AND THE WINNERS ARE...
This Just In
MEN AND THEIR PURSES
EaSY DOeS iT
THE NEW SEAMLESS : INDOOR/OUTDOOR SLIPPERS SUITABLE FROM THE COUCH TO THE CAFÃ‰
RAIN KING ROB MOEHRING
BÃ˜RN FOOTWEAR COLLECTIONS
NYC SHOWROOM | 10 TIMES SQUARE (1441 BROADWAY) 15TH FLOOR, NEW YORK , NY
Two Ten Footwear Foundation awards $1 Million in scholarships to footwear employees and their families, each year.
APRIL 1, 202O T W OT E N . O R G / S C H O L A R S H I P S
Higher Education Scholarships • Footwear Design Scholarships • Pensole Scholarship • ARSUTORIA Scholarship
M A R C H 202 0 F E AT U R E S
PA G E
12 True Grit For 50-plus years, Rob Moehring, chairman of Washington Shoe Company, has weathered whatever the industry threw his way, always adapting, evolving and thriving. By Greg Dutter 14 Profiles in Excellence The 21st annual Plus Award winners for design and retail excellence shined against a dark industry backdrop, proving passion, dedication and innovation can win the day. By Greg Dutter, Lauren Parker and Suzanne Shelley 28 Leisure Class Indoor/outdoor slippers that go seamlessly from the couch to the café. By Lauren Parker
Caroline Diaco President/Group Publisher Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL Lauren Parker Executive Editor Emily Beckman Associate Editor Kathy Passero Editor at Large Kirstin Koba Contributing Editor Melodie Jeng Marcy Swingle Contributing Photographers ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher Laurie Guptill Production Manager
D E PA RT M E N T S 6 Editor’s Note 8 This Just In 38 What’s Selling 40 Last Word
Bruce Sprague Circulation Director Mike Hoff Digital Director WAINSCOT MEDIA Carroll Dowden Chairman Mark Dowden President & CEO Agnes Alves Controller
On cover: Asportuguesas wool booties, sweater by Billy Reid, Banana Republic T-shirt, pants by Flan. This page: moc toe slipper boots by Lamo, sweatshirt by Flan, Perry Ellis track pants.
Photography by Mark Andrew/ The Garden Party; styling by Kim Mesches/Utopia; Grooming by Paul Warren/Judy Casey Inc.; model: Aiden Detlof/Red Model Mgmt; styling assistance by Bella Peterson; photography assistance by Chris Wert.
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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, 214 W. 39th St., Suite 205., New York, NY, 10018. The publishers of this magazine do not accept responsibility for statements made by their advertisers in business competition. Periodicals postage is paid in New York, NY, and additional mailing offices. Subscription price for one year: $48.00 in the U.S. Rates oustide the U.S. are available upon request. Single copy price: $10.00. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to FOOTWEAR PLUS, P.O. Box 8548, Lowell, MA 01853-8548. Publisher not responsible for unsolicited articles or photos. Any photographs, artwork, manuscripts, editorial samples or merchandise sent for editorial consideration are sent at the sole risk of the sender. Wainscot Media will assume no responsibility for loss or damage. No portion of this issue may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. ©2008 by Wainscot Media. Printed in the United States.
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THANK YOU TO FOOTWEAR PLUS AND TO ALL OF OUR FANS WHO VOTED FOR US! Our ecoTWX® collection was created with the goal of giving back to the environment. Every ecoTWX® shoe is made with recycled plastics, agricultural waste, and natural resources that provides you with superior comfort and the peace of mind that you are doing your part to help the environment. To learn more about Twisted X® and our efforts in sustainability, visit twistedx.com/sustainability.
E D ITOR’S NOT E
Winning Formulas BACK IN COLLEGE, during my amateur bike racing days, the team I rode with for one summer had an unofficial bumper sticker that read: “Winning isn’t everything, but losing sucks.” Being type A personalities obsessed with shaving seconds off training rides and deep diving into everything riding related, from the lightest derailleurs to the leanest diets, all in a desperate search for a competitive edge, some of my teammates took exacto knives to the sticker and altered it to read: “Winning is everything. Losing sucks.” Talk about embracing a “win or pedal home” approach to sport—and just about everything else. These guys (not me, of course) were obsessive overachievers, competing to win at cycling, studies, even tiddlywinks. Many of them won—regularly. But this all-or-nothing strategy has its share of negative side effects. For starters, it’s often not healthy or sustainable over the long term. Physical injuries and mental burnout are common. The obsessive approach can also lead to cheating. Even weekend warriors have been caught using performance-enhancing drugs to gain an edge. (Is winning the weekly club ride really worth risking one’s health?) While the financial incentive to steal signs was there for Houston Astros players, was the cost of their reputations worth it? History will be the ultimate judge of the Houston Asterisks, but I’m betting this will follow the team and the players who were singled out, just as the Chicago Black Sox scandal has cast a shadow over all those involved for the past 101 years. People never forget the all-time great cheats. Just ask Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong. I prefer, instead, to celebrate winners—like our 21st annual Plus Awards recipients for design and retail excellence as voted by thousands of fellow industry members. This year’s lineup features a mix of repeat winners along with a few newcomers. And while the categories differ, as do the sizes of the companies, many exhibit similar traits. Our annual Profiles in Excellence section (beginning on p. 14) serves as a, dare I say, cheat sheet to how brands and retailers put together an award-worthy year in 2019. It takes talent, teamwork and tenacity, of course. Timing is another crucial ingredient. Case in point: 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of Comfort Specialty retail winner Lucky Shoes. Often there’s a dash of good fortune, too. Take, for instance, Slippers category winner Minnetonka, who got a boost from Brad Pitt’s Oscar-
winning turn as stuntman Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Pitt’s character sported the brand’s iconic Two Button Hardsole boot and the free publicity has since generated a waitlist of thousands for that boot, not to mention introducing millions of Millennials to Minnetonka. That’s the definition of a win-win. Then there’s groundbreaking ingenuity. Take, for example, Birkenstock, winner of three Plus Awards in 2019, including the coveted Brand of the Year and Best Collab for Birkenstock x Valentino. The legendary Italian fashion house’s take on the brand’s iconic Arizona sandal also benefitted from an Oscars affiliation—only this time it was entirely planned. Having Best Actress winner and big-time brand fan Frances McDormand walk (comfortably) onto the stage in a gown-matching yellow pair to accept the Oscar for her starring role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri marked an industry first. In the collabs we’ve seen over the years, not one has made an entrance in a setting as stunning and high-profile as Oscars night. McDormand walked out around 11:15 p.m. EST and at midnight the collab went on sale in Valentino boutiques worldwide as well as on Birkenstock.com. Birkenstock Americas CEO David Kahan believes the collab generated a halo effect for the rest of the year. The style sold out in days and Birkenstock went on to its eighth consecutive year of record growth. Talk about winning streaks. Another trait among great winners is a refusal to quit—ever. Over 25 years of covering our industry, I’ve profiled many execs who possess a relentless drive to succeed. It reminds me of a few of my teammates who would hammer on their pedals for miles—into stiff headwinds, up steep climbs and whipping around treacherous corners. They never cracked. The relentless pace and countless obstacles—both expected and unexpected—in the footwear race rival the Tour de France in many ways. Success demands an elite level of strength, stamina and survival instinct, one that’s epitomized by Rob Moehring, our Plus Award winner for Lifetime Achievement (p. 10). The chairman of Washington Shoe Company, makers of Chooka, Western Chief, Staheekum and CH20, has adapted, evolved and even rebuilt from scratch (more than once) the 129-year-old, family-owned business. Moehring’s shoe career spans more than 50 years and has involved finding a way to win in just about every facet of this business. His entrepreneurial spirit, pioneer work ethic and drive to succeed serve as inspiration for us all. Moehring could find a spot on my cycling team any time!
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THIS JUST IN
Murse Alert Men trade briefcases and backpacks for clutches and crossbodies at London Fashion Week. Photography by Melodie Jeng
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C O N G R AT U L AT I O N S
ROB MOEHRING LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT A WA R D
Congratulations Rob Moehring on this lifetime achievement award, we are your biggest fans. Thank you for many years of leadership and commitment to our company.
THE WASHINGTON SHOE COMPANY FAMILY
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
R o b M o e h r i n g , c h a i r m a n o f Wa s h i n g t o n S h o e C o m p a n y, m a k e r s o f C h o o k a , We s t e r n C h i e f , S t a h e e k u m a n d C H 2 O , h a s o v e r c o m e numerous hurdles over the course of 40-plus years, revealing a relentless can-do spirit and a refusal to quit. By Greg Dutter
m AYBE IT’S THE German heritage. Determined. Industrious. Relentless. Perhaps it’s also the Pacific Northwest pioneer spirit passed down from two generations of shoemakers who emigrated to the then-rugged and remote region in the late 1800s and carved out a niche making one tough logger boot at a time before expanding into a full range of styles for men’s, women’s and kids’. Or maybe it’s being a lifelong resident of the Seattle area, home of legendary startups—like Microsoft, Nordstrom, Amazon and Nirvana—that went on to change the world. Whatever it is, Rob Moehring has a bulletproof constitution coupled with a neverending drive to dream—big. He never quits. Don’t even bother telling him something can’t be done. And he’s always thinking about the next creative endeavor, be it his iconic kids’ 3D-molded rubber rain boots (Western Chief ) introduced in the early ’90s or last year’s launch of the performance outdoor/work brand CH2O at a career level and age when many execs would long have been on cruise control or checked out entirely.
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Not Moehring. He’s just getting started. His industry enthusiasm, talents and entrepreneurial spirit are as strong as they were the day he purchased Washington Shoe Company from his father and uncle in 1990—when he had to re-build the business from scratch. (More on that soon.) In fact, Moehring began honing his talents for selling shoes and spotting trends as a kid, working in the family business and learning tricks of the shoemaking trade from his grandfather, who he says was “an amazing merchant.” Moehring also made his shoe bones working in local stores throughout high school, college and, after earning a degree in education and teaching at a local experimental elementary school, during vacations and summers. They included stints at Kinney Shoes, Thom McAn and the Marshall Fields spinoff Frederick & Nelson. “That’s where I really got my education and feel for shoes,” Moehring says. “It’s where I learned how to spot trends and pick great shoes.” Working retail is where Moehring caught the shoe bug. While he loved teaching, the pay was limited and, much more important, shoes were in his blood. “The minute I started selling shoes, I loved it. I love shoes and I love talking about shoes,” he says. “When I worked at Frederick & Nelson, we sold high-end boots out of Spain, and when that shipment arrived…man, the smell of leather just lit me up. It was amazing; there’s something instinctual about that.” That smell of the leather, in essence, is what lured Moehring back into the family business full-time in 1974. It surely wasn’t about taking
an easier path or expecting quick riches. Far from it. Washington Shoe Company, then a distributor of shoes to area retailers, was in trouble, and the son with the shoe savvy was enlisted to save the day. “My father was holding his money too tight,” Moehring recalls. While his grandfather would go on one-month shopping trips to various Midwest and East Coast factories twice a year and buy all the inventory he needed for the next six months, Moehring’s father would make those same trips and only buy samples, then have his salesperson try to obtain orders. “Our competition would have the inventory the same time we’d only have samples,
and that was really hurting our business,” he says. Then the company’s lone competent salesperson quit. “That’s what really got me into the shoe business,” Moehring says. The story that follows is one of grit, ingenuity, creativity, passion, desperation (at times), adaptability, rebuilds, family, loyalty and everything else that comes with running a now fourth generation–operated shoe business. Moehring’s career is an inspirational tale of survival. His steadfast determination to overcome all obstacles, to adapt and evolve, and to never stop dreaming is admirable.
DENIM DAZE It was now the late ’80s and Seattle had become the world headquarters for denim—Britannia, Genera and Union Bay, among other companies, were based in the Emerald City. Moehring, always seeking the next big trend, had a neighbor in the jeans business who tipped him off about the upcoming season’s trends. One such tip was acid wash and chambray denim, so Moehring put
ITEMS AND IMPORTING When Moehring jumped on board as a salesman, he cut to the chase, buying hot shoes he spied at the local Nordstrom and sending them to factory partners to get samples. Not only did this speed up timelines, Moehring had a knack for picking winners. Sales quickly started to grow, and increased when he started attending shoe shows where he could see more product. It was time to think bigger, and Moehring led the charge to import products from Taiwan to increase margins and order bigger quantities, needed when Moehring started opening national accounts, including Walmart, Edison Brothers and U.S. Shoe Corp. An “item-oriented guy,” he was introducing fast fashions under the Temptations label. Early successes included metallic, faux Clockwise from top left: snakeskin penny loafers and a black Western Chief 3D-molded patent penny loafer with a white frog boot; CH20 hybrid hiker/work Phantom of the Opera mask on the boot; Chooka “Tattoo City” rain boot; shearling-lined slipper vamp. “That shoe was just on fire,” by Staheekum. Moehring recalls. “We became an item business—I’d see it and then go do it.” Business was good. “Our together a collection of boots using the fabrics. company was doing well. My dad was fine with It became another big hit. Around the same signing order checks to me and depositing those time, he created another hot item by doing a from our customers,” he says. take on a Japanese brand’s cowboy boot with a Around 1983, one of Washington Shoe Company’s jeans pocket on the side. Taiwanese agents launched his own company, Washington Shoe Company was now deep into Prima Royale, which quickly became a go-to denim shoes, as well as canvas sneakers. Denim sourcing partner. Soon after, Moehring started styles in a range of colors were selling well as was chasing his next big item—a take on Zodiac’s an 8-inch denim tennis sneaker hi-top featurpatchwork colored boat shoes. “That’s what got ing two straps similar to a combat boot. Sales me into Edison Brothers, Wohl Shoe Company were humming along—until the overwashed and U.S. Shoe Corp.,” he says. “I became known denim debacle. as the West Coast knockoff person, because Expectations for overwashed denim were back then the big import companies were based huge, per Moehring’s tipster. Moehring bet big in New York and a lot of retailers here couldn’t and sold Edison Brothers four containers worth. get product from them. I also gave it that West Unfortunately, the clothing bombed. When Edison Coast spin.”
Brothers canceled the order on the last container because it was late, Moehring’s father and uncle “freaked out.” It marked the beginning of the end of Washington Shoe Company. Even though he sold the canceled inventory at over cost, his father and uncle “just couldn’t understand the risks; it scared the hell out of them.” So Moehring again shifted gears, leading the company into jobbing branded athletic shoes—a less risky business strategy. Over the next few years, he bought closeouts from Puma, Adidas and LA Gear, among others, because a lot of stores couldn’t buy first runs from those brands. Moehring was also able to sell individual JCPenney stores urban branded closeouts like FUBU. Still, his father and uncle were frayed by the overwashed jeans fallout. To Moehring’s surprise and dismay, they decided to shut the company down and retire in 1990. Moehring had invested too much blood, sweat and equity rebuilding the then 99-year-old family business to let it fade into shoe industry history, so he worked out a deal with his father and, for $40,000, bought the company name and leftover inventory. He was also given six months free rent but told he would have to vacate after that because his father was selling the building. Faced with the challenge of rebuilding Washington Shoe Company from scratch, Moehring enlisted his wife, Val, and son, Mark, as employees number two and three. They moved to temporary offices in a Seattle mini storage facility housed over a methadone clinic that included another Seattle startup—Pearl Jam—rehearsing on the floor above. His in-laws volunteered to manage the warehouse, while junkies often slept in the communal halls. “My mother in-law was a Midwestern clean freak; we had the tidiest warehouse you could imagine,” Moehring recalls. To save money, they shipped small orders wrapped in butcher paper. “She’d wrap them beautifully—just like Christmas presents.” Moehring, though, faced serious startup challenges—like having to secure a $400,000 bank loan out of the gate to fulfill a bunch of JCPenney orders for his latest hot items, snow joggers and moon boots. Ultimately, he found a way, as he had done countless times before. “I was able to get the financing, and those orders really helped me get started,” he says. “I became a snow boots magnate.” Around the same time, Moehring tapped back 2020 march • footwearplusmagazine.com 11
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
Lifetime Achievement into the relationships he’d built during his fast fashion days with Asian factories, two of which included J&L Footwear and JP Original. He would slap Washington Shoe Company on the covers of their catalogs and they’d dropship any orders he received. “That also really saved me in the beginning, because I didn’t need to warehouse any inventory,” he says. Not only did Moehring’s survival tactics keep the lights on, they served as a bridge to what would soon become some of the company’s greatest growth years thanks, in part, to Russians, sheepskin and rain—a trifecta of fate and good fortune that transformed the company. BOOM BUST BOOM The year was 1990, the Soviet Union was kaput and Seattle was hosting the Goodwill Games. Thousands of former East Bloc athletes and fans poured into the city, falling in love with the climate and starving for the-flashier-the-better Western fashions. Moehring, ever the entrepreneur, met some Russians shopping a local trade show and quickly became a middle man between his Asian partners and new Russian accounts. “I started
MORE FROM MOEHRING The industry veteran and Rain King sounds off on a range of hot topics.
On retirement: I could, but I love shoes. What else am I going to do? I love tracking what’s going on in fashion. I love this business. On survival: I’m proud to have been able to stay in business in an industry that changes so often and abruptly. It’s never been easy. I remember one time, early on, the bank gruffly said we weren’t likely to survive another six months. I said, “You don’t know me and we are going to survive. Whatever it takes, it’s going to happen.” We’ve always done whatever it takes. I sold shoes to the Russians because it was an opportunity. I’ve also imported shoes, chased a thousand trends, was a jobber, launched brands from scratch…I believe in serendipity. You’ve got to be open to opportunities, and we’ve moved from one opportunity to the next. On Amazon: We do everything we can to work with them, knowing we must improve each year because they can probably make those boots themselves. Right? But I also believe in the old-fashioned shoe store. People like to touch and try on shoes. You can’t replace that in-store experience with Amazon.
Mark and Karl Moehring, vice president of sales and CEO, respectively, are leading Washington Shoe Company to even greater heights.
shipping containers of shoes, and it was all an upfront cash business,” he says. “It was a dream, and it took the company to another level.” Moehring had one Bulgarian client who received 50 to 100 cases of shoes a week. “His margins were so great, he didn’t need to go direct to the factories,” he says. “That was a good time.” Like all good runs, however, it ended. Moehring could see the snow boots trend melting, and the Eastern European companies were shifting to dealing directly with Asian factories. So in 1993 he asked himself, what next? He glanced out his window for inspiration. This being Seattle, it was raining. Why not rubber rain boots? “I figured who knows better about rain than me,” he says. “Not long after, we came out with Western Chief kids’ 3D-molded frog and ladybug boots, and Nordstrom went nuts for them. They just exploded—that was my next big item.” Abe Rogowsky, owner of Shoe Parlor in New York, says those rain boots were a huge hit. “That’s what put Rob on the map for us. He was one of the first rain boot brands—and at great prices,” Rogowsky says. “We’ve sold it ever since and it remains one of our better selling rain boot brands.” Rogowsky, who first met Moehring back in the mid ’80s during his Village Cobbler days, sensed his relentless drive right away. “He’s >39 12 footwearplusmagazine.com • march 2020
On regrets: Chooka Street was my big failure, but a huge lesson. I thought making a range of rubber shoes would be fanciful, fun and fresh. While the riding boots sold well, the skimmers and flats bombed. Fortunately, it didn’t set me back too much because I didn’t buy that many in advance. As for my lesson leaned, I need upfront demand. I was trying to create demand, and I’m just not a big enough company to do that. On listening: That’s the key. Instead of dictating ultimatums, we listen to our customers to sense what they want, need and maybe don’t even know they need. Years ago, I was meeting with Jamie Nordstrom, who was the kids’ merchandiser at the time, and we got to talking about fire awareness month (October). It got me thinking about making a head-to-toe kids’ fireman rain outfit as part of a promotion. It’s been in our top five sellers ever since, and it was a case of sensing what Jamie was looking for, even if he didn’t realize it. You have to be that intuitive and then react on it. On fairness: I believe everybody should make money. I don’t squeeze factories and, the next year, switch to a different one. It’s about building long-term relationships. It starts with retail demand: what they need and at what price. I take those requests to my factories and we find a solution together. Usually we do, but I won’t force the situation because it only ends in frustration. On smiling: Our motto is “Wear a big smile.” The phrase was originally printed on the back of our Western Chief rain boots and we decided to make it our motto and the name of our charitable foundation, which donates rain gear to people in need. We want our consumers, retailers, factory partners and employees all to wear a big smile.
Tradition since 1774.
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
COMPANY OF THE YEAR ; CHILDREN’S : SKECHERS
Full Throttle RECORDS WERE BROKEN. A bevy of awards bestowed. And, per usual, a blitz of fresh designs and breakthrough technologies introduced. Indeed, it was a very good year for Skechers, as the company surpassed $5 billion in sales for the first time ($5.22 billion, to be exact) and now ranks as the thirdlargest athletic lifestyle footwear brand in the world. “We had four record quarters in 2019—the third quarter being the largest in the company’s history at $1.35 billion—and the fourth quarter being our second largest at $1.33 billion,” says Robert Greenberg, CEO. “This was particularly significant as our fourth quarter is historically our smallest.”
Skechers’ dynamic due: Michael and Robert Greenberg.
Skechers’ success is a testament to its efforts, from product to marketing. The company never takes its foot off the gas pedal. Skechers now offers more than 3,000 styles across numerous categories that span work to athletic to casual. The trendiest colors, the latest materials, the hottest silhouettes… Skechers has it covered. When asked who the target customer demographic is, Robert answers: “Anyone who wants happy feet.” Along those lines, Skechers continued to build on its foundation of comfort and style in 2019. “Our dedicated team believes in our mission—to deliver style, comfort and innovation to the world—with a great deal of perseverance, intuition and strategy,” says Michael Greenberg, president. “But we’re not afraid to experiment, as well. For instance, our targeted ‘test and react’ program in select retail stores allows us to 14 footwearplusmagazine.com • march 2020
gain a deeper understanding of what works before we roll it out around the world.” The Greenbergs have no intentions of pulling back on the throttle. It’s just not how the company rolls. “It’s important to never rest on your laurels and to always stay on your toes, so while we certainly celebrate this milestone, we are also using it as a springboard to help us attain our next goal,” Robert says. As for what fueled much of the growth in 2019, it’s as diverse as Skechers. Popular categories included Skechers Sport, Skechers Work, BOBS From Skechers, women’s Skechers GOwalk, Relaxed Fit and Performance in men’s, and the S-Lights children’s collections. The strength of its fashion sneaker and heritage collections, such as D’Lites and Skechers Energy, also were in step with retro trends. Designers featured these styles at Fashion Week shows in New York, London, Berlin, Moscow and Shanghai. In response, the company launched the Skechers Premium Heritage Limited Edition collection and released two capsules of five styles in 2019. These statement shoes generated buzz with influencers, which created a halo effect for interest across the brand. The industry took notice of Skechers’ success. In 2019, the company received more than 25 awards for product innovation and design—led by its performance running shoes that feature the Hyper Burst midsole foam technology that provides substantial cushioning and energy return at unprecedented lightness. The Go Run Razor 3 Hyper shoe was named “Gear of the Year” by Runner’s World last fall. In addition, Outside named the Go Run 7 Hyper its “Gear of the Year” for the road running category in its Summer 2019 Buyer’s Guide. At Outdoor Retailer 2019 Summer Market the Go Run Maxroad 4 Hyper earned two editorial awards, “Best of Outdoor Retailer” award by Shape, and “Editors’ Choice Outdoor Retailer” by Runner’s World. Even more affirming of the Hyper Burst technology: elite runners, like Edwards Cheserek, have won races in them. Comfort is also key. Styles feature Air-cooled Memory Foam, Gel-infused Memory Foam and Goga Mat insoles. Skechers also added Arch Fit across many of its offerings, which is in addition to its existing Relaxed, Wide, Classic and Stretch fits. Comfort is an essential aspect of the Kids’ lines
as well with Skechers Memory Foam insoles and lightweight outsoles in athletic casual collections featuring bright, colorful and playful styles that kids love. Twinkle Toes, Mega Craft, Heart Lights and Flip Kicks lines were top performers, offering function and style for kids at every age. Of course, offering the latest and greatest products is as only as good as if consumers know about them. Toward that end, Skechers adhered to the Greenberg family golden rule of “unseen, untold, unsold” in 2019. The company ran extensive TV, print, radio and digital campaigns featuring its array of celebrity and athletic endorsers. They included TV personality Brooke Burke, who touted the benefits of Arch Fit, talked to women about the style and function of Skechers GOwalk 5 and shared the fact that more than $4.9 million had been donated to help save the lives of over 588,000 dogs and cats thanks to a portion of BOBS proceeds. Not to be outdone, NFL legend Howie Long squeezed into a tiny car as part of a Wide Fit commercial. In late 2019, Skechers also signed Dodgers pitching ace, Clayton Kershaw, to be a new men’s brand ambassador. He marks the latest addition to a diverse roster of endorsees, including Tony Romo, Sugar Ray Leonard, Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi and pro golfers Matt Kuchar, Billy Andrade, Colin Montgomerie and Brooke Henderson. Skechers also benefitted from a legion of social media influencers worldwide helping spread the word. “From celebrity endorsees in markets around the globe to fun animated commercials for kids, the brand is using every tool in the toolkit to build awareness and brand loyalty for its collections,” Michael confirms. The fruits of Skechers’ product and marketing efforts are in the numbers. International sales rose by 31.2 percent and reached just over 57 percent of total sales last year. The company also topped the 2019 Buzz ranking list for apparel and footwear on the YouGov Brand Index for the United States. Meanwhile, domestic sales increased 13 percent, which included a 13.7 percent increase in DTC. At a time when many brick-and-mortar stores are struggling and/or closing, Skechers opened 280 new stores in 2019, bringing its total count to 3,547 around the world. Highlights included openings of a Skechers flagship on Rome’s Via Del Corso and at DisneyTown in Shanghai—its first location on a Disney property. The company attributes this success to Skechers being a brand consumers trust, can afford and provides comfort, performance and style. “Our mission, as always, is to deliver style, comfort and innovation to the world,” Robert confirms. “Our continued growth, along with the 27 product and brand awards we received in 2019, are evidence that we accomplished our goal.” —Suzanne Shelley
Fall 2020 1-800-970-VITA
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
BRAND OF THE YEAR; WOMEN’S COLLECTION; BEST COLLAB: BIRKENSTOCK
Oscar Worthy through a tight distribution network of retailers and the brand’s direct-toIT SET THE stage—literally—for what would go on to be another recordconsumer channels. “We believe we’re creating a true brand ecosystem whereby breaking year for Birkenstock. The timing and backdrop for the debut of the our fans can interact with us wherever they wish and have a great experience,” Birkenstock x Valentino collab reads like a Hollywood script: Oscars telecast, he says, adding, “We’re not in the transactional shoe business—all we do must millions of viewers worldwide anxiously awaiting who would take home the be emotional and share our brand love.” coveted Best Actress award and then winner Frances McDormand striding Abe Rogowsky, owner of Shoe Parlor in New York, credits Birkenstock’s tight (comfortably) across the stage in a gown-matching, canary yellow pair of the control over distribution and pricing as key factors that led to another “very Arizona sandals to accept for her starring role in Three Billboards Outside good” year at his store. “David (Kahan) knows how to run the ship,” he says, Ebbing, Missouri. The actress hit the stage at about 11 p.m. EST, the shoes noting how the success could all go down the drain quickly if the market was went on sale at midnight on Birkenstock.com and in Valentino boutiques flooded with product and retailers discounted on whims. “Everything is under worldwide and, within days, were sold out. control—he doesn’t sell to Amazon— “The collaboration with Valentino and they keep coming up with difmarked something that has never ferent takes on their various styles. been done before—even in the athletic It’s been great.” It helped, Rogowsky industry,” says David Kahan, CEO adds, that the weather in New York of Birkenstock Americas, noting the cooperated in the heart of sandals top-secret process was about nine season. “June through September months in the making. “We created were beautiful months and, because a shoe and had it worn on stage at the they don’t allow it to go on sale, those Academy Awards. Not more than 10 sandals just kept selling at full price,” people on the face of the earth knew he says. “Whereas, other brands were this would happen.” already giving their sandals away by Unlike (too) many collabs, this June and July while our Birkenstock one wasn’t forced or bought which, The Birkenstock x Valentino collab made its business was fantastic.” Rogowsky Kahan believes, contributed to its debut at the Oscars—an industry first. adds that Birkenstock’s recent run at overall success. “Valentino dresses Shoe Parlor is unprecedented, which Frances and their creative director says something since the store has been selling the brand for nearly 40 years. is a huge Birkenstock fan,” he says. “And Frances, who was introduced to “They’ve been hot now for at least five years and that’s remarkable,” he says. me by her stylist, is a longtime brand fan—she can talk about the benefits of “I don’t see it slowing down.” our footbed as well as any sales associate.” That organic connection was the Gary Weiner, owner, Saxon Shoes in Richmond, VA, concurs that Birkenstock “secret sauce” that created the magic, he says. “This was so different than the remains on a years-long roll. “We had another very strong year-over-year,” industry norm of paid celebrity, paid endorser, paid influencer,” Kahan says. he reports. “It all starts with the core Arizona and Mayari styles and spreads “The beauty of this collab was Frances was payed zero—this was our brand love out from there, like the Granada and Florida silhouettes. We also sold the expressed with mutual respect. Frances picked her favorite color and, in her Boston clogs well this fall, and the EVA styles have blown out of our stores.” own words, ‘We made her dream come true.’” The fact that Birkenstock was Weiner also attributes brand management as a key to Birkenstock’s longfeatured in Valentino boutiques that following morning was just icing on the running success at Saxon Shoes. “They have a clear strategy, solid distribucake. “No one has ever done anything at this level,” he says. “It sets the stage tion, maintain high margins and have impeccable brand management and for far higher execution than the usual ‘brand x brand collab.’” integrity,” he says. “Very few are doing this as well as David Kahan.” Weiner What’s more, the Valentino collab created a halo effect for Birkenstock as adds, “Birkenstock is a strong brand name in the industry and, more importhe year progressed. Kahan cites successes in the sandals category thanks, in tantly, among consumers.” part, to new silhouettes like the Yao, which have become immediate hits. In Kahan believes the best is yet to come for Birkenstock. Despite a volatile addition, the EVA collection sold “incredibly well” as well as expanded distrilandscape, he says sustainable growth can be achieved in the years ahead—so bution into full-line sport stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods and resort/surf long as the brand continues to do the right things. “We make great products, we stores like Flip Flop Shops. Then there’s the growing success of the brand’s sell them at fair prices, we don’t discount, we don’t pay influencers/celebrities, fall/winter collections. “Our boots sold out virtually 100 percent before the we maintain high standards of quality and workmanship, we are committed cold weather even hit, and one of the biggest successes was our Zermatt to manufacturing in our own facilities in a highly sustainable manner and our slipper,” Kahan says. “It was a 100-percent sell-out before slipper season.” business practices are built on mutual respect and, first and foremost, love of It continues Birkenstock’s transformation into a year-round business that, our brand,” he says. Along those lines, 2019 marked another successful stage in Kahan projects, will accelerate in 2020. “The shearling/warm/cozy category Birkenstock’s self-declared “Moon Shot” mission to take it to next level brand will expend significantly this year,” he affirms. “We’ll do more in December connection, similar to how Nike and Apple stand in athletics and technolas a brand than we did in in June a year ago.” ogy, respectively. Reflecting on its “triple crown of Plus Awards,” Kahan says, While Birkenstock’s year-over-year sales have grown solidly for nearly a “While we’re not on the moon yet, we’ve pressed the booster rockets and are decade, Kahan notes the growth isn’t aimed at exceeding expectations as it breaking free of the gravitational pull of the industry. When you act in this is about meeting them. “Our business is done in a very disciplined manner; manner, you play the game in a far different way.” —Greg Dutter we never exceed but we always achieve our aggressive plan,” he says. It’s done 16 footwearplusmagazine.com • march 2020
WE ARE PROUD TO BE THE RECIPIENT OF THE PLUS AWARD IN DESIGN EXCELLENCE MENâ€™S COMFORT
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
COMFORT SPECIALTY: LUCKY SHOES
Centennial Celebration his father, he gives a ton of credit to the NSRA’s NextGen Leadership program MARKING ITS 100TH anniversary, Lucky Shoes was in a celebratory mood for getting them on the same page. “We do disagree and have different ideas from day one of 2019, so receiving a Plus Award for retail excellence in the from time to time, but we always have the same goal,” he says. “The NextGen Comfort Specialty category was icing on the cake for the venerable Northeast program taught us how to work together to achieve that goal.” Ohio retailer. The party atmosphere extended to its loyal customers as president That goal, for all intents and purposes, is to always surprise Lucky Shoes and fourth generation family member, John Luck, reports it was a solid year customers with the new, Luck says, adding it spans selection, service and décor. across its four Lucky Shoes outposts as well as its eight New Balance stores, “Everything is important, and we have to deliver on all of those topics or it doesn’t two Stride Rite locations and two Vionic flagships. work,” he says. “We’re constantly training, updating and remodeling.” Part of “We had volume increases in 75 percent of our stores while reducing our that effort involves trying to add two new brands marketing spend by 25 percent,” Luck says. each season as well as drop two underperforming “We also increased our turn and GMROI (gross ones. One recent addition this past fall was Biza, margin return on investment), and we were which Luck reports performed “outstandingly.” able to reduce expenses. And we reduced our The Lucky Shoes merchandise mix is aimed at personnel turnover by 50 percent, which is huge anyone who uses footwear for performance. “We in today’s labor market.” love customers that want the ‘look,’ but need the Indeed, 2019 was a “solid year” for Lucky ‘feel,’” Luck explains. “One of our core values Shoes. Luck credits the anniversary for helping is that we advocate for our customers, and we generate a lot of buzz that was heard straight deliver outcomes that exceed expectations.” Of through to December. “We never celebrated course, that entails quality products from trusted with one event, but we were able to weave the brands. But Luck says it also involves a store story into just about all of our communication setting with trained professionals to convey to the public and our customers,” he says, citthose brand stories properly—something he ing great coverage at the local and industry believes can’t be done effectively online. “It’s levels that helped get the word out. But Luck really hard for an existing brand to deliver pasis quick to note that the chain didn’t rest on sion, care and empathy online, and it is super its longevity milestone—the team remained as The son also rises: John Luck, president of Lucky Shoes, represents the fourth generation. tough to do it DTC,” he says. “While there’s no committed as always to focusing on improving doubt that online, and particularly DTC, are the basics. “Greeting the customer, presenting huge threats, those are very transactional, and can be overcome by human merchandise, being diligent about the mailing list…all of these are good, but interaction delivered at a high level.” could always improve,” Luck offers. “Success in retail is all about executing It’s just one reason why Luck remains a firm believer in brick-and-mortar the small details at a high level on a consistent basis.” retail going forward. And that’s despite people asking him all the time about the Lucky Shoes’ ability to maintain such consistency amid a volatile landscape format’s viability. “We just have to focus on our competitive advantages and win makes it even more noteworthy. Sometimes you just don’t know the curve ball with those situations,” he says, adding that there are signs of renewed interest. that awaits—unless you played the past few seasons for the Houston Astros, “I see a tremendous inflow of new customers from the ‘Digital Native’ group of course. For example, Lucky Shoes lost two key employees in 2019 yet had who’ve primarily shopped online their entire adult lives and are just discoverto find a way to adapt. “Our COO of 20 years retired and our marketing ing that stores deliver a significantly better outcome for certain products—like director got married and moved away,” Luck says. “But I was proud of our shoes.” Luck adds, “The majority of our new customers are markedly younger administrative and sales teams—they really stepped up, worked together and than our traditional customer base, and the number of new customers in our did a fantastic job. We also have some great new people that add to an already stores has increased each of the last two years.” strong group and we have some wonderful people that are growing into new While such signs bode well for Lucky Shoes going forward, Luck remains roles and bringing new skill sets to our group.” “dangerously optimistic” in the near term. It includes several different opporOne of those up-and-comers made Luck particularly proud and served as a tunities to strengthen the operation, although it’s too early to talk about most personal highlight of the year. This past summer his son worked in the family of them. One, though, he is willing to share is a new ecommerce site in the business while home from college. “He’s the fifth generation and all of that, but works with the primary purpose of driving customers into its stores. “Getting I just really enjoyed watching him with customers and answering hundreds to know the customer and making the experience fun is something that rarely of questions about how he could do things better,” Luck says. Just like Luck’s happens at retail but never happens online,” he says. “But if they happen father taught him, the golden rule delivered to his son was: “We are not in to buy from us online, that’s ok too.” It’s a challenge that Luck relishes and the shoe business, we are in the people business.” That rule, Luck believes, rooted partly in always meeting the needs of Lucky Shoes’ loyal customers. pertains to customers, employees and vendors. “It’s all about people, and I “I’m thankful to the customers that have stuck with us,” he says. “We have a think our success all starts with the great reputation earned by the previous handful of fifth generation customers who, over the years, have had lots of three generations of family and our employees,” he says. options. Their loyalty means a lot.” Luck also credits industry connections for helping him navigate the industry It’s all the mark of a veteran retailer—expect the unexpected, appreciate and daily challenges. “One of the biggest advantages that I have is my dad customers and always be anticipating. “The true art of retail is to sell customers (Tom Luck) and his friends in the business that I can watch and learn from something they’ll love, but didn’t know they needed,” Luck says. —G.D. every day,” he says. And while Luck knows he has big shoes to fill in following 18 footwearplusmagazine.com • march 2020
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
WOMEN’S COMFORT: EARTH SHOES
ATHLETIC LIFESTYLE: NEW BALANCE
Reliving the Classics NEW BALANCE SCORED another big year off the court, led by its latest update to its best-selling 990v5 series. “We update this legendary shoe every three years, and there’s always pressure to make sure any changes to this wellknown franchise live up to the legacy and brand loyalty that’s been created over decades,” says Steve Gardner, general manager, New Balance Lifestyle. The 990v5 did just that and then some. The campaign backing the 990v5 highlighted the essence of New Balance and re-affirmed its commitment to its “Made in the USA” heritage. “We strive to combine style, comfort and performance in a shoe that is perfect for both the person who runs and the everyday consumer,” says Gardner. He reports the conventional gray/navy/black style sold well, as did the “most aggressive family of colors ever” that were introduced. The 990v5 series emphasizes style and comfort, which included an updated sock liner, a revised midsole compound (to enhance comfort) and aesthetic changes to keep pace with current trends. “The changes were well-accepted, and thanks to some very on-point marketing, our 990v5 campaign produced strong response around the world,” Gardner says. “Our messaging resonated with the fearlessly independent consumer who is willing to go a different path—those are the ones we’re courting.” Also in 2019, New Balance expanded its iconic 997 line, which historically has been a male-dominated silhouette. The collection expanded into a family of products for all genders, ages and demographics. Similarly, the 997S and 997H were launched to enable different price points for both men and women. “The 997H uses trail-inspired colors in non-trail-inspired styles,” Gardner says. “That juxtaposition worked really well, especially when we married them with different materials, such as Cordura. It produced strong response from consumers.” New Balance also backed its updated classics with indepth stories that move consumers, according to Gardner. That included collabs with several leading streetwear boutiques, including Kith, Bodega and Aime Leon Dore. “The ability to expand the use of color has worked well within these collabs, because consumers are often willing to take more risks when they see traditional shoes in a new light,” Gardner says, noting it involves deeper storytelling. “It’s more about the story behind the product and less about the actual product. That allows our customers to experience both brands in different ways.” —S.S. 20 footwearplusmagazine.com • march 2020
IT WAS A big year for Earth Shoes, as the company made significant changes to revitalize and expand on its respected 50-year-old heritage. “We kicked off a complete brand re-launch in 2019, with a new logo, new messaging and new verve,” say Katie Dobbs, director of marketing. “As a comfort and wellness brand, our largest customer base has long been the 50-and-up demographic. But over time, our look has become fresher and more versatile, and we wanted our brand messaging to match up with Millennials.” Mission accomplished. Always a comfort brand, these days Earth Shoes is more about conveying wellness in mind, body and spirit. That encompasses an entire lifestyle, so seeking a comfort shoe with wellness in mind no longer connotes an unattractive, orthopedic design, according to Dobbs. “Today’s younger consumers already have a deeper understanding of wellness, and they want to take care of their bodies and their feet, while still being trend-right and fashionable,” she says. It helps, adds CEO Phil Meynard, that Earth has always been a wellness brand thanks to its defining negative heel design. “We’ve always been part of the wellness movement and now the rest of the world has caught up,” he says. “Younger consumers are recognizing the intrinsic value of our wellness mindset.” Toward that end, Earth Shoes reported growth last year in its fresher, younger styles, such as the Rosewood Cedarwood (a lifestyle sneaker that has a collapsible heel to double as a slide) and the Journey Ramble (a sock-like sneaker that combines a leather upper on a sporty sole). “Both styles came in fresh colors, such as sea foam green and blush,” says Dobbs. “They’ve been hugely popular across a wide spectrum, from teenagers to boomers.” The Avani collection (left) also struck a chord between style and comfort that, Dobbs says, set Earth Shoes apart from the competition in 2019. In addition, the brand’s Powerpath footbed incorporated across the entire line helped the brand stand out. The shock-absorbing heel and improved midsole stabilization and energy return was a huge selling point. In another effort to keep up with the changing times, Earth Shoes launched a social media campaign in 2019 and expanded its DTC channel—with one caveat. “It’s very important for us to not compete with our retailers when it comes to our online channels,” Meynard says. “We work to make sure we’re always considering our partnerships because it’s a win-win when we all thrive.” For example, to better serve both its retail and DTC customers with shorter delivery times, the company moved its distribution center from California to more centrally located Mississippi. Shorter delivery times also means a smaller carbon footprint—something that Earth Shoes is committed to lessening as much as possible. “Our name is Earth, so there’s a lot of responsibility and pride around that,” Meynard says. “We’ve already incorporated many sustainable materials and environmentally friendly adhesives into our products, but we’re also pursuing several shortand long-term strategic goals to make all products 100-percent recyclable and to improve reuse in order to keep our shoes out of landfills in the future.” The eco-friendly efforts include last year’s debut of the One Earth Project initiative through which a series of commercial/philanthropic ventures are undertaken in regions in need around the world. One such project was in Haiti, where a factory manufactured a collection of wool clogs dubbed Renmen (“love” in Creole). The project has created more than 160 jobs and a portion of the profits help fund reforestation efforts through a partnership with Germplasm Centers. “To bring jobs, trees and hope back to Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, is an affirmation of our core values,” Meynard says. “And with Haiti’s proximity to the U.S., we hope to do more manufacturing there over time to continue to drive local job creation.” —S.S.
Rob Moehring, you bring the smiles. Congrats on this Lifetime Achievement Award.
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
SUSTAINABILITY: TWISTED X
Chugging Along UGG IS A case study in how not to be a one-hit wonder. Since the iconic sheepskin boot exploded onto the fashion scene, parent company Deckers Brands has been reimagining the brand by refocusing distribution, adding more fashion-forward styling (in men’s and women’s) and upping its cred with strategic collabs—all while staying true to its California DNA. Last year, Ugg represented about three-quarters of Deckers’ business, and President and CEO David Powers cites the brand’s domestic success as the catalyst that pushed the company to record-breaking sales. Uggs’ domestic sales in 2019 rose 8 percent in the third quarter versus 3 percent globally to $781.1 million. It follows U.S. sales increases of 2.2 percent and 1.5 percent in the second and first quarters, respectively. Ugg boosted fashion relevance with evolved classics. “The Classic Femme was refined and sophisticated, the Classic Boom Buckle (pictured) was sporty and the chunky, ridged outsole of the Classic Rebel Biker Boot was right on-trend,” says Andrea O’Donnell, president, Fashion Lifestyle, Deckers Brands. Ugg also created a new sneaker hybrid by combining the Coquette outsole (a sneaker bottom) with a Classic boot upper. “What connects all these products is their versatility, their unique blend of fashion and function, and the special feeling of Ugg they deliver every time you put them on,” O’Donnell adds. Ugg’s men’s segment was also on fire in 2019. Sales were up by 10 percent in the third quarter—the third consecutive year of double-digit growth. O’Donnell attributes the “push to reduce reliance on core classics and boost product diversity” for the growth in men’s. She cites the Neumel Chukka, Flex and Zip styles backed by the “Neumel Nation” ad campaign, featuring influencer and model Luka Sabbat, for helping get the word out. To reach new customers, Ugg also launched an array of collabs in 2019, including with Heron Preston, BAPE, Eckhaus Latta, Stampd, Neighborhood and White Mountaineering. “Ugg was on Heron Preston’s and Eckhaus Latta’s runways at both Paris and New York Fashion Weeks, and with Japanese streetwear label BAPE, we enlisted Lil Wayne as the face of our global campaign,” says O’Donnell. The efforts paid dividends as the brand received a strong boost from younger consumers—both men’s and women’s showed a 30 percent increase in ages 18 to 34 purchasing on ugg.com. Additionally, Uggs’ kids’ business grew by 20 percent in 2019. Ugg also embarked on several cause-related marketing campaigns last year, like HERproject, which empowers low-income women working in global supply chains and women in leadership. For PRIDE, the brand partnered with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation with a capsule celebrating the LGBTQ+ community that saw 10 percent of proceeds going to the foundation. Looking ahead, O’Donnell says it’s all about (updated) classics and new styles. For example, Ugg debuted its 12X12 men’s sneaker program during the recent Paris Fashion Week. The collection will feature a different theme each month that channels the brand’s West Coast roots. “The sneaker market is significant but also crowded so to cut through we had to do something very different,” O’Donnell says. “Our heritage is as a California fashion lifestyle brand that is bold and provocative, and when we create new products, we remain true to those roots.” —Lauren Parker 22 footwearplusmagazine.com • march 20
Cleanup Crew TWISTED X IS cleaning up with its sustainable shoes— literally. The company has woven sustainability into its DNA, channeling its eco-friendly products and social responsibility efforts to retailers and consumers, and it’s doing good for the planet and the company. For the second consecutive year, Twisted X has landed on the Inc 5000 list as one of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies. Sustainability is the latest twist for Twisted X, which laid its roots as a Western boot brand before evolving into a lifestyle one with a quirky Western twist. The EcoTWX line, which had its first full year at retail in 2019, offers sustainable footwear for men, women and kids backed with aggressive initiatives to help clean up the environment. The company aims to grow EcoTWX—a proprietary EcoTWEED fabric made from an average of 13 recycled plastic bottles, Merino wool and vegetable-tanned leather—“to at least 40 percent” of the line by 2021, according to president and CEO Prasad Reddy. Midsoles are made from wild invasive algae while outsoles feature rice husk. Beyond manufacturing that’s easier on the earth, Twisted X plants a tree for every EcoTWX shoe sold through its 1:1 partnership with One Tree Planted, helping reforest areas of California, Colorado and Oregon. “From day one, the materials in EcoTWX were helping clean up the ocean and landfills, but we wanted our environmental efforts to go beyond that,” says Reddy. To date, Twisted X has planted more than 200,000 trees—restoring over 4,000 acres of forest in the United States, with a goal to plant 1 million trees by 2021. “We’ve even had participating retailers hold ‘planting ceremonies’ to celebrate their environmental efforts and rally employees,” Reddy adds. Twisted X has received accolades, such as the Global Green Award from the Environmental Social Development Association (ESDA). Future goals for the Texas company include becoming carbon neutral by the end of this year, salvaging 13 million plastic water bottles from polluted oceans and landfills and eliminating 2 million pounds of landfill-bound factory waste (formamide, foam, heating and cooling energy and silicone). Twisted X has already recycled more than 3 million bottles, and abides by The Arctic Shipping, protecting the ecosystem by not shipping through those waters. Expect more eco-friendly styles. This year, the company is releasing seven new sustainable products featuring innovations like cork uppers; midsoles made from sugar molasses; linings featuring EcoTWEED fused with a 50/50 blend of odor resistant, soft bamboo charcoal; a recycled blended footbed created from 85 percent-plus upcycled production waste such as EVA, leather, rubber, and polyurethane; and bamboo shoelaces. Shoe boxes are made with 85 percent recycled materials. It comes on the heels of last year’s successful collab with Mossy Oak, featuring its Original Bottomland camouflage pattern made with EcoTWX on driving mocs, boots and boat shoes. Twisted X is committed to push the industry forward on sustainability. “It’s our mission, and fuels our decisions day-to-day, to bring to market new and innovative materials, processes and opportunities that better our planet,” says Reddy. “It goes beyond the footwear industry. Our goal is to make a difference in the world and be a driving force for creating a cleaner planet.” —L.P.
NATIONAL CHAIN: NORDSTROM
A Toast to Shoes of places where you go because they always have the cheapest stuff or the most expensive stuff—we want to be the place that has the coolest stuff.” Beth Goldstein, NPD industry analyst for accessories and footwear, says Nordstrom raised its cool quotient in 2019. “They’ve been the retailer to partner with on some of the hottest emerging DTC brands,” she says. Collabs were a key part of that strategy in 2019, like Nordstrom’s Perfect Pairs program, which teamed 14 brands with New York muses, including Steve Madden with model Winnie Harlow; Cole Haan with poet and activist Cleo Wade; and Birkenstock with celebrity stylist Leslie Fremar. Brand partners praised Nordstrom’s curation skills and ability to pivot to today’s fast-changing trends. “They’re one of the few national retailers who is tuned into the evolution of their customer and not afraid to try unexpected things that will resonate,” says Sari Ratsula, president of Seychelles and BC Footwear. “We love how they are supporting Seychelles For All unisex collection and adding our 100 percent vegan, PETA-certified BC sandals into their stores this spring.” Brands also appreciate the halo effect from just making the Nordstrom cut. “They’ve opened doors for Vagabond in the U.S. market,” confirms Paul Fleming, vice president, North America. “The trust they have built with their customers lends us an immediate aura of credibility.” Retail analyst Bob Phibbs praises Nordstrom’s attention to detail in the shoe department. “Nordstrom always Red velvet underground: Nordstrom x Nike boutique. takes service one step further, such as placing pink Brannock devices near every foot stool. A smart footwear retailer Chloe, Givenchy, Golden Goose, Prada and Manolo understands it’s always about the fit, not just the Blahnik, among many others. fashion,” he says. “One of the biggest highlights of our New York Service upgrades were another highlight in 2019, opening was a Christian Louboutin pop-up in the many of which blend bricks and clicks. “Nordstrom’s center of the main floor,” says Anne Egan, Vice digital experience is among the best,” says NPD’s President and DMM Designers Shoes. “He designed Goldstein. “I’ve long felt that shopping on Nordstrom. an exclusive capsule collection, and customers loved com feels like being in a Nordstrom store.” Service this one-of-a-kind Louboutin experience. We also examples include self-serve “express returns” kiosks held an exciting event where Mr. Louboutin met and free next-day shipping. Nordstrom Local outlets with our best customers and salespeople. They also offer tailoring and styling services, juice bars, were truly inspired and excited by meeting him.” nail salons, gift wrapping, pickups, returns and Nordstrom’s shoe mix chainwide shined bright more. The new flagship’s on-site cobbler services in 2019. Rotating themed Pop-Ins@Nordstrom include shoe, handbag and small leather goods kept things fresh all year, testing out concepts, repair; replacement soles; cleaning; zipper replacecollabs and niches. In addition, the Nordstrom x ment; and personalization capabilities, including Nike sneaker lifestyle boutiques in select stores, garment printing and monogramming. featuring everything from denim and bags to Such omnichannel excellence inspires loyalty. The nail polish and Nikes, were a big draw. “We have chain’s Nordy Club program increased 12 percent super-rare, of-the-moment Nikes as well as a to 12 million shoppers in 2019, accounting for 64 super-unique Burberry experience,” notes Jamie percent of total sales. —L.P. Nordstrom, President of Stores. “There are a lot NORDSTROM HAD ONE motto in 2019: Go bold or go home, and amid the closings of New York retail icons Henri Bendel, Lord & Taylor and Barneys, the Seattle retailer did just that by taking Manhattan—literally—with the opening of its 320,000-square-foot mecca for women (85,000 visitors showed up on opening weekend) across the street from its year-old men’s flagship. Co-president Erik Nordstrom described the new store as “perhaps the most important milestone in our company’s long history.” Nordstrom’s commitment to footwear in 2019 was equally huge, led by the new flagship’s three footwear departments spread out over three floors. Shoppers can order a cocktail at the downstairs Shoe Bar, and a waiter will deliver it while they try on styles from an inventory that spans well into the thousands. That included a grand opening special of 50 exclusive designer styles in partnership with
Footwear Plus_El Naturalista.indd 1
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
MEN’S COMFORT: ECCO
Hybrid Home Runs
Beyond Mocs NEARING ITS 75TH anniversary, 2019 was a year of change for Minnetonka, led by passing the presidential torch to Jori Miller Sherer, the fourth generation in the Miller family to hold the title. She was tasked with moving the brand forward while maintaining its rich moccasin DNA. “People love Minnetonka because we’re authentic and a classic Americana brand,” Miller Sherer says. “We’re always true to ourselves and not chasing the next trend.” In 2019, Minnetonka melded its legacy styles with today‘s consumers’ needs. The result: the Home & Away collection, targeting that “couch to coffee shop” indoor/ outdoor slipper versatility. “We knew our customers love wearing slippers outside their homes, and Home & Away is our most versatile style with a durable outsole to keep up wherever they travel,” Miller Sherer says. The women’s bootie, moccasin, mule and boot styles feature a solid rubber outsole for traction; suede, rag wool and sweater-knit uppers for an indoor/outdoor cozy style; and removable contoured fluffy pile insoles for comfort.The Torrey suede/sweater boot was Minnetonka’s breakthrough hit in 2019. “It’s cozy like a slipper but stylish to wear with jeans out and about,” Miller Sherer says. “And that’s what we’ve been seeing from our consumers.” Rounding out the collection are two men’s styles—a slip-on and an enhanced moccasin. Slippers remain the brand’s No. 1 category, with women’s business stronger, but the company sees more growth opportunity in men’s, especially with slippers as the entry point. “Whether it’s working from home, going to brunch or traveling in comfort, everyone wants product that’s comfy, feels like home and can be worn anywhere,” Miller Sherer says. “That’s why we feel the Home & Away was so timely and successful.” Minnetonka also had a stroke of serendipitous good fortune in the name of Oscar winner Brad Pitt. His ’70s-era stuntman character, Cliff Booth, in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, sported the brand’s iconic Two Button Hardsole boot. It sent fans into a frenzy, generating a wait list of more than 2,000 eager to snag the reissued boots. “It’s been a really fun way to introduce the brand to a younger audience of fashion-forward men channeling their inner Cliff Booth,” Miller Sherer says. —L.P. 24 footwearplusmagazine.com • march 2020
AS CONSUMER TASTES and demands evolve, many traditional comfort products are just not working anymore. It’s why Felix Zahn, product director at Ecco, says the Danish brand has been zeroed in on hybrid constructions to meet the versatility demands of its target audience, and 2019 was no different. “In recent years, we’ve been a ‘fast follower’ within the realm of hybrid dress shoes, using formal silhouettes but creating ultramodern styles,” Zahn says. “People have been seeking more casual apparel and footwear, both at work and during their leisure time, and while that’s been good for us—because we’ve always been a comfort brand—it’s also been a big disruptor.” Ecco has responded to the disruption under the guiding premise that there’s “no need for comfort shoes to look and feel boring, or to only come in black or brown,” Zahn says. That also addresses the brand’s efforts to target a younger demographic via hybrid dress shoes and sneakers. “Consumers want new and innovative comfort options that look and feel great, so we continue to expand without pushing our core consumers away,” he says. “The success of our new products definitely proves it’s working.” For instance, the new Ecco ST1 Hybrid collection combines a “sneakerish” aesthetic, a durable Phorene outsole and the new ST (Shock Thru) technology that provides 15 percent more rebound and shock absorption in the heel. Similarly, the Vitrus collection features a shank construction that allows the formation of a soft, cupped heel that brings the wearer closer to the ground for greater stability and comfort. The effort also extended to collabs in 2019—namely with streetwear brand, Stone Island. “Not too long ago, we were more of a formal brand,” Zahn says. “This collaboration would not have been possible even a few years ago.” Ecco’s breakthrough innovations in 2019 also involved several new leathers, including a heat-sensitive design that changes color as the temperature changes, a transparent version and a glow-in-the-dark one. The sustainable DriTan leather (featured in the Soft8 sneaker collection) also made its debut last year. It requires considerably less water to produce the leather—thus reducing the use of tanning chemicals and wastewater—with no tradeoff in quality, durability or lead time. “We’re proud of our sustainability initiatives, which are helping us reduce our environmental footprint,” Zahn says, noting that since introducing DriTan in its Netherlands tannery, water use has been reduced by more than 25 million liters per year. To help get the word out on DriTan, Ecco introduced Factory Petit last year, a portable mini leather factory that traveled around to inform people and let them make their own leather accessory. Evert Rotteveel, marketing manager, notes Factory Petit made stops at two Nordstrom stores in Southern California last fall. “Events like this create a lot of buzz because consumers love to participate hands-on in making a unique and personal item,” he says. Along those lines, Ecco continued to create custom articles featuring advice from influencers and fashion editors to reach consumers with directed content. “We’ve focused on Instagram and YouTube this past year to inform our audience about technology and styling innovations, and looking at our engagement figures, consumers are definitely connecting to the brand in bigger numbers,” Rotteveel says. “Social media is an incredibly important medium to reach consumers in an authentic and relatable manner, and every year we get a bit better in finding a balance between community building and sales-driven content.” For Ecco, it’s all about finding a healthy balance, be it offering a broad range of categories that spans golf to dress, blending style and comfort or delivering experiential entertainment packaged in direct marketing. The trick is to be the hybrid that generates the greatest following. “Diversity is our strength, allowing us to rebound and adapt when there are ups and downs in any given category,” Zahn says. —S.S
WORK BOOTS: CARHARTT
Standing Tall SINCE 1889, CARHARTT has been on a mission to create quality, durable workwear that could perform in some of the most rugged and demanding environments, as well as in everyday life. Last year was no different, as licensor Black Diamond Group, introduced the Mudrunner collection of work boots—Carhartt’s first ever rubber boot offering. Built with durable rubber and neoprene to keep feet dry and warm, “the company set out to make Mudrunners the most comfortable rubber boot in the industry,” says Rob Mills, president of Black Diamond Group. Full and half sizes are available for improved fit, roll-down calves and kick-off plate on the outsole make them easy to get on and off, and the removable Insight footbed is engineered “with maximum arch support to reduce fatigue and will keep you standing tall during the longest days,” Mills adds. Carhartt’s traditional Moc Toe Wedge boots also continued to perform well at retail in 2019. “Built for work but versatile to also perform off the job, our customers are hard-working people who are getting the most out of these boots, thanks to the innovation, comfort and durability,” Mills says. “Our promise to consumers is to build comfort into every product because they need to be focused on the job at hand, not on their feet. We engineer tooling, lasts, components and construction for the comfort and well-being of every customer to keep them safe, dry, warm, standing and comfortable.” Carhartt credits its retail partners with helping fuel its success. “We have been very fortunate to have experienced long and sustained growth with our retail partners for several years,” Mills says. “Together, we worked hard to
ensure we had the right offerings, positioning and consumer experience to drive traffic and demand. It’s about building quality product at the best value to service the needs of the consumer.” Mills adds that when it comes to making authentic performance work boots, faking it is not an option. “You can’t fake hard work, and our consumer expects us to deliver products that live up to our brand promise,” he says. “Our team works hard every day to exceed expectations with our consumer and our retail partners.” —S.S.
PROFILES IN EXCELLENCE
BOUTIQUE: ZELDA’S SHOE BAR
Where Brands are Discovered IN A WORLD where virtually anything can be found with the tap of a finger, Zelda’s Shoe Bar stands out as an oasis of fresh finds. The 26-year-old, upscale boutique in Portland, OR, has stood the test of time by offering customers what they didn’t even know they wanted—but are thrilled to discover. In fact, nothing is sweeter music to owner Libby Hartung’s ears than a customer gushing: “I’ve never seen these labels before!” While 2019 was off about 6 percent—mainly due to lower traffic issues plaguing many brick-andmortar stores—the elegant Zelda’s forged ahead with its ever-eclectic mix and an amped-up program of experiential events. “Libby has always had a great taste level and the store seems to evolve to the ever-changing wants and needs of her customers and friends,” says Dan Butler, national sales manager of Lines of Denmark, a long-time shoe rep for Zelda’s. Designed like an upscale-yet-accessible gallery—shoes are perched atop museumworthy vases in the window while jewelry is laid flat on a table—Zelda’s delights at every turn. About 80 percent of the mix is shoes, with a focus on European brands. Popular labels include Homers and Jon Josef out of Spain; Ateliers, JoGhost, Shoto and Valentina Rangoni out of Italy; plus handmade Japanese brand, U-Dot, brought in last year. Hartung claims there’s “zero resistance” in selling lesser known brands, so long as they meet her high quality standards. She’s
earned the trust of her customers. “My customers are independent thinkers who like finding shoes not found everywhere,” she says. “They want an individual look that doesn’t need validation by having a designer name attached. And even if they don’t know a certain brand, they do know the Made in Italy pedigree!” She adds, “Many of my brands are made in the same factories as Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton.” Zelda’s sweet spot is $200 to $400, but Hartung notes her customers are willing to pay a little more, so long as the unique look meets the eye. “My customers want interesting,” she says. “They want that rad python shoe or Maud Frizon giraffe boot for $425. They can go anywhere for basics!” Indeed, Zelda’s is known for carrying an array of interesting textures like hair calf or python. Sneakers also are about the unique factors, like the casual-yet-funky python-printed Italian stretch sneakers from Save My Bag that hook up with its handbags. Along those lines, Zelda’s also works with lots of European exclusives and, once sold, she doesn’t reorder. “Whenever I’ve reordered something that did well the first time, I find it just sits,” she says. “My customers return often and if they see a shoe sitting on the same shelf, they think it never sold—even if I told them it was reordered!” With a selection spanning 15 to 25 shoe brands at any given time, Hartung rotates in two or three new vendors a season. The seasonal freshness is key to Zelda’s overall vibe as well as a good ice breaker with customers. “I’ll show a customer something that just came in, and if they still don’t want to try it on, I’ll say, ‘Just humor me!’” The simple strategy works: about 90 percent of the time, Hartung‘s customers buy something they “weren’t even looking for.” Zelda’s move from a more “neighborhood” location to a strategic downtown one five years ago was another successful strategy still paying dividends. Tourists, Hartung says, often exhibit the same open-mindedness as her loyal clientele. On that note, Hartung can’t wait for the new Ritz-Carlton up the block to open its doors soon. That’s also when she might expand her selection of gender-neutral styles to attract male customers, which comes on the heels of the overwhelming response to U-Dot. “Being downtown now, I get so many men coming in saying, ‘Why do women get all the options?’ They’ll pick up a python boot and ask if I have it in a size 12!” Zelda’s broad demographic spanning late 20s to 75 defies conventional retail wisdom. Not only that, the consensus that Generation iPhone never looks up from their phones to shop in stores is not the case at Zelda’s. The boutique does a healthy IRL (In Real Life) business with this age group. “I think the younger customer is finally starting to realize that shopping online—and shipping back boxes and boxes of returns—is difficult and lonely,” says Hartung, who deliberately doesn’t sell shoes online. “There’s no interaction! It’s a novelty for this generation to come into a store and try things on,” she adds. It’s also an opportunity for Zelda’s to engage with her customers. A plethora of trunk shows and unique partnerships keep the experience factor fresh, with 2019 hosting the most events yet. For example, Christiane Millinger rugs hang on the wall with gallery-like signage, letting Zelda’s cross sell with retail friends while scoring with trunk shows like Fetch Eyewear and Orsyn handbags. Zelda’s also hosts numerous limited private events (shopping parties of six to 10 people), where she serves famous Oregon wines to get the purchase juices flowing. “It has to be exclusive,” Hartung says. “Otherwise, no one shops and it’s just a social event in my shoe store!” —L.P.
OUTDOOR LIFESTYLE: MERRELL
Inclusive Hiking MERRELL WAS “BORN on the trail” but the 40-year-old brand is savvy enough to know that not all its customers get dirt on their shoes. To that end, Merrell boosted efforts to draw more people to the trail, plus expanded its lifestyle offerings for indoor lounging and other outdoors experiences in 2019. On a Q3 earnings call, parent company Wolverine Worldwide attributed the success, in part, to Merrell’s “high single digit growth.” Merrell brought in a new Global Brand President in September: Chris Hufnagel, a 10-year company veteran and former president of Cat Footwear. Possessing plenty of lifestyle brand experience. Hufnagel’s vision is all about inclusivity. “We want to be the most diverse, inclusive brand,” he says. “We don’t care where you came from, who you love, how fast you can run a mile. We just want to support you and allow you to discover your own personal trail.” To celebrate such diversity, Merrell launched its global “One Day. One World. One Trail” project in 2019, where 23 photographers and filmmakers captured their outdoor experiences in 17 countries on Apr. 17, 2019. The diverse voices underscore Merrell’s efforts to break down hiking obstacles, citing a survey of 2,500 adults that found 53 percent don’t hike because of perceived barriers—like not living close to trails or having hiking partners. Only 19 percent identify as avid hikers; the rest feel they’re not fit enough or
‘don’t see enough people like themselves’ on the trail. It’s why versatile designs are key for Merrell, and 2019 saw the launch of the Nova and Antora trail runners, plus the Zion collection that brought a “trail to tavern” feel to hiking boots. “All were born in our Nature’s Gym athletic area focusing on light-and-fast hike, and all greatly exceeded expectations,” says John Burch, senior vice president. “We’re killing off the stereotype of stiff and structured. These shoes are changing the look and feel of what the classic hike today is, and bringing a faster approach to hike.” For example, many consumers are wearing trail running shoes for hiking, and the Zion is built on a lighter trail running platform that features an ultra-light Flexplate and less bulk to provide lightweight agility. For customers who prefer the warming hut, Merrell expanded its indoor/ outdoor focus last year. Riffing off its popular Jungle Moc series, the brand launched the Hut Moc. The ultra-lightweight shoe with EVA outsole and quilted upper comes in an array of colors (olive was most popular for men, blue/teal for women), with a fold-down heel for transformation into a slipper slide. Collabs were also key in 2019, with partnerships reaching new demographics. The Merrell Moab 2 x Outdoor Voices featured exclusive colorways like pink/green to its popular Moab hiking boot. Other collabs included Dogfish Head Brewery (pairing with the Agility Synthesis Flex trail runner) and the Rainbow Mountain collection that featured the designs of a Peruvian artist on Nova and Antora shoes. In addition, gear company Duluth Pack collaborated on work boots, and Merrell partnered with Stormy Kromer on waxed canvas and custom plaid work boots. —L.P.
DARING INNOVATION FW/2020 COLLECTION
Featured Style: SIREN
springfootwear.com | 800.962.0030
march 2020 • footwearplusmagazine.com 27
Quilted indoor/outdoor slippers with fold-down heel by Merrell. Shirt by Fix and Fax, Collusion pants. 2299
Suede shoes with Velcro closure by PropĂŠt, button down by Billy Reid, pants by Nautica. Opposite: DNA Sustainable wool felt slip-on, bodysuit by Fix and Fax. 30
Camo clogs by Aetrex, J.Crew button down, sweater by Billy Reid, Trash and Vaudeville chain. Opposite page, clockwise from top left: Bootie by Clarks, nubuck clog by Stegmann, wool clog by Haflinger, Vionic leather slip-on, Glerups wool bootie, quilted slip-on by Staheekum.
Haircalf leopard booties by Brunate, cheetah dress by Joie, Lâ€™Agence blazer. 3 33 3
Fur-lined slippers by Ross and Snow, Billy Reid jacket, T-shirt by Dries Van Noten, shorts by Steven Davis. Opposite page: Plaid clogs by Birkenstock, Perry Ellis track suit, T-shirt by Rag and Bone.
Clockwise from top left: slipper by Acorn, quilted slip-on with fold-down heel by OluKai, camo accented slipper by Bearpaw, TI:ME sneaker slide with stretch laces, slip-on by Hush Puppies. Opposite page: house shoes by Sorel, Good Threads sweater, shirt by Billy Reid, pants by Top Man. Hair and makeup by Paul Warren/Judy Casey Inc.; fashion editor: Lauren Parker; model: Aiden Detlof/ Red Model Mgmt.; styling assistance by Bella Peterson; photography assistance by Chris Wert.
W H AT ’S SELLI N G
Men at Work
The 111-year-old Bennie’s Shoes in Atlanta caters to first hires, c-suite execs and even A-list celebrities.
Murphy business is steadily growing year-over-year, notably their Conard N ATLANTA TRADITION SINCE 1909,” Bennie’s Shoes style at $175. Their quality and fit are just great, and they treat us like a real is a third-generation men’s dress and casual store founded customer. Plus, they have inventory available to fill-in, while so many other by shoemaker Bennie Shemaria, who came to Georgia city brands are always out of stock. We also do a nice indoor/outdoor business from the Greek island of Rhodes at age 16. He taught his with Olukai, notably their adjustable mesh shoe/slide style, plus trail shoes three sons the business, and they each opened shoe repair from Merrell. In athletic, New Balance are best sellers, especially hard-toshops in the area. In 1970, son Louie got a few hundred find sizes as we stock up to size 16 and extra-wide widths. We also carry large pairs of Johnston & Murphy factory close-outs and tried sizes and widths from Johnston and Murphy, Florsheim, Hush Puppies and his hand at retail, soon adding more brands, knocking down a wall next door Rockport, which gives us an edge over the mall and bringing in his brother Jack. Today, Louie is stores who do not. retired and Jack passed away in 2015, but their respective sons Brian and Mark Shemaria run What are some popular trends of late? This the full-service business. Rounding out the famis Atlanta, so it’s browns and tans. Trends take ily is Brian’s sister, Stephanie, plus a handful of a little bit longer to reach us. Overall, anything dedicated employees who’ve been with Bennie’s with a white sole has been really popular, from for 20 to 30-plus years. brown to blue or tan suede uppers. Cole Haan With about 14 consistently stocked brands is a really big name in Atlanta, and we do great priced $75-$395, Bennie’s is a classic ‘seat with the blue and gray mesh styles with the white and greet’ shoe store where relationships are sole. Their wingtips are great sellers, and a guy everything, says Brian Shemaria, who paused with a bunion on his foot knows he can still feel the interview to shake a longtime customer’s and look great in a shoe like that. We sell their hand who had just entered the store. “We have colored soles too. Fashion sneakers are starting older customers who come in asking after my to move as well, especially leather styles from dad, plus younger customers whose grandfathers Olukai, Pikolinos, Geox and Cole Haan. had shopped here,” he says. Many old timers know the 8,000-square-foot flagship from back What are some new brands added to your in the day, while the younger generation, now mix recently? I added Trask last year, and it’s a third of the customer base, often enters on a been awesome. They do a great job with some recommendation. “We get lots of recent colclassics that other brands stopped making—like lege grads whose parents or grandparents sent old-style penny loafers. Hush Puppies really them here for that first pair of work shoes,” says surprised us in 2019, as well. We sold a lot from Shemaria. “Or their bosses say, ‘Go to Bennie’s, their Expert collection. They’re not grandpa they’ll take care of you!” shoes! Pikolinos is another great new brand Bennie’s 111-year-long reputation helps keep for us with awesome leathers and styles. I wear the shoe repairs side of the business humming, them every day. which now amounts to 50 percent of the overall business. It also helps drive shoe sales. “We even All in the family. Mark, Louie and Brian Shemaria. Any unique niches you’ve carved out for have plenty of women who come in to get their Bennie’s? There’s a huge movie and television industry in Atlanta, and we’ve heels fixed and shop for their husbands while they wait, or grab coupons for built a great business around stretching, altering, repairing and rebuilding their next visit,” says Shemaria, who won’t completely rule out adding women’s shoes for everything from The Hunger Games to the Marvel movies. We shoes to the store’s down the road. In the meantime, Bennie’s spreads the good added lug soles to five pairs of shoes for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and word via 15 paid radio spots a week on a local sports/talk show. It’s where the we’ve repaired the same pair of cowboy boots for the sheriff (played by Rick boys are—listening. “With that Atlanta gridlock, people are always in their Grimes) in The Walking Dead for seven seasons! We also make soles less cars listening to the radio,” Shemaria says. —Lauren Parker slippery for stuntmen and add lifts for short actors. Most shoes for films are rented, so after the wrap we get huge baskets of them to clean up so the How’s business? Tough. Men used to come and look around just to see what costume designers can reuse them. we had, but now necessity drives them in, be it an upcoming event or because their shoes jsut wore out. Business casual has really hurt things. Guys don’t You’ve been in the shoe business your whole life. What do you love most? have eight or nine suits and five or six pairs of dress shoes on rotation anymore. Working with family. My cousin is here, and my sister runs the office, does They wear the same brown bucks for four years then replace or repair. the re-orders and pays the bills. She keeps us all straight. But I told my two daughters to go to law school! What are some of your best-selling brands and styles? Our Johnston &
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True Grit/continued from page 12 smart, aggressive and determined—those are the ones who make it to the top,” he says. “They plug away until they get something and then they capitalize on it. That’s Rob.” On the heels of the 3D-molded boots run came the sheepskin boot craze, albeit briefly for Washington Shoe Company. In 2003, Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City sported ruby red Uggs and the trend went into hyper growth mode. As fate would have it, Western Chief made sheepskin slippers. “The next day I got calls asking if we could make them in ruby red, so I ordered 12 color samples,” Moehring says, noting that Nordstrom was one of the early inquirers. Within two weeks, Moehring came up with a new brand, Chooka, and then met with Nordstrom buyers. They bought all 12 colors, for all stores. “That’s a dream brand launch,” Moehring exclaims. “It was just crazy!” Unfortunately, the success was shortlived. Moehring “choked on Chooka,” because of a shipping snafu. The airfreighted shipments sat on the tarmac in Chicago for weeks while “everyone known to man in the shoe business jumped on the sheepskin trend” and beat Chooka to market. “There was no way I could even sell that stuff late, so that got me out of the sheepskin business fast,” he says. Fortunately, it still rained, and Moehring focused on making adultsized rain boots. In step with the macro utilitarian fashion movement, he turned the ultimate bland boot into a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns and silhouettes under the Chooka label. It’s arguably Moehring’s finest shoe moment, where he was positioned at the forefront of a new fashion category. Thanks also to the popularity of Ed Hardy designs at the time, Moehring’s riffed “Tattoo City” boot, featuring a big heart in the center and “rock n roll” written through it with skulls and crossbones, set Chooka on fire. “Nordstrom was buying whole tables at a time and were infighting over styles with their Brass Plum division,” he says. “They had a rule that they couldn’t carry the same brands, but these were so hot that they allowed an exception.” The success of Chooka rain boots opened the floodgates of Moehring’s imagination. The rubber shafts served as canvases for him to paint whatever sprung to mind, as well as what he saw trending in the ready-to-wear market. “I’d look at Alexander McQueen, Marni, Missoni, Chanel… and take inspirations from their prints and plop them onto our boots,” he says. “The buyers knew what prints were coming too, so they’d pick vari-
ous ones and sometimes suggested tweaks. We’d end up with an order for 20 SKUs in four hours.” That’s when Target became a big customer. “I’d send 25 or 30 options and they’d buy 25 styles just like that—in Target quantities. It was crazy,” Moehring says. CRUISE CONTROL Between Chooka and Western Chief rain boots and gear, Washington Shoe Company has squeezed the reliable category for all it’s worth. Moehring credits the company’s good fortune to seizing the opportunity from the first drop. “I had factory
Back where it all began: Washington Shoe Company’s Seattle headquarters, circa the late 1800s.
contacts and we’ve always had a good design team that’s acted fast,” he says. “We have on-trend prints—polka dots, houndstooth, florals—a phone book’s worth. We hit on the right formulas and fill-in on new versions each season.” Success in rain boots—which has included licensed collections devoted to Hello Kitty, Frozen and Batman over the years—has given Washington Shoe Company experience, confidence and a sales foundation to build on. Not all have been home runs, of course, but the company now has a portfolio that includes the Staheekum indoor/outdoor slippers brand and, the most recent addition, last year’s debut of the outdoor performance/work brand CH2O. Moehring’s latest brainchild aims to fill another utilitarian-based niche: people who need the protection of a bulky pack boot packaged in the lightweight versatility of a hiker. “We designed an aluminum shield that reflects heat back into the boot along with 800 grams of insulation that protects up to -70°, and the boots
are still lightweight and waterproof,” he says, citing Fleet Farm as one of the first major accounts. “They’ve sold like crazy. The styles sit right next to Merrell and Timberland Pro, at the same price or higher, and have outsold them.” Moehring is quick to credit his two sons, Mark and Karl, for taking Washington Shoe Company to the next level. As vice president, Mark heads up sales and marketing. “He’s a people person and he gets the word out to everybody,” Moehring says. “It’s what got us off the ground.” When Washington Shoe Company surpassed $20 million in sales in the early aughts, Moehring realized the company’s needs stretched beyond his skills. “That’s when the visionary is no longer enough to keep a company going,” he says. “You need updated systems, management and controls.” That’s when his younger son, Karl, came into the picture. “He’s a genius at systems, finance and control,” Moehring says, noting that Karl became CEO in 2015. “There’s not a piece of paper in our warehouse now—everything is scanners. Our inventory is now 99.7 percent accurate, whereas we used to close for a week to do inventory.” The talents and upgrades introduced by his sons show in the bottom line. “We’re now close to $50 million,” Moehring says proudly, adding that his wife has also played a key role in the company’s success. Early on, she managed accounting and has always served as an artistic soundboard. “She has a degree in fine art and possesses an innate design sense,” Moehring says. “I can spot an item; she’s able to tell me if my take on it is good or not.” Moehring’s family is equally complimentary of his indispensable role in Washington Shoe Company’s success. “My father is persistent with all aspects of the business,” Karl says. “He’ll do whatever it takes, despite oftentimes being faced with lots of rejections. He doesn’t quit.” Mark, who, like his dad, loved coming to the office/warehouse as a kid, calls his father’s work ethic and his positive outlook inspirational. “He worked seven days a week for years,” Mark says. “He’s always thinking about new products and always instructed us that if we listen to our customers, we’ll succeed.” Confident in the abilities of his sons, and his 75 dedicated employees, Moehring has settled into his role as chairman. These days he spends his time doing what he does best: trendspotting and dreaming big. “With my sons running the business, I know it’s going to grow without me,” Moehring says. “That’s a really good feeling.” • 2020 march • footwearplusmagazine.com 39
L A ST W O RD
In Da Club
Disco Fever Flashback O INDELIBLE IS Studio 54’s legacy, it’s hard to believe the iconic Manhattan discotheque was open for just three years. The flamboyant club ruled New York nightlife from 1977 to 1980, serving as ground zero of a wildly eclectic mix of glam fashion, sexual liberation, creative freedom, decadence, drugs and a whole lot of dancing—at least for the celebs, models, musicians, designers, artists, moguls and haute-enough hangerson deemed worthy enough to get past the club’s vaunted velvet rope. Want to get past that rope? Now you can by visiting “Studio 54: Night Magic,” an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum (Mar. 13-July 5, 2020) that explores the club’s cultural legacy, famous fashions and social politics of the I Love the Nightlife era. A mix of 650 objects are on display, including clothes, statement shoes, photography, drawings, films, stage sets and music that sets the disco ball spinning. Club owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were the nightly ringmasters, as well as original influencers. Studio 54 is where Bianca Jagger famously rode in on a white horse while regulars like Andy Warhol, Cher, Farrah Fawcett, Truman Capote, Diana Ross, Mick Jagger, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Jackson, Halston and many more held court. For those that hit the dance floor, metallic shine and glitter were de rigueur to catch the lights, while strappy stiletto sandals and platform boots (guys and gals) were on point for dancing ’til dawn. “Studio 54 has come to represent the visual height of disco-era America: glamorous people in glamorous fashion, surrounded by gleaming lights and glitter, dancing The Hustle in an opera house!” says Matthew Yokobosky, senior curator of Fashion and Material Culture for the Brooklyn Museum. So put on your dancing shoes and revisit the club that made the entire world spin to the disco beat.
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Just some of the many wild nightlife photos that will be on display at the exhibit. That’s model Pat Cleveland (top right) twirling at Halston’s disco bash, Grace Jones (above) channeling Egyptian royalty and Bianca Jagger (left) making her famous on horseback entrance.
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Easy Does It: The New Seamless: Indoor/Outdoor Slippers Suitable from the Couch to the Café | Plus Awards: And the Winners Are... | Lifetime...
Published on Feb 28, 2020
Easy Does It: The New Seamless: Indoor/Outdoor Slippers Suitable from the Couch to the Café | Plus Awards: And the Winners Are... | Lifetime...