendees are well-fed, cared for and safe. Hopefully more in-person events will take place as the year progresses. Teleconferencing has its perks, but as the only option...not so much. More good news: Stores continue to ramp up. Even better, retailers and wholesalers are rapidly adapting to the new normal, getting better at meeting the changing ways that consumers shop. Terms like BOPIS, contactless payment and curbside pick-up are already part of the consumer vernacular. Even better news, millions of consumers are eager to return to instore shopping, proving that the desire to get out and interact with fellow human beings is innate. The fact that their purchases support a locally owned business adds incentive for many. Some more potential good news: retailers have a golden opportunity to welcome shoppers back with convenient, safe and entertaining shopping experiences. For those that had been cutting back on selection and service leading up to the pandemic, this is an opportunity to put a best foot forward with a stellar selection and great service. Carpe diem! There’s plenty of good news in this issue, too, starting with our Profiles in Excellence section (p. 8) that honors the winners of our 22nd annual Plus Awards for design and retail excellence. In the face of unprecedented obstacles, the class of 2020 found innovative ways to adapt and thrive. They met the shock of the lockdown head-on, repositioning and, in some cases, reimagining their business models for the new normal. Their teams pressed forward in whatever ways they could. Every exec interviewed praised the team efforts involved in overcoming the

enormous challenges, noting that their employees have been working longer, harder and often acquiring new skills on the fly. What’s more, they’ve dealt with tremendous added demands on the home front. Their enduring efforts and loyalty are truly appreciated. Our Profiles in Excellence are about the people behind the logos and storefronts. Their stories of perseverance and ingenuity are inspirational—like this year’s Lifetime Achievement honoree, Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes in New York. The pandemic is not just the latest, but also the greatest, challenge he and his children, Lester and Margot, (representing the fourth generation of Wasserman shoe retailers) have overcome. For more than 57 years, Wasserman has found ways to survive on the mean streets of Manhattan, his store serving as an incubator for the latest lifestyle brands, many of which have gone on to starring roles across the country and worldwide. He has a keen eye for product and a passion for pursuing the next big find. It’s a great “shoe life” story, with plenty of Wasserman wit and New Yorker frankness. This issue’s focus on the latest slipper trends for Fall ’21— Trend Spotting (p. 34-35), our main feature (p. 36), Editor’s Picks (p. 46) and Last Shot (p. 48)—celebrates one of the few good news stories of 2020. Home is where the office, school and sanctuary are, and a range of enticing slippers, from indoor/outdoor versions to cozy slipper socks, are increasingly the go-to, everyday shoe. The category is having a moment, one that shows no signs of abating in the new normal. The good news? Our industry is, once again, ready to meet the wants and needs of consumers. Last but not least on the good news front: A few months down the road, life may resume enough normalcy that we won’t have to think twice about catching a movie, gathering with loved ones, meeting friends for dinner, shopping the local mall, enjoying ball games and concerts, hitting the gym, touring a museum, attending services, etc. In the meantime, there’s plenty of positivity on the streaming front. I highly recommend Ted Lasso. It’s more than a laugh-out-loud series about an American who moves to England to coach a Premier League soccer club despite knowing nil about futbol; each episode is like a 30-minute inspirational “Ted talk” with management lessons woven in. The show is funny, with a heartfelt story arc that’s like a beautiful cross pass acrobatically bicycle-kicked for a gooooaaaallll!

Greg Dutter

Editorial Director

4 • march 2021


so cal, So Cool

Life’s always a beach in this hip LA. neighborhood, home to skaters, artists and bohemians. Photography by Tim Regas

6 • march 2021

Tradition since 1774.

We humbly thank Footwear Plus, our valued retail partners and our brand fans for the Brand of the Year and Women’s Comfort Plus Awards. And, we proudly congratulate our good friend, Danny Wasserman, on his Lifetime Achievement honor and for sharing our brand love in NYC for over 40 years.





Annual Plus Awards Recognizing outstanding achievement in design and retail.

8 • march 2021


L i fe t i me A c h i e v e me n t

The Maestro

Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes, on a lifetime of picking winners, helping build brands and loving every minute of it. By Greg Dutter

Another brand that belongs on Wasserman’s DANNY WASSERMAN IS a Noo Yawka highlight reel is New Balance, which helped through and through. Raised in the city that usher in the Tip Top sneakers era, which never sleeps, he made his shoe retailing bones remains strong to this day and includes working in his father’s tiny Bronx store, Asto the opening of his son’s sneaker boutique, Shoes, before eventually following his dad West NYC, in 2007, a few doors east on the to Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1964, same block. The decision made back in the when the elder Wasserman purchased the early ’80s to display New Balance joggers neighborhood staple Tip Top Shoes, founded on a rolling pillar near the entrance proved in 1940. Wasserman has held court as owner fortuitous—sales picked up right away and since 1980, weathering the city’s many ups the brand has been a cornerstone ever since. and downs while keeping pace with the latest Over the ensuing decades, Wasserman and trends. An authentic Shoe Dog with a keen New Balance founder Jim Davis also became nose for product, Wasserman has helped to good friends, traveling together once on a usher many lifestyle brands into the mainbusiness trip to Beijing. “He’s a good person,” stream. His store has served as a stage that Wasserman says. “He delivers on his promises. proves, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra’s “New He understands the independents, and he’s York, New York”, If you can make it there, very generous.” you’ll make it anywhere. Over the past several decades, Tip Top Birkenstock, Ecco, Mephisto, MBT and has steadily grown its sneaker assortment, Ugg are just a few of the many brands that featuring Adidas, Nike, Converse… “all the Wasserman has helped introduce to New top names,” Wasserman says. The store also York, America and the world, thanks, in part, included plenty of Keds, especially back in to Tip Top’s strong international customer the day. “We sold tons of those—that was the base. He’s been the shoe industry’s uber talfirst sneaker people bought come spring. They ent scout. “Many have said if Tip Top bought didn’t know what else they wanted, but they them, others were at least willing to look at knew white Keds would go with anything,” them, which I take pride in,” says Wasserman. he says. The sneaker brand that initially got “We’ve helped launch a lot of brands.” away, Wasserman says, was Reebok. It’s his Lester Wasserman, CEO and GM of Tip biggest buy-related regret, made worse because Top Shoes, has had a ringside seat for his he had met founder Paul Fireman at a show father’s run of star discoveries since childin the New York Coliseum but passed at the hood. “There are too many to count,” he time. Not long after, the nearby Athlete’s says. “He picked Birkenstock back when All in the shoe family: Margot, Danny and Lester Wasserman. Foot picked up Reebok and it was off to the consumers didn’t even have an understandraces with the area exclusive. “I don’t think ing of European sizing. And he discovered I missed a lot, but that was a big one,” Wasserman laments. “And we should Ugg in the middle of the summer; it’s going on 30 years now. And MBT. At have had it. I was walking the show with [Shoe Parlor owner and friend] Abe the time, they were the only rocker-soled shoes around. They seemed very Rogowsky and he didn’t like them. Maybe if he wasn’t there, I would have niche, but he saw beyond that immediately and knew they had potential.” bought them.” (Laughs.) He says his father’s ability to stay laser sharp and nimble helps him spot up-and-coming stars. “Trends come and go, and while Tip Top has been THE ART OF THE BUY able to capitalize on many opportunities throughout the years, he’s never Truth be told, Wasserman is quite discerning in his buys. Moreover, he’s not taken his eye off the ball. He always stayed connected to the core Tip Top one to overbuy out of the gate. Conservative at his core, he mastered the art customer,” the younger Wasserman adds. march 2021 • 9


L i fe t i m e A c hi ev em en t

rigid,” he says. “We had many weeks where we’d of filling in rather than betting the house long walk home together and we wouldn’t speak, and ago. He fondly recalls the days, in the mid ’70s, my mother would admonish us that we had to talk when Kork-Ease platform sandals were all the to each other.” As the ’70s wore on, Wasserman rage. “I used to take the subway to their factory in gained more of his father’s trust when it came Brooklyn on Friday mornings to pick up 12-packs to buying decisions. “Eventually, my father said so we’d have Kork-Ease for the weekend, because buy what you want, but make sure you sell it,” by Monday they’d be gone,” he says. Wasserman says with another chuckle. Similarly, Wasserman’s slow test of Ugg in the early ’90s came after a rep popped into the store AT THE WHEEL one afternoon toting just the Classic short boot in After Wasserman’s father passed away in 1979, black. The rep said, “You need this boot, because he moved into Tip Top’s driver’s seat. Not every it’s great for diabetics and you don’t have to wear staff member welcomed him with open arms. socks.” Wasserman was intrigued and wrote a small “I had to deal with seven German salespeople, order. A couple pairs, here and there, sold at the and I heard them talking, ‘He’s telling us what start. Not long after, Deckers Outdoor acquired to do now…’” And while Wasserman had been the brand, and when its new Sundance boot debuted shortly after, an actress was featured wearing them on a movie billboard leading into the Lincoln Tunnel. Wasserman wrote a six-pair order for the boots, even though its SRP was a “ridiculous” $150. They sold out in less than a week. He then bought eight pairs, and they nearly sold out the next day. After blowing out a couple more eight-pair orders, Wasserman decided to stop “screwing around” and ordered 36 pairs. In the decades since, Tip Top Shoes has gone on to sell thousands of pairs more across the Ugg line. “Even about four years ago, when we carried a $250 Ugg style, we sold them really Tip Top Shoes: an emporium of leading comfort brands. well, partly because few retailers wanted to invest that amount,” working at the store for 15 years, he had to get Wasserman says. “They didn’t realize that there up to speed on the behind-the-scenes aspects of is a customer out there for $250.” running the business, not to mention console his Wasserman says he learned the art of buying grieving mother, who would go on to work the from one of the best: his father, a second-generation cash register for years. Fortunately, he already shoe retailer who owned stores in Israel before knew a lot of what to do when it came to working emigrating with his family to America in the with customers. He credits his co-worker at Asto ’50s. In the early ’70s, the son began joining his Shoes—a “real Shoe Dog who always sported a father on his weekly Wednesday buying trips to nice suit”—with showing him the ropes. “He Midtown’s Marbridge building. “I watched how really taught me how to sell a pair of shoes: how my father bought shoes and learned what the to approach a customer, how to fit them properly, ingredients were to a good shoe,” he recalls. “He how to put jimmies [foam pads] into shoes, if knew all of this from his past, stretching back to needed…all the things that came together to make Germany when he worked in his father’s stores and a sale back then,” Wasserman says. then in Israel in his stores, which were decorated Meanwhile, Wasserman continued to gain beautifully and carried lots of fisherman sandals confidence with each buy. He pressed forward on and desert boots. He even had Arab craftsmen one of his father’s last decisions—to bring in more make custom shoes for his stores.” styles that would appeal to a younger audience. Wasserman says his father gave him keen A test on a furry, high-heel, white boot—a “real insights on what, how much and when to buy. window-stopper”—showed there was potential. His dad’s most important lesson: “Always ask, “We had pimps coming in to buy that boot three ‘What kind of discount can I get?’” he says with pairs at a time,” Wasserman recalls, noting that a chuckle. Wasserman adds that his father was back then brands didn’t matter as much as the conservative—and tough. “He was German. Very

PROFILES IN E XCELLENCE L i fe t i me A c h i e v e me n t

The Roads Taken

The twists and turns leading to Danny Wasserman’s beloved shoe career.

CONGRATULATIONS DANNY WASSERMAN ON THIS WELL-DESERVED AWARD. We are thankful for your partnership and wish you continued success.

TRUTH BE TOLD, Danny Wasserman didn’t plan on joining the family business. Early on, he entertained thoughts of becoming a chef—until he got some not-sosubtle fatherly wisdom. “My father said, ‘Listen, you don’t know what you want to do. You want to do this one day, and that the next. I’ll send you to Switzerland or France for culinary school, but if you quit, don’t come home.’” Message received. Wasserman remained Stateside, but he still wasn’t sold on a life in shoes yet. He was sure, however, that he wanted no part of his father’s stamp business. “I hated it. To look at stamps all day where the price was whatever you could get…I just didn’t want any part of it.” Wasserman even tried selling encyclopedias door to door as a teen one summer in Brooklyn, but he quickly discovered the life of a traveling salesman wasn’t for him. “On the road, knocking on doors trying to sell something…it wasn’t easy,” he says. Wasserman, still pondering his career path, took a few business classes at Pace University while working part-time in his father’s Bronx shoe store—until the U.S. Army drafted him in 1962 and threw his future into uncertainty. He arrived at Fort Dix in New Jersey the day President Kennedy was assassinated. “We thought we were all going to war,” Wasserman remembers. “I was standing on a line about a mile long where everybody was waiting to call their parents to say they didn’t know if they’d be coming home, that Castro did it…all kinds of scary rumors.” Wasserman went on to serve two years in the army. He was stationed in Germany thanks to his fluency in the language—and because he could type 40 words a minute. He served in the maneuver claims department. “The army often tore up the streets, curbs and steps on their patrols, and I’d to go with an officer to assess the damages,” he says, adding that he also served as a troop clerk, where his first sergeant was previously Elvis Presley’s. All in all, Wasserman enjoyed his army experience, starting with his training as a tanker in Fort Knox in Kentucky, where he socialized with people from all different backgrounds. Another fond memory was the time he was flown by helicopter to visit his grandmother, who still lived in Germany, for Rosh Hashanah. Upon returning home in 1964, Wasserman went back to work in the Bronx store. His father needed help as he had recently purchased Tip Top Shoes. Wasserman worked alongside the store’s longtime salesperson where his shoe genes were awakened. “I loved the way he talked to customers, how he presented the product, the way he dressed always in a nice suit…it’s where I developed a real passion for the shoe business,” he says. Fast-forward 57 years and Wasserman still is in the business he loves, albeit having transitioned day-to-day management to his son, Lester, CEO and GM of Tip Top Shoes, and daughter Margot, who runs Tip Top Kids, a few doors from the main store. His son also oversees the sneaker boutique, West NYC, that he opened in 2007, also on the same block. It’s been a long, strange trip, but through all the trials and tribulations of being an independent retailer in Manhattan, Wasserman has found a way to evolve. The fact that he has been able to do so successfully for more than half a century is proof of his innate shoe retailing talents. Looking back, Wasserman is more than content with the career path he chose. “If I could go back, I don’t think I would do better,” he says.

look. “Other than Florsheim, Red Cross and Selby, there were no must-have brands for us. We had customers who wanted to spend $39 on a pair, not $85 for Ferragamos bought at Saks Fifth Avenue.” But a shift to a brands-focused store—with a much higher average price point—was about to occur at Tip Top Shoes. It would be driven by Wasserman’s decision to broaden the Euro comfort brand mix, going deeper

Congratulations Danny! Thank you for your friendship, guidance and wisdom. - The Kanner Team

T 800.361.3466 E


Life ti m e A c h i e ve m e n t

with Birkenstock and adding the likes of Ecco, Mephisto, Naot and Clarks. They were all in step with a macro shift to casual dressing, while millions of consumers were also discovering the comfort of sneakers. The sit-and-fit comfort specialty retail format was emerging, and Tip Top was one of the first. In addition to quality and comfort, Wasserman saw enormous potential in these brands’ Euro sizing, which meant not having to stock half sizes, for starters. He successfully added other Euro-sized brands like Thierry Rabotin, Romika, Gabor and Mephisto, among others. This distinguished Tip Top from mainstream competitors and improved its bottom line. “Euro sizing is the right way to approach the shoe business, because selling cheap shoes isn’t the answer,” Wasserman says. Birkenstock, introduced at Tip Top in the early ’70s, provided a hint of the Euro comfort potential. “Our account number is 00150—nobody on the East Coast was selling the brand when we started,” Wasserman says proudly, noting the Arizona and Zurich sandals were the original styles it carried. “We started selling them more and more, and then I advertised the brand in Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine with the tag line, ‘The ugly shoes that make you smile.’” The ad was not much bigger than an oversized postage stamp and cost about $125, but the ROI was huge. “The response was great,” he says. “It got us noticed by a whole younger generation. We had tons of hippies travel from New Jersey, Upstate New York, etc. to our store to buy Birkenstocks.” David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas, says the brand’s half century partnership with Tip Top Shoes is rare and highly valued. “Tip Top is one of Birkenstock’s longest-running retail partners. Danny goes back to the days of Karl Birkenstock and Margot Fraser,” he affirms. “He’s been a true partner during the leaner years and, since the day I joined nine years ago, has shared on our success. There’s no better retail partner, and Danny’s guidance has helped me

focus and stay true to what makes us special.” Kahan adds that Wasserman’s brand loyalty was reflected when he attended a Birkenstock global event a couple of years ago during Paris Fashion Week. “Seeing the respect he had with our German-based leadership was incredible to watch,” Kahan says. Ecco is a similar long-running and successful partnership. In fact, Tip Top Shoes was the first retailer in New York to carry the Danish brand, dating back to 1980. Matt Thibeau, head of independent sales for Ecco USA, says Tip Top has been an “incredibly important” partnership to the brand. “Besides the strategic importance of the store being in New York and among the most visited in the country, our early performance there drove growth for the brand when it was in its infancy,” he says, citing Wasserman’s ability to see through the clutter while staying loyal to his principles as keys to the store’s longevity. “He’s so even keel,” he says. “He has a gift of good, solid business instincts.” Adds Dave Quell, CEO of Ecco USA, “We’ve worked with Danny in product development and have benefitted from his insights and knowledge of the consumer. He’s been a great partner in launching new categories.” DESIGNER DREAMS Many brand execs who know Wasserman well will tell you his true calling was not in retail; it should have been as a shoe designer. They recall countless product presentations where Wasserman offered input on how to make shoes even better. He’s often right, even if some of the suggestions were unconventional at the time—like his idea of putting a rubber sole on a Cuban heel pump made by Selby. “It was perfect for women 45 years and up, which was our customer at that time,” he says. “She’d rather wear that than a stiff sole.” Of course, flexible, rubber-soled dress shoes have since become standard issue. “Danny always wanted to be a shoe designer,” confirms Steve Lax, CEO of Naot, noting that Tip Top Shoes was one of his first customers, dating >30


Danny, Congratulations for Your Lifetime Achievement Award

Brand Loyalty Built in Maine

w w w. q u o d d y. c o m

PROFILES IN E XCELLENCE Lingua Franca “Give a Damn” collab

Brand of the Year • Women’s Comfort


Let’s Get Radical RATHER THAN FREAK out or call time out, David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas, says that once the pandemic hit the company instituted a “radical acceptance” management approach. It’s a psychological term that basically means “deal with it.” “Rather than waste eight to 10 weeks wondering what the heck was going on, why is this happening, everything is so bad...blah blah blah, we owned the situation 100 percent and decided to do all possible to turn the crisis into a unique, maybe once in a generation, opportunity,” Kahan says. “We doubled down with our best retail partners and those who respected the brand; didn’t panic; kept our imports on track so that we could capture the demand and support our partners; and didn’t hide—we made sure our sales team stayed very active and visible, even if working remotely, with all accounts. We also held very direct top-to-top meetings with all the majors and shared with transparency our direction.” One thing Kahan says Birkenstock didn’t do was pivot, arguably the business word of 2020. In fact, the word was taboo at team Birkenstock. “The pandemic was a business interruption, but never did we believe our brand was interrupted,” the exec explains. “As a matter of fact, we chose to embrace our brand DNA more than ever before.” For starters, Kahan says the Birkenstock’s brand attributes already aligned well with the macro shifts brought on by the pandemic, like comfort, casual attire and work-from-home shoes. “While many brands ran to try to be those things, we were termed the ‘official work from home’ shoe by never trying to be that,” he says. “Anyone can do comfy, squishy slippers, but functional comfort from a brand with our heritage is something no one else can do.” Indeed, authenticity was another key factor to the brand’s success last year. “At a time of uncertainty, we believe people seek experiences, products and brands that give them a sense of certainty. Add to this a political climate filled with chaos and what many call fake news, and people seek what they know to be real,” Kahan says, noting that Birkenstock global CEO Oliver Reichert described this time as a zeitgeist period for the brand. “I believe he is absolutely correct.” As for notable styles in 2020, Kahan singles out the shearling collection and Zermatt slippers as big winners, which sold out before Holiday season kicked in. The Bend sneaker was another quick sell-out, and offers what Kahan describes as the “holy grail”: the feel of Birkenstock in a closed-toe silhouette. “Look for us to expand dramatically in Sandal comfort in clogs, closed-toe footwear the Bend sneaker. and warm Fall/Winter styles that take us ‘off-road’,”

16 • march 2021

he says, noting that within the next two years that selection is expected to exceed Spring/Summer sales. Another bright spot in 2020 was collabs, like the one with Stussy, an understated corduroy suede upper take on the classic Boston clog, and Lingua Franca “Give a Damn” Arizona sandal mash-up that dropped on the heels of the presidential election with its timely message—and sold out immediately. More than staying the course and registering strong growth for the year, Kahan is equally proud of having not furloughed a single employee. It helps to have a strong global leadership team—one that he says acted swiftly to ensure consistency and mitigate the near-term challenges to production and supply chain. “I’m very proud that we never compromised our brand equity or the well-being of our team,” he says. “To me, 2020 created the foundation for the next five to 10 years for us.” As satisfied as Kahan is with Birkenstock’s performance in 2020, there’s still plenty of runway ahead for the brand, and the team is committed to attaining those goals. But one of his priorities is making sure it does so without crashing and burning amid the effort. “We are making sure, since our team has been engaged 24/7, that we stress personal balance and wellness,” he says. It involves a blend of self- and business-development, which includes employee access to a library of online courses via LinkedIn, Zoom yoga classes, special guests on employee group calls and, most recently, paid time off to volunteer. “It’s great if you bat .300 in the Major Leagues, but why be satisfied unless you hit when runners are in scoring position and also earn a Gold Glove,” Kahan offers. “The team’s performance has been incredibly high, but to become what we know we are destined to be, we can’t be satisfied.” Along those lines, Kahan believes Birkenstock’s momentum is only just beginning, and 2020 just reset the foundation on top of its past nine years of record growth. Still, 2021 will be no picnic at retail. Until life gets back to a true normal, he expects traffic in stores will remain a struggle. But better days lie further ahead. “We think post-pandemic, there may be a resurgence in local shopping,” Kahan says. “People miss the level of service and interaction, and we believe this will return strong. It may not be until 2022, but those who can ride this until then will benefit.” Kahan also believes the chasm between footwear “labels” and authentic brands that possess an emotional consumer connection will only grow in importance, and the share of wallet will continue to shift dramatically to those brands. The fact that Birkenstock and its 247 years of heritage also happens to be a comfort brand promoting proper foot health only adds to its future potential in a post-pandemic landscape. “People are embracing self-care and wellness more than ever,” Kahan says. “Things that are real and that give them comfort, both physically and emotionally. That is who we are.”

PROFILES IN E XCELLENCE Company of the Year • Children’s

and familiarity, especially those working from home and essential workers,” he says. “We’re a natural and trusted choice as comfort is the cornerstone of our product.” Greenberg adds that collabs were another highlight of 2020, citing buzz-worthy ones with renowned muralist James Goldcrown and animated characters Line Friends and BT21. Speaking of children’s styles, Greenberg says parents look to Skechers broad range of kids’ collections for durability, comfort and quality, plus that signature fun factor that it delivers best. And now many styles are machinewashable, which makes care easy and convenient. “Styles featuring familiar kids’ brands and characters, like Dr. Seuss, offered more exciting options COMING OFF A STELLAR 2019 when Skechers hit record annual sales of than ever for boys and girls of all ages,” he says. “From our innovative lighted $5.22 billion (paced by four record quarters), CEO Robert Greenberg says the shoes to rugged outdoor styles featuring waterproof and water-repellent company began 2020 “like a rocket full of momentum, firing on all cylinders.” designs to lightweight athletic sneakers perfect for playtime, kids love wearing But then the world just stopped, and achieving record growth was no longer Skechers.” As with the entire Skechers line, Greenberg says the combination the company’s top priority. Trying to adapt to a world turned upside down by of enhanced comfort technologies and casual styling is the recipe for success the pandemic became job No. 1. and what consumers craved in 2020. “We have a history of delivering qual“We doubled down on product development and focused on offering the right ity and value, and athletic lifestyle footwear is one of our leading product product at the right time,” Greenberg says. “We all faced a new normal of doing categories,” he says. business—and living. I’m proud of the entire Skechers team for the flexibility Another key to Skechers’ success in 2020 involved its ability to pivot to online in quickly adapting to this new reality.” and other less contact forms of shopping. The efforts paid off handsomely, A key aspect of that was the massive, behind-the-scenes efforts that kept according to COO David Weinberg. “This resulted in triple-digit growth in our goods coming to market amid unprecedented supply chain disruptions. Skechers company-owned ecommerce platforms for the year,” he says, adding, “To enhance managed the flow of inventory to open markets, fulfilling demand on must-have the customer journey and to further create synergy with online, we added products for consumers. The ability to do so drove growth in key regions in the BOPIS (buy online, pick-up second half of 2020, including most instore) and BOPAC (buy recently in the fourth quarter when online, pick-up curbside) at international wholesale business most of our 500 domestic achieved 2.5 percent sales growth, led Skechers stores. We are now by a 29.7 percent increase in China, completing the update to our as well as double-digit increases in point-of-sale system to better Chile, United Kingdom, Germany connect within our ecommerce and Spain, among many others. Not channel, and we’re finalizing to be deterred, Skechers also opened enhancements to our loyalty a new logistics center in Colombia in program, both of which we 2020, added a distribution center in believe will further improve the United Kingdom to service the our omni-channel offering.” region in the post-Brexit environment, Weinberg adds that Skechers’ remained on tract to fully automate ecommerce channels are only its new 1.5 million-square-foot China expected to grow, and the distribution center by mid 2021, and company is planning to launch continued work on the expansion new sites across Europe and of its North American distribution Skechers’ brain trust: Michael and Robert Greenberg; David Weinberg. South America in the coming center, which will bring it to 2.6 year. “This will provide both million square feet in 2022. a better brand experience for consumers as well as a new sales channel for On the consumer-facing side of things, Greenberg cites a brand that people Skechers in many regions,” he says. could trust—one that offered both comfort and value—as leading the way. The ability for Skechers to adapt and thrive amid a most challenging year is “Comfort has always been part of our story, so we were positioned to deliver what what Robert Greenberg is most proud of in terms of the company’s performance our consumers were looking for when they needed it most,” he says, noting the in 2020. And while the ability to pivot on a dime is something Skechers has second half of the year saw many improvements, and even growth against the always excelled at, this year took that to a new level. “Our ability to navigate records set in 2019. But, through it all, Skechers readied itself for the reopenthe last 12 months is a testament to the hard work and flexibility of our entire ing of markets. “The fresh product we delivered contributed to our successes team,” he says. “When most retail stores around the world closed last spring, in many markets that reopened earliest—from China and Germany to our own we doubled down on ecommerce and consumers responded, which illustrates ecommerce platforms in the United States and around the world,” he says. how much they wanted the comfort and style of Skechers even when working Michael Greenberg, president of Skechers, cites two particular comfort stories at home…even when they couldn’t buy our shoes at their local store.” that resonated strongly with consumers in 2020: Max Cushioning and Arch Asked what the biggest takeaway from 2020 is, the CEO says, “Expect the Fit collections. The former features maximum-cushioned midsoles that span unexpected isn’t just a cliché. Contingency, preparation and flexibility defined performance running styles to hikers, casual boots and slides. While Arch Fit is our success navigating the logistical challenges faced by all businesses globally highlighted by a removable, supportive insole system that helps mold to the foot over the last year.” to reduce shock and increase weight dispersion. “Our consumers want comfort


Pivot Prowess

18 • march 2021







to purchase the frames too. “We did a tremendous amount of fundraising for established partners, but also for new partners in the community that felt near and dear to us as well,” Stauffer adds. “We spent a great deal of the year serving our most vulnerable community members, having given away over 600 pairs of shoes to folks in need.” Much of that was made possible through the support of vendor partners that either donated product outright or offered extremely discounted goods. “Teva, Hoka One One, Yukon Trading, Laurevan Shoes…were all quick to jump in and continue to offer support in that way,” Stauffer says. Extensive community outreach efforts coupled with top-notch customer WHEN THE NATIONWIDE closure of stores took effect in mid-March, service (in-store and online) leads to strong customer loyalty—another key there was no pandemic playbook retailers could turn to for guidance. All bets factor fueling Market Street Shoes’ success in 2020, according to Stauffer. were off on adhering to previous business principles, no matter how dearly “We have a very loyal customer base who’ve demonstrated an outpouring of they were held before the crisis hit. Case in point: Seattle-based Market Street support during these challenging times,” he says. “It created a really beautiful Shoes and its decision to sell online. symbiosis where it felt like the more we tried elevate our commitment to service Ryan Stauffer, co-owner of the two-store chain (the other is in Redmond, the more our customers sought to help us weather the pandemic.” WA), says going digital was not easy. For starters, he and his wife, Lanne, are And just what did those loyal Market Street Shoes customers buy in 2020? brick-and-mortar purists, which spans unparalleled service, selection and Blundstone, Dansko, Birkenstock and Hoka One One were top-sellers. community outreach. The Stauffers are all about the in-person shoe shop“Consumers were seeking out quality, comfort and function, and those brands ping experience and building genuine relationships with customers, and have really identify the categories that were strong for us,” Stauffer says. Slippers was excelled at doing so since opening in 2006. “We’ve been vocally opposed to another bright spot. “Our Haflinger sales grew 56 percent over the previous selling online and are very ardent believers in brick-and-mortar retail—to year, and ‘home shoes’ have become the new this day—but the pandemic forced us to rethink category from our many of our vendor partners our position,” he says. as we look at future seasons.” At the onset of the pandemic, the Stauffers In the near term, Stauffer is “super optimisvowed to their crew to not lay off a single employee tic” and “excited to crush our 2020 numbers” and would “hunker down and make it through this year. “We have a great team that has been this mess together.” However, once they realized through an historic moment in time together, the pandemic was going to last for months, they and the bond that has been created between us needed a new revenue stream—fast. “With our is something that can’t be taught or bought,” team of 25 safely quarantined at their respective he says, noting he would give their dedicated homes, we set out to build a website together crew an A+ for its performance this past year. over Zoom, text and email, and went live the “We feel very lucky to have the crew that we do, last days of March,” he says, adding that the site and that they were all so willing to take on all provided much more than a financial life line. of the new challenges—from our quarantine “Our online sales were hugely important, not only days to the phased re-opening, which started from a sales standpoint (the channel accounted with curbside pickup and gradually see-sawed for 10 percent of overall sales in 2020), but also its way to the 25 percent capacity phase that we from a team building and bonding standpoint. It are currently operating under, to building our helped create a sense of purpose and belonging website and all of the layers that come along with our crew, and a source of pride when we with that—like packing and shipping—and launched.” the handwritten thank you notes included In addition to adding an ecommerce site, with each sale.” the Stauffers increased their stores’ social There was no pandemic playbook, but media presence and email communication the Stauffers were writing one as the year with customers. Community partnerships wore on. As for key takeaways from an also became an even greater focus as the unforgettable year, Stauffer cites the support need in the stores’ respective communities from the community was humbling and grew exponentially. A highlight was the the growth and development of the team Black Friday weekend fundraiser that raised as immeasurable. And while the Stauffers $12,000 for Labateyah Bridge Housing are thankful 2020 has finally passed, the Program, a long-term partner of Market trials and tribulations endured only proved Street Shoes that serves homeless youth. that their bond is stronger than ever. For “We set out to raise $8,000 for 25 new Stauffer, that was the biggest takeaway: mattresses, but had such an outpouring “That Lanne and I value each other as of support that it allowed us to purchase partners, in life and in business, and with new bed frames as well,” Stauffer says, the knowledge that our hearts are in the citing the generosity of Tuft & Needle, same place with regards to how we serve who offered a substantial discount on our whole community.” the mattresses and making it possible Power couple: Ryan and Lanne Stauffer of Market Street Shoes.


The Ties That Bind

20 • march 2021



ChUGGing Along AS 2020 DRAGGED ON Ugg was one of the few brands that bucked the downward sales spiral and, instead, continued to gain momentum. After a slight uptick in second quarter sales, the brand caught fire in the third quarter, when its sales spiked 12.2 percent, year-to-year, to $876.8 million and leading the charge for parent company Deckers Brands’ record third quarter sales of $1.078 billion. The brand synonymous with cozy comfort saw consumers return to old standbys as well as embrace some of its latest offerings. Andrea O’Donnell, brand president, cites its Classic boots franchise as having played a starring role in 2020. “There was tremendous excitement around the new Classic Ultra Mini (featuring a lower shaft height and flexible sole) and waterproof Classic Clear rain boot,” she says. “We’ve been very excited to see the Classic Ultra Mini on numerous It girls over the past couple months—Kendall Jenner, Kaia Gerber and Hailey Bieber are just a few that come to mind.” On the marketing front, Ugg launched the “Better Together” initiative in April that saw the donation of more than $1 million in funds and products in support of Covid-19 relief efforts. Also of note, O’Donnell says, was the brand’s

sponsorship of the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. exhibition in conjunction with the September debut of its “FEEL ____” campaign, a celebration of creatives who tell personal stories about their lives, their work and what fuels their creativity. Ugg worked with two of its artists, Mr. Wash and Sonya Sombreuil, on two short films that highlighted their work and celebrated their freedom of expression. In addition, for the fourth consecutive year, Ugg hosted its “PROUD Prom” with Pacific Pride Foundation last February at the brand’s California headquarters for the Santa Barbara LGBTQIA+ youth, which simultaneously acted as its #UGGPRIDE campaign shoot. “Having to pivot due to the global pandemic, we took the celebration online with campaign star, actor and activist Tommy Dorfman,” the exec says. “The digital event was a silver lining in 2020, and I‘m so proud of all the teams that help make it possible.” Speaking of the Ugg team, O’Donnell gives them an A++ for its performance in 2020. “Last year was very difficult in so many ways, but my team handled business on a global level while also navigating everything in their personal lives effortlessly and with the utmost grace,” she says. “I’m very proud of them.” Andrea O’Donnell, Asked what was the biggest takeaway from 2020, and president, Ugg, and the Classic Clear rain O’Donnell says brands with purpose and a strong foundaboot, a 2020 hit. tion will persevere. “We possess an authentic heritage in all our categories—from our Classics to slippers,” she says. “It was therefore expected that in a work-from-home capacity we would see more business come in, and Ugg was able to provide much needed comfort during these times like no other brand can.”


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Comfort Specialty

product with top-notch service or simply providing a safe environment to shop, that trust from our customers was so important, but that trust did not V&A BOOTERY come overnight.” Perhaps above all, inventory management was a key to survival. Dead stock had to be marked down, while hot sellers needed to be reordered aggressively. And because several vendors experienced stock shortages in key styles, Van Dis’ team had to look around for a few alternatives. “Sometimes it was buying a new category from a vendor we already do business with, or it could be opening a new vendor for a specific need,” he says. Another key element to V&A Bootery’s success was its ecommerce channels—starting with the decision to start selling online again after about a 10-year V&A BOOTERY has been a shoe shopping destination in downtown Kalamazoo, hiatus. “Back then, we changed our website to drive traffic into the stores, but MI, (with an outpost in nearby suburb of Portage) for 98 years, and while the 2020 made us rethink that strategy,” Van Dis says, noting the team is sure pandemic surely caused a slowdown in store traffic in 2020, its customer loyglad it did. “We were able to get both sites ( and a new venture, alty runs deep. Dan Van Dis, president and fourth generation family member,, specializing in women’s work boots and workwear) up credits locals for making it a successful year, all things considered. and running very quickly, and that led to more sales and provided us a way “In our wonderful community of Kalamazoo, there’s an amazing pride to better market ourselves online.” The former site features over 1,000 SKUs. in patronizing local shops, and the pandemic really showed that to us,” Additionally, V&A Bootery’s Amazon Third Party channel was strong and gave Van Dis says. Of course, V&A Bootery’s reputation for offering top-notch the business another stream of income during a tough year. “The pandemic, service and an enticing selection also played key roles. “While in-store service although brutal in a lot of ways, did force has traditionally been where we excel, with us to take a deeper look into all aspects of less customers coming in, phone calls and our business,” Van Dis says. “We were able online inquiries became more important,” to improve a lot of internal processes, and he says. In that regard, Van Dis says V&A we’re happy with our year.” Bootery was able to pivot its selection to Van Dis is quick to credit the dedication of meet the needs of the rapidly evolving new V&A Bootery’s staff for its ability to survive normal. “Everyone’s lifestyle was a little 2020. “I would give our team an A for their different during the pandemic, but they performance this year,” he says, noting that needed either athletic shoes, hiking boots, during the initial shutdown the chain had work boots and footwear for around the to furlough much of its staff, but by summer house,” he says. “We beefed up those casual had brought most of them back. “It seemed inventory areas and let the dress items go. like things were changing constantly, but We saw those ‘need’ items grow and thrive, they came in willing to try new things and while the ‘want’ items did not sell.” adapt to all the new safety protocols—all Brand-wise, that translated to a Who’s Who while continuing to give great service to of comfort all-stars. “We had a great year our customers.” in the athletic category with On Running, Indeed, 2020 was a year like no other Hoka One One and New Balance leading the in V&A Bootery’s history, and Van Dis has way,” Van Dis says. “Birkenstock had another a lasting memory as proof. It is of him stellar year, too, and Keen and Keen Utility driving around Kalamazoo during the both had excellent years. We also continued spring—before curbside pickup became a to have success with Euro comfort lines, like “thing”—to deliver shoes to customers and Ecco, Rieker, Taos and Dansko.” save on shipping costs. “I would drive around But the success of V&A Bootery in 2020 every day delivering shoes from our online was no accident, nor was it easy to achieve. orders to our loyal customers,” he says. “On “We were committed very early to survivthe weekends, after a long week of virtual ing this pandemic,” Van Dis says, noting its learning, my wife and kids (ages 6 and 8) leadership team, that includes his father, would join me. It was a neat way to include Bill Van Dis, CEO, and Jeff Gibson, senior them in the family business.” vice president, immediately developed a As for the future, Van Dis is optimistic plan to adjust incoming orders, markdown better days lie ahead, at least in the nearseasonal inventory and to prepare the sales term. “We ended 2020 and began 2021 with floor for the new normal. “We relied on our some up months in terms of sales, which is key vendors, loyal customers and our great very encouraging,” he says. “We still expect employees—and our 98-year heritage helped less traffic in-store, especially early in the us a lot,” he says. “Over those 98 years, we’ve year, but one thing we are sure of is that become a store that local people have come From top: V&A Bootery dream team: Dan and Bill Van Dis with 2021 will be better than 2020.” to trust. Whether it be providing a great Jeff Gibson (left); the Portage, MI, storefront.

Trust Factor

22 • march 2021



Green Dreams TIMBERLAND HAS LONG been the brand at the forefront of the sustainability movement. In fact, it is arguably the OG, Original Green brand. And 2020 saw no let-up in its commitment to sustainable design and best manufacturing practices, despite the headwinds brought on by the pandemic. That effort was highlighted by Timberland’s announcement in September of the goal, by 2030, for its products to have a net positive impact on nature, i.e. giving back more than it takes. “We aim to achieve this vision through two paths found in nature: circularity and regenerative agriculture,” says Zack Angelini, senior manager, Environmental Stewardship for Timberland. “By designing 100 percent of our products for circularity, we aim to drastically reduce the negative impacts of product creation, moving toward zero impact and waste. By sourcing 100 percent of our virgin natural materials through regenerative agriculture, we aim to tip the scales past neutrality, and actually help restore the environments we source from, giving back to nature more than we take.” In 2020, that included the debut of Timberland’s first-ever boots made with Regenerative Leather, the men’s Courma Guy and women’s Courmayeur Valley, as part of the newly named EK+ line. A nod to the brand’s original Earthkeepers boot from 2007, Angelini says the Earthkeepers Edition products represent the brand’s pinnacle eco-innovations and methods of craftsmanship. “The use of regenerative leather was four years in the making and marks the start of a

brand-new supply chain, built Green is good: from the ground up, that Timberland’s EK+ supports farmers and boot is loaded with sustainable materials ranchers on the front lines and best practices. working to reverse environmental degradation and climate change,” he says, noting that styles such as the men’s Ecoriginal EK+ 6-inch waterproof boots were an immediate hit. “These boots are made to last featuring Better Leather (from a tannery rated silver or gold by the Leather Working Group), Responsible Natural Rubber sourced from responsibly managed rubber plantations and a ReBotl fabric lining made from at least 50 percent recycled plastic.” Angelini believes the pandemic—and 2020 in general—has only heightened consumers’ awareness and desire going forward to be even more conscious about how their choices impact the world around them. “The global pandemic highlighted the urgency of our pursuit of a greener, more equitable future through the lens of the consumer—a landscape for adventures that are as inclusive and authentic as they are progressive and versatile,” he says, noting the brand is aligned well to meet this macro shift. “Timberland was born in the outdoors and we share a deep passion for nature with our consumers. The past year added even more energy to that passion, whether it’s stepping outside to hit the trails or explore your city, and our consumer expects that we will be there to equip them for their journey with premium, sustainable products to move the world forward.” Angelini adds, “By designing footwear and apparel with circularity, regeneration and net positivity in mind, we can help create a world that is more alive, more abundant, more resilient and even more beautiful than the world we have today.”

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Sneaker Salvation In addition to being better aligned with the new normal (think casual styling), Zahn says another key factor to Ecco’s success in 2020 goes back to its two unique selling points: The StreetTray: FluidForm sole construction and leather expertise which, a modern, more he believes, separates the brand from the competition. “As comfortable ode long as we stick to those two core principles, we can make to old-school tennis shoes. any type of shoe in the world, and in the ‘Ecco way,’” he says, noting that athleisure will be a primary focus in the seasons ahead. “There’s a new range of innovative, premium, nondisposable athleisure products coming from us in Spring/ Summer 2021.” Sustainability continued to be another important area of success for Ecco last year. The introduction in 2019 of its Dri-Tan technology, which eliminates almost entirely the use of water in the tanning process, expanded to nearly the entire line in 2020. “DriTan is an amazing water- and energy-saving tanning technology unique to Ecco,” Zahn says, noting the company’s constant commitment to finding innovative solutions. “We never stand still, and we especially accelerate on innovation in times of crisis.” LAST YEAR PRESENTED all sorts of challenges to brands across the industry Zahn maintains that the Ecco overall business model, which is from cow spectrum, but for those with a strong dress and casual heritage, like Ecco, the to consumer basically, is unique and advantageous. “Owning our own tanpandemic could have been even worse. Fortunately, the Scandinavian comfort neries, factories and R&D gives us a great amount of independence,” he says. brand produces a broad portfolio that spans dress to performance outdoor to “During the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve been able to keep working and developing golf to running to casual sneakers. The latter collection, in fact, is what Felix new products without significant disruptions. As a result, we can keep the Zahn, product director for Ecco Americas, says was key to its weathering the momentum going and develop new and exciting products.” year relatively well. Speaking of which, Zahn hopes that by late spring/early summer—once a “We had already started to move our brand towards a more modern consumer good portion of the American population is vaccinated and the economy can and shifted our product portfolio more towards athletic-inspired product,” Zahn open up again—consumers will embrace Ecco’s entire range of new offersays. “We introduced our Seven collection of casual sneakers, for example, before ings. “The casualization trend towards athleisure will remain the big story, Covid-19 pandemic started.” however I predict that the dress category will make a comeback in the fall Other key men’s casual product highlights for Ecco in 2020 included takas well,” he says. “Consumer behavior will take a turn towards formal when ing its Tray-Technology to the next level, a fairly new addition to its portfolio we go back to offices, trade shows, events, etc.” Zahn adds, “We have great of platform technologies. “Using this new technology allows us to combine products coming to play for both trends. We see the future much brighter state-of the art rubber with our innovative FluidForm sole construction,” Zahn than in the recent past.” explains. “The outcome is pretty amazing: a much better performing product with more grip and durability, plus an upgraded look without sacrificing any of the amazing Ecco comfort The CityTray dress features.” Call-out styles are the new shoe collection StreetTray sneaker franchise, featuring features timeless formal shoe design. a minimalistic look inspired by the iconic old-school tennis shoes, and the new CityTray dress franchise. “The CityTray’s are made on a sleek, new European last with a modern interpretation of a timeless formal shoe,” Zahn says. “We saw very strong sales in the beginning of the year, and we’re confident it will regain speed once we have Covid-19 behind us a bit.”

“DriTan is an amazing waterand energysaving tanning technology unique to Ecco.”

24 • march 2021



And the Award Goes to…the Albert 2 AMERICANS SHIFTED TO the great outdoors for exercise and peace of mind as the pandemic wore on, and Aetrex’s performance insoles and orthotics mirrored that shift as the company saw a spike in sales, particularly its premium Training and Memory Foam custom fit collections, reports Matt Schwartz, executive vice president of sales. But it was the debut of the company’s state-of-the-art Albert 2 in-store foot scanning device this past fall that’s generated the most award-worthy buzz. Schwartz describes the Albert 2 as the ultimate, all-in-one scanning technology. “It can do both static and dynamic pressure analysis as well as cutting-edge 3D measurements. It integrates custom-selected prefabricated orthotics, 3D-printed custom orthotics and a machine learning engine that recommends the most-likely-fit footwear from a retailer’s inventory by size,” he says. “It features a learning center with an enormous library of

for consumers to come back into stores. “It offers an experience customers can’t get online. Combining pressure analysis and 3D measurements, Albert 2 offers customization under foot through orthotics and the integrated FitHQ helps the customer find the right shoes in the right size.” That, he adds, drives increased conversions and higher units-pertransaction. But don’t just take Schwartz’s word for it, the Albert 2’s Control Panel enables retailers to track scan-to-sale rates and see how it has a measurable relation to driving increased business. Along those lines, the Albert 2 also captures data about consumers’ feet—information that not only enables retailers to communicate more effectively with customers after they leave the store, but also to provide a personalized fit experience when they shop their ecommerce platforms. Despite the epic challenges everyone in the industry faced in 2020, Schwartz says Aetrex came through the year relatively well— a credit to the dedication of the entire team. “I’d give the team an A+,” he says. “We’re really proud of what our team accomplished. They never stopped working. We had team members choosing to come into the office, even during the early months when our headquarters in Teaneck, NJ, was one of the hardest hit areas in the world. We kept our company financially strong, produced our strongest spring and fall footwear lines ever, and launched Albert 2. When it’s all said and done, I’m confident this is a period in our company’s history that we will look back on with enormous pride.” Looking ahead, Schwartz says Aetrex is bullish on continued growth. That confidence starts with having endured 2020, which he says verified two core characteristics of its business model: a relentless focus on innovation and always striving to deliver new value to its customers, and a commitment to a strong balance sheet to sound financial management. “It proved how these key commitments, in combination, allow us to always stay ahead of our competition,” Schwartz says, noting the company’s excitement as the economy begins to open up towards summer. “Personally, I’m looking forward to a new Roaring Twenties!”

“Our scanning technology has proven to drive enormous, untapped profit for partners through orthotics sales.”

content, and voice-activation for a hands-free experience. All this, and it’s roughly half the cost (starting at $2,495 or $73 per month) of the competition.” Schwartz adds that Albert 2 isn’t a cost center. “At thousands of locations around the world, our scanning technology has proven to drive enormous, untapped profit for partners through orthotics sales,” he says, noting Aetrex technology and orthotics is often the most profitable square footage in those stores. Feedback from retailers who have formerly introduced Albert 2 to their customers has been “phenomenal,” Schwartz reports. “We’re getting calls for demos from all different types of channels of distribution, such as running, outdoor, global footwear brands, healthcare, workwear and more,” he says, noting that the device is a great incentive

From top: Matt Schwartz, Aetrex’s executive vice president of sales; the Albert 2 in-store foot scanning device, an in-store experience game changer.

march 2021 • 25




Riding the Tailwind around other performance patterns, such as its new Nova and Antora 2 collections that merge the fit of a sneaker with hiker-like durability. “We also benefitted from slip-on shoes having a moment, between work-from-home and après-adventure comfort,” he says. “Our newer Hydro Moc collection, as well as our iconic Jungle Moc, were top sellers, and we’re launching new extensions and styles of these franchises in 2021.” Additional bright spots for the year included the Undyed Collection, which involves a manufacturing process that uses 80 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than traditional dyed shoes. The ghost-like white collection also marked a fresh statement against the typical earth tones palette so common in the outdoor category. In addition, Hufnagel cites successful collabs with Honey Stinger, as well as its third with Outdoor Voices, as 2020 success stories. “All three of those launches used sustainable materials, which is an accelerated area of focus for us,” he says. Last but not least, an introduction Hufnagel takes great pride in, was Merrell’s partnership with Zappos Adaptive that launched in Q4. “We were the first outdoor brand to sell mixed size pairs of shoes with our partners at Zappos,” he says, adding, “We believe in sharing the simple power of being outside—no matter who you are, where you came from, who you love or how you move—everyone should be welcome in the outdoors.” Hufnagel credits his team for enabling Merrell to keep pace in 2020. And while adapting to a changing market while monitoring consumer sentiment is paramount when it comes to navigating challenges, this was 2020—no ordinary year. In fact, Hufnagel believes the team learned more in a single year than he could ever have imagined possible. “The grit and resilience of the Merrell team is why our brand has fared well throughout the pandemic,” he says. “Their steadfast focus and dedication to pivoting and embracing the new normal is admirable, and I feel privileged to be able to work alongside this great group of people each day.”

The Undyed collection uses 80 percent less water and 50 percent less energy in its manufacturing.

THE PANDEMIC PRESENTED unprecedented headwinds, but there were also a few tailwinds generated—like people seeking the outdoors for exercise and solace—and the numbers don’t lie. The Outdoor Industry Association recently reported that 8.1 million more Americans hiked in 2020 versus the year prior, a participation increase of 16.3 percent, and the 2.2 percent jump in total participation marked the single largest increase the industry organization, founded in 1989, has seen since it began tracking such figures. Such a strong tailwind was all to the benefit of Merrell, an iconic outdoor brand that can outfit the whole family for a walk in the park to a week-long trek in the backcountry. And that’s pretty much exactly what the brand did, says Chris Hufnagel, president of the Wolverine Worldwide subsidiary. “Merrell is coming off a strong year within retail and ecommerce, while our social engagement went up more than 200 percent,” the exec reports. “Interest in the outdoors grew as a result of Covid-19, and Merrell is benefitting from this tailwind, alongside the success of reenergizing our core icon styles, such as Moab and Jungle Moc, (a process that began in 2019) and new, innovative products brought to market in 2020.” The latter, Hufnagel says, was accelerated in order to meet the demand coming with the emergence of performance gear as everyday lifestyle and fashion. “Consumers were, and still are, looking for functional, yet stylish footwear options that provide the versatility that matches their lifestyle,” he says. Specifically, Hufnagel reports 2020 saw strong sales in its Moab franchise and momentum 26 • march 2021

Dripping with style: Merrell’s Agility Synthesis x Honey Stinger collab.

“We benefited from slip-on shoes having a moment, between workfrom-home and après adventure comfort.”





Ahead of the Pack

Don’t Give In; Give Back

BROOKS RUNNING REPORTED record third quarter global revenue, up 49 percent year-over-year, fueling a 27-percent growth and a record revenue of $850 million for 2020. Jim Weber, CEO, says the success reflects the brand’s careful navigation through the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, clear performance positioning and ability to fulfill demand across channels. That plus the fact that millions of Americans ran through 2020 as a way to stay healthy, get back in-shape and just to clear their heads. “We believe in the positive power the run can create in someone’s day and its additive benefits over time. It is also an effective antidote in troubling times, and we’ve seen that prove true as running participation increased since March,” Weber states in a company release, noting the brand gained 1.6 million runners through October 2020. “We have worked alongside our retail, factory and distribution partners to ensure those who want to run can find the product they trust and need to bring positive energy into their lives,” he adds. Brooks came into the global pandemic with a nice head start, or as Weber describes as the best-positioned brand in running backed by strong product lines. The number don’t lie: Running USA’s 2020 National Running Survey for 2019 noted Brooks leads the pack at more than 2.5 times the next competitor when it comes to favorite brand of running shoes amongst those who run. Miro AI, in its Hyperion Q4 2019 report, analyzed Tempo event photography containing nearly 260,000 runners at races of all sizes across the U.S. that year and Brooks was the No. 1 brand on feet at 24 percent of participants. And the NPD Group, a retail sales tracking agency, reports Brooks captured the largest share increase year-to-date through September 2020 in the U.S. adult performance running footwear category, gaining four points versus the same period in 2019, and was the No. 1 running brand in the athletic specialty/sporting goods channel. Credit goes to Brooks’ agility, curiosity and resiliency during a time of great uncertainty, according to Weber. For example, its Run-Sight Lab research team increased its runner engagement cadence and quickly identified a mindset shift for those running amidst the pandemic, many of whom are leveraging the run for its mental benefits rather than running to achieve a fitness, distance or event-related goal. With this insight, the brand quickly adjusted its communication approach and reinforced its omni-channel distribution support to connect authentically with runners and make sure they can find Brooks whenever and wherever and they choose to shop. Speaking of which, consumers purchased a lot Brooks shoes online in 2020, both through and retail partners. In April alone, online sales rocketed from less than 35 percent of sales in 2019 to a peak of 82 percent of all sales, and has since stabilized at 46 percent of sales for the year, up seven points from pre-pandemic levels. Brooks also increased support of its brick-and-mortar retail partners with same-day delivery and curbside pick-up programs, helping them get product into runners’ hands in a safe and efficient manner. The Brooks shoes that got into the hands of consumers often included the new Hyperion Tempo training and Hyperion Elite racing shoes, and the Catamount trail shoe. In addition, perennials like the Ghost and Adrenaline GTS were up 25 percent and 17 percent this year, respectively. But perhaps the best Brooks statistic of 2020: employee head count surpassed 1,000 on the heels of hiring nearly 100 new members, and there zero layoffs.

IT’S NO SECRET that when Nordstrom closed its stores nationwide on St. Patrick’s Day luck was going to be hard to come by, especially as the shutdown stretched into months before stores gradually reopened at limited capacities. The Seattle-based chain’s sales cratered—down 40 percent and 53 percent in quarters one and two, respectively—and it closed 16 stores permanently in 2020. Nevertheless, Nordstrom pivoted to online and curbside pickup to meet the needs of the new shopping normal and, as the year wore on, its sales declines slowed considerably while its digital sales soared. Meanwhile, the chain decided to give back more than ever—at a time when its customers needed help more than ever before. Community outreach efforts were led by the launch last spring of its Nordstrom Now campaign, which grew out of sewing nearly 1 million masks for healthcare workers. The chain soon recognized it could do much more, especially for families during the pandemic and going forward. Thus, Nordstrom’s announced 2025 corporate philanthropy goals, which focus on: customer engagement, cause marketing, grants and employee engagement. The philanthropy goals include raising $5 million from cause marketing campaigns for core partners that support families; raising $5 million from its give-back brand, Treasure & Bond; investing more than $50 million in communities where it operates; and increasing employee volunteer hours to 250,000 hours annually. In 2020, the chain got off to a great start, supporting more than 300 familybased organizations that provide basic necessities like housing, food, access to health care and education. Examples included donating 20 percent of all gift card sales purchased online (with a goal of hitting $50,000) from May 26 to June 12 to The Posse Foundation, a non-profit that provides college scholarships to students in need. In addition, Nordstrom celebrated its 10-year partnership with the nonprofit Nordstrom’s Manhattan flagship: Shoes That Fit that provides a shoe lover’s paradise. new shoes to kids. Customers contributed by purchasing $10 giving cards in stores or donated online. “Each pair donated represents a child with more confidence, hope, self-esteem, and joy,” states Scott Meden, chief marketing officer at Nordstrom. “We’re thankful to our customers and employees who’ve helped us give more than 200,000 pairs to kids in need over the last 10 years.” Nordstrom has raised nearly $4 million in this effort, and the ROI is impressive. Schools report the attendance of Shoes That Fit recipients rose 40 percent and 87 percent have increased self-esteem. Lastly on the goodwill front in 2020, Nordstrom announced in September it will stop selling products featuring animal furs or exotic skins by the end of 2021. The commitment was made in partnership with the Humane Society and is in response to requests from its customers. Along those lines, Nordstrom last month introduced its long-term growth plan, Closer To You, a promise to serve customers on their terms. The program focuses on gaining deeper insights (think personalization and enhanced customer experience), acquiring new customers, offering more choices (potential to increase total selection from approximately 300,000 to more than 1.5 million) and delivering better service via a seamless experience involving meaningful connections with customers wherever they choose to shop. march 2021 • 27



Helping Fight the Good Fight THE PANDEMIC STOPPED a lot of things, but it didn’t The Reaxion collection: stop millions of Americans from lacing up their boots and the comfort of a sneaker going to work each day—many of whom fought on the front inside the toughness of lines against the virus. Bob Sineni, vice president and general a work boot. manager of Timberland Pro, a division of VF Corp., says that fact was reflected in the brand’s stronger than anticipated sales for 2020 across its categories, spanning classic work boots to athletic styles to pull-on boots. “We saw a lot of growth in our athletics category, as warehousing jobs expanded to meet the demands of online shopping,” Sineni says. “Products geared toward younger Millennials and women were also a major focus for us, as these demographics are so critical to filling the skilled trades gap.” In addition to demographic factors, Sineni credits Timberland Pro’s success to its design-led and innovation-driven product creation culture, active product market management, a marketing campaign that celebrates workers and an agile approach to inventory and account management. It also helps that workers know and trust the brand. “Timberland Pro has a very loyal following, which worked to our advantage during the pandemic because consumers didn’t hesitate to seek us out online,“ he says. “We saw our digital sales, both wholesale and DTC, really explode this year.” does this extend the life the boots, since this is such a high-abrasion area, but Sineni credits Timberland Pro’s commitment to purposeful innovation— it also provides lasting structure and improved heel fit,” he says. True Grit always looking to improve upon the comfort, durability and performance, also features Anti-Fatigue technology, a CarbonShield composite safety toe because its consumers need to perform at their peak—for leading its success. and metatarsal guards. That translated to three standout collections in 2020. One: Work Summit, a The ability to meet the needs of so many different trades with specific styles family of 6- and 8-inch boots marked by the brand’s latest comfort system, Step is something Sineni takes great pride in. “It’s a testament to how talented our Propel Energy Return that consists footwear designers are,” he says. “Our line offers great variety in terms of silof underfoot cushioning made of houette, safety features and end use, but there’s one thread that runs through thousands of fused beads that absorb everything we do and something we never compromise on: comfort.” It’s also shock and propel the worker through why Timberland Pro’s latest marketing campaign, “Always Do. Never Done.,” his/her day. Additional highlights celebrates all jobs its customers do, which includes giving them a platform to include a CarbonShield composite tell their stories and inspire others. “As a founding member of Generation T, safety toe, a waterproof membrane we’re focused on filling the skilled trades gap by helping to elevate the trades and all-weather TPU outsole. and introduce this career path to the next generation,” he says. Two: Reaxion, men’s and women’s Looking ahead, that will include the launch this fall of Timberland Pro’s first athletic and hiker styles rooted in work boot made with regenerative leather sourced from farms that take a holistic the brand’s Aerocore Energy Return approach to agriculture to regenerate the soil. “This is an exciting step toward System, which fuses together the our 2030 goals to minimize our impact on the earth and even aim to make a net comfort and flexibility of a sneaker positive impact,” Sineni says. In the meantime, he’s proud the VF Foundation with the performance and durability pledged $1.5M and matched donations two to one to the Coronavirus Relief of a work boot. “We wanted to give Fund as well as Timberland donating shoes as part of the Sneakers for Heroes workers a new experience—a shoe as appealing as their favorite athletic shoe program. “They’re the skilled trades workers who move our world forward— that provides the energy return to keep them going all day,” Sineni says, addand never has their importance and impact been so pronounced as it has been ing that the collection is available in waterproof and non-waterproof options during the pandemic,” he says. “They’re the essential workers who have built and comes with a composite safety toe. temporary hospital units, kept the food chain supplied and moving, distributed Three: True Grit, a collection of pull-on and 8-inch boots featuring Exospine vaccines across a vast network and so much more.” technology, an abrasion-resistant, kick-off heel for easy removal. “Not only

“Our line offers great variety in terms of silhouette, safety features and end use.”

28 • march 2021



The Year of the Slipper DUE TO THE pandemic millions of people worldwide rediscovered the importance of their homes as a place of security and comfort—as well as an office and a classroom. Along with that came a massive shift to a home-based wardrobe that saw slippers as the foundation. And not just classic bedside styles, but a wide range spanning sock-like constructions for binge-watching favorite shows to indoor/outdoor styles for the tricked-out backyard shed and daily coffee run. Indeed, amid a year where everything went off the rails, a cozy pair of slippers provided comfort and peace of mind. The great slipper shift was reflected in the 2020 spike in sales for Minnetonka Moccasin Company, reports Jori Miller Sherer, president. “Our ecommerce sales remained strong since day one of Covid-19, and since the summer our slipper sales in women’s and men’s have had huge growth across all of our channels,” she says, noting a big highlight was its women’s collection selling out during Nordstrom’s annual Anniversary Sale last summer. “By far, our digital channel performed the best, and that includes our drop-ship partners and key accounts that sell online.” Sherer singles out the company’s Home & Away collection, available in men’s and women’s styles, as having performed incredibly last year as the boots and slippers suitable for indoors and outdoors was right in step with the home as the center of everything trend. The collection features textured uppers (like fleece sweater, rag wool and soft suedes), soft pile linings, removable contoured footbeds and heavy rubber tread soles. “We had a great launch of this line in 2019 and it continued to gain momentum this past year,” she says. Another hit in 2020 was the debut of Minnetonka’s Open Slippers category, which all started with this London SKU (bottom right). Features include a padded insole, all-over faux fur or a combo of faux fur/suede that struck a chord with women of all ages working from home. “They were an instant hit, and kept selling out throughout the whole year as we introduced new colors and styles,” Sherer says. “We’ve opened many new accounts because they love this style; it sold out multiple times on our website throughout the year, so we plan to build on this in a big way in 2021.” Sherer credits the company’s strong sourcing base for enabling it to keep up with the increase in demand overall. “In addition to owning our factory in the Dominican Republic, we have very close relationships with our factories in China,” she says. “These long-term partnerships have been a key to our success in being able to react quickly. We also saw the demand early and made bold plans early in the pandemic to meet it.” And that’s where teamwork came into play—from sourcing partners to everyone at headquarters—to make it all happen. “We’re so grateful for our outstanding team; everyone rose to the challenge of the early uncertainty and then the challenge of trying to meet the high demand while maintaining our high level of service for our customers,” Sherer says. “We’re especially proud of the way all of our employees adapted to work-from-home and how our warehouse staff adapted to the new safety procedures to keep everyone healthy during the pandemic.”

From top: The Home & Away and Open Slippers collections knocked it out of the park in 2020. march 2021 • 29


Life ti m e A c h i e ve m e n t

continued from page 14 back to when he started distributing the Israeli-made brand around 1980. “Any shoe I’ve ever shown Danny, he tweaks on the spot. It’s never like, ‘Oh, that shoe is great. It’s this shoe would be great—if you did this...” Design suggestions aside, Lax credits Wasserman for seeing the potential in Naot from the get-go and considers him one of the brand’s most loyal and important retail partners. “Danny’s got a prime location in the middle of the Upper West Side, which is the heart and soul of our customer base,” he says. “If you walk around that neighborhood in the summer, almost one out of 10 people is wearing our sandals—and a lot of them were purchased at his store.” Lax adds that Wasserman is an ideal partner. “We’ve done a lot of Naot programs together, like taking part in our donation events for the homeless and running an Israeli Day promotion during the city’s annual parade,” he says. “He’s always been willing to go outside the box and partner with us, and he’s often suggested great ideas.” Beyond that, Lax considers Wasserman a true friend. Case in point: the time he hired Lax’s daughter Ayelet (now managing Naot USA) to work a few summers in his store so she could learn “what it is to be in retail” while she attended college. “She learned a lot,” Lax says. “That really cemented our relationship with Danny and his family. When I walk into the store to this day [some 20 years later], the long-term salespeople will ask how my daughter is doing.” Another long-time partner and friend of Tip Top Shoes—one Wasserman considers an industry “genius”—is Robert Greenberg, CEO of Skechers. (Late Zappos founder Tony Hsieh is another to receive such high praise from Wasserman.) Tip Top has been a Skechers customer since the brand’s start in the early ’90s. “Danny and the Tip Top team have been wonderful partners and have embraced our many divisions over the years—from our first

Skechers Sport styles to our more recent fashion and trendy styles and our vast comfort offerings, including Max Cushioning and Arch Fit,” Greenberg says. “What makes Tip Top special and a standout among retailers is the love that Danny, Lester and Margot have for the industry. They have a great taste level for product, especially when it incorporates comfort. They know success when they see it!” DIAMOND MINING What’s the biggest factor behind Tip Top’s longevity? For starters, the store always pays its bills, Wasserman says. Beyond that, he cites the ability to move with the selling diamond. The diamond keeps moving to the right, and to the left of the center is volume fashion and comfort—Tip Top’s sweet spot, he explains. “Basically, we’re about functional, fashion shoes with functional being the key word,” he says. “What can I wear them for? Are they comfortable? Do they have features—like goring, flexibility and cushioning? Those are all functional features that I look for when I buy shoes.” Wasserman cites his early success in the ’70s with Jacque Cohen canvas espadrilles (which later became Andre Assous) as a good example. “The shoes had all the ingredients, and we were one of the first stores to bring that style in,” he says. Another good example: Dr. Scholl’s exercise sandals. While the style didn’t offer much cushioning, it had a functional (toning) aspect that Tip Top scored big with during its heyday—and would repeat years later with MBT and FitFlop. “We had lines waiting out the door for those wooden clogs,” Wasserman recalls, noting the store advertised the shoe during previews in local movie theaters. “We were the only store carrying them; the department stores didn’t understand it. We sold them out of a little cart like >47

Congratulations Danny Wasserman on your Lifetime Achievement Award Thank you for your partnership and your excellence in the footwear industry. We wish you many more years of continued success. Rieker Shoe Corporation | 299 Rio Drive | Orlando, FL 32810 1-800-960-0050 |







High-shafted boots that raise the bar on style. 1. Rieker 2. Durango 3. Taos 4. Black Star

32 • march 2021

CONGRATULATIONS, on winning the 2020 Plus Award for Design Excellence in the Outdoor Category! Your commitment to sharing the simple power of being outside is truly inspirational.




4 2





Wake up to perky prints and pretty patterns. 1. Dearfoams 2. Sorel 3. Aetrex 4. Haflinger 5. Propèt 6. Joules 7. Naot

34 • march 2021




4 5





His and her classic mocs: the perfect threads for a cozy evening. 1. Soft Comfort 2. Staheekhum 3. Taos 4. Quoddy 5. Acorn

2021 march • 35

Acorn loafers feature knitted tweed uppers, cotton terry linings, Cloud Cushion footbeds and skidresistant soles. 37

Easy-on/off slippers with 100-percent natural felt uppers and soft stitched calfskin soles by Glerups.


Clockwise from top: Asportuguesas wool mule with cork latex cushioned sole; plush pink house shoe with arch support, memory foam footbed and lightweight rubber sole by Aetrex; wool felt indoor/outdoor slipper with suede-lined cork latex footbed, reinforced toe cap and rubber sole by Sanita; Joules white faux fur bootie with foam-cushioned footbed and rubber sole; shearling-lined mule with waterproof upper and anti-slip sole by Cougar; Taos mauve clog features a boiled wool upper, removable suede insole and rubber sole; Propét suede indoor/outdoor slipper with faux fur lining, removable insole and PU sole. Center: Minnetonka slipper with sheepskin lining, padded insole and indoor/outdoor rubber sole. 39

Haflinger boiled wool slippers feature double-felted cushioned soles with non-marking rubber treads for traction. 40

Naot slippers feature water-repellent Italian cotton corduroy uppers, fleece linings and mattress foam padded insoles with arch supports.


Quoddy handsewn moccasins lined with lightweight shearling feature versatile roll-up collars and Vibram air-injected rubber soles. Opposite page: Faux fur mules with memory foam insoles, recycled water bottle linings and TPR soles by Staheekum. 42


Xtratuf slippers feature water-resistant wool uppers, faux shearling linings, molded EVA midsoles and slip-resistant soles. 44

Left to right: Sheepskin slipper with shearling lining by Ecco; Wool slipper with shearling lining and anatomical cork latex footbed by Birkenstock; Twisted X lightweight loafer features ecoTWX uppers made of recycled water bottles, removable molded footbed and rubber sole. Fashion editor: Ann Loynd Burton; Models: Rebecca Hanobik and Naoki Sumiya /Fenton Model Mgmt. 45 45




JESSICA RICH IS one of those rare examples of a fashion-influencer-turned-shoe-designer whose creations caught the attention of followers, celebrities and (eventually) the fashion media because of their originality—not just because of her notoriety. In short, the shoes have done the talking. Rich, who launched her eponymous label in 2017, started the conversation with her Transparent collection of stiletto heels featuring clear PVC uppers. The shoes were unique and versatile—the clear color easily paired with a range of outfits. In addition, they were affordably priced (SRP: $215-$250) compared to most designer labels. It wasn’t long before her followers, along with a legion of celebrities, such as Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B, sported her shoes. And while Rich’s stacked Rolodex—she’s a former publicist—helped with celebrity seeding, she actually credits her design inexperience for helping her introduce something fresh. “Because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by trying to compete with designers who knew how to design with different fabrics and materials, I had to think of something that had not been done before,” she says. Enter PVC, a styling cue from Kanye West, who had been dabbling in the material with his collections. “I jumped on a trend that he started and pushed the envelope with PVC stilettos,” Rich says. “It was something no one had ever seen before.” That minimalist aesthetic has become Rich’s signature. “My shoes are simple, sexy and wearable,” she says, adding that originality is another key ingredient. “I never copy another designer. If I see something in the marketplace that I like, I make sure to change it completely into my own design. I like to create trends!” For Rich’s latest collection, debuting this summer, that translates to a dependable palette. “I think red is a great statement you can never go wrong with,” she says. “I also always love using black and nude, because they go with everything.” Rich hints at some “new normal” styles to come as well. “The pandemic definitely gave me some new ideas that I can’t talk about yet,” she says. “It’s something they’ve been asking for that will make their lives a lot easier!” In the meantime, Rich is busy with her new Los Angeles flagship in the Beverly Center. “My store is located in between some of the greatest luxury designers, including Versace, Burberry and YSL, which is very important for brand recognition,” she says. The designer believes brick-and-mortar is a key element for the label going forward—starting with five Nordstrom locations this March (in addition to “Customer will now be able to shop the product in person, which is an elevated experience,” Rich says. 46 • march 2021



LUS H P LUS H Serenity now! Slippers that pamper the tootsies.

Who is the Jessica Rich woman? She is confident, sexy and sophisticated. She’s looking for a statement shoe that it’s comfortable, trendy and affordable. Where do you look for design inspiration? My inspiration comes from what I know the general public responds well to and what they need at the moment. I’m also very celebrity-driven, so I make sure I offer shoes that are super sexy and trendy. But I also design for the everyday girl who wants to make a statement with the hottest new item. What has been the hardest challenge to getting your brand known? Getting respect from the media. It took me countless celebs for bigger media outlets to finally recognize my line. That comes down to me being an African-American from the United States because, if you notice, anyone from overseas that does anything in fashion gets praised more because they’re from a city that originates fashion, such as London or Paris. I’ll watch a new brand launch, with just one design, and suddenly they’re in 50 retailers and all over the internet because

they’re an “international brand.” Who are some designers you admire? Tom Ford is my favorite! He always pushes the envelope. He’s very daring and super sexy. My dream is to collab with him one day! Is there a perfect shoe? Not to sound conceited but I would say my original Fancy stiletto. It was the first Cinderella pump on the market, and it was amazing because it goes with everything and it makes your foot look super sexy, especially if you have a great toes. What was the best piece of design advice you were ever given? Just start! Some people get scared to get out there and start a brand. If you want to design, just get a piece of paper and get going. What do you love most about designing shoes? I think shoes are the most important part of the outfit that really tie together an entire look, and what I love most is the simplicity of my designs that go with anything but can still make a statement. That’s my aesthetic, and it works.




L ife t i me A c h i e v e me n t

continued from page 30

High Praise

Industry leaders sound off on Danny Wasserman’s retail acumen. CLASS ACT: “Danny Wasserman is one of the most approachable retailers I know. He has incredible insight and operates with class. Visit his store and you’ll see professionalism from the floor set up to the phenomenal sales. His sales associates are well-dressed and professional—the men in neckties and the women stylish. All are very knowledgeable and helpful veterans of the industry who treat service as a priority. Shopping at Tip Top is like walking into your neighborhood store where they know your name. Everyone is treated like family.” —Robert Greenberg, CEO, Skechers BRAIN TRUST: “Danny is an icon in this industry; a unique leader with a passion for product. I get a lot smarter after showing product to him. His immediate reaction to product is solid. He’s one of the most respected voices in the industry and, like his son Lester, he treats everyone well. —Matt Thibeau, head of independent sales, Ecco USA THE GODFATHER: “Danny has no weaknesses. He knows his business cold, from style call-outs, emerging trends and inside intel to financial planning and being transparent. He’s not only a great partner, he’s a super intelligent one. He shares his knowledge and is generous with his time. Whenever I stop in, he always has a minute for me. Danny is one of the Great Ones. Personally, Danny has always been more of a father figure—he guides, suggests and is honest for my best interest. Showing shoes to him is like playing at Carnegie Hall. You better be buttoned up. He’s not only a Shoe Dog, he is the lead dog, the Don Corleone of shoes. —Tom Siano, Northeast sales manager, J-41 and Jambu

they were free.” It’s another in a long line of examples of Wasserman being the first to see the potential in something unique, functionable, comfortable, fashionable and new. Recent diamonds in the making include Hoka One One and On Running. And even if Wasserman has slowed down his pursuit, he knows his son is picking up where he is leaving off. “He’s spot-on,” Wasserman says, citing the recent addition of Red Wing to Tip Top’s mix per his son’s recommendation. “He just knows if it’s good or if it’s garbage. And Margot has Tip Top Kids (located a couple of doors from the main store) under control.” Wasserman takes comfort in knowing the business is in great hands and is confident about its success for years to come. The stores have already weathered recessions, 9/11, competition in all formats and now a pandemic—which he considers the most difficult challenge to date—while its online channels continue to grow. But he’s also a firm believer that New York will roar back to life. When it does, people are going to want and need shoes—and Tip Top Shoes might be one of the few sit-and-fit stores still standing. “Not everyone will want to buy shoes on the internet,” he says. “We’re in it for the long haul. We just have to keep doing what we do best: selling shoes and figuring out what to buy and when to bring it in.” Wasserman, 76, could retire—or come in three days a week, as his wife suggested. But he sees how hard his kids are working through this latest crisis and has decided to put that on hold. “I can’t leave them when they need me the most,” he says. In the meantime, he’ll keep looking for the next big brand and/or trend. It’s in his blood. “My father always said I was born in a shoe store, because my mother was pregnant with me while climbing ladders to stock shoes in our store in Germany,” Wasserman says. “I just enjoy the business so much—touching shoes, smelling the leather, the whole process. It’s a way of life.” •

STEADY & TRUE: “Kanner and Tip Top have been partners for over 25 years and Danny is a man of integrity. He’s financially prudent, honors his commitments and is always generous with insightful advice. He’s tough but fair, and he’s also done a terrific job at mentoring the next generation. Hats off!” —Edward Kanner, CEO Kanner Group THE NATURAL: “Danny has an amazing eye for product. With such a diverse consumer base, he knows what will sell. His input is invaluable. Then, it’s service. The number of places in New York where you can sit and be expertly fit is minimal, and this is what Tip Top provides. Danny is a true 21st century retailer but maintains the heart and soul of an old-school merchant, and that comes from his time spent on the floor. How many chain buyers spend any time on the floor—really watching, listening and speaking with consumers? This is how Danny lives. There’s no substitute for six to seven days a week in the store, which comes natural to him. All he shares is speaking on behalf of his clientele.” —David Kahan, CEO, Birkenstock Americas


ROCK SOLID: “Danny’s a very good and solid businessman, and the store has a great reputation. It’s in the right place, he owns the building and he’s got a nice online business that’s helped keep them alive, especially when everything was closed for months. You know pretty much what you get from him. There aren’t a lot of surprises. He doesn’t go out on a limb. He sees something selling, he does it, and he fills in constantly. —Steve Lax, CEO, Naot LEADING BY EXAMPLE: “When I first started at Tip Top, he explained to me that while we didn’t open until 9:30 a.m., it was important that I arrive by 8 a.m. to get my work done prior to opening. I learned from a young age that retail meant working six days a week and plenty of seven-day weeks too. Also, establishing good relationships with key vendors is a must, and the ability to react to trends quickly to secure inventory was perhaps the most valuable lesson.” —Lester Wasserman, CEO and GM, Tip Top Shoes


Dear Danny, Congratulations for the very well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. Your leadership, vision and direction have defined what a successful retail environment should look like. We wish you many more years of health, happiness and continued success. | 800.962.0030



That’s a Wrap


Deer Stags


Puff Daddies 48 • march 2021


Sporty nylon quilted slippers are so campside cool.



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