Footwear Plus | August 2014

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C AT C H I N G T H E O M N I C H A N N E L B U Z Z • O U T D O O R A P P R O A C H E S YO U N G U R B A N I T E S • H O K A O N E O N E I S S E T F O R L I F T O F F

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VOL. 24 • ISSUE 7 • AUGUST 2014 • $10

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18 New Omni Order

The omni-channel retail approach is a must for survival. By Samantha Sciarrotta 20 Back in the Running Jim Van Dine, president of Hoka One One, on why the “oversized” running brand is surely no flash in the pan. By Greg Dutter

10 Editor’s Note 12 This Just In 16 Scene & Heard 62 What’s Selling

Photography by Trevett McCandliss. Stylist: Claudia Talamas; prop stylist: Cecelia Elguero; hair and makeup: Maggie Connolly; model: Kiley/Red Model Management.

96 Shoe Salon 98 E-beat 100 Street 104 Last Word @footwearplusmag

26 Trend Spotting A myriad of spring trends are awash in a natural sensibility. By Tara Anne Dalbow

How Jessica Roth and Stephanee Oberhauser of The Cobblery keep the fourthgeneration-owned retail/ repair business thriving. By Kathy Passero

Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL Lyndsay McGregor Senior Editor Social Media Editor Tara Anne Dalbow Fashion Editor Samantha Sciarrotta Assistant Editor Kathy Passero Editor at Large

36 Easy Does It Reining in spring: the new simple, gender-blurring, retro tropics and natural selection. By Tara Anne Dalbow 50 Sister Act

Caroline Diaco Publisher

Melodie Jeng Contributing Photographer Judy Leand Contributing Editor

84 Into the Mystic Sensible sandals offer an enchanting simplicity for Spring ’15. By Tara Anne Dalbow

ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher Capri Crescio Advertising Manager Tim Jones Deputy Art Director Production Manager Allison Kastner Operations Manager

56 Spanish Accent A country renowned for its craftsmanship delivers an enticing array for Spring ’15. By Lyndsay McGregor, Tara Anne Dalbow and Samantha Sciarrotta

Bruce Sprague Circulation Director Joel Shupp Circulation Manager Mike Hoff Digital Director

64 An Expanding Universe Outdoor brands adapt to meet a younger, more urban consumer. By Judy Leand

OFFICES Advertising/Editorial 36 Cooper Square, 4th fl. New York, NY 10003 Tel: (646) 278-1550 Fax: (646) 278-1553 editorialrequests@

72 Child’s Play After a cold spring, kids’ designers roll out weatherversatile looks for Spring ‘15. By Lyndsay McGregor

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78 The Young Americans Liberty prints bloom in a bouquet of enticing colors, breathing new life into classic silhouettes. By Tara Anne Dalbow

Xen Zapis Chairman

Above: Tsubo thong. From left: Calleen Cordero slide; cork wedge by Spring Step; Cliffs by White Mountain chunky-soled sandal. On the cover: Propét sandals.

Lee Zapis President Rich Bongorno Chief Financial Officer Debbie Grim Controller

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

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Reading Between the Lines The latest installment in our ongoing industry narrative shows there are plenty of terrific stories unfolding. ONE COULD ARGUE that the vast majority of footwear is fairly similar in appearance. The casual observer probably recognizes certain categories, but within each it might look pretty much the same. Basically, if you’ve seen one loafer, sneaker, sandal or pump, you’ve seen them all. We ourselves have generalized nearly half of the market under the generic label “brown shoe business.” It can’t get much more nondescript than that, right? Of course, this is a vast oversimplification. We all know there can be incredible distinction from one category to the next, from brand to brand and from one style to another. I know this because Footwear Plus lives and breathes reporting on what might seem to the untrained eye like the slightest subtleties in our effort to guide buyers (i.e. trained eyes) on which brands and styles to carry in their stores. We also dig much deeper, revealing the behind-the-scenes elements that make certain brands and their products unique. This includes reporting on the obvious details related to features, benefits and materials. But we also delve into a brand’s history and the human touch involved—experience and talents, track record of success, the brand’s particular take on the market and how its assortment of styles fits into the overall narrative. The fact is there’s much more to each brand’s story than what meets the shopper’s eye at a shoe wall. And we all know how retailers crave a good story to tell. Take this month’s Q&A (p. 20) with Jim Van Dine, president of Hoka One One, the brand many call “the next big thing” in its category. Not only is the brand’s revolutionary oversized midsole shoe design an interesting story about how the “shoe” has yet again been re-envisioned, there’s also Van Dine’s rich career background, which dovetails perfectly with this launch. These two characters seemed destined to find each other: Van Dine, a former competitive runner and lover of the sport, gets the keys to a brand exhibiting meteoric growth potential. He’s just the man for the job, having worked at Reebok during its unprecedented toddler growth spurt—one that saw sales zoom from $3 million to $1 billion annually in just five years. He was also at the helm of Keen’s rocket-like rise from start-up to $100 million in sales in three years. Many still consider it a benchmark. A self-proclaimed student of athletic foot-

wear history after more than three decades of intense study, Van Dine shares firsthand accounts of what fueled the Reebok and Keen runs and outlines his high expectations for Hoka. They reach well beyond oversized running shoes. In fact, he predicts Hoka will become a full-blown athletic brand well north of $100 million in annual sales for the Deckers Outdoor subsidiary. Then there’s our story about Jerusalem Sandals (p. 100). While on a much smaller scale than Hoka, the story is much, much bigger in some ways because it involves 74 Israelis and Palestinians working alongside each other making classic leather sandals in the brand’s Hebron factory. Hope springs eternal when it comes to ending what seems like a never-ending feud—and this story shows that it can be done. Kudos to the entrepreneurial drive of President Kfir Matalon, inspired by his father, who crafted sandals in Tel Aviv for 30 years. When Matalon and his wife sported the supple leather sandals influenced by the Biblical era, friends admired them so frequently that the pair decided to launch a line stateside. Fast forward just a few years, and Jerusalem Sandals (the city’s name translates to “teaching peace”) is now carried in American Apparel, Nordstrom and boutiques across the United States. Last but not least, there’s the inspiring story (p. 50) of the fourth-generation owners of The Cobblery in Palo Alto, CA. Sisters Jessica Roth and Stephanee Oberhauser have cobbled together a thriving shoe repair and retail concept that insulates them in down times (repairs go up) and rewards them in good times (new shoe sales rise). What’s more, the dynamic duo has reached out to surrounding retailers, offering their repair services for their customers. It’s yet another example of how key adapting and evolving are to survival. You’ll find plenty of other good reads in this issue. They span all categories, cover businesses around the world and feature all sorts of colorful characters. By that I mean both the shoes and the people involved. It’s our pleasure to serve as your shoe storytellers, weaving together a compelling narrative. To the untrained eye the plot might seem convoluted. But if you know where to look, what and who to ask, and you dig deep enough, you’ll find endlessly fascinating stories. Greg Dutter

Editorial Director

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English Beat

Like the cultural and fashion epicenter it is, London pulsates with a range of street style statements. Photography by Melodie Jeng 12 •august 2014

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Snow white trainers, sensible sandals and summertime loafers reflect Londoners’ no-fuss approach to shoe style. 14 •august 2014

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¡+¢ scene and heard

Remodel Authority CUSTOMERS ASKED, AND Sports Authority answered. After the chain conferred with consumers and determined an aesthetic change was needed, it remodeled 25 East Coast stores and hosted a universal grand reopening recently. “It was something that needed to be done for two reasons,” says Chris Lenahan, manager of New Jersey’s Garden State Plaza location. “One: to be competitive with the rest of the market and two: to show the customers we listened.”

Moon Walk IT’S BEEN NEARLY five decades since Neil Armstrong uttered, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” but the human race is still light years away from summering on the moon. Maybe that’s why the fashion industry is so captivated by it. To commemorate the 45th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing, General Electric joined forces with men’s members-only flash sale site and luxury footwear label Android Homme to reinvent the moon boots worn by Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Dubbed The Missions and designed by Javier Laval of Android Homme, with a little help from Daniel Bailey of online magazine ConceptKicks

The stores are now equipped with a more open layout highlighted by specialty shops dedicated to individual sports and concepts. Once tucked away, the footwear department has been shifted to the center of the store and bedecked with lighted displays. Now, footwear is a focal point and the first thing a customer sees when he or she enters the store. The Sports Authority has also added more than 100 SKUs, enhancing the running category in particular. In addition, cleats were moved away from the footwear department and into their corresponding specialty team shops. “Footwear is very big because there are so many categories,” Lenahan says. “We expanded and created a more lively footwear shop.”

and Michael Vincent of JackThreads, the limitededition hi-tops utilize some of G.E.’s most advanced wearable materials. Whereas the original boots included G.E. silicone rubber, which helped the astronauts to walk in extreme temperatures and conditions, The Missions feature stabilized carbon fiber, hydrophobic coating and thermoplastic rubber. The champagne-colored kicks are also accented with a 3M Scotchlite reflective material. “We’re always looking for new ways to share our story of science, technology and innovation, and we like to experiment with new ways of telling our story to different audiences,” says Sydney Lestrud of global marketing at G.E. For Laval, it was a perfect fit. “Our brand has lots of futuristic influences built into its DNA, including the moon landing and outer space,” he says. “Even though we’re a niche brand, this collaboration solidifies us as a bigger player that has the capability to excite such a well-established, historical company.” Just 100 pairs went on sale on on July 20 at 4:18 p.m.—the exact date and time that the Apollo 11 lunar module touched down on the moon. An added synergy, the boots are priced at $196.90. With that being said, could there be a full-blown footwear collection in G.E.’s future? “We’ll see,” says Lestrud.

Josh Thompson strikes a pose in Georgia Boot’s G025 Comfort Core logger boots.

A Wish Fulfilled ROCKY BRANDS PARTNERED with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant the wish of 16-year-old Josh Thompson of Milledgeville, GA, whose dream was to visit its corporate headquarters and meet the designers of his favorite brand, Georgia Boot. The added surprise: Thompson was used as a model during a photo shoot. Thompson, who suffers from germ cell cancer, spent two days at the Nelsonville, OH, headquarters, learning all about the company and exploring the area. “When we were contacted by Make-A-Wish, we were so moved that out of everything Josh could do in the world, he wanted to come visit us,” says Jordan Gottke, marketing director for Rocky and Georgia Boot. “Our immediate answer was yes, but we also wanted to do even more than he originally asked for.” Thompson grew up idolizing Georgia Boot. As part of his wish, he wanted to meet the designers and even worked with Kasey LaCourse to design a new style. LaCourse put Thompson’s suggestions to sketch, which included a mix of classic touches with some fresh elements. “It was really an honor to grant Josh’s wish,” LaCourse says. “Hopefully, we inspired him to consider a career in the footwear industry.” Last but not least, Thompson and his family travelled to nearby Portsmouth Motor Speedway where they enjoyed box seats at the Lucas Oil Dirt Racing event and met Georgia Bootsponsored driver Steve Francis and his team.

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New Omni Order Touted as the next big trend in retail, the omni-channel approach is being talked about plenty of late, whether it’s the numerous ways to embrace it, examples of those excelling at it or why ignoring it entirely is at a retailer’s own peril. By Samantha Sciarrotta

WHEN TALKING RETAIL strategies, the term “omni-channel” has become almost unavoidable. Retailers and analysts can’t say enough about the approach and how it’s a must in a digital world, but what does it actually mean to be an omni-channel retailer today? Despite its recent “buzzword” status that may have clouded its meaning, re-targeting agency Magnetic CEO James Green says, in some ways, it’s just “incredibly simple,” and WhizBang! Training founder and retail expert Bob Negen agrees. “It means that you are working every way,” he states. “Online, offline. Brick-and-mortar, click-and-mortar. It’s not just about having a physical location anymore. You’re using all of the available technological and social media tools to build your business.” Experts like Green, who notes that he can’t think of a major retailer that isn’t omni-channel, say the movement is entering its heyday, referencing a simple 2014 Facebook statistic: In Q1 of this year, the social network’s revenue was 59 percent mobile and 41 percent desktop. “Retailers need to look at that,” Green instructs. “We spend so much time on our digital devices.” MB&G Consulting founder and blogger Bill Davis says the movement started to gain traction when the phrase “multichannel retailing” rose to prominence in the early ’00s. Now, companies are retooling their entire retail organizations. “It’s a multi-year effort for multimillion dollar retailers,” he points out. Should you not be a multi-million dollar company, though, there are several keys to making it work, like being able to move seamlessly between different devices and platforms—just as consumers flow from smartphone to PC to tablet on a daily basis—notes Negen. And Davis, who has more than 15 years of experience in the multichannel retailing realm, shared the sentiment: It’s all about multiple sales channels. “Consumers now don’t just engage a retailer,” he reveals. “They do research online before they get to the store, and they might do some research in the store on their mobile devices. Traditional retailers today are struggling

to provide that seamless experience.” Which is why storeowners like Enrico Perella of Bulo Shoes in San Francisco are investing time—and money—into crafting a coherent, effective, multi-platform presentation. Perella says they’re re-designing the store’s website to make it more accessible on mobile arenas through the responsive web approach, which supplies easy navigation without too much resizing, panning and scrolling. “We’re making it so that it will adjust to the device that the customer uses to access the site,” he says. “It will be faster and more responsive to different platforms.” And it’s all to drive more traffic to the website, while increasing in-store visits, he adds. “That’s why we’re putting money into developing the website. We’re trying to be up to date with new technology, and we’re trying to give the same kind of experience as some of the big names,” Perella continues. Take Bebe, as another example, which recently selected platform provider Qubit to develop its e-commerce site in terms of optimization, personalization and mobile readiness. The technology allows Bebe to target prior purchases, unload real-time content for online shoppers and identify customer segments. Steve Madden is introducing a similar strategy. The brand recently chose omni-channel personalization firm Certona to deliver a new, more customized e-commerce experience to customers through targeted content and product recommendations. Strategies on a smaller scale like Perella’s, says Negen, are the right way to go about an omni-channel approach. Make sure you have the resources before diving in, and don’t get involved with e-commerce just for the money or as a way to catch up with the competition. “Neither are strategic reasons to do it. Always ask yourself, ‘Can my resources be used better? What about my website? E-mail? Social media? The in-store experience?’” Negen says. Perry Miroballi, owner of Miroballi Shoe Stores in Illinois, agrees. After looking into it for more than two years, he has an e-commerce site in >101

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Backed by a revolutionary breakthrough in performance design, Jim Van Dine, president of Hoka One One, discusses why the “oversized” running brand is not the next flash in the pan—it’s just getting started.

IM VAN DINE couldn’t be any happier. And for a person who has had a whole lot to smile about over the course of his 30-year-plus industry career, that’s worth noting. For those keeping track, Van Dine entered on the ground floor in the early ’80s, when Reebok zoomed from annual sales of $3 million to $1 billion in just five years. He later presided over Keen, which ranks as the fastest growing brand in the shortest time period to hit $100 million in yearly sales. And now he’s at the helm of Hoka One One, a division of Deckers Outdoor, where all signs point to the brand having the legs to hit $100 million in sales in a similarly narrow time frame. Van Dine believes it has the potential to become much, much bigger. “We’ll at least triple our sales this year, with growth of somewhere between 300 and 400 percent,” he says. He notes that Hoka is hitting benchmark growth rates similar to Keen’s in its early years. In fact, just before Deckers Outdoor acquired the brand in March 2013, Van Dine was asked by CEO Angel Martinez to analyze Hoka’s potential. (Van Dine was managing the company’s Tsubo and Ahnu brands at the time.) Van Dine’s conclusion: There was a “95 percent chance we can get this business over $100 million in five years.” Meteoric growth potential aside, what makes Van Dine particularly happy is how his career has come full circle with the Hoka opportunity. He got into the shoe business because of running. After college, Van Dine was attempting to qualify for the U.S. national track team. As fate would have it, Martinez was a fellow running club member. Van Dine needed to find a way to support himself, and Martinez helped him land a part-time job at a running specialty store in central California. Martinez and his family would soon open their own store, Island City Sports in nearby Alameda, and bring Van Dine in as a partner to manage the business. “One thing led to another and here I am, still in the shoe business,” he laughs. Van Dine is happy to find himself once again involved in the sport he so dearly loves. Managing Hoka includes sponsoring elite runners, attending track events around the world and bringing to market breakthrough running shoe technologies that enable runners of all types, sizes and levels of ability to take part in the sport. None of it feels like “work” to him. It’s all a labor of love. And having become an astute historian of the ath-

letic footwear business after decades spent on the front lines in nearly all capacities (store manager, buyer, tech rep, promotions manager, sales rep, marketing director and president, to cite a few), Van Dine relishes the opportunity to channel his experience into growing a running brand from its infancy into a potential major athletic brand poised to expand into other categories. Beginning in Fall ’15, Hoka will add hiking and walking styles. This time around, Van Dine fully appreciates the opportunity and what the entire process represents. Third time’s a charm, you might say. Van Dine firmly believes that Hoka is not just another running shoe brand, i.e. a tweak on a midsole cushioning technology with some snazzy uppers and new logo. In his opinion, Hoka represents a technological breakthrough and a real point of differentiation in the marketplace. He likens its uniqueness to what Reebok and Keen brought to the table during their respective launches. “Hoka looks different, feels different and it performs differently,” he states. And lest you assume Hoka’s oversized midsole design is part of the current backlash against minimalist running shoes, Van Dine says, “There’s a lot more that goes into our shoes than just an oversized midsole. The geometry is quite different than any other shoe. Our rocker profile is very different as well, which encourages a rolling motion of the foot that, again, offers a very different feel that many claim is providing them an advantage in running.” Without revealing proprietary details, Van Dine likes to paraphrase Hoka co-creator JeanLuc Diard’s response to the question, “Who are the fastest male runners in the world?” The answer lies in Hoka shoes’ unique design. Diard, in a thick French accent, says: “Is it the Kenyans? No. Is it the Ethiopians? No. On a flat course, it will always be the wheelchair athletes. The wheel is the most efficient design, and Hoka attempts to best recreate that wheel-type efficiency.” Van Dine says Diard and co-creator Nicolas Mermoud built a running shoe from scratch. “Jean-Luc didn’t try to improve upon existing running shoes. Rather his approach was that there was no such thing as a running shoe, and he set out to invent one,” he says. Diard, a former CEO of Salomon, is a product development guru. (While at Salomon his team introduced parabolic skis, which were a game-changer in that industy, and he also worked on the development of inline skates.) “He’s not just a shoe guy, he’s a product engineering guy,” Van Dine offers. Diard brought in former team members to help with Hoka, most notably Christophe Aubonnet, who holds an advanced degree in biomechanics and the dis-

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O&A tinction of having been on two French national teams (skiing and kayaking). “The team worked with athletes much like they did when they were in the ski industry, where they did test runs, and afterwards they would literally carve the midsole and change the geometry on the lateral, medial and undersides,” Van Dine explains. “They experimented with a bunch of different densities of foams and different aspects of the rocker profile. Ultimately, after three years of testing, they came out with their first shoe.” Now, a mere five years later, Hoka has new owners, new and highly expeWhat are you reading? I just rienced management, a broader and finished A Higher Calling by updated collection, an enviable team Larry Alexander. It’s a great of sponsored athletes and numerous book about an amazing incimarketing iniatives, and, perhaps most dent that happened between a important, that magic buzz as “the next German Luftwaffe pilot and an big thing” in running. In many respects, American pilot during WWII. Hoka’s timing is perfect. Few predicted the rapid demise of minimal, which What is inspiring you most opens the door for an alternative. Few right now? Olympic Silver foresaw the rebirth of the running speMedalist Leo Manzano, an athcialty channel, which presents tremenlete Hoka has signed and who dous opportunity for new brands and is one of the top 1,500-meter ideas to get in front of consumers. In fact, runners in the world. He’s done Hoka’s arrival comes at a time when an some incredible performances armada of boutique-sized running brands of late, one of which was taking have gained acceptance at retail. It’s a part in a track meet we sponfar cry from the days when the market sored in honor of [Deckers was dominated by a handful of beheOutdoor CEO] Angel Martimoths. “Unless you were one of the top nez’s son [Adrian], who passed seven brands, you didn’t stand much of away suddenly several years a chance of getting your brand placed in ago. Leo had just competed in a running specialty store,” he says. “But a race a few days before and minimal changed that. Retailers opened sacrificed his race [by setting their minds up to the product innovation an early fast pace] during that they believed minimal represented. this event to ensure that the I think that, as much as anything, has crowd, including Angel and been a benefit to Hoka getting started.” his family, would witness a Getting started is exactly how Van sub-four-minute mile. When Dine describes Hoka’s place in the marasked if he was disappointed ket right now. And he is confident that it’s on the launching pad, ready for liftoff. “I think Hoka can be a very significant brand in the multiple hundreds of millions and, perhaps, beyond that. By the time it hits $1 billion, I’ll probably be dead, or at least retired,” he says with a laugh. Kidding aside, Van Dine believes he and his team are more prepared than ever to lead a brand into the big leagues. “The lessons that Angel and I have learned from our collective past at Reebok, Keen and Ugg have prepared us well for managing Hoka’s significant growth potential,” he says.

ber of factors that led to Reebok’s explosive growth. First, the cultural explosion that aerobics represented and the fact that Reebok was unquestionably the leader in that market. Second, the success of our aerobics instructor program, which I consider to be perhaps the best grassroots-marketing program ever. By late 1985, when the program was only two years old, we had about 50,000 members in the Reebok Aerobic Instructors Alliance wearing our shoes in front of millions of aerobic participants every day. Third, Reebok’s growth was exploding at the same time Foot Locker’s growth was exploding. We dovetailed each other nicely. Plus, there were a number of years that Foot Locker didn’t sell Nike—that’s a little bit of footwear history not too many people know or remember. So we had a lack of competition from Nike in the fastest-growing market segment in the largest retailer in the country and our brand was burning hot. All those factors combined to create that five-year run to $1 billion in sales. Is that repliby finishing fourth, Leo cable in today’s age? Probably not. responded, “Not at all. Every


You have experienced some epic runs in your career. Is it you or are you just blessed with incredibly fortunate career timing? I’d like to say it’s a little bit of both. Certainly, luck has had a lot to do with it. I was lucky to be at Reebok in the very early days when we were smaller than Hoka and even Ahnu. It was an incredible experience, but that would become almost the norm for me. Can Reebok’s early growth be replicated in today’s athletic market? I don’t think it’s possible to grow at quite that pace because there were a num-

race serves its own purpose.” It was pretty inspiring. What sound do you love? The sound my wife makes when my daughters tell me that they love me. What is your least favorite word? It’s a terrible cuss word that I won’t say. Who would be your most coveted dinner guest? Barack Obama. Like any U.S. president, he is provided with information that only a handful of people know and I’d like to get the inside scoop. What is your motto? Go for it. If God put you in charge, what would be your first act? Eliminate hatred.

Interesting, but Hoka possesses some similar brand traits, correct? One of the ways that Hoka is similar is that it’s a true product differentiation. When Reebok came out with the aerobic shoes, we made nylon and garment leather versions. Today, virtually all shoes are made of the latter. But then it was a true differentiation in the product. Similarly, Hoka looks and feels different, and it also performs differently. Unlike Reebok, however, Hoka represents a technology breakthrough, whereas Reebok’s were style and category breakthroughs. That is a critical aspect, as Hoka has entered the largest and most competitive category of footwear in the world, competing against multi-billion-dollar brands. Hoka has to possess that quality. Our product is technologically different in terms of feel and benefits, which are quickly experiential. You put them on and you know that something is very different about our shoes instantly.

What is your current state of mind? Optimistic.

Which is what, exactly? First off, a lot of people think Hoka and say maximal, which is not a term we use. It suggests that we are a response to minimal when that is not the case. The fact is our founders, Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, started to work on this design in 2006, which predates the minimal trend.

If someone describes Hoka as maximal they would be incorrect? I think there are a number of brands now making shoes with larger midsoles than they have been of late, and they seem to be suggesting that they will provide Hoka-like benefits. But if all they are doing is making a bigger midsole, then they are only imitating one aspect of our shoes, because there’s a lot more that goes into them than that. What do you say to skeptics who view maximal as the making s of another bubble? First of all, anybody who has done what I have done—which is having sold thousands of pairs of running shoes one pair at a time to thousands of different runners—knows that there is no panacea when it comes to a running

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shoe. There are runners of all types who will benefit from all different types of geometry and different types of footwear. I would never say we’re the only good shoe. That’s crazy. However, I think that the percentage of people that would benefit from minimal is in the distinct minority. I say this mostly from personal experience as a runner and a retailer. And, for the record, minimal is not really a new concept—it’s all we ran in during the ’70s because that’s all there really was. Track spikes, for example, are minimal. But when cushioning increased with the advent of compression-molded EVA in the early ’80s, it provided a distinct advantage over previous models. In addition, most experienced runners would say that there are very few people who could effectively train in track spikes every day. That’s why, as long-time runners, Angel and I kind of scoffed at the minimal trend. Not that it doesn’t work for some people—like runners who are natural forefoot strikers—but our belief is that it’s a distinct minority. In our recent Spring ’15 running preview, the gist was that brands are shifting into neutral cushioning designs. Minimal seems like a taboo word right now. I agree. Some of the recent Leisure Trends studies show neutral cushioning is the largest growing segment in the running category, and specifically models with inherent stability. Whether intentional or not, that’s a tip of the cap to Hoka, because that’s how we’ve always described our shoes: neutral with inherent stability. How do you think consumers view Hoka? First of all, I think the vast majority of running consumers have yet to be made aware of Hoka. But those who are aware see it as a shoe that provides more cushioning and more perceived protection. A buyer who used to buy equipment told me he was drawn to Hoka immediately because it’s one of those products where the consumer can see the intended benefit right away. “Oh, I get it. Look at all that cushioning.”

That’s what I believe drew consumers initially to minimal. It was an aesthetic differentiation that was in step with a less-is-more movement across all categories thanks, in part, to the recession. People were downsized and they were downsizing everything. Agreed. It’s just that Nike was smart enough to ride it as a fashion wave without throwing its Air cushioning premise under the bus. Of course. Nike didn’t get to what it has become by being foolish. Keen provided a similar instant visual “aha” reaction for consumers. Absolutely. The fact is brands that have experienced explosive growth have, almost without exception, had some type of visually arresting quality to them. Reebok’s aerobic shoes didn’t look like any other shoe. Teva, Keen, Ugg, Dr. Martens, Vibram FiveFingers—these were all shoes that when they hit the market consumers said, “Wow, that’s different.” While you are really just getting started, what do you think is Hoka’s long-term potential? My main responsibility is to make sure that this brand has no ceiling on it. That it’s a brand for all runners, not just ultra-runners and that it’s not just oversized by the way. As I mentioned, there are shoes of various dimensions that work for various types of runners. What we call ultra-sized is what’s bringing us to the party, but we already make track spikes for Leo Manzano. Basically, my job is to make sure Hoka is not a niche or a fad, that we’re accepted as true performance footwear for runners of all levels, including ultra runners, elite track athletes, everyday runners and off-the-couch joggers. Your experience is a big part of the success formula, but without the product you’ve got nothing really, right? It’s got to be about the product, believe me. We couldn’t just take any >102



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Come Slither Snakeskin unleashes this season’s wild side. 1. Matt Bernson 2. Thierry Rabotin 3. Vionic 4. Taos. 5. Dansko 6. Tommy Bahama 7. Nicole 8. Madeline

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Preppy Handbook Tassels: not just for loafers anymore. 1. Born 2. White Mountain 3. Clarks 4. Tommy Bahama

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Botanical Beauty Florals bloom bold in three dimensions. 1. Crown by Born 2. Rockport 3. Poetic Licence 4. Island Slipper

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Macho Mandals Versatile styles that give men a reason to free their feet. 1. Island Slipper 2. Flexus by Spring Step 3. Minnetonka 4. Rockport 5. Tsubo 6. Rider 7. Teva

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In the Loop Modernized knots take crochet from hippie to haute. 1. Dimmi 2. Groove 3. Rollie 4. Keds

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Easy Does It

A movement toward comfort and simplicity yields the most refined and minimal spring/summer season since the ’90s. Here’s a breakdown of the season’s major themes and the role footwear plays in each. By Tara Anne Dalbow

Menswearinspired details and classic haberdashery toughen up feminine silhouettes.

BOY MEETS GIRL A biannual industry staple that just about transcends trends, androgynous dressing is prevalent yet again. “It’s not going away,” notes Stylesight Senior Editor Eurydice Sanchez. “It’s an established core category at this point.” Spring ’15 collections will see women stealing styles such as pinstripes, boxy blazers, oxfords, tailored trousers and brogues directly from men’s closets, while men borrow traditionally feminine color palettes, delicate floral patterns and body-hugging tailoring from their female counterparts. “It’s a great reflection of modern society evolving over time,” adds Leslie Gallin, president of footwear at Advanstar Communications, of unisex styles. Men’s ready-to-wear collections for the upcoming season may have been the most androgynous yet. Designers embraced 50 shades of pink, giving suit coats and sweaters alike a rosy update. Silhouettes were tight and cropped at J.W. Anderson and Saint Laurent, respectively. Prada delivered “his and hers” styles, sending male and female models down the runway in matching topstitched denim and statement topcoats. The ultimate testament to the androgyny trend, however, came from J.W. Anderson’s debut collection for historic Spanish fashion label, Loewe. Anderson dressed a modern couple in identical looks, making their respective genders nearly impossible to decipher. Gender-neutral shoes arrive in the form of oxfords, saddle shoes, brogues and loafers. Rich leathers, twill, canvas and rubber are mixed to update traditional shapes. Chunky soles are amped up to ground ethereal, feminine pieces. Details such as tassels, monk straps and perforations run rampant. Traditional men’s shapes play the perfect boyish foils to an array of classic women’s staples. Resort ’15 collections saw monk strap creepers paired with swimsuits at Antonio Marras, patent leather brogues with pencil skirts at The Row and metallic loafers with sweet dresses at Band of Outsiders.

THIS SIDE OF PARADISE In an effort to evade the banalities of everyday life designers travel through space and time to bring us south of the equator to a retro paradise. Though the economy has improved (somewhat) since the financial crisis there is no mistaking that times have been anything but easy. Noting the need for an escape, designers are introducing tropical getaway collections chock-full of lush foliage and vintage-inspired details. Sanchez notes that the trend is a combination of sport, tropical, cruise and nostalgic patterns. Images of palm trees, beach scenes and hibiscus flowers familiarize the often-foreign collections offered by designers. Men’s collections have jumped on board and are headed south. A. Sauvage gave his urban threads an exotic makeover with tropical robusta leaf prints punching up classic collared shirts and tanks. Paul & Joe printed pineapples and monkeys in subdued vintage-inspired hues, while Marc Jacobs went way retro with flamingos and feathers on everything, including the back of a ’50s era bomber jacket. Klub Nico shoe designer Kelley Lehner incorporated the tribal side of paradise into her spring footwear collection. “Raffia plays a key role in this trend as well as the mixing of several types of materials and colors,” she says. Key colors include bright blues, pinks and yellows. “Expect footwear to be brightly colored and low-heeled, mimicking mod-era fashion,” adds Gallin. Slip-ons, pool slides and pointed-toe flats also play up the nostaligia. Palm fauns, pineapples, exotic florals and flamingos appear in many designers’ Spring ’15 collections.

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AVANT NORMCORE Normcore has no doubt taken the fashion industry by storm, ushering in an assortment of comfort-driven, simple, non-descript trends. Love it or loathe it, normcore is a meaningful trend for next spring. The look even inspired Karl Lagerfeld to transform Chanel’s runway into a supermarket and Phoebe Philo to send a fur-lined flatform down the runway. Propelled by a desire to fit in rather than stand out, key pieces are usually bland and label-less, reminiscent of what was once considered mall clothes or bank clothes. Sanchez blames the outlandish fashions of late for the return to ’90s minimalism, a.k.a. normcore. Gallin notes that the trend’s seemingly overnight success is due to its inclusivity and approachability. In traditional normcore fashion, all-white, mall walker-esque sneakers and sensible sandals are paired with anything from Céline trousers and mom jeans to Chanel dresses and wedding gowns. Not surprisingly, designers continue to embrace the sneaker, offering pricey interpretations that combine luxury materials with low-tech vulcanized constructions. Designs focus on versatility, comfort and range of motion. The sandal interpretation of this trend spans classic Birkenstock footbed styles, Teva sport sandals circa the late ’80s and the Adidas slide, an après sport staple of soccer players. One would be hard-pressed to find a street-style photo blog that doesn’t feature an array of these types of comfortable, basic sandals—often seen worn with a designer dress or trouser. Techy bottoms and shiny metallic details will refresh the original double strap and slide shapes for Spring ’15. Even Birkenstock will introduce a variety of updated styles in holographic green and shiny metallic. Sanchez lists high-shine details, tinted metallic and Lucite as important materials to note in this category. Not even Karl Lagerfeld and Phoebe Philo can resist a Seinfeldinspired shoe trend.


Designers mine inspiration from earth tones and natural materials, giving their Spring ’15 offerings new life.

NATURAL SELECTION An alternative response to the call for simplicity is a return to nature. Natural textures, materials and colors ground basic styles. Simple silhouettes are cut generously in clean, easy shapes. Homespun details create visual interest by way of chunky weave trim and tonal statement stitching. “Linen, flax, straw, leather, sea shells and wood,” says stylist Lisa Safir-Barness of popular materials for next spring. Texture play will elevate otherwise minimal designs. “We’re going to see A-line mini dresses and floor dragging maxi dresses,” comments Safir-Barness of go-to shapes. Khakis will make a major comeback too, she predicts. No longer reserved for Boy Scout uniforms and Dockers wearers, designers will give the fabric new life by way of trench coats and shirt dresses. Flowing shapes will lend themselves to all over botanical prints in delicate airy fabrics. Women’s resort collections offer a taste of the bohemian side with white silk peasant tops at Lanvin and billowy earth toned dresses at Saint Laurent. On the footwear front, wood stacked heels, leather uppers, raffia, python embossed detail, floral embellishments and crochet all add natural finishes to unfussy shapes. “There’s a definite ’60s influence,” remarks Sanchez, noting mules, clogs, flat sandals, espadrilles, western booties and huaraches as key silhouettes. Colors vary from rich browns to forest greens, while comfort reigns supreme in this category with low heels, flat sandals and comfort insoles that help to cushion every step. •

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Holy Moly Perforated details punch up springtime silhouettes. 1. Nina Payne 2. Ahnu 3. Cordani 4. Cobb Hill 5. Nine West 6. Aetrex 7. Minnetonka 8. Rollie 9. L’Artiste by Spring Step

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Slip and Slide A summertime staple, no lacing required. 1. Wolverine No. 1883 2. Tommy Bahama 3. Ccilu 4. Rockport 5. Ahnu 6. Teva 7. Vans

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Blue Crush A splash of blue keeps every silhouette cool. 1. Taos 2. Ruosh 3. Cycleur de Luxe 4. Rialto 5. White Mountain 6. Birkenstock 7. Blossom 8. Ccilu 9. Sperry Top-Sider 46 • august 2014

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Back to Basics Stay grounded with au naturel, earth-toned sandals. 1. Ahnu 2. Dansko 3. Aetrex 4. OTBT 5. Minnetonka

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Footwear repair and retail whizzes Jessica Roth and Stephanee Oberhauser are part of a four-generation family tradition at Palo Alto’s The Cobblery. By Kathy Passero

In their element: Jessica Roth and Stephanee Oberhauser.

SISTER ACT THE COBBLERY’S JESSICA Roth and Stephanee Oberhauser are a rare breed in more ways than one. For starters, the sisters are expert cobblers, members of a small minority of women plying a craft long dominated by men—a craft many call a vanishing art. They were also the fourth generation to join what has become a family affair: Helping to run The European Cobblery, a trio of successful independent footwear repair and retail shops in northern California. This past winter, the pair branched out by purchasing the Palo Alto store from their parents, shortening its name to The Cobblery and infusing it with fresh, new brands and a stronger social media presence. The footwear business seems to run in their blood. Though Roth and Oberhauser once envisioned different careers, both found themselves

Terri Holley

in her T

drawn to cobblery and to the footwear industry. Their passion for their work was contagious: Both women’s husbands now help run The Cobblery and their four children, aged 11 to 17, pitch in on everything from computer work to helping out on the floor. Putting Down Roots Their great grandfather, Gabriel Oller, Sr., would undoubtedly be proud. Oller opened the first European Cobblery in Palo Alto in 1940 in a small storefront down the street from the shop’s current location after retiring from the local police department. “He had spent the first part of his life in his village in Mexico doing leatherwork and he was very artistic, like a lot of people in our family, so teaching himself shoe repair was a natural fit for

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workroom and 700 to the retail showroom and stockroom. This split has proven a smart strategy when it comes to recession-proofing, notes Roth. “Repair usually goes up in a down economy, while retail goes up in an up economy,” she explains. “The two help to balance each other out during slow times and good times and make our business more well rounded.” It’s a model any footwear retailer would do well to consider to safeguard against slow times. Roth also encourages retailers to get to know qualified local cobblers and understand their capabilities. That way, for instance, if a customer falls in love with shoes that don’t quite fit, a retailer can recommend an expert to stretch them, widen them or create a tighter fit and still make the sale. “Lots of people don’t realize how many things can be altered, so it’s important to be knowledgeable as a retailer so you can explain the options to your clients,” says Oberhauser. Repair costs at The Cobblery range from $16.95 for a pair of dowel heel replacements The Cobblery refurbishes everything from horse tack to leather kneepads to motorcycle jackets to all types of shoes. for stilettos to $125 to resole a pair of men’s leather shoes. “We see a lot of Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahniks and Christian Louboutins,” him,” Roth explains. “He became a real craftsman.” Oberhauser says. The same is true of handbags. “One of our customers’ He passed his knowledge along to his son, Gabriel Oller, Jr., who in favorite repairs is cleaning, painting and refinishing their high-end handturn passed it on to his daughter and her husband, Desiree and Paul Roth, bags,” she notes. “We do a lot of Gucci and Louboutin bags. We’re located parents of Stephanee, Jessica and their younger sister. For decades, The in an affluent area where people have nice things and want to keep them, European Cobblery focused exclusively on shoe repair, expanding to locawhich works to our advantage.” But Oberhauser says the store attracts custions in Los Altos and Campbell and becoming the go-to name for Bay tomers from all over the Bay Area, like the woman who wants to touch up Area residents who needed a strap mended or a sole replaced. a trusty tote or her great-grandmother’s vintage purse. “We grew up in the store,” says Oberhauser. “We had a little playroom in “We do a lot of calf adjustments in boots too,” Roth adds. “Not every the back and we’d put away shoelaces or make doll shoes, anything to keep woman has the same size calf, which means they often need boots to be us busy and out of our parents’ way.” made smaller or bigger. We can tailor the width to their leg or take down the All those stitchers, sanders and stretchers in the workshop piqued height of boots to fit them better,” a service Roth says is utilized by high-end Roth’s interest at a young age, and she began to learn repair techniques area stores like the Stanford Market Center’s Tory Burch location, which watching her parents work. There was a certain magic in being able to sends the sisters boots to alter often. “We’re trying to get the word out even make a worn but treasured item beautiful again with paint, dye, stitching more,” continues Roth. “Often it’s just a matter of going in, introducing ourand other secrets of the trade. And when the family decided to start selling selves, talking to people and leaving them our business cards.” shoes as well as repairing them, she was hooked. In recent years, Roth and Oberhauser have also delved into orthopedic “Fashion and design were always a really big part of my life,” Roth adjustments, tweaking footwear to make walking easier and less painexplains. “I wanted to go to design school, but we started to bring in the ful for clients with foot and leg problems. “We’re very creative in making retail aspect of the business in the mid ’90s, and I realized I could come shoes look and feel better if, for example, a woman needs a lift in one into this business and offer something new and valuable in terms of buyshoe,” says Oberhauser. “One of our goals right now is to reach doctors and ing and merchandising.” teach them what we can do, so they can tell their patients how we might Oberhauser followed, learning cobblery from her sister and discoverbe able to help them.” ing that custom work was both challenging and rewarding from a creative standpoint. “People often come in with unusual repair needs and we have Changing with the Times to figure out how to meet them, which keeps our work very interesting, ” Like the repair work, the retail side of The Cobblery’s business demands she says. The twosome handles 100 percent of the refurbishments at the continual tweaks and innovations. “We’re smack dab in the middle of the Palo Alto store. “Sometimes people who come here for the first time are Silicon Valley tech boom,” says Roth. “Facebook’s original location was two surprised to see women cobblers,” says Roth, “but after they talk to us they blocks from our store. AOL and Google are nearby. That means we’ve seen tend to feel even safer leaving their things with us than they might with a lot of change in the last 15 years, and even more in the last five. We’ve a man because they realize that we love and appreciate beautiful things. had to rethink our retail a lot as our clientele has changed.” We want to make them look as nice as possible out of respect for the items The store’s first brand was the Troentorp clog, augmented quickly with themselves.” Naot, Haflinger and Dansko to meet the needs of comfort-minded customers. However, with the tech boom, The Cobblery’s clientele has become A Recession-Proof Model younger and ever more fashion-forward. “Comfort is still important to us Today, The Cobblery’s business is divided almost evenly between retail and because we live in an area where the lifestyle is casual and people do a lot repair. Of the 1,500-square-foot shop, 800 square feet is devoted to the 52 august 2014

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of walking in parks. But we’ve had to change things up to make our selection more fun and fresh in our stores,” says Oberhauser. “We went from selling a lot of Dansko to selling more Camper, for instance.” Now, The Cobblery is home to unique brands and styles that aren’t available in every store. For example, Roth says, “The best new brand we’ve come across in years is Jafa. They’re fun and a little bit funky but still comfortable enough to wear all day. Plus, they have very limited U.S. distribution, which we appreciate from a brand because it means we don’t have to compete with online competitors and stores in every city.” It also helps prevent showrooming, they say. “Being in a tech-savvy area, we definitely get people coming in looking around and then looking at their smart phones,” Roth notes. “We know they’re trying to see if they can get our styles online cheaper. That’s why we like special finds and handmade stuff. People have to get it here.” The store carries approximately 40 brands of footwear, ranging in price from $25 flip-flops to $250 comfort sandals. The average hovers around $80. “We spend a lot of time finding just the right things,” says Oberhauser. “We shop trade shows and we window shop a lot. We try to find things that would appeal to us as customers.” And, being a repair shop, serves as another form of window shopping. “When a shoe we like comes in for repair, we’ll research it to decide whether we might want to carry it,” Oberhauser says. “We also make a point to carry local designers, like Sally Spicer, who makes upholstery fabric bags out of San Francisco.” “We want people to be able to come into our store and find a shoe that’s unique, comfortable and that they feel looks great,” Roth explains. “It’s also got to be well-made because we know if it falls apart, we’re going to have to fix it!”

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Though the emphasis is on women’s shoes, The Cobblery also carries a limited selection of men’s and children’s footwear. “We have Crocs for toddlers, Toms and Ugg for the middle school and high school crowd, and we try to have the perfect men’s closet,” says Roth. “We offer him a sneaker, a flip-flop and a casual work shoe. We also have lots of slippers, a few ties, fedoras and funky socks for men.” Speaking of socks, one of The Cobblery’s distinctive features is its sock wall. “We have a giant wall of socks and we’re very particular with our buying,” Roth says. “We’re known in fall and winter for having a great sock selection, and our holiday season is based on our sock sales.” The focus on socks, which helps infuse the store with bright, vibrant hues, led to a pleasant realization following a recent interior makeover. “The designer turned everything in our store white,” Roth explains. “I started to have a panic attack when I saw it. Then she explained that the white background would help people see the colorful merchandise better. It turned out, she was right.” Roth adds, “We’re not afraid of color here. We love it.” Roth and Oberhauser also get input from their children, who sometimes help guide buying decisions by sharing insights about what brands and styles are hot among their peers. The pair is also tapping into younger consumers by launching a new website and putting a concerted effort into growing their store’s social media presence through Instagram and Facebook. “Our kids tend to be very proud about being involved in the business,” says Oberhauser. “If they decide this is what they’d like to do, fine. But we’re encouraging them to find their own career paths. We’re pretty young ourselves and we feel very fortunate to be the fourth generation in this business. We know it’s not something that happens every day, and we plan to be doing this for a long time.” •

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Spanish Accent A country renowned for its footwear craftsmanship as well as its unabashed embrace of color once again delivers an enticing array of styles for Spring ’15. The following leading brands exhibit the best of Spanish footwear manufacturing, which effortlessly combines comfort constructions that are highly wearable with on-trend styling and, of course, in a myriad of statement-making colors.

The Art Company: The Innovators In today’s rapidly changing world innovation is the name of the game and the footwear industry is no exception. With new technologies popping up every day that make shoes more comfortable, more efficient and more durable it pays to be one step ahead of the competition. And that’s exactly what The Art Company has been doing for the last 30 years—innovating. “Innovation is the foundation of our development,” says Jorge Hernández Rivero, The Art Company’s commercial and marketing director. “What we do, others can’t.” The Art Company was born out of a mountain boot manufacturer that had been making shoes for the people of La Rioja, Spain, for almost 50 years. Still true to its roots, The Art Company continues to manufacture in Spain. “Every shoe is started and finished here,” notes Rivero. “We were able to develop a very unique way of manufacturing shoes that couples elegant design and flexibility with a very durable construction,” he adds. ByeBye Suela, the brand’s claim to fame technology, combines both the sole and the insole into one singular piece that is comfortable on top but durable and resistant to abrasion on the bottom. The singular sole is made up of two types of rubber, one for comfort and the other for performance. “It’s very difficult to create a single sole that has two types of densities, especially in a winter shoe when you need more protection,” says Rivero. Consisting of recycled cork and rubber as well as utilizing water-based adhesive technology, the sole is as good for the foot as it is the environment. The Art Company can be found in nearly 1,000 retail locations in 42

countries. “The world is our market,” remarks Rivero, “we’ve spread the brand from Spain to Australia.” With a heavy focus on design, the brand communicates its core values—strength, quality, humor and, of course, innovation—through artful advertising campaigns, creative window displays for their retailers and blogger collaborations. “We think globally and value what our international customers have to say,” adds Rivero. The Art Company takes a global approach to its design process as well, culling inspiration from cities around the world. “We look to the architecture, the culture and the people,” says Rivero of its most recent line inspired by Amsterdam. Collections fuse traditional styles with modern comfort. With offerings ranging from boots to sandals and heels to sneakers, The Art Company provides customers with casual staples done differently. “We’re always trying to add something new to our shoes, something that is different and that no one else has done before,” Rivero says. —Tara Anne Dalbow

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Toni Pons: The New Traditional There’s an old saying: Stick to what you know. For shoemaker Antoni Pons, growing up in the Catalonia region of northeast Spain in the early part of the 20th century, that was the espadrille. The humble jute-soled slip-ons were everywhere, worn by everyone from peasants to priests, and costing only a couple of pesetas. So Pons decided to get in on the game and, in 1946, he opened his own factory in Osor in the Girona region of Spain, making espadrilles with jute or rubber soles and leather boots with soles made from used and recycled tires under the Toni Pons brand. Fast-forward a few years and the Mediterranean classic had been adopted by the likes of Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly and Rita Hayworth— something that hadn’t escaped the notice of Pons’ son. “When my dad (also named Antoni) joined the company, he wanted to branch into more fashionable styles, still featuring the original espadrille sole but done in a more fashionable way,” says Jordi Pons, who joined the family business as a sales manager two years ago. Today, the Toni Pons factories (There are now five.) are capitalizing on traditional craftsmanship to carve an international niche, creating a range of styles and silhouettes for women, spanning classic flats to wedges, all made in Spain using natural materials. “Our collection and our brand are clearly influenced by the land where we’re from: Catalonia. The soul of the collection comes from the original and authentic espadrilles, while the coloring and the designs are clearly influenced by the Mediterranean character of the land,” says Pons. Though the brand began distributing internationally in the ’90s, it didn’t dock on U.S. shores for the first time until Spring ’13. Joe Pickett, president of Casitas Footwear, the company that’s handling American distribution for Toni Pons, played it safe at first. “We were very conservative with sampling since this was our first experience with espadrilles, but overall it was well received,” Pickett reveals, noting that he sold retailers on the fact that the family-run brand is a hit in Spain where the business of espadrilles is as competitive as ever. “This past season we brought in more styles on lower wedges and these were very successful. We saw a 50 percent increase in orders,” he adds. And he’s sure he can do one better next season. “We could easily show a 50 percent increase for Spring ’15 with independents, and more with a few major customers that we have targeted.” The spring line will expand to include dressier styles and unique bottom constructions to bow a collection of staples suitable for all occasions. “We’re also adding a flat espadrille with a double sole, something that’s huge in Europe right now and which we believe will be big in the U.S. next season,” says Pons. And while the majority of rival espadrilles on the market today are made in Asia, he is confident consumers will appreciate the artisanal quality of a Spanish-made shoe. “Our target customer has high standards—and we guarantee quality,” Pons maintains. —Lyndsay McGregor

Pons Quintana: The Beauty of Reinvention With more than 60 years in the footwear industry, Pons Quintana has undergone a lot of reinventions, from starting as a children’s shoe company in 1953 to launching the Babucha, its indoor slipper and first standout product in 1956, to finding its niche in the women’s woven shoe category, which U.S. representative Rolando Saumell says has become the company’s reference point, in the ’80s. “We specialize in handmade woven shoes, which makes our products different, unique, comfortable and high-quality,” he says. The latest iteration for Spring ’15, though, sees the brand moving beyond woven summer shoes, inspired by the island of Menorca and its traditional means of manufacturing. “This new spring/summer season, Pons Quintana re-invents itself again and wants to be present across the seasonal spectrum with its styles not only focusing on sandals or summer models, but also believing in new lines for an early spring,” Saumell reveals. Retailing between $250 and $500, the new collection features two different sects: a comfort shoe with a flexible, light sole and booties and ankle shoes. Ballerina flats and moccasins also get a refined redesign, and inside wedges and platforms will be incorporated into sandals for the first time. “They have also introduced a new rubber sole,” Saumell adds. “It’s flexible and very light, which will give a new look while adding comfort to the footstep.” Warm browns, beiges and sand tones as well as a range of reds, electric blues and metallics brushed with a slight hue that doesn’t stray too far from the leather’s tone round out the color palette, while painted leathers paired with woven uppers are also key. Spring ’15, Saumell says, is all about “finding the gap between comfort and fashion in the very busy and populated strands of Europe” for “professional people who understand the handcrafted work behind a good shoe.” —Samantha Sciarrotta 2014 august • 57

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Brako: The Eco Warrior In the 25 years since Brako first launched, it’s gone from being just another Spanish shoe brand to setting itself apart from the pack with a laser-focused commitment to social responsibility. “We believe the world is a unique place and we want to help environmental sustainability,” says Export Manager Maria Orio. Designed and handmade in Spain by Calzados Evori, a company out of Arnedo in the north of the country, Brako aims to reduce the impact of its manufacturing process on the environment and minimize its carbon footprint where possible. The brand’s boots, pumps and flats are made using such eco-friendly components as chrome-free leathers and water-based adhesives and, by abiding strict environmental standards, Brako has reduced its VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions by 70 percent. Plus, since 2009, the company has recycled 36 tons of paper and cardboard, the equivalent of more than 600 trees, thereby saving more than 10 million liters of water that would have been needed to produce the cardboard. “Unnecessary and artificial materials are not involved in the development of our product,” notes Orio. Brako applies this New Age philosophy to a vintage-inspired offering infused with anatomical footbeds and removable insoles that resonates with Zooey Deschanel wannabes, granola crunchers and boomers alike. “This really sets Brako apart from other Spanish brands in the comfort fashion business,” says Casitas Footwear President Joe Pickett, distributor of the brand stateside. “The boots, in particular, have been terrific at retail due to fit and comfort, great styling and burnished leather looks,” Pickett notes. “Our shoes are for the woman who is aware of fashion but who adapts it to her style and sets trends,” Orio adds. Brako is currently available in more than 18 countries worldwide, spanning comfort and boutique chains to independents and major online retailers like ModCloth. In the U.S., its stockists include Dusty Buttons in New York, Street Feet in Santa Fe, NM, and Just Whimsy in Jasper, IN, and the brand is hoping to further expand its retail presence across Europe, the U.S. and Asia next season. “Brako is the result of travel, research, listening, learning, asking and keeping in touch with our consumers,” says Orio, adding, “We want to excite people with our shoes and extend our working philosophy.” For Spring ’15, Brako’s range is bathed in soft color, serving up a palette of pink, peach, gray and beige, with washed leathers, laser cutouts and scalloped edges to add to the collection’s easy, breezy vibe. “To provide a more romantic feel, we have printed floral motifs directly on the leather in clean and sober colors that suggest a sophisticated simplicity,” says Orio, noting that simple embroidery and braiding offer a delicate touch to the retro styles, too. “It’s about reviving the past in the present,” she notes. —L.M.

Pikolinos: Color Cause Founded in 1984 by Juan Peran Ramos and kept in the Peran family ever since, Pikolinos uses leathers tanned in-house to craft shoes that speak to a “Mediterranean flair,” says Marketing Manager Marcos Vega. “That’s what we believe in,” he says. “We take great care in the craftsmanship and the character of our products.” Each Pikolinos shoe is unique, featuring soft, natural leathers and handcrafted details that provide pop without sacrificing wearability for style and vice versa, according to Vega. And while the premise of style and wearability is a constant from one season to the next, Vega says the brand is committed to introducing new colors, details, themes and prints every time—and Spring ’15 is no exception. For women, braided details on sandals, handmade embellishments for flats and lace-up styles, metallic features and intense hues from petrol blue to tan to mustard—crafted using immersion dyeing to catch the colors at their most vivid—highlight the new collection. Florals figure prominently on flats, lace-ups and sport styles, while ankle-strap sandals bedecked in bright, traditional beads inspired and hand embroidered by Maasai tribeswomen return for another season. The new Kerala collection gives Pikolinos’ range of styles a softer color palette of lavender and other pastels, ideal for spring. On the men’s side, Vega says the sandal line is one of the cornerstones, ranging from sophisticated multi-strap styles with buckles to slip-on silhouettes “that remind us of relaxed evenings strolling along the shore.” Drivers, loafers and moccasins round out the collection, as well as classic lace-up oxfords and casual sneakers—all featuring the same wide range of colors found in the women’s line. While the men’s and women’s collections, retailing between $140 and $185, differ in style, they do share the same passion for bright hues. That, Vega says, paired with Pikolinos’ penchant for craftsmanship, is what sets the brand apart. “I believe it has made us the most prestigious and internationally-renowned company among the leaders in the comfort fashion industry,” he declares. —S.S.

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Dansko, Dansko and the Wing Design, and the Wing Design are all trademarks of Dansko, LLC. Š 2014 Dansko, LLC. 1.800.326.7564


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Wonders: What Women Want The Wonders premise is simple: covetable styles and comfort technology. It’s what the family-run brand has been doing since 1985. That’s when Jaime Carbonell, founder of Calzados Danubio in Elche in the southeast of Spain, decided to put his 30 years of export experience to good use and launch his own footwear line. After decades spent selling shoes to large American companies and retailers, he figured he had a good handle on what women looked for in shoes. Even so, he was careful to start out small, wanting to first stake Wonders’ place in the Spanish market by focusing on a tight collection of casual comfort shoes placed at a few key locations. It worked. Over time, the orders grew, as did the points of sale, both nationally and internationally. Today, Wonders exports 55 percent of the 800,000 pairs it produces every year. Four years ago Casitas Footwear introduced Wonders to the U.S. market after it was recommended to President Joe Pickett. “A friend in the shoe business in Spain endorsed Wonders as one of the upcoming hot brands there,” Pickett says, “so we pioneered the brand in North America.” By then Wonders had expanded to include more on-trend styles but Pickett decided to do what Carbonell did before him and first make a mark with casual shoes. “We wanted a Euro comfort line, but one with Spanish flair, where color and color combinations were very important,” he says. Now Pickett is bringing the brand’s dressier styles to the American market and Export Manager Jorge Carbonell, for one, thinks they will do well here. “Our range is large, more commercial and trendy,” he says. Pickett agrees: “For Spring ’15 we are projecting to take a leap, increasing the business with independents and online businesses significantly.” The Spanish-made brand’s commitment to innovation and technology will play a big part in that leap. Hovercraft soles made using a special type of Gommus rubber are flexible and shock absorbing, while XL Extralight elastomer optimizes comfort. “I think our niche will be as a strong dress comfort brand,” notes Pickett. The spring collection will comprise mostly sandals in an array of colors, embellishments and textured materials like snakeskin. “Wonders is not afraid to use color, but not too much. The brand strikes a good balance between fun fashion and footwear that is commercial,” Pickett notes. “And let’s not forget that they fit really well, whether they are on a low footbed bottom or on a dressy heel.” —L.M.

Agilis: Health and Style Agilis aims to pair foot health and style as much as possible. Its men’s and women’s slip-on, lace-up, tied and buckled espadrilles are as on-trend as they are comfortable. International Sales and Marketing Manager John May says crafting a snug, well-made shoe is priority No. 1. “We wanted to create something unique that that looked stylish, using on-trend materials and colors and providing genuine health and comfort benefits to the wearer,” he offers. “We felt there were too many comfort brands that had style as an afterthought.” Each Agilis shoe begins with three core health benefits: Circulation, achieved with a bio-ceramic material that increases blood flow; postural equilibrium, provided by an anatomical footbed specifically designed to keep posture aligned with the insole, making the shoe the first ever anatomic espadrille; and agility of movement, attained through a lightweight bottom unit highlighted by ultra-flex technology that gives wearers a full range of movement. “We want to create exceptionally comfortable footwear with added health benefits without compromising on the design and style,” May points out. “We are not fashion leaders, but the ranges will always be on-trend yet focused on the health benefits.” Handcrafted by multiple generations of Spanish and Portuguese artisans, the primary focus of Agilis’ Spring ’15 collection is bamboo, which May says is an espadrille first. “Our espadrille range is inspired by the hip, intriguing, beautiful and adventurous city of Barcelona,” May offers. “While some have been inspired to write songs, paint pictures or make movies, we have been inspired to make the finest espadrilles the world has seen.” Comprising TPE and PU and set to on-trend brights, leathers and woven materials, May says the shoes “keep the man or woman who wear Agilis looking fashionable while being unbelievably comfortable.” Next up for Agilis is bringing its enticing combination of wellness and style to a broader distribution. “We see Agilis as a global brand, synonymous with great European style while innovating new ways of introducing health benefits,” May says. —S.S.

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w hat ’s se lli n g out door s pe c i a lt y



ROM HIKING AND camping to biking and swimming, Adam Fairchild has always been an outdoor enthusiast; he even met his wife while they were both working at activewear hub The North Face. So when they moved back to his hometown of Easton, PA, a few years ago, he decided to put both his practical and professional knowledge to good use. “Coming from The North Face, I cut my teeth in the outdoor industry there,” he says. “When we moved back here, I wanted to open my own outdoor business.” And in October of 2011, Easton Outdoor Company was born. While Fairchild claims a passion for the outdoors isn’t a necessity as a specialty store owner, he says it definitely doesn’t hurt the cause, either. “It really comes through when you speak to your customers,” he points out. “You can talk to them about specific activities, tell them how each trail shoe works, and the expertise really shines through.” The 3,000-square-foot store covers all aspects of the outdoor spectrum, from climbing gear to performance apparel and, of course, footwear like hiking boots, trail running shoes, sporty sandals and water shoes. Business has been good for the past three years, Fairchild notes, though the spring and summer seasons are always a bit slower. “We usually make it up in the third and fourth quarters; sales generally increase around the holidays,” he says. —Samantha Sciarrotta What are some of your bestselling brands and styles? Vasque, Salomon and The North Face. Teva is doing pretty well right now with its sandals and water shoes because the hiking and trail running categories are slow in the spring and summer. What are some advantages to carrying gear and apparel in addition to footwear? When you have the entire package and somebody’s coming in looking for supplies for a weeklong backpacking trip, it helps. They can get all of it here, and I think it does make it easier. On the other side, we have limited space. We have to pick and choose what we need to bring in. What are some of your best-selling accessories? Socks by Darn Tough, SmartWool and Wigwam. We sell socks year-round, and they’re an easy item for people to get into that’s not super expensive. Once you get somebody into a good, quality sock, they’re going to come back once they see the difference. What’s the best brand you’ve added to the mix in the past year? The only new footwear brand I’ve added is Oboz. We just got them in early May, and a few pairs have gone out the door. They’re really good quality and built well. It gives our customers a different option than some of the more well known brands. What is your store’s go-to brand and why? When we’re talking about hiking, the go-to is Vasque. People who have worn Vasque in the past know that they’re getting a quality, long-lasting, durable shoe that they always come back for, and we reiterate that in-store for those customers who might not be so familiar with the brand.

What’s your store’s most meaningful category? Hiking, then trail running. It’s probably our widest selection. Who is your customer? We get all different socioeconomic classes, but our customers always understand the value of what they’re getting out of brands. Somebody that might not have as much money would still be willing to buy a more expensive shoe because they know it’s going to last, so they’ll save money in the long run. In general, it’s people with more disposable income and are outdoor enthusiasts between the ages of 30 and 60. Any particular advantages to your location? We don’t have trails right out the backdoor, but we do have a ton within a 10- to 30-minute radius. We have state parks, trails and a canal path system, so there are plenty of people out running, biking, hiking and walking their dogs. What’s your fastest growing customer segment? It’s active 25- to 34-yearold people. Do you sponsor or take part in any outdoor-specific events? I organize and sponsor my own trail race at Jacobsburg State Park. We’ll also be partnering with an outfitter on two climbing events. What’s the biggest challenge facing your business right now? For someone like me that doesn’t have a big marketing budget, it’s about getting the name out there. We rely on word of mouth, which is great because it’s free, but it’s so slow. I do some print and radio advertising and I try to do a lot of it through the trail race, local marathons, a 5K we sponsor and our Facebook page, which we update three times a week. What’s your No. 1 goal for the rest of this year? Increase sales. What do you love most about your job? When I come into work, it’s what I want to be doing. It’s not an agenda set by somebody else. I get to work on what I feel I need to be working on, and it doesn’t feel like work. I also appreciate the flexibility.

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Outdoor Preview: Spring 2015

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Since the emergence of the modern outdoor industry in the ’70s, the market has been heavily influenced by its Baby Boomer creators and has largely been defined by the core activities of backpacking, hiking, paddling, camping and climbing. Along the way, classic hikers have become just that: classic. To say a chunk of the product evolution in this market segment has stagnated along the lines of the tastes and end uses of its older demographic would be an understatement. But now this foundation is shifting as many boomers age out of the category. In response, outdoor suppliers and retailers are ramping up efforts to attract new consumers—notably Millennials and women who are redefining outdoor recreation—with updated styling and hybrid performance features. It answers lifestyle pursuits such as action sports, urban outdoors and bike commuting. As such, products, stylistically and end use-wise, are stretching far beyond the wooded trail. The fact is younger participants view the outdoors—and their place in it—far differently than their elders and the industry is stepping up to meet those demands. Samantha Searles, director of consumer insights, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), says understanding Millennial and women’s values, behaviors and preferences is an important part of defining the industry’s future. Women are a fast growing demographic in the category and, for the



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first time, Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers. (The demographic will account for one-third of total spending by 2020, according to a McKinsey study.) “Millennials and women are multifaceted and want products that are fashionable, versatile, functional and comfortable to complement their active lifestyle,” she says, noting that women’s-specific outdoor product sales are already a $5 billion industry and are expected to grow in the years ahead. Searles adds that as OIA is also working to connect with young Hispanic and African-American consumers as well as anyone who resides in urban areas. (Forty percent of Millennials are minorities, according to a report by Fiscal Times.) In an effort to showcase this emerging market, Outdoor Retailer debuted its Venture Out segment at this month’s Summer Market that showcases more than 12 innovative urban and lifestyle brands (including SeaVees, Topo Designs and Zeal Optics) aimed at helping Columbia outdoor specialty retailers better understand, attract and engage a younger and more urban-influenced audience. It featured a mix of brand presentations, media, food and culture to help showcase the burgeoning outdoor trend. “As younger adventurers—often living in urban settings—engage the outdoors, their expectations of design, function and utility differ from how older generations view outdoor gear,” explains Scott McGuire, president of The Mountain Lab, developers of Venture Out. “[Young consumers] want urban-influenced design rooted in functionality. They don’t want the massproduced fleece or heavy leather backpacking boots their parents wore.” McGuire notes how this consumer may go on a hike wearing board shorts, a yoga top and Nike skate shoes, and will take cell phone pictures of birds and flowers along the way and share them with friends through social media. “They want to have meaningful toes-in-the-dirt experiences, but in a different way than their parents had,” he says, adding, “they’re bringing more energy into the outdoor space.” McGuire also believes that many of these brands will not be vying for marketshare: Rather, they’ll be creating new avenues of growth. And that presents opportunities for new brands. “The younger consumer is going to find a way to the outdoor experience and the older, traditional brands may not be the ones delivering it to them,” he says.

What’s in Store

The shift presents new growth opportunities, provided brands figure out what these consumers will want and need. It’s a tricky business since each demographic has particular tastes and demands, compounded by the fact that the lines between performance and lifestyle product continue to blur. “Many of us immersed in the outdoor world think of ourselves as ‘outdoorsmen,’ meaning there is no line separating lifestyle from performance,” says Carl Blakeslee, creative director of Portland Product Werks, makers of Woolrich Footwear. “And I believe that is good for the industry because it opens more doors for hybrid products and market stories.” Natasha Petrovsky, Sanuk’s global marketing manager, agrees, noting the brand will introduce a new canvas vulcanized collection of sneakers and ballet flats in fresh materials for Spring ’15. “We are focusing on a younger, Keen hipper customer that pays attention to fashion and wants his or her own identity,” she says. And while comfort and performance remain priorities, the fashion aspect can’t be overlooked. “Shoppers want a wardrobe that works seamlessly with their lifestyle, and we see this as a great opportunity to target the fashion-conscious,” Petrovsky adds. Along similar hybrid lines, paddlesports equipment maker Astral, which jumped into footwear in 2012, is

looking to serve younger consumers by offering styles suitable on the river and on the town. The new Aquanaut, for example, is a crossover water/trail shoe that’s lightweight, breathable and has an aggressive outsole. And the Brewer (Brewess for women) is a casual skate look but with performance features such as a fast-drying Cordura upper, drainage holes and a G.14 sticky rubber outsole for traction on wet rocks—and wet cobblestones. “Our target consumers are ages 18 to 35 and although we design for kayakers, rafters and paddlers, our shoes Ecco are also great for travel because they’re extremely lightweight,” notes Bryan Owen, brand manager. “Today’s outdoor consumers may not be hardcore paddlers, but they identify with the outdoor lifestyle,” he adds. To help spread the word, Astral’s marketing focuses on grassroots events and festivals that blend sports and music, and the company also recently hired a social media coordinator. Jambu, a division of Vida Group, is also courting lifestyle consumers, but is not overly concerned with its actual age. It’s a general mindset the brand is targeting. “We view a consumer’s mindset and lifestyle over actual age as being far more important, and we offer designs that support that concept,” remarks David Jonah, general manager of Jambu. “We’ve always defined Jambu as a ‘hybrid’ footwear choice, fusing outdoor, sport and comfort fashion with technical performance elements for the consumer who wants a shoe that can easily traverse changing terrain and climates.” Jonah reports that women’s is the brand’s fastest-growing segment, currently comprising 80 percent of the business. For Ahnu, which began as a lifestyle brand primarily for women, performance products that incorporate aesthetics and fashion continue to be the premise. “We package our technology in products that women feel good about wearing both on and off the trail,” notes Jacqueline Van Dine, brand director and co-founder. As for appealing specifically to younger consumers, Van Dine says it’s as much about the product as it is in how you communicate with that audience. “Reaching them through their handhelds is as critical as how the products perform,” she says, adding the message differs by gender. “I have a saying: ‘Women like to plant trees and men like to climb them.’ So you need to speak to them differently.” Similarly, Ahnu continues to build product using gender-appropriate lasts, thereby creating a distinct aesthetic for each segment. It’s not the “shrink and pink” approach so commonly used in the outdoor space. “Our women’s products feels and looks more feminine and the men’s products a bit more burly,” Van Dine offers. Even traditional outdoor brands—like Asolo, Lowa, Vasque and La Sportiva—are developing new technologies and silhouettes geared toward active consumers for beyond the trails. “Five years ago, 40 percent of our sales were to women, and it’s coming back to that level now,” Jambu says Henry Barber, Asolo USA sales director. “We’re also seeing more sales in metro areas, and we believe that urban outdoor is where the growth is.” Barber cites the Italian brand’s rich color palette, Natural Shape comfort technology, wide width program and women’s-specific offerings as all growth drivers. A standout model for the Spring ’15 line is the Magix, which is designed for mountain lifestyle consumers. It’s a durable, lightweight hiker that can be used for multiple activities. Peter Sachs, general manager of Lowa Boots, views females as the holy grail of the outdoor market. “Women are the missing segment everyone is in search of,” he says, noting that several studies estimate the demographic accounts for one-third of the market’s sales. Lowa offers women’s specific styles regarding fit, design, colorations and materials. Beyond that Sachs says the brand aims to

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get younger, too. “Our goal has been to drop our average age by introducing more athletic-inspired product,” he says. An example this spring will be the Ferrox GTX Lo shoe that offers lightweight synthetic uppers, Gore-Tex linings, construction for support and stability and athletic and youthful colors. For Vasque, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it has made a living catering to baby boomers. But now the brand is entering emerging categories in an effort to grow young again. “We’re approaching the younger market in two ways,” explains Brian Hall, director of product development. “We’re offering performance hiking product that’s more colorful and has a lightweight silhouette, such as our Inhaler model. We’re also focusing on trail running, a broad category that touches a lot of participants, and is definitely a more active, younger-oriented category based on color and design.” Hall adds, “The emergence of athletic brands into trail product is attracting younger consumers.” Greg Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor, doesn’t mince words on its targeting of both a younger and a female demographic: “One hundred percent of our footwear line is youth-driven, with about 40 percent created specifically for women.” In order to attract these 18- to 30-year-old outdoor athletes, Thomsen says the styles are “lighter, faster and more technical with a ‘next generation’ aesthetic.” It’s a must, he notes. “The next generation of outdoor athletes is doing things faster and bolder than previous generations and our products are designed to enhance their abilities,” he says. “Our fastestgrowing categories are lightweight, fast hikers and water sports.”



Word from the Aisles

From a retail perspective, this macro category shift toward younger and more feminine silhouettes presents exciting opportunities, but also daunting buying decisions. Choosing the right brands and styles for a far more volatile and fast-moving audience is no easy task, especially when it’s been a far more consistent buy in the past. Hilary Mitchell, footwear buyer and assistant store manager at The Base Camp, which operates two stores in Montana, confirms that there’s growing consumer demand for more versatile footwear and they have to get up to speed. “The outdoor industry is now reaching more people who weren’t previously very interested,” she says, “For example, we’re selling lots of climbing approach shoes for fashion because they have the look and color that customers want.” Mitchell’s current buying strategy is to look at product from functional and fashion/casual perspectives, and to figure out how the consumer will actually use the product. It has resulted in a greater selection of styles for women, with Oboz, Salomon and La Sportiva being recent strong sellers. She notes that younger consumers gravitate toward Salomon and La Sportiva for the color, and Chaco and Birkenstock are also doing well. “Traditional brands are now trending toward younger consumers—Birkenstock is back full-force,” Mitchell says. San Diego-based Adventure 16, which operates four stores in Southern California, is faced with the challenge of its location in the effort to reach a younger audience. President John Mead cites the numerous action sports and surf shops in the area as making it a tough battle. “Our stores are located along the Pacific Crest Trail and we’re a more traditional mountain shop that has been in San Diego since the ’60s,” he says. “This isn’t to say that we’re not looking to get traction with younger consumers, but it’s tough.” Adventure 16 plans to bring in a couple of younger, more colorful lines such as Topo Designs. “The good news is that when you promote to a younger audience, it resonates with older consumers,” Mead says. New York-based Tent & Trails is taking full advantage of its urban locale and is keen on connecting with Millennials and women. “It’s about money and everybody wants a bite of the pie,” offers Jamie Lipman, manager and COO. “The Baby Boomers are starting to age out, and it’s important to make sure the next generations get interested in outdoor recreation in whatever forms it takes.” The store has widened its focus to allow for more types of footwear, and while hiking remains a key category, trail running and ultralight hybrid styles are also trending well. “The challenge is to keep up with consumers by stocking the right brands and a range of sizes,” says Lipman. “I also think that consumers are finding that buying shoes online isn’t the panacea they thought it would be. Regardless of age or gender, they still need to try them on.” •




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ITH 14,400 SQUARE feet of retail space, it’s no wonder J&H Lanmark Store calls itself “Central Kentucky’s Outdoor Headquarters.” First opened as an army navy surplus store by Danny Johnson and John Hall (Hence, the J&H.) in 1972, the Lexington location opened as an outdoor shop, complementary to the original downtown workwear store. Soon, though, the outdoor business became more profitable, says current owner George Lathram, and it became the only location in 2000. “When you’re selling workwear, you’re discounting it for massive groups,” Lathram, who started with the store as a janitorial employee in 1993 as a 16-year-old, points out. “Outdoor, though, was strong and getting stronger.” Since Lathram purchased the business in 2006, he’s been able to double sales by advertising on TV and radio, spearheading a loyalty program and staying active on Facebook. What has really kept the store going, though, is the staff, Lathram says. Employees like footwear buyer Woody Deperna, who answered our questions below, have been around since the ’80s and ’90s. “They have a sprit, a passion,” Lathram notes. “I’m very blessed to have these people with me. They’re a great example for the newer people, and they all get along. Chemistry is so important to me. When I’m bringing somebody on in a management capacity, chemistry is the No. 1 factor.” —S.S.

What are some of your bestselling brands and styles this season? The powerhouse brand is Chaco sandals. The Southeast is a really strong region for them, and we’ve sold 700 pairs so far this season. People hike in them, use them as water shoes and they’re really popular with the college students. Every young woman 15 to 25 heads straight for that corner. What is the best new brand you’ve added to the mix? Over the past couple of years, we’ve added three new specialty outdoor lines: Oboz, Salewa and Lowa. Birkenstock has been another really good recent addition. What is your store’s go-to brand and why? Probably Merrell. They’re No. 1 in terms of pure pairs going out the door. Keen comes in really close. I see a lot of customer loyalty to both brands. Clarks and Bogs are big, too. How’s business this year so far? It’s been very good, almost surprisingly good. We’re up something like 20 percent to date compared to last year. [Our owner] has done a really good job of reaching out and using more advertising and social media since he took over the business, so the foot traffic has really steadily climbed. What is your store’s most meaningful category? It really depends on the season. Right now, sport sandals like Teva are selling. Year-round, it’s a light hiking boot. What is your store’s fastest growing customer segment? Our female foot traffic is something that we’ve targeted. We grew out of an army navy work store, so it’s always been kind of 70 percent men, which is the opposite of what I’d like it to be. But it’s coming around, and we’re getting closer to flip-

ping that number with the amount of younger, active women who are participating in outdoor sports. Do you host any outdoor-specific in-store events? We do events where some sales reps come in, like our recent Kelty backpacking demonstration and Chaco RV tour. We’re looking into sponsoring some community and athletic events, and we do some animal rescue events with a no-kill shelter outside our storefront. What is your biggest challenge facing your business right now? Competing with the web. It’s always going to be there. If they find something cheaper while looking online, we may lose the sale. How do you combat that? Our approach: We don’t care if someone is showrooming. We focus on the customer who’s shopping in our store, and if we leave a good impression on someone who’s showrooming, chances are they might come back and buy something. What is your No. 1 goal for the rest of this year? The top goal is to always send everybody away as pleased as they can be with their in-store experience. Even our sales reps have told us, when they walk in the store, they just get a good vibe. We’re happy to be here, and people pick up on that. What do you love most about your job? I would say it’s kind of a tie between the challenge of the buying aspect and looking at new products. When I get a big shipment, I feel like a kid on Christmas. I also really like just dealing with customers. I get a lot of folks with different foot problems and health issues, and I love matching them up with the right products.

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Child’s Play FTER LAST YEAR’S long, cold winter, designers proceed with caution in Spring ’15 with a multitude of mostly close-toed styles to see kids through the season no matter what Mother Nature throws our way. Sporty silhouettes are still a stand-by for play, but a botanical bouquet on sneakers and sandals adds freshness while color palettes touch on everything from neon brights to neutral hues.


Bright Blooms

Western Chief


Nina Kids

Florals for spring might not be the most groundbreaking of concepts, but it sure is a gorgeous one. A vacation vibe runs through the season’s footwear collections, with designers turning to hibiscus and orchids to bring a taste of the tropics. With bold blossoms and neutrals offset by neon brights, this new breed of botanical beauties can be found blooming as all-over prints on sneakers and rain boots, accenting Mary Janes and topping off sandals as oversized rosettes.

Boot Up


Fashion Snoops Childrenswear Editor Tanya Lucadamo says ankle booties provide the best of both worlds next spring. Westerninspired silhouettes lighten up with lace accents and laser cut details on slouchy suede boots allow brightly colored socks to peek through. Meanwhile, patent leather in sherbet shades prettifies punky lace-ups.

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Ready-to-wear designers may have recently reclaimed the sport sandal from tourists by giving them a new high-fashion lease of life, but in the kids’ world it’s business as usual. “For boys, sporty silhouettes remain important as there is an overall push for active comfort across all markets,” says Lucadamo, who predicts that the slew of sci-fi video games hitting the big screen next year will lead to futuristic sport styles, too.


Gray Matters

Softer—and easier to keep clean—than stark white, gray is a go-to hue for spring, with everything from charcoal to pale pewter adding an athletic edge to oxfords and pairing perfectly with pops of electric blue and magenta on sneakers and sandals. “After the oversaturation of busy pop and artsy trends the past few seasons, an urge for a cleaner palette becomes necessary,” offers Lucadamo.



Natural Selection

Sperry Top-Sider

Don’t write off jute as strictly for mom’s favorite espadrilles. This season the braided rope trim can be found on boys’ canvas boat shoes and hi-top sneakers alike, while girls can rope in the trend in raffia-wrapped wedges. “There is always a tropical or exotic theme for spring/summer so designers naturally lean toward materials like raffia that play into that vibe,” notes Nicole Yee, children’s editor for trend forecasting firm Stylesight.

Blank Canvas

From sneakers to Mary Janes to two-piece sandals, brands explore the palette-cleansing potential of white for spring. Laser cutouts and multiple straps add some visual interest to the monochromatic shoes, while patent and leather options offer an upscale alternative to the usual canvas and mesh styles. Plus, snow-white styles look great with bright and neutral ensembles alike.


Pediped Elements by Nina

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M FROM THE from with Italy love AURIZIO


Nicole | For the Versatile, Modern Woman The mood of the season is both dynamic and multi-faceted. As the season draws on, we see looks beginning to soften into more classically feminine pieces. Whether it's fashion, travel, art, shopping, or business, the Nicole woman feels comfortable and sure of herself. She throws away the rule book and mixes things up; blending colors, patch working patterns, and forgetting that active wear is for sport, casual wear for the weekend, and tailoring only for work. Spring '15 presents new color combinations with inspiration being drawn from the urban environment. Shades to look for include pretty naturals, denim blues, graphic-tribal prints, and golden touches of metallics. Contemporary finishing and new animal prints are the keys of the season, as well as stacked block heels, timeless wedges, and summer platforms. Our blending of these elements creates a modern up-to-date silhouette. Let's go for an optimistic fashion future with boundless opportunities for individual creativity. Enjoy. -Maurizio



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Fit to Print

Printed slip-ons are experiencing a major moment in womenswear ever since Phoebe Philo sent them down the runway at Celine, and it trickles down to kids’ size next season. Budding street style stars will love the skate-inspired silhouettes, covered in everything from spots and stripes to more out-there iterations like photoreal florals and glow-in-the-dark sharks. Not to mention they’re perfect for those hazy summer days when kids are too lazy to tie their shoelaces.



Precious Metal

Muted metallics step into the light for spring as fabric coatings evolve from high shine to more subtle tones of gold and silver, adding a glossy sheen to sandals and flats. Yee notes that designers have also upped the wattage to include rose gold, holograms and metallic greens, blues and pinks which dress up simple silhouettes like minimal monastic and T-bar styles that are sure to tickle every girl’s fancy.

Stride Rite

Livie & Luca

Life Aquatic

Shoes won’t shy away from blue’s tropical cousin next season as designers dive deep into turquoise for boys and girls alike. The cool hue can be found on fringe sandals and eye-catching kicks, or adding a summery flair to sporty shoes when teamed with lime green, heather gray and goldfish orange. Look out for Martinique-esque prints, too, as brands copy the classic banana leaf pattern that was everywhere for adults this season. Expect plenty of palm and pineapple prints, in this regard.



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Island Slipper wedge flip-flops; sneakers by Vans.

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Hush Puppies sandal wedge. Opposite page: Groove T-strap wedge.

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Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes; L'Artiste by Spring Step heel. Opposite page: Rollie lace-up; floral rain boots by Chooka; Aetrex sandals. Fashion Editor: Tara Anne Dalbow Hair and makeup: Tara Campbell Hair assistant: Annie Cosgrove

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Vionic T-strap sandals, Aoko Su bracelet. All dresses by Free People unless noted.


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Naot cork footbed sandals. Opposite: Matt Bernson faux croc sandals. 86

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Teva sport sandals. 89

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Paula Mendoza earrings, White Mountain two-tone sandals. Opposite: SouthPaw vintage dress, Ayaka Nishi cuff, Caterpillar lugsole sandals.

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Birkenstock metallic slides, Aoko Su necklace. Opposite: faux snakeskin sandals by Thierry Rabotin, Paula Mendoza bracelet. Fashion Editor: Tara Anne Dalbow; Stylist: Claudia Talamas and Alex Nunez; Hair and Makeup: Maggie Connolly/ Utopia; Prop Stylist: Cecilia Elguero; Model: Kiley/Red Model Management; Hand lettering: Nancy Campbell.


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Mules Rule Slip into spring’s most stubborn style.


Thom Solo

THE AVANT-GARDE the likes of Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys (Heel heights will be kept to a “wearable” five inches as opposed to his usual eight.) he’s far from finished with custom work. “My favorite pop divas have always been the embodiment of Thom Solo. I just did custom shoes for Lady Gaga’s ArtRave tour, and to watch her breathing life into my work, to see something on stage that I’d constructed with my own hands, that was just so amazing,” he gushes. —Lyndsay McGregor


Who is your style icon? Daphne Guinness because she fully understands and grasps that sense of the world between fantasy and reality, and she’s also really cemented in society that fashion is not only an expression of who you are but that it can also be a form of armor. Which celebrities would you love to see in one of your designs? Beyoncé. Where do you shop? I do a lot of my shopping online. I love, and

Nina Payne

Which shoes in your closet are getting the most wear? I’m about to retire them but I have these amazing Dior Homme boots from the Hedi Slimane era that my mom bought me when I was 17. They are so beat up and covered in paint drips now, and my fiancé makes fun of me because on the bottom of the sole where it used to say Dior Homme it now says Sullivan Tire because I had to get the soles replaced. Which designer do you admire most? Alexander McQueen because he really knew how to bring fantasy to life and he will never be matched, ever. Which trend must die? Crocs. I want to burn them all.

Nine West


THOM SOLO ENDED up in shoe design purely by chance. As a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston he would often construct couture-like creations based on ideas that randomly popped into his head. “I’ve always had a true love of fashion and fine art, and that’s what’s really developed my aesthetic and everything I’ve done,” says the 24-yearold Bostonian, who graduated in 2012 with a dual degree from Tufts and SMFA. Back then he thought of his surreal stilettos only as sculptures, but when his stylist friends started to pull them for projects, he realized shoemaking might be something worth pursuing, and his towering heels were soon gracing the pages of German Vogue and Blend and the feet of Carly Rae Jepsen and Daphne Guinness. Solo’s floral-driven first collection, Specimen, attracted further celebrity and editorial attention, but his big break came with the launch of his Fall ’13 follow up, Giger. Inspired by Swiss artist H.R. Giger (the man behind the “xenomorph” creature in Ridley Scott’s Alien films) and female superheroes, the shoes’ ribcage platforms and spinal cord heels were snapped up for Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch” video. “I’ve had a few years of notoriety and now I’m financially able to bring my shoes to the masses,” he says, noting that his next collection, dubbed Conte des Fées, will put a dark twist on fairytales. “I always feel that everything should have a sense of dark edge but also a large amount of beauty. Dark and light should always combine,” he adds. And while Solo is hoping this line will land in


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Perfect Fit

Shoefitr keeps consumers—and retailers—happy by reducing fit-related returns by 25 percent. IN THE POKER game of retail, brick-and-mortar shoe stores still have an ace up their sleeve: fit expertise. But thanks to Shoefitr’s virtual sizing technology, e-tailers now have a way to compete. Up until now, shopping online has been a trial-anderror game of chance for consumers that also costs millions of dollars in shipping charges every year between buyer and seller when the shoes don’t fit properly. Now, the aptly titled platform has stepped up to change that. “Shoefitr is a pretty classic example of technology meeting a growing need in the market,” states Matt Wilkinson, who co-founded the company with Nick End and Breck Fresen after one too many ill-fitting experiences of their own. So how does it work? The app uses a database of internal shoe measurements, acquired using 3-D imaging technology, which allows it to compare the size and shape of a shoe a shopper is currently wearing, to one he or she wants to buy. “We also characterize the deformation of the shoe when it’s weight bearing and the upper elasticity of the material since those measurements change considerably when a person is standing in a shoe,” Wilkinson explains. When Shoefitr first launched in 2011 it focused its attention on the athletic market, but it quickly expanded to include other categories and retailers. Today its client list of 55 includes Nordstrom,,, Cole Haan and more. Installation is free for retailers, as is the scanning service, but Shoefitr does charge a small commission when the application leads to a purchase. “The nice thing is we have seen organic growth in usage of our application, within a retailer or brand’s site, of more than 200 percent year-over-year with very little marketing efforts,” Wilkinson says. For retailers, the most tangible benefit is the reduction in returns (25 percent) and increase in conversion rates (12 percent), but the bigger opportunity is the value it adds to consumers. As Wilkinson puts it, “It instills confidence in their purchase by providing visualShoefitr comization with relevant information so consumers pares a shoe no longer have to go into a store or worry about the consumer wears to the fit-related returns.” —Lyndsay McGregor shoe she wants to buy.


Stephanie Kennedy

its SoCal aesthetic and includes the likes of Loeffler Randall, Marc by Marc Jacobs and McQ Alexander McQueen, as well as under-theradar finds such as Sol Sana, Senso and Tkees. Mainstream labels like Sam Edelman, Steve Madden and Jeffrey Campbell do well here, too, while bestselling styles run the gamut from single-sole sandals and sky-high stilettos to beat-up engineer boots. “We definitely cater to the trend-driven consumer, and the majority of our buys are successful,” Kennedy states. —L.M.

HOW DOES A psychology major with little to no fashion experience end up working as a buyer for online fashion mecca Revolve Clothing? Stephanie Kennedy isn’t sure, but there’s nowhere she’d rather be. “It’s been really great to watch the company grow and see the direction that they’re working towards being at,” says the California native, who joined the 11-year-old e-tailer as an intern in 2009 and gradually worked her way up to be the site’s New Yorkbased footwear buyer. She adds, “I basically started from the bottom. I learned everything about buying in-house at Revolve.” Since its launch in 2003, the Los Angeles e-tailer has grown into a virtual home for more than 500 men’s and women’s designer apparel, shoe and accessory brands, racking up 30 million page visits every month and a six-digit following across its social media platforms. The site’s shoe offering is a big draw, and Kennedy confirms that footwear is one of its fastest growing categories. “We are able to provide our customers with a head-to-toe look, and of course a great ensemble wouldn’t be complete without the shoes,” she says. The selection is firmly rooted in

What is your buying philosophy? We are very trend-driven so I always try to make sure I’ve touched on every trend, but it’s also about pushing the limits and looking for the hottest new styles. Who is the typical Revolve customer? She knows what she wants but she’s not afraid to try new styles or silhouettes and be daring in a contemporary way. She’s very fashionforward, which is exciting for me as a buyer because I don’t have to stick to conservative styles. What are some of your key trends for Spring ’15? So far I’ve seen a lot of gladiator sandals, slip-ons, embellishments and animal prints. What about key colors? Mostly neutrals with some brights and pastels. What are some of your favorite brands? Dolce Vita is such a driving shoe brand for us. It’s always evolving and chasing trends, and it’s able to maximize the customer for us by making sure it covers all the bases. The same goes for Steve Madden and Sam Edelman. Are there any trends you want to see disappear? Chunky-soled boots.

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Happy Feet Jerusalem Sandals sets out to promote peace and classic style through its line of leather sandals.

WITH ITS SIMPLE, handcrafted shoes for men and women, Jerusalem Sandals has spent the last four years inking deals with big names like Asos and American Apparel while expanding its West Bank-based factory and hiring new employees. But, says president Kfir Matalon, it’s the brand’s means of manufacturing, not just its footwear, that sets it apart: 74 Israelis and Palestinians craft the sandals together out of the brand’s Hebron factory. It’s fitting, Matalon says, as Jerusalem literally translates to “teaching peace.” “We liked the sandals, but we also wanted to do something bigger than that,” he reveals. “We thought about what we could do to benefit the society. It’s hard for the people there to develop the economy, especially with artists.” The stress of a hostile environment, Matalon notes, is enough to keep talented crafters from doing what they love. Jerusalem Sandals gives them that outlet. “They’re thinking less about terror and more about people,” he offers. Launched in 2010, the brand was inspired by Matalon’s father, Rafael, who spent more than 30 years crafting sandals in Tel Aviv. When Matalon and his wife, Angela, would come back to the United States after visits sporting supple leather sandals influenced by the Biblical era, friends admired them to the point where the pair decided

to start a line stateside. They sold the sandals, designed and crafted in Tel Aviv, on the Venice Beach boardwalk, and the positive response encouraged Matalon to present the brand at FN Platform that same year. Now, you can find the sandals in larger stores like Nordstrom, as well as boutiques all over the U.S. and Canada. And as the Birkenstockesque silhouette has risen to fashion’s forefront this past year, Jerusalem’s sales are increasing. But don’t expect its styles to change if the fad dies down. “These are the trend right now,” Matalon points out. “It’s looking like the time is right. In Israel, though, these have been the sandals for years and years.” The sandals, which retail from $76 to $112, come in a range of styles for men and women, from slip-ons with a single toe loop to strappy slingback thongs. Some silhouettes, like the two-strap Original, are unisex, and all shoes fall under the same tan, black, violet or cherry red hues due to the natural leather and vegetable dye. New color combinations like gold/silver/red, black/gold and black/brown/green are in the offering for Spring ’15. Matalon expects continued solid results. “Our niche is very unique because there aren’t many people doing what we do and on this scale,” he says. “People want the Old World-style sandals, and our niche is quality.” —Samantha Sciarrotta

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continued from page 18

becomes an extension of the business,” he states. “There’s a whole different the works. The wait, he says, was necessary to make the site the best it could set of competencies that needs to be developed, or you’ll need to be able to be. “When you have a reputation in your stores of having a very high level of hire or manage [web design experts].” Most people, he says, tend to toss up a customer service, you have to carry that over to what you do online,” Miroballi product photo and price on their websites and leave it at that. “That doesn’t offers. “There has to be synergy. You have to do it right. The other way would enhance the experience at all,” he suggests. “We recommend a picture, a video have a negative impact on the value of what you do. The value has to be and a really nicely-written product description that makes it come alive. That synonymous between both channels.” And that caution, notes Davis, is key, e-commerce piece tells the story of the store as much as the products.” especially when it comes to trying to compete with heavy hitters like Zappos. The in-store presentation, Miroballi notes, is just as important. As custom“You’re not going to out-e-commerce those guys,” he advises. “Smaller retailers ers do more research online, they’re also learning more about the products are better off leveraging their existing outlets. Keep multiple sales channels they purchase. “They’re expecting the team to be knowledgeable,” he states. integrated. Don’t think about them as separate groups.” “Because of the kind of information available online, they’re knowledgeable, The same goes for the consumers themselves. Since the average individual too. They’re expecting a selection, and they want immediate gratification. Our uses two or more devices daily, retailers should package customers and their team has to be highly trained because they have to know what colors, styles phones, tablets, PCs and other devices as a single unit, rather than viewing and technologies are available instantly.” each individual device as separate entities. “Whatever you’ve done as it works The Left Shoe Company is an example that blends its online and in-store for a computer, the first thing you should do is make sure it works for tablets experiences seamlessly. The customization line began as a brick-andand phones, too. Try to think of the consumer as having multiple personalimortar chain (Shops are located in Los ties as it relates to their devices: desktop, Angeles, Helsinki, Copenhagen, London phone, tablet, even though it can be hard and Dubai, as well as a soon-to-be location to tie those things together,” Green reveals. in New York.) but quickly evolved into an Several big-name retailers are doing online-heavy experience. Customers can just that. Nordstrom is cited frequently go into a store where staff will create a as excelling at omni-channel retailing, 3-D foot model, tailoring each shoe to fit notably through its app software, ease of each consumer perfectly. Once sizing is customer service access via Twitter and indetermined, men can choose from eight store pickup option. DSW and The Finish different styles and myriad color combiLine have also received accolades of late. As nations online or in-store. For the more recently as June, Finish Line CEO Glenn adventurous male, it represents the future Lyon credited the chain’s seamless omniof shoe shopping, says Chairman Gordon channel approach—which entails real-time —Perry Miroballi, owner, Miroballi Shoes Clune. “It’s exciting for most customers to inventory updates available on the website, be able to do it,” he notes. “Technology is optimal website display across all platforms a great equalizer for people, and we end up being able to do things from all and enhanced brand pages, among other elements—with its 15.8 percent net over the world,” and he hopes that soon, the company’s scanning technology sales increase over the prior year, while DSW recently implemented in-store will be available in app form, which all goes back to maintaining a presence pickup and ship-to-store programs, allowing customers to order an item on multiple platforms. online and pick it up at their nearest location, thus eliminating shipping costs. What the future of omni-channel retailing looks like a year from now or These kinds of incentives, as well as programs like loyalty lists and e-mail 10 years from now is sure to change greatly, but Negen believes it will likely marketing, are just as integral to omni-channel as an e-commerce site, says be bright for retailers that embrace the changes advancements in technology Davis. “There are no drawbacks to this, as long as you keep the customer at offer. “The technology keeps getting easier and easier and more and more intuithe center of what you’re doing. Do a good job of keeping the customer on tive,” he claims. “If we were to have this conversation a year or two from now, track,” he offers. “In one click, I want to see my entire order history with you.” we’d be talking about some amazing device that allows you to do something How you market your store is up to you, he adds, “but if you’re not leveraging that didn’t exist today.” Davis agrees, finding it hard to predict anything but across multiple sales channels, you need to be engaging your customers. It’s a an experience that enhances as time passes. “Where e-commerce was in the force that none of us can deny.” Negen says even adding a little oomph to your mid ’90s, that was just the second inning of the game,” he offers. “There are mailing list can make a difference. “Get people to opt in,” he recommends. a lot of things that are going to emerge over the next few years. It’s hard to “Once they give you permission to market to them, honor that by adding forecast, but we’re moving into another cycle. Retailers are just waking up.” value. Don’t try to push and pitch shoes. Try to make the footwear and fashMiroballi foresees an increase in resources like in-store pickup programs in ion come alive. Make the e-mail fun. Every time you send them something the coming years. “How do we get guests to come in and shop in our stores?” cool and fun, it’s a deposit.” When you’re asking for money, or trying to force he asks. “Buying online and picking up in the stores, having access to all of a product on the consumer, “it’s a withdrawal. You want to build up deposits the products that our vendors make—that’s the future. We need to drive until you can make a withdrawal,” he adds. A good example of this is Zappos’ consumers into our stores.” sister site,, which recently held its first-ever live-streamed fashion For now, Green guides retailers to get involved as quickly and effectively show, during which it invited fans to share looks on Twitter or Pinterest and as they can, calling today’s consumers “completely intolerant” of businesses awarded a $250 e-gift card to each of the 10 winners. who are not omni-channel. If he or she places something in their shopping Still, caution is crucial. Negen warns against what he calls the “field of dreams cart on a company’s website while using their laptop, that should transfer delusion” that if you build a digital sales channel (i.e. spend big bucks building over to their mobile device without hassle. “I understand how hard that can a website), they will automatically come. Not always so, he says. Once you’ve be, but consumers don’t care,” Green says. “They want it all to work, because mastered the brick-and-mortar aspect of the business, that’s a good time to they’re used to getting it all to work. When it works, nobody notices, but when tackle new online territory. “What I recommend is that they use e-commerce it doesn’t, everybody hates you. It’s kind of thankless, but it’s necessary.” • as a way to enhance the customer’s experience, rather than taking it over. It

“Buying online and picking up in stores, having access to all the products that our vendors make—that’s the future.”

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O&A continued from page 24 nondescript shoe and turn it into gold. And what makes this a little more difficult than Reebok or Keen is the competition Hoka is up against and being sold in a variety of trade channels, be it sporting goods, athletic specialty, run specialty, etc. Fortunately, run specialty has enjoyed a revival over the last 15 years after almost dying in the ’90s. You can now have a pretty substantial-sized business within just that channel. Not enough to compete on the grand stage, but enough to gain a threshold volume to potentially become a player later on. Why do you think run specialty has re-emerged to this level? Several things have contributed to the channel’s revival. First, the second running boom, which is actually bigger and longer lasting than the first boom, which began in the mid ’70s. Second, the fact that Foot Locker really converted into an athletic fashion retailer and stopped catering to athletes. That combination forged an opportunity for run specialty to re-emerge. Third, the running boom is driven more by women, which in part has been the outcome of Title IX. When I ran track in high school, there wasn’t even a girls team. Now, cross-country is the single most popular high school sport based on participation. It’s a no-cut sport, and boys and girls are on the same team, so it’s become much more social. And for girls who grow up running, it becomes a normal part of their fitness routines into adulthood. Tell me about Hoka’s category expansion plans. Right now, our focus is on what I would describe as forward-motion sports (running, walking and hiking), not side to side. But we may get into lateralmotion sports down the road. Fortunately, we have the advantage of having Diard, one of the great product mavens in the athletic world, on our team. He has just signed a contract extension with our company, and he is up for any challenge. He’s kind of our not-so-secret weapon. We rely upon him for innovation and advanced concepts. It’s not always a smooth process, as we’ve got him working on projects at his base in France and we’ve got a team here working on things as well. They work together, but they do some things differently and separately. It’s an alchemy that is working because we are coming up with some really great and innovative product. What does Deckers Outdoor bring to Hoka? Several things. Angel’s support and guidance is vital in that he completely gets running. He was an All-American cross-country runner, he loves the sport, he understands the business and he knows what it takes to compete in this space. Angel and our board agree with my view that, at this point in time, we should not be concerned with bottom-line contribution from Hoka. That would be foolish. We want to drive market share and topline growth, and thankfully we’ve got another little brand called Ugg that does very well contributing to the company’s top and bottom lines. Whether Hoka makes $2 million or loses $2 million in a given year at this early stage is neither here nor there in the greater scheme of things. So being a part of Deckers lets us invest in top line and market share growth. It has led to us spending almost as much money in marketing this year as we made in revenue last year. I believe that without Deckers’ involvement, Hoka would not have made it as a brand. At the time we made the purchase, the U.S. business was being run by a distributor based in Canada that had no real experience in running a footwear brand whatsoever, and it certainly didn’t have the capital resources that needed to be invested. I viewed a potential Hoka acquisition with some urgency in that I believed the window of opportunity opened by minimal was shutting rapidly. And that would probably close the window of retailers being open to new concepts. In addition, a major investment in marketing was needed immediately, and the product needed to be updated and made

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more commercial for the U.S. market as soon as possible. Overall, I felt a real urgency and, fortunately, Angel agreed. To that end, Angel and I have worked effectively over the years. While we’re different in many ways, the way we think about business is remarkably similar. I can finish his sentences in this regard, because we’ve been doing this for so long together and, even when we worked apart, we remained close friends. So it wasn’t really that hard to convince him. He basically said, “You’re right, let’s do it.” Boom. And that’s another way we’re similar: We are very decisive and we’re not risk-averse. Are there any pitfalls that you know to avoid this time around? Sure. I think you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes, and I’ve made lots of mistakes. For example, I think I’ve improved upon my management style, being a bit more collaborative. While I’m very decisive and I’ll make decisions quickly, they are never uninformed decisions. I’ll give you one example: Our Hoka Think Tank conferences (there have been three to date) bring in key running specialty retailers, coaches, athletes, outside marketing experts and members of the media to our headquarters, where we lay out our plan and solicit feedback. We basically open up the tent flaps and ask, “What do you think?” We’ve gotten great feedback and even changed course on occasion. A big difference with the Hoka launch as opposed to the Reebok and Keen era is the overwhelming presence of the Internet. Is it generally a plus or a negative in getting a brand like this off the ground? Overall, I believe it’s a positive. We live in the information age, and social media involves sharing stories. In that respect, the experience for Hoka has been very positive. Certainly social media is becoming a much more critical aspect of our marketing strategy than maybe even two years ago. For example, we are now developing a social media calendar that dovetails with all our other marketing events. As for the e-commerce aspect, I also think it’s an advantage, but it does present some challenges. Being in control of your distribution is one of the most important aspects in developing a footwear brand. That was a mistake I witnessed at Reebok; it became far too dependent on lower- and moderate-tier retailers and, as a result, lacked credibility within the specialty tier. Ultimately, that was the largest part of its downfall. Anything particularly special about this run as opposed to your previous ones? Yes. 1. It’s a running brand, and I’m a runner. I get to be involved directly once again in the sport I love. This weekend, for example, I’m going to Glasgow to attend a Diamond League track meet. That’s a professional responsibility. [Laughs.] 2. The experience that Angel, the others on our team and I have accumulated over the years allows us to avoid making some of the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. 3. At this point in my life, I’m able to enjoy the experience more. I understand how special it is and I appreciate it more. Angel and I have both said the same thing: It seems like our whole careers have led to this point. What do you love most about your job? I love the fact that I’m a runner with a running brand. By the way, that experience Angel and I—as well as members of our team—have is very important. Retailers see that “these guys get it.” We’re runners. We also used to run a running store and we understand some of their plight. That authenticity is a real advantage for us, and it makes it real enjoyable as well. I’m not enjoying managing Hoka because it’s a shoe brand; I’m enjoying it because it’s about running and running shoes. That also helps with our marketing and working with our athletes. After the event we sponsored for Angel’s son, we chatted with a lot of the runners. It got back to us that they said, basically, “That’s never happened before.” A president and CEO hanging out with the athletes after a meet and talking knowledgeably about training programs, how to peak for races and events—all kinds of things. That authenticity helps give Hoka a lot more credibility. •

7/22/14 10:45 AM

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drop kicks

Calling All Sneakerheads Sole Collector introduces a real-time feed of the latest and increasingly frequent sneaker releases. By Lyndsay McGregor

The top five most followed sneaker drops on Release Watch for July: Adidas JS Tiger; Air Jordan 14 Retro; Air Jordan 3 Retro; Nike LeBron 11 EXT; Reebok Kamikaze II Low.

year, who adds that Nike had a whopping 11 Air Jordan releases in July alone. “Keeping track of that is not as easy as we all wish. Brands typically set a release date and after that it’s up to the fans to find the right click or physical line to join outside a store.” With Release Watch, subscribers can “follow” individual shoes they are hoping to buy, and will receive breaking news SNEAKERHEAD: A GUY who and verified on-sale information collects limited, rare or exclusive sent to them via e-mail so they’ll kicks, often from the likes of Nike never miss a sneaker drop again. or Adidas; is willing to camp out Release Watch alerts users “Offering this service means a lot in front of shoe stores in the hopes to real-time more people stay in the loop much of adding a prize piece to his colsneaker news. more fluidly. It’s like a customized lection; price is no obstacle. RSS feed,” Schonberger notes. Sneakerheads may not repreSince its soft-launch in May, sent the biggest athletic footwear Release Watch has been growing customer segment (Forbes recently its user base at the rate of one new subestimated they account for $1.1 billion of the scriber every 15 minutes. “Sneakerheads are estimated $20 billion retail sneaker market an obsessed breed whose tastes are a clear in the United States.) but few would argue indicator of what silhouettes and colorways that they are not the most vocal, passionwill work commercially on a broader scale ate and influential of all sneaker wearers. the following season,” Schonberger says, Leading brands along with an armada of adding that for Complex, “it’s always nice boutique labels continue to answer this to track the sneaker trends of our readers, devotion with ever-more frequent releases too.” Sole Collector has also developed a of special make-ups (SMUs), limited-edition proprietary Sole Collector Release Index collabs and rare re-issues, which in many that ranks the most coveted releases for the cases are announced months in advance to sneakerhead community based on crowdcrank up demand to riot-inducing levels. In sourced data. (Not surprisingly, the top five an effort to help manage the frenzy and keep releases for July and August were all Air sneakerheads abreast of when and where Jordan models.) And while the site has no the latest releases will hit stores, sneaker plans to team up with any brands or retailculture site Sole Collector has launched ers for this tool (It’s strictly a Sole Collector Release Watch, the first-ever, personalized, edit, Schonberger notes.), it is planning to real-time service that alerts users with upincorporate stats soon, based on user feedto-the-minute sneaker releases and news. back. “With Release Watch, we’re able to “We think it’s a great technological innosatisfy their need to comprehensively track vation for our site because the level and news about shoes and give them the step breadth of releases are rapidly increasup they need to secure limited releases,” he ing,” says Nick Schonberger, deputy editor says. “And it helps us become more varied of Complex Media, the men’s multimedia in how people consume sneaker media.” platform that acquired Sole Collector last

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Fashion Inspires Us Value Drives Us

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A Division of White Mountain

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