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G E OX S E T F O R U . S . R E - L A U N C H

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Designers Groove to a ’70s Vibe for Spring






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Caroline Diaco Publisher Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL Tara Anne Dalbow Fashion Editor Kirby Stirland Associate Editor



Laurie Cone Associate Editor Kathy Passero Editor at Large Melodie Jeng Contributing Photographer Judy Leand Contributing Editor ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher PA G E


Capri Crescio Advertising Manager Tim Jones Deputy Art Director Production Manager Allison Kastner Operations Manager

18 Tech Talk Google’s Bonita Stewart shares five smart steps to make the digital era work for brick-and-mortar stores. By Kathy Passero 20 American Accent Tracy Smith leads the stateside re-launch of Italian lifestyle brand Geox. By Greg Dutter 26 Anything Goes Spring ’16 footwear trends span decades, materials, movements and muses, combining fashion with comfort features and eco-friendly components. By Tara Anne Dalbow 30 Trend Spotting From pony hair to pastels, zeroing in on the latest themes of the new season. By Tara Anne Dalbow 52 Destination: Shoes Tops for Shoes of Asheville, NC, attracts shoppers from six states and beyond with its extensive selection and top-notch customer service. By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey

58 Blank Canvas Fueled by consumers’ increasing desire to stand out from the masses, a bevy of brands are offering custom art designs. By Kirby Stirland 64 Urban Renewal Outdoor brands blend trailworthy performance features with metro style to build broader consumer appeal. By Judy Leand 70 European Vacation Espadrilles present a stylish alternative for guys looking for a step up from flip-flops and fisherman sandals. By Tara Anne Dalbow 74 Waiting for the Sun Elevated wood clogs offer a bohemian flair in tune with the season’s ’70s-era styling. By Tara Anne Dalbow 86 Spring Awakening The kids’ market is awash with vibrant color, playful prints and goanywhere styles. By Kirby Stirland


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Editor’s Note This Just In Scene & Heard What’s Selling Shoe Salon E-beat Upclose Comfort Last Word

On the cover: Terhi Pölkki clogs, Free People dress, necklace by Ayaka Nishi. This page: Natural World canvas espadrille lace-up, No. 6 peep-toe braided clogs, Zadig & Voltaire chambray top, scarf by YSA NYC, necklace by Ayaka Nishi. Photography by Trevett McCandliss; Fashion Editor: Tara Anne Dalbow; stylist: Claudia Talamas; hair and makeup by Sacha Harford/Next Artists: model: Aspen/ Red Model Management.

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

Bruce Sprague Circulation Director Mike Hoff Digital Director OFFICES Advertising/Editorial 36 Cooper Square, 4th fl. New York, NY 10003 Tel: (646) 278-1550 Fax: (646) 278-1553 editorialrequests@ Circulation 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300 Corporate 9Threads 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300 Xen Zapis Chairman Lee Zapis President Rich Bongorno Chief Financial Officer Debbie Grim Controller

E D I TO R ’S N OT E Batter Up

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS From cover to cover, this show issue is packed with ideas, concepts, strategies, opinions, stories and, of course, tons of great-looking shoes.

NOTHING THESE DAYS is a slam-dunk, as an infamous former CIA director once guaranteed. Even the surest of potential home runs can hook foul at the last second and can’t-miss prospects fall short of ever breaking into the big leagues. Far too many variables exist, be they competition, injuries, failure to fulfill expectations or just plain bad luck. Fortunately, what never vanishes in sports or, thankfully, in the shoe business is the opportunity to hit it big. The endless stream of ideas and innovations is boundless, season after season. And the crowds, i.e. consumers, keep coming back for more. As long as such opportunity exists, there’s hope at the onset of every new season. Every page of our Spring ’16 preview issue presents opportunities. While not all are guaranteed home runs, sometimes the secret to a winning season is putting together a line-up of potential singles and doubles. It could be selecting a particular style featured on one of our numerous Trend Spotting pages (beginning on page 30). Or perhaps it involves delving further into one of the many spring trends highlighted in this series to turn an item into a meaningful segment. Then again, it could mean giving one of the brands in our feature about the growing popularity of custom art designs (“Blank Canvas,” page 58), our outdoor market preview (“Urban Renewal,” page 64) or our Upclose Comfort section (page 94) a chance to break into a store line-up. Often such rookie call-ups, when given their opportunity to shine, prove to be all-stars in the making. How else do the Mike Trouts of the world (2012 Rookie of the Year) get their shot? Next up could be inspiration and insights gleaned from our retail profile of Tops for Shoes (“Destination: Shoes,” page 52) in Asheville, NC. A sit-and-fit heavy hitter at 35,000 square feet with 300 brands on display, it draws customers by the busload from six surrounding states. Those are some solid shoe retailing sabermetrics. Tops, opened in 1952 and run by third-generation family member Alex Carr, is a throwback brick-and-mortar retailer proving that it can still be done—and quite successfully.

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Not everything featured in our pages requires a direct buy. A profile of a store or brand can often spark a wealth of ideas or, at the very least, points to contemplate when putting together a game plan. Take this month’s Q&A with Tracy Smith, the new president of U.S. operations for Geox (“American Accent,” page 20). The former Cole Haan exec is spearheading the stateside re-launch of the Italian lifestyle brand known for its breathable and waterproof comfort technologies. In discussing the strategy, an industry trend came into play: consumers’ growing desire for smart products. A key element is that they must be subtle, user-friendly designs of the sort Apple has made famous—and of the sort Smith says Geox offers. It’s just one reason why the seasoned industry veteran believes Geox, a $1 billion global brand, presents a tremendous yet largely untapped opportunity for U.S. retailers. When rounding out an issue, I also like to mix in a few items that might have flown under the radar of industry scouts but that deserve an opportunity to take the field. Often it’s an upstart brand, a quirky style or an out-there concept. In some cases, it involves all three. Take this month’s Last Word (page 96) about the birth of Redneck Boot Sandals, for example. Missouri-based entrepreneur Scotty Franklin has been kicking up a heated debate in certain fashion circles about whether his cowboy boot and sandal mash-up is the next big thing or a fashion don’t on the scale of MC Hammer pants. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but our industry’s long track record of ugly duckling smash hits cannot be overlooked. Beyond that, I say our industry should welcome all entrepreneurs. If we don’t, we’ll be left with a line-up of creaky old veterans unwilling and unable to adapt on the fly. There are plenty of potential stars in this issue’s line-up, and I hope you enjoy reading about them. Until next time, our team of Footwear Plus editors will be patrolling the show aisles here and abroad in search of our next roster of hot topics, solid prospects and, we all hope, a home run or two. So let’s play ball! Greg Dutter

Editorial Director

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HOMME BOYS The gentlemen of Paris Fashion Week brought a certain je ne sais quoi to street style with a heavy accent on casual kicks. Photography by Melodie Jeng

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Earthies Tolo off white Earthies Crete off white multi

Earthies Ponza off white

Come and see the Spring/Summer 2016 collection from Earth Brands! Outdoor Retailer | August 5-8 | Salt Palace Convention Center | Booth #30191 Atlanta Shoe Market | August 22-24 | Cobb Galleria Center | Booth #1317-1323 FN Platform | August 17-19 | Las Vegas Convention Center | Booth #82614


Mood Shoes REMEMBER MOOD RINGS that supposedly changed colors based on your disposition? Well, how about taking that concept a step further by being able to change the color of your sneakers, but this time you are actually in control of the color, graphics and patterns you desire? That’s the premise behind the “smart surface” Shift Sneaker concept by +rehabstudio. “The Shift Sneaker was born out of trying to make wearable tech look good and trying to revolutionize sneaker design at the same time,” says Mike Veitch, managing partner at +rehabstudio, a creative technology company with offices in London, Belfast and New York. Potential fabrics for the shoe may include LED woven strips and conductive fibers, controlled either by an app (where you can choose specific colors via your smartphone) or a Dorothy-style heel click device (which causes random colors to instantly appear). As far as the app goes, Veitch notes, “Users would be able to shift styles by downloading different ‘packs’ from a Pack Store—a sneaker-specific app store.” Offerings would range from glowing hues to animated graphics as well as limited-edition designs from artists. “It’s a million pairs of sneakers in one,” Veitch claims, adding that the company is exploring research and development partner options. “We’ve had an astonishing response online,” he reports.

BEHOLD THE MOON CHOO WHAT DO YOU get when you cross the legendary Moon Boot with renowned luxury label Jimmy Choo? The “Moon Choo” or perhaps the “Jimmy Boot.” Whatever you call the first-ever, limited-edition collab between the two iconic footwear entities, it’s a collection that’s surely out of this world. Unveiled during Paris Fashion Week last month alongside Jimmy Choo’s Cruise ’16 collection, the collab comprises eight styles developed off of Moon Boot’s Classic and Buzz silhouettes. It features multiple color and material variations, including options

Catch of the Day NOW THIS IS fishy business—in a good way! Adidas, in partnership with environmental organization Parley for the Oceans, unveiled a groundbreaking prototype shoe made of reclaimed ocean waste materials at a recent United Nations event. The sleek sneaker was constructed using the latest fiber placement technology. Recycled ocean plastic and illegal nylon gillnets (reclaimed by Sea Shepherd, a conservation group that works to protects marine life) were re-engineered into a continuous filament of yarn that was stitched to create a flexible yet precise-fitting upper. In addition to offering stability and fit, the resulting convergence of vertical and horizontal lines in vibrant ocean turquoise furthers the aquatic theme by evoking “an intuitive visual of waves,” says Adidas spokesperson Maria Culp. The shoe was assembled at Adidas’ German headquarters using a manufacturing process that results in almost no waste, since less than 1 percent of the yarns created are not fully integrated into the final product. What’s more, 16 • july 2015

the innovative design went “from sea to street” in just six days. “Our goal is very simple—to save our oceans,” Culp states, adding that the prototype shoe “is evidence of what is possible through our partnership with Parley for the Oceans.” Look for an expanded offering of Adidas products that incorporate reclaimed ocean plastic in the near future.

in luxurious shearling, fox and faux fur. In addition, exclusive details such as Swarovski star-shaped crystals (on the aptly named Crystal model) and braided laces with bright metal tips featuring a small crystal inside on all models add an element of surprise to the collection, according to Maurizio Di Trani, global marketing and communications director of Jimmy Choo. “This collaboration between two great brands enhances our focus on premium goods for an international audience of fashion lovers,” says Alberto Zanatta, CEO of Tecnica Group (makers of Moon Boot). “With the creative and unique design talent at Jimmy Choo, we are sure the partnership will be a great success.” “I’ve always loved the futuristic, yet retro-cool Italian design of Moon Boot, and I’m delighted to create a Jimmy Choo signature look befitting that style,” states Sandra Choi, creative director of Jimmy Choo.


Tech Talk Five smart steps to make the digital era work for brickand-mortar stores, from Google’s Bonita Stewart. BY K AT H Y PA S S E RO

WHEN IT COMES to channeling the power of technology to inspire business growth and success, Bonita Stewart is an expert. As Vice President, Americas, Partner Business Solutions at Google, Stewart helps brands create online campaigns that do more than engage consumers across multiple platforms; they generate revenue from digital content. In her current role, Stewart draws from an extensive business and marketing background that includes an MBA from Harvard Business School and years as a marketing expert in management for IBM as well as DaimlerChrysler. The Denver native also founded and oversaw her own successful web-based company before joining Google. This month, she shares five smart strategies retailers can use to not only survive, but thrive in today’s fast-paced digital-centric world. 1) Understand the Modern Shopper’s “Journey” With the proliferation of mobile devices, consumers are connected 24/7 18 • august 2015

and so are stores. “Google has a division that focuses exclusively on retailers of all sizes, and what our data shows is that shoppers are spending much more time researching online than ever before,” says Stewart. “Our research shows that 42 percent of in-store consumers conduct research online before they shop, 93 percent of them go on to buy and—most important—50 percent purchase within the hour.” What’s more, searches that include the words ‘near me’ have increased two-fold over the past year, she says. Consumers are not only spending more time researching online, but their searches are increasingly moving to mobile and they’re making purchase decisions very quickly, Stewart points out. “They have the opportunity to find new and interesting things close to them through technology.” The vast majority of consumers still buy in-store, but they’re gathering information about their in-store purchases through tech platforms before they make them. What does this mean to a retailer? “First, it means you can’t afford to think online versus store anymore. The philosophy of the day is online plus store,” Stewart explains. “Next, you need to understand how the consumer’s journey plays out across multiple screens. We found that 90 percent of consumers switch from screen to screen to accomplish tasks throughout their daily activities.” Start to track the shopper’s journey, she suggests. Go online yourself and see how you look to consumers as they’re going through the purchase process. Put yourself in their shoes. “That’s always quite an eye-opener,” Stewart notes. Also, recognize the increasing importance of mobile technology and start to understand the multiple devices consumers may be using. “At one point, it’s the smartphone. At another point, it’s the tablet. At work, it’s the desktop. At home, there’s interactive TV,” says Stewart. “During my tenure at DaimlerChrysler, which was during the emergence of online technology, I advocated for focusing on this. I called it the fifth P of marketing, which is process,” she >93

STYLE FILE: BONITA STEWART How would you describe your personal style? I’d call it Denvermeets-New York City. I try to be as chic as I can within New York standards, but I grew up in Denver and at some point I fall back on that Denver casual aesthetic. What’s your go-to shoe style? Like I said, I’m a Denver girl. Ugg has always been important to me for its amazing comfort. What are you reading now? The Road to Character by David Brooks, but I just got my copy of Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman, so I’ll be reading both of them. My all-time favorite book is As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, though now it should probably be re-titled As a Man or Woman Thinketh. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working? I love ballet. I’ve been dancing as a hobby for years. Have you learned any lessons from ballet that have proved useful in the business world? There are two major lessons. First, ballet requires focus, discipline and grace, even when you fall. It teaches you how to get up and get back into the rhythm. That’s an important skill when you’re in technology because it’s an inevitable part of experimentation. The second lesson is knowing how to be part of the corps de ballet. You don’t necessarily dance solo. From a work perspective, collaboration is essential. What’s your motto? For life, it’s “Live each day to its fullest.” For work, it’s Peter Drucker’s saying, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

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American Accent Tracy Smith, president of U.S. operations for Geox, is leading the Italian lifestyle brand’s re-launch with a decidedly stateside approach to operations, product and marketing.

NTIL NOW, GEOX, a $1 billion-plus public entity that has penetrated nearly all corners of the globe and dominates the European market on a Nike-like scale, has experienced limited success in the United States. So, what gives? Most experts would agree that it’s not the product, which is grounded in Geox’s renowned breathable technology that spans men’s, women’s and kids’ and is in step with a comfort-loving nation in search of versatile styl20 • august 2015

ing. Many would also concur that it has not been for lack of effort. A series of well-regarded footwear executives gave managing the U.S. subsidiary a whirl over the past decade or so, only to run into philosophical differences on key issues like product assortment, delivery schedules and distribution strategies. Basically, the industry sentiment was that the U.S. division operated with too much of a European accent and, as history indicates with many overseas brands trying to break into this market, that often leads to difficulties. But that was then and this is now. New President of U.S. Operations Tracy Smith (who joined in February following, most notably, an 18-year stint at Cole Haan, where he rose through the ranks to become president) declares that Geox’s approach to building the brand in the States is now squarely focused on the wants, needs and terms specific to this market. For starters, the corporate office is now on the same page. Smith notes that Geox CEO Giorgio Presca, who came on board in 2012, has run an American company (he’s the former president of VF Jeanswear) and lived here. The same can be said of Commercial Director Enrico Morra. “They really understand the potential of this market, and that we have to create and build a more independent subsidiary in the U.S.,” Smith says, adding, “It’s a completely different ballgame now.” Smith predicts the industry will begin to see this independent approach in full force with the launch of Geox’s Spring ’16 collections, which will be highlighted by a snazzy new booth at the FN Platform show in Las Vegas this month. “It’s not just the normal booth filled with shelves and salespeople,” he says. “We’ll be calling out our different technology stories, like Nebula and Amphibiox, with creative display fixtures and flat screen TVs running technology and branding videos. It’s going to be a nice surprise for everybody.” While many of the other changes may not be as flashy, Smith says logistical matters (like ordering and delivery dates) reflect a clear change in philosophy that should alleviate previous headaches. “The dates just didn’t match cleanly with the way business is run here,” Smith notes. “Those types of issues are fixable if you approach them in the right way, and fortunately I have had support from our global supply chain and am planning to do so. That’s going to be an immediate difference that retailers will see.” Retailers will also see noticeable changes in the product, something that began with the arrival of Presca who, Smith says, is a product guy at

O&A heart. “He really came in and challenged the product teams to build a global line of shoes and not just a European line that you try to sell to everybody,” he says. Smith, who gained extensive experience in product development at Florsheim and later at Cole Haan, will weigh in along with recent hire Doug Hogue, who heads product development in the U.S. (Hogue came over from Sperry Top-Sider and before that had been a longtime co-worker of Smith’s at Cole Haan.) “Our role is to take from the global Geox assortment and edit it down to what we want the brand to stand for in the U.S.,” Smith explains, noting the changes at the top make the exercise easier. “We will be far more focused and edited, particularly from a wholesale standpoint,” he adds. That said, nothing about this business is easy or getting easier. Smith is What are you reading? I’m rewell aware of the challenges of trying reading How: Why How We Do to build a lifestyle brand in this marAnything Means Everything by ket. But his experience coupled with Dov Seidman. It’s one of those the financial muscle of Geox and, perbooks where you turn each page haps most important of all, its propriand say, “Yup, yup.” It’s not your etary breathable technology, has him typical [business] schoolbook. relishing the opportunity. To Smith, it all seemed to come together as the How so? The premise is, everyright job for the right person at the one spends so much time on right time. “It just felt very natural,” what you do and not enough he says. “It’s a well-designed prodtime on how you do it. If you uct at affordable prices that is very spend more time thinking about familiar to me, and it’s a great brand how you do things and how you to step in where I left off at Cole Haan engage and motivate people, and really appeal to many of the same then you actually can overconsumers.” achieve your goals and achieve Of course, no footwear job or brand them faster. is exactly the same. To this end, Smith is excited by Geox’s across-all-cateWhat is your motto? “Work gories breadth and its wearable techreally hard, but have fun doing nology premise, which he believes is it.” This is a crazy business. We particularly relevant today, given the are not accountants who leave popularity of Fitbit and smartphone at five each day with a clean and accessories. Specifically, Smith thinks organized desk. It’s a business Geox’s seamless integration of its techthat you can’t be successful in nology into its shoes and apparel mirunless you are really working rors a growing consumer desire for hard, but if we can’t have fun smart products with simple, userdoing it then I don’t know what friendly designs. “It doesn’t have to we’re doing. scream comfort or technology,” he observes. “It’s more like you have that knowledge inside that you made the smart choice, but you don’t need to scream it to everybody that walks by.” It’s a story that Smith can’t wait to start telling. For starters, he says the Geox story is authentic, compelling and already proven to have translated extremely well. It’s also a story that he says has remained consistent, and therefore is still pure. “Geox has stuck with the story. It wasn’t breathable for four years and then sustainable for three years and then edible for two years,” Smith quips. “That proprietary technology has always been at the center and is the DNA of the brand.” It also doesn’t hurt that the story is still largely a new one to most American consumers. “I feel as though the story hasn’t been told for a number of years—the communication kind of went dark after the recession,” he notes. “So this is really a re-launch where we can re-introduce

people to the brand and show the product evolution as well as connect with consumers who don’t know Geox through a cool, fresh and interesting story.” You’ve been telling the Geox story for about six months now. What sort of reaction have you been receiving? The general reaction is: “Wow, it’s about time.” Geox has always been a great brand but they were waiting for us to come out with the story and the focus to say, ‘here’s what we are now.’ That was mostly the sentiment we received from conversations that we had during the fall market shows. I’m really excited to find out what people think when we unveil a new booth, a new assortment, a new technology [Nebula] and What sounds do you love? The new marketing collateral this month. ocean, laughter and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. What do you want people to think— is Geox comfort, lifestyle, wellness, If you could hire anybody, fashion, all of the above? who would it be? I already did: It’s all those aspects. I look at Geox Doug Hogue, who I worked as a lifestyle brand founded on innowith at Cole Haan for 18 years. vation and technology that provides He came on board in April as comfort and wellness aspects packVP of merchandising, planning aged in a contemporary design. It’s and product development. too narrow to define Geox as just another European comfort brand. The What might people be suropportunities across men’s, women’s prised to know about you? and kids’ with a great innovative techThat I’m an avid gardener. nology concept running through all There’s something so Zen about the collections—that’s when you realthe whole process—the planting, ize what a real unique and big propogrowing and eating. sition Geox presents relative to other brands in the market. For example, What was your first-ever payI think people, particularly younger ing job? Camp counselor at a consumers, are starting to pay attenday camp in Norwell, MA. tion more to the idea of wellness and smart products. Today you have to What is your favorite homeoffer all the pieces. We know that town memory? Driving down comfort brands can range from all Main Street in Hingham, MA, levels of design and attractiveness. where all the colonial homes That’s where our Italian design founalways had a white candle in the dation comes into play along with window. It’s a sort of quintesquality contemporary designs. But sential New England image. we’ve also got the breathable technology throughout our collection. We’re not giving up one aspect in order to serve the other. That’s where I think our story stands out more than other comfort brands.


22 • august 2015

Comfort is a given, but that alone isn’t enough. I don’t think comfort by itself is enough anymore. Comfort in a less-thanattractive style isn’t going to be enough for many consumers. The secret sauce is trying to bring all of these elements together, and yet there’s a certain subtlety to it all. Does that make the design and marketing processes more challenging? Well, it’s in how you communicate and position the technology. Who would have thought, for example, that one of the greatest personal technology prod-


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O&A ucts to come about in recent years would come in the simplest design? But that’s what Apple is famous for. You know it has all of the technology inside, but it comes in the cleanest, most simple packaging and product design. I think people get that. That has become cool, whereas the old Ironman watch had 63 buttons, five dials and could start your car. I think there’s an element of that design simplicity coming into accessories. For example, the logo aspect isn’t what it once was. Nor is the fashion at all costs, like the crazy It bag or uncomfortable must-have, what it once was. Look at the Birkenstock trend: I think it reflects that people’s attitudes have changed. They want something that works for them. I think if you can be viewed as a smart product and a smart choice, that’s a real strong positioning for accessories. Is this fashion movement that includes basics like Birkenstocks and sneakers on the runway unprecedented in scale? I don’t know if it’s anything other than the normal trend cycle. We’ve seen it many times before. For example, I caught a glimpse of Back to the Future on TV recently and Michael J. Fox was wearing a pair of Nike [Bruins] and they still look cool paired with blue jeans. That’s a look that’s come and gone three times since that movie came out. Although, I agree that this time the sneaker trend feels much bigger because now you can’t look at a designer line and not see a sneaker. They all have a CVO, a trainer and a runninginspired style, no matter what the label is. That just shows when something gets really big that everyone just can’t help but react to it. But trends cycle in and out. A lot of guys of late are wearing cool English style brogues with rolled up jeans—in the U.S. That would have just seemed crazy a few years ago. Every guy walking around the recent fashion shows in Italy had that exact outfit on: short pants or cuffed up, no socks and English brogues. It looks cool right now.


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Is this bouillabaisse of current trends a good thing from a merchandising perspective? There are two sides to the story, depending on who you are talking to. On the one hand, it’s great because it’s just a much broader opportunity to connect with consumers. But then I’ve heard retailers lament that there’s no lead story. There’s no one outstanding item to bank on. Everybody is doing everything, so now what do we do? I do think it makes their jobs a lot harder than it makes ours. And a lot of this has to do with social media and the globalization of everything. Back in the day, we used to travel to Milan, Paris, Stockholm and Amsterdam to look for trends nobody else might have seen. You don’t really need to do that now. You walk into a store in Abu Dhabi or Rome and, guess what, you are looking at the same assortment. It’s just really changed the business. Do you have a gut reaction about whether a shoe is going to be a hit? I do, and I’m wrong as much as I’m right. [Laughs.] When you’ve been around long enough you learn when to trust yourself and when to listen to another opinion and let somebody else make the decision. It’s a balancing act. But at the end of the day, we’re not making widgets. Our business has to be about product and, fortunately, that’s always been at the center of what gets me up in the morning. The other areas of experience I have gained have helped me put a frame around it, but I consider it to be a real asset. Is it easier in this retail landscape to re-launch Geox? Nothing about this business is easy. On the one hand, I would say it’s certainly easier to reach more consumers with the message about the brand and product. But it’s certainly more complex in terms of pricing and the delicate relationships between retailers that own brick-and-mortar stores and the pure-play online dealers. It’s got to be about finding that right balance. Whenever you place a bet on one and forego or ignore the other, you

don’t win in the long run. I like to use the analogy of driving with a clutch: there’s got to be that perfect balance to make the car go smoothly. If you don’t give it enough gas, you stall. If you let out the clutch too quick, you stall. You have to find the right combination. Can a shoe company run on automatic? I don’t think so. [Laughs.] Where do Geox’s direct-to-consumer efforts fit into this balance? It’s a part of everybody’s plan now, because it’s about how and where the consumer wants to engage a brand. We have to make sure we are partnering with our retailers and with our own e-commerce to make sure we are giving the customer that opportunity to shop and connect with the brand how they want to. That said, I think there are always going to be brickand-mortar stores that offer superior customer service and that touch-andfeel experience. And there’s always going to be the convenience of online shopping. Omnichannel is the model. The trend, over time, may swing a little bit from one to the other. There could be a little bit of a backlash with online where we’ve lost the ability to interact with people and to touch and feel product. I would say you are seeing some of that sentiment of late with pure-play online retailers opening up brick-and-mortar stores, be it Warby Parker, Bonobos or Zappos. But no way do I envision one format replacing the other entirely. And I don’t think one will ever be 90 percent share and the other 10 percent. I’m surprised at how certain segments of our industry still ignore the online shopping component. I think consumers just expect that option today wherever they are shopping. I’m absolutely sure that’s the expectation today, no matter what type of store you enter. Take Mitchells as an example, which I consider to be one of the finest clothing and accessories stores in the country, yet they only launched their website last year. But they took their time and did a great job. I’m fortunate to live within a mile of their store in Westport, CT, and I still love the in-store experience—to have a salesman that knows me personally and knows what I like. But now if I’m stuck someplace and need something, I can go online and make that purchase.

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Is online retailing the ultimate game changer? The only other thing that may even come close, and I’m not sure it does, is when the big department stores went national. But online retailing changed how we were able to shop and not just where we were able to shop. Speaking of shopping, what’s the plan regarding Geox brand stores? The plan at one time had been extensive. I think that strategy was at a different time in the history of the company and, honestly, a different time in the market’s history, namely before the recession. I just don’t think that level of a store rollout is really applicable in today’s economy. To me, it’s always been about balancing the business between wholesale and retail. You have to find the great wholesale partners that can really present your brand in the right way to consumers. And by that I mean target consumers that are shared between the brand and the retailer. You have to have company stores to be able to market the brand and tell the complete story to the consumer. The two aspects should work together to the mutual advantage and benefit of both parties. It should never be an “us vs. them” scenario. We always tried to achieve that balance at Cole Haan and I believe, to a large extent, we did. Just how big are you envisioning Geox’s potential in this market? Well, there’s a lot of room from where we are now and where Cole Haan was when I left. Those are two significantly different numbers. But >94

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Spring ’16 footwear trends span decades, materials, movements and muses—all while combining fashion with comfort features and environmentally friendly components. B Y TA R A A N N E D A L B O W

ACK IN THE day, people used to wait around for the next big trend, relying on Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue to report on the latest color of the season, the hemline, the material and the shoe. But times have changed—in this instant-access, viral media world, the floodgates have been opened and no trend goes unnoticed. What was once a fairly predictable trend cycle dictated by the runways of Paris and distilled by the fashion glossies is now more of an open-door policy where anything goes—and stays. “New trends come in all the time but old trends don’t die,” notes Michael Schenck, design director at MIA Shoes. It’s led to a mixed bag of trends where few are dominant, or particularly long-lasting. With unprecedented access to trends, consumers are becoming more eclectic and unique in their fashion choices, simply because they can. “It’s the individual movement,” says Wall Street Journal columnist Teri Agins. “People want to stand out and show off. It’s cool to be original and to dress outside of the box.” This pushes designers to design pieces in line


Nostalgia for the second half of last century continues to foster a phantasmagoria of trend influences. “There’s a real eclectic trend that is definitely moving us away from minimalism,” explains Ida Petersson, senior footwear buyer for luxury e-commerce site Net-a-Porter. “It’s a marriage of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and some ’90s.” In addition to millions of aging baby boomers enamored with the past, there’s also a youth movement fueling this trend. Petersson cites the many similarities of today’s world with that of the 1970s as having a strong

with their own original vision, with the hopes that a niche group of consumers will buy into it. The result is a vast marketplace of micro trends. Look no further than the Resort ’16 collections for evidence, where design elements included over-the-top ruffles, animal prints, fur trims, metallic brocades and a deluge of bright colors and spanned influences from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. The looks were fanciful, indulgent and, above all, fun. Designers focused on different eras, rare materials and exotic locales, producing a season where each collection was drastically different from the next. “You can draw inspiration from everywhere with a click of a button,” Schenck says. “I can go on the Internet and see what young people are wearing on the streets of Barcelona and what the designers are putting out in Paris.” So what does that mean for footwear in Spring ’16? Be on the lookout for a little bit of anything and everything. To communicate a distinct narrative in your store (and to avoid getting lost in the teeming mix of trends), experts advise seeking out styles that pop and present a clear point of view. Here, Footwear Plus breaks down four key themes running through the Spring ’16 collections.

influence on designers. “There’s so much political unrest and young people getting involved socially, similarly to how it was then,” she explains. “It makes sense that it would be referenced now.” Agins predicts that the ’70s influence on fashion will continue into Spring ’16, but in a more refined and nuanced way. Look for clogs and platforms in suede and nubuck, which can be worn with wider-leg pants and crochet dresses. “The ’70s theme is prevalent, both in men’s and womenswear,” agrees Katie Smith, senior retail analyst at Editd. “This calls for more block heels, ankle boots—we’re even seeing cowboy boot styling start

to come through thanks to Miu Miu—as well as increased numbers of sensible-looking flats.” Designers looking beyond this well-worn decade are showcasing round toe, mid block heel pumps and slingbacks, circa the ’60s, offering the innocent, feminine appeal of Mod ingénues. “It’s a return to something more ladylike,” says Leslie Gallin, president of footwear at UBM Advanstar. Other designers are drawn to patent leather and bright colors à la the ’80s. “Everyone is tired of black and gray,” notes Petersson, who points toward bold colors at Lanvin’s ’80s-inspired resort collection as perhaps the trend’s epicenter. Smith agrees, noting the prevalence of crayon brights such as bold blues, reds, greens and yellows across many spring collections. Designers pull a page from history, bringing back platform clogs, like this daisy style from Flogg.



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Consumers who are accustomed to the ease and comfort of sneakers are seeking similar features and benefits in their heels and loafers. “Shoes have to be comfortable, not just fashionable,” explains Schenck. “The consumer today is not like her mother, who had to buy a certain shoe because it was the right look. She’s not a fashion victim—she wants there to be some sort of comfort function.” Schenck reports that comfort is now a main consideration when building MIA’s otherwise fashion-driven line of wood-bottom clogs, casual heels, embellished flats, trendy sandals and Western booties. Gallin points toward Valentino as understanding the consumer’s comfort preference. The brand now puts the same upper on varying heel height constructions, ranging from flats to four-inch stilettoes. “[Valentino] realized that they could have the same beautiful shoe on a heel height that is more tolerable for women’s lifestyles,” Gallin says, adding, “Today’s lifestyle is dictating heel heights.” Along those lines, block heels, platforms and flatforms are expected to experience a resurgence in popularity for next spring due to the comfort of a sturdy and stable foundation. Look to wood stacked heel sandals, ’70s-style platforms and flatform bottoms with a variety of uppers. “We saw flatforms last season, but I think they will be even stronger for this season,” reports Petersson. “Girls want to be super comfortable, but they still want to be tall.” Petersson predicts that flatform sneakers and espadrilles will be important styles for the seasons.


Athleisure, the trend that led women to swap jeans for yoga pants and men to pair sneakers with suits, shows no signs of waning. “Consumers have embraced the activewear trend wholeheartedly, meaning not only are they investing in the garments the trend promotes, but they have adopted it into their lifestyles, too,” reports Smith. The athleisure lifestyle includes nylon pants and sneakers, but also gym memberships and juice cleanses. And it’s not only appealing to long-time health nuts and fitness fanatics, but

The athleisure trend produced a new footwear category: fashion sneakers, like this Giuseppe Zanotti style.

Carried through from the past few seasons, the natural trend is expected to once again play a leading role in Spring ’16 collections. With ecofriendly brands like Reformation making waves in the fashion community, preserving Mother Nature has become the third check on the modern consumer’s list after comfort and style. “Everyone is trying to be more sustainable,” notes Sarah Flint, footwear designer for her eponymous label. “My collection features a lot of natural materials: raffias, cottons, wood and vegetable-tanned leathers.” Kimmy He, lead designer at Restricted, teases a music-festivalinspired collection that’s also grounded in earth tones and natural, tumbled and burnished leathers. Espadrilles and jute-wrapped details add to the brand’s earthen aesthetic for next spring, especially when paired with crochet and macramé materials. Look for rich textures to update otherwise simple shapes, such as woven leathers, snakeskin-embossed details and mixed materials. Artisan touches, such as hand-burnishing and intricate hand-crocheted fabrics, evoke authentic craftsmanship.

now spans fashion insiders and bloggers, who are posting as many images of their workouts as their wardrobes. “This imagery is certainly drawing consumers to casual apparel,” Smith notes. The hero shoe of the trend is undoubtedly the sneaker. Worn with not only track pants and boyfriend denim, but also Céline trousers and Valentino gowns, the de rigueur fashion sneaker has become a bona fide category, reports Agins. “It used to be a flourish, but now everybody is doing sneakers,” she reports. Agins notes that a trip to the Barney’s shoe salon proves the breadth of the sneaker’s power, with top design houses such as Chanel and Maison Martin Margiela offering up styles with hefty price tags. According to an Editd study, the average price of women’s

Natural design elements ground summer styles, like this Sarah Flint espadrille.

sneakers rose from $171 to $254 this spring. “This is a brand new category that did not exist before,” Agins adds. Unlike many fashion It items that resurface from the not-so-distant past (like bell bottoms and platforms), fashion sneakers are a must-buy because no one really had a pair of haute couture sneakers in the back of their closet. It’s a new fashion segment. But it’s not just fashion labels upping the style ante on sneakers. Athletic brands are offering more fashion-forward looks with bold prints, bright colors and contrasting outsoles. Though simple monochromatic styles such as Adidas’ Stan Smith and Common Projects’ Achilles continue to thrive, thanks in part to their heritage feel and ease of wear, experts agree that come next season, consumers will be looking to stand out. Sang min Park, footwear designer at United Nude, believes consumers will gravitate toward technical, sporty fabrics on all silhouettes, not just sneakers. “This lifestyle is affecting fashion trends, thus more functional materials and new constructions are becoming a big trend.” Park predicts that woven fabrics and colored Perspex, along with architectural silhouettes and geometric patterns, will also appeal to the athleisure consumer. •

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DESTINATION : SHOES Tops for Shoes is a tourist attraction in its own right, drawing customers with an extensive selection and first-rate customer service. By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey

TOPS FOR SHOES advertises that it serves a six-state region, but that may actually be an understatement. Owner Alex Carr says people travel from as far as New York for the Asheville, NC, store’s selection of more than 300 brands in a 35,000-square-foot space. “I’ve had customers tell me that they live in New York City and they buy all their shoes here,” Carr says. “They don’t like shopping in New York because they would have to visit six different stores to find what they are looking for, as opposed to here, where they can find it all.” New Yorkers aren’t the only ones traveling to Tops. Carr says many of his customers come from other large markets like Atlanta and Charlotte to shop his store, tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a prime vacation destination. In fact, six out of 10 Tops customers are reportedly not from the area. “Our business is driven by the tourist industry,” Carr says, so he stocks a wide selection of casual trailoriented styles by Merrell, Keen and Astral Designs; the latter is an Asheville52 • august 2015

based company whose men’s line has done especially well. While those are a critical component of Carr’s merchandise mix, it’s not Tops’ sole mission. The retailer prides itself on specializing in often-neglected widths and sizes—a focus that was initiated by Carr’s grandfather, Louis Resnikoff. A pioneer in

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downtown Asheville, Resnikoff opened a 1,200-square-foot general store in and service—and that’s from casual to dress, from athletic to children’s—the 1952. As the shoe section proved especially lucrative, his grandfather shifted whole gamut,” Carr says. the focus to footwear exclusively, particularly for hard-to-fit customers. “My Carr admits that he never shops anyplace else, so he can’t speak to service grandfather was able to start a business really focusing on people who could at other shoe stores, but his customers tell him that service sets Tops for Shoes not be fitted, serving a customer base that had been ignored,” Carr recalls. apart. “It’s very rare,” he says. “They get a unique experience here.” “We built our business by catering to those people, and doing that has allowed Sales staff don’t work on commission, meaning they are happy to spend as us to grow that business, as well as grow much time necessary to ensure they find other segments, like fashion and athletics.” the correct shoe for each foot. “We’ll spend These days, there are some styles of however long it takes to get the job done,” which Tops carries 30 different sizes in the Carr says. “If that involves bringing out 30 same color. In the case of one particularly or 40 pairs of shoes, we’ll do it.” popular Munro American style, shoppers Most of Carr’s sales staff are veteran shoe can select from 60 sizes in a single color. salespeople, many with more than 30 years “We are able to fit anyone,” Carr says of the at Tops—something that is inspirational for Munro, adding that customers appreciate new hires. “It’s infectious for the younger the fact that it’s American-made. Other staff members,” Carr says. “The older staff brands that classically do well for Tops members set the tone and show what kind include Ecco and Vaneli—the latter fashion of service is to be expected. That’s how [new line comes in a wide variety of sizes and has employees] learn. It’s a culture here—good been a standby at the store for a long time. service is our top priority.” Similarly, Cloud Footwear is one of Carr’s Hiring people who can meet the high most successful new brands—the Portuguese standard set for customer service is no company combines vegetable-dyed leather easy task, however. Carr says he looks for with stretchy comfort constructions. Carr people who are especially energetic with notes the line’s Caliber style, a peep-toe sling a positive attitude about life in general. back available in about 10 colors, works “You can teach anyone to sell shoes, but Room to roam: Just a handful of the 300 brands and styles for nearly any woman from age 40 to 70. you can’t teach them how to sell shoes,” he on display in Tops for Shoes’ 35,000-square-foot space. Brands that have sold well for decades— says. “It’s all about the how. That’s where the even dating back to Carr’s grandfather’s personality comes in.” While Carr admits days—include Johnston & Murphy, Clarks that he can’t always hire the right people and Frye. Tops rounds out the staples with off the bat, those who aren’t a good fit tend a number of trend-driven lines like Hunter, to weed themselves out fairly quickly. “It’s Michael by Michael Kors and Sam Edelman a family attitude here,” he says. “We all feel as well as a generous mix of accessories like like we’re part of something bigger.” handbags from Hobo, Osgoode Marley and Ameribag, sunglasses by Toms and TRU E C ALL ING SmartWool socks. It’s no surprise that Tops feels like a big family—at age 70, Carr’s father is still involved B IG GE R A ND BET T ER in the day-to-day operations of the shop, Carr credits his grandfather and father, just as he has been since taking over the Bob, with Tops’ ability to offer so many business from Resnikoff, his father-in-law, products in such a large and unique space—a more than 40 years ago. And Alex Carr, 36, 1920s building replete with high ceilings has basically grown up in Tops. He recalls and crown molding. “You have a sense of playing in the store as a child. “When I history in the store for sure,” Carr says, but was a kid, I used to run around the stock perhaps more importantly, he adds, “We are room, swing from the sprinkler system, in a unique position because we own the which was probably not a good idea, and building.” While his grandfather started run around in boxes that I would cut out Tops for Shoes, circa the 1970s, was tucked inside a much smaller footprint but still generated big numbers. purchasing real estate in the 1950s, it was and make into faces,” he recalls. “A lot of his father who grew the store to its current those same people who worked here then size, combining three buildings in the 1980s, when downtown Asheville had are still here, so they saw me grow up in the store.” fallen on hard times, to create an emporium that spans half a city block. “It Carr has come a long way from hanging from sprinklers. Far from assuming gives the store a unique look and layout and gives us the ability to offer a huge he was next in line to run the family business, the young executive moved to selection of styles,” Carr says. California after college and launched a career at a non-profit. About 10 years With such a vast space to work with, displays can be large and frequently ago, though, his father asked him to move back east and consider running changing. “We are able to merchandise the product properly and really make Tops. He quickly found that he loved the daily interactions with customers, it shine,” Carr says, explaining how Tops shifts as trends dictate to focus on the excitement of buying and the challenges involved in keeping pace with an certain vendors or styles. “We don’t keep anything fixed. We like to move always changing industry. He now oversees 43 full-time employees, includthings around as the seasons and styles change. The size of the space allows ing more than 30 in sales full-time. It might seem like more than enough to us to do that. You could come in from one season to the next and then the keep Carr busy, but he still makes sure he spends a good amount of time on season after that and you will see a changing store.” the floor. “I’m on the sales floor more than I should be,” he says with a laugh. Also a legacy from his father’s and grandfather’s days is predictably highCarr wanted to work his way up to management, in part to prove himself to quality customer service, driven in part by the fact that many of Tops’ curhis employees, many of whom remembered him as a child wearing cardboard rent employees were hired by Carr’s dad. “We try to wow you with selection box masks. But the apprenticeship also allowed Carr to fully understand the 54 • august 2015

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hands-on nature of the business in of course, but also how it feels. “If ways he hadn’t when he was younger. a shoe feels good in your hand, it’s “That’s where it starts—on the fitting probably going to feel good on your stool,” he says, adding that customer foot,” he offers. contact is critical to his purchasing decisions. “It’s great to be able to see H UMAN TO UC H what is selling and react… There is no While Carr has done some work to better ammunition to take into a shoe modernize the store, like bringing in show than sales experience.” more trendy selections to attract a While Carr says the next 10 years younger customer, one modern conwill probably see him moving away vention is absolutely not on his radar: from sales a bit more, he will never Tops does not sell on the Internet and — AL EX CARR, OW N ER, TOPS FOR SH OE S abandon it. “I will never walk away has no plans to do so. The retailer has from the floor completely. That would embraced social media marketing, and be a mistake,” he says. “I can run as has a robust website showing styles and many computer reports as I want, but they won’t tell me what the customer even sale prices, but if a consumer wants to make a purchase, they have to pick is missing when they come in your store,” he says. “We always try to find what up the phone and speak to a sales rep, who will work to ensure they are getting they were missing the next time we go to the shows.” what they need. “That gives us a more personal touch,” Carr says. “I think [the To identify items to stock, Tops’ buyers spend a lot of time at industry web] is a separate business and it should be treated as such. It’s not where we shows, while also actively seeking trends on social media. If something seems are headed. We know what we do well, and we are not going to fight that battle.” interesting, they will bring it in for a trial run and expand it if it does well. In fact, Carr thinks that consumers may actually be tiring of the lack of But even more important than shopping the shows or trawling Facebook human contact, perhaps returning his classic sit-and-fit premium service is direct input from customers. To that end, all of Tops’ buyers perform model to the forefront. “I think there is a segment of the population that is double duty on the sales floor. That front-line exposure allows the company still yearning for that [level of service], and a lot of the new generation is to move quickly to address new trends—or reverse an unpopular decision. yearning for it as well,” Carr maintains. “I think they are getting jaded by the For instance, based on customer in-store inquiries, Carr plans to bring back lack of service in the industry.” Stuart Weitzman and Pikolinos, two lines the retailer had stopped carrying. A backlash may be in the offing, Carr predicts, and Tops for Shoes is well Customer feedback has also encouraged buyers to expand their selection poised to take advantage. “The shoe business is a great one to exploit that, of dress boots this fall. because people want to try on shoes and they want to be fitted properly,” he When Carr is shopping for new styles, he chooses based on aesthetics says. “People are starting to have serious foot problems, and we can help.” •

“I think [consumers] are getting jaded by the lack of service in the industry.”

Eley Kishimoto’s Drums print for Vans.

Blank Canvas

Fueled by consumers’ desire to stand out from the crowd, footwear becomes a vehicle for art of all kinds. BY K I R BY ST I R L A N D

AS ANDY WARHOL famously put it, “Art is what you can get away with.” A number of footwear brands—both big and small—are putting that theory to the test, commissioning the work of amateur and professional artists alike or creating bespoke masterpieces on shoes. The goal of customization in footwear and consumer products overall, it seems, is to tap into the present need for uniqueness that’s often attributed to Millennials—although Brendan Dunne of Complex’s Sole Collector blog points out that “Sneaker culture is all about 58 • august 2015

one-upmanship and having the stuff that nobody else does.” He adds, “One of the few ways to really guarantee that you’ve got something nobody else does is to pay someone to make you something truly unique.” From an Etsy upstart pulling in a reported $250,000 this year on handpainted custom shoes to established brands collaborating with artists for exclusive designs, art is making a statement in the footwear space, and in the process, giving consumers a way to assert their individuality. It’s a trend that’s bolstered by social media, a great equalizer that lets artists at all levels reach the masses, as well as a desire, spurred by the market of mass production, to wear something truly special.

INDIE ROCKS Blake Barash describes himself in 2008 as “disgruntled at a boring cubicle job.” While working at Union Bank as a credit analyst paid the bills, he got his creative fix painting custom hats and selling them on Myspace. When a friend tipped him off to a Craigslist ad from Toms seeking local artists to paint shoes

at their Style Your Sole events, “Painting shoes sounded like way more fun,” Barash quips. His impressive portfolio got him the gig, and after a year of customizing canvas slip-ons, he’d build up yet another body of work. “I was painting shoes for customers, they were loving it, and I was like, ‘this is the best job ever,’” he says. So in 2011, he traded numbercrunching and spreadsheets for airbrushing and acrylics with the launch of his Etsy store, B Street Shoes. Fast-forward four years and Barash now has two full-time employees, who turn out Handnearly 100 pairs of shoes a month from a painted warehouse in Costa Mesa, CA. He explains Nikes from that years of trial and error have helped him B Street figure out the best techniques for applying Shoes. artwork to shoes of all types (not just canvas, but also suede, nubuck and other materials). “A solid four years [has] given me long enough to realize that I’m doing something right because I keep having repeat customers,” he muses. There are two ways to go about snagging a pair of B Street Shoes. Customers can go online, choose a style they like and select their A design by vlogger size, and Barash will purchase the Katy Bellotte for Keds. shoes (usually Nikes, Vans, Toms or Converse), paint them and ship them off. The process for more custom jobs is akin to working with a tattoo artist—customers discuss their ideas with Barash, they come up with a design together and Barash and his team go to work. The results can be just as personal as a tattoo; common themes include cherished pets, meaningful quotes and wedding dates. Every pair of shoes is made to order, takes six to eight weeks and starts at around $150 for custom artwork, with prices rising from there. As an indie shoe customizer taking an artful approach to footwear, Barash isn’t alone. The Carlsbad High team of customizers—a.k.a. the “Flight Crew”—at School’s winning designs from this Cleveland, OH-based Proof Culture creates intriyear’s Vans cate works of art on sneakers. Customers provide Custom Culture the shoes and the inspiration, then consult with competition. the company’s artists to dream up their design; custom jobs start at around $400 and can go to upwards of $800. Standouts on Proof Culture’s website include a pair of Nike Air Force Ones with a New York Yankees motif—complete with pinstripes and a wood-grain Swoosh mimicking a baseball bat—and a pair of Jordans in unmistakable Tiffany blue.

BIG BUSINESS Custom kicks are natural conversation-starters, and appropriately, that’s exactly how BucketFeet (which creates artist-designed footwear) got its start. Company co-founders Aaron Firestein and Raaja Nemani met and became friends while traveling in Argentina. Nemani had been admiring Firestein’s canvas shoes on which he’d doodled original designs, so Firestein made his new pal a pair. Nemani trekked across the globe in the shoes, and found they drew attention wherever he went. So in 2011, the duo decided to go into business together. This June, BucketFeet landed a fresh $3 million in venture capital, bringing their total funding raised to $16 million. 60 • august 2015

Through BucketFeet’s open platform, any artist can submit to have their designs featured on a pair of shoes; Nemani says the brand gets several thousand submissions per year. Currently, BucketFeet works with more than 20,000 artists of all kinds (ranging from photographers to graffiti pros) from 100 countries. While most of these are up-and-comers, the brand has also collaborated with prominent Chicago-based artists like JC Rivera and Sentrock. “Driving awareness of new, emerging artists is in our DNA,” Nemani asserts. Styles include a retro palm pattern by Chicago’s Jack Muldowney, a peacock feather motif by Inkheart from the UK and a gold foil grenade-pineapple print by Colombian artist DJ Lu. When an artist’s design is chosen, he or she receives an upfront payment of $250 as well as $1 in royalties for each pair sold. Cool collaborations are de rigueur for Vans; its latest partnership sees the classic lifestyle brand joining forces with British design house Eley Kishimoto on a line of shoes and apparel bearing the duo’s signature graphic prints. “We create products that people can wear, ride, drive, drink from, live in and experience as part of our aesthetic narrative,” says designer Mark Eley. “Our desire to cover everything and anything with the integrity of our personality attached makes Vans a perfect canvas.” The brand also supports future artists through its Custom Culture program, an annual competition in which high school students across the country take their best shot at customizing four pairs of plain white Vans based on the themes of art, music, action sports and local flavor. The winning school gets $50,000 toward its art program and the chance to have their designs sold in stores. This year, 2,500 high schools participated; the top five were flown to New York and judged by a panel that included musician Bea Miller, Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice, illustrator Dallas Clayton, surfer Joel Tudor and cake artist Amirah Kassem. One style by the winning school, Carlsbad High School, is slated to go on sale next April, with proceeds benefiting Americans for the Arts. “This is using our product in such an authentic way—and a way that it’s been used forever,” says Megan Klempa, brand activation manager at Vans, explaining that the company’s signature checkerboard print was in fact inspired by kids personalizing their shoes with markers. She adds that Custom Culture entries run the gamut, from painted designs to sculptural 3D elements. “There’s no formula for how to win—just be as creative and imaginative as possible,” she says. Keds is another classic lifestyle brand providing a walking canvas for the work of artists both amateur and professional. In the past, the company partnered with non-profit organization Artists For Humanity for a shoe bearing a pattern created by youth artists in Boston, as well as conceptual artist Jenny Holzer for the KedsWhitney collection. (Proceeds for the latter benefited the



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Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.) This summer, Keds will launch a nine-piece collection designed by a number of influential bloggers, including Courtney Fowler of Color Me Courtney and fashion illustrator Jamie Lee Reardin. “I love it when we can foster up-and-coming artists and designers in such a direct way,” says Holly Curtis, Keds design director. “Our Champion Original provides the perfect stage to showcase new points of view.” Artful footwear isn’t limited to sneakers. To celebrate 65 years of its iconic desert boot and to raise money for The HALO Trust, a British charity dedicated to landmine removal, Clarks recently commissioned 14 artists to create an original piece of work and design a corresponding pair of boots for its Clarks: Rebooted program. London-based painter Rene Gonzalez, whose work often celebrates rappers, scientists and other “contemporary heroes,” depicted the members of Wu-Tang Clan on a pair, while Bob and Roberta Smith (a.k.a. Patrick Brill) translated his famous statement-making piece, “Make Art Not War,” which resides at the Tate Modern, onto a bold colorblocked boot.

THE EXPRESSIONISTS Millennials get a lot of flack for their ‘special snowflake’ M.O. NPD Group Sports Industry Analyst Matt Powell believes this generation, driven by the lifestyle mantra, “I want to be different, just like my friends,” is driving the customization trend across a wide range of consumer products. Artist-designed shoes seem to be a niche within this category, particularly the ones like Barash designs. Whether a customer chooses an existing design or collaborates with B Street Shoes on a more personalized motif, he or she can be sure that the resulting pair is unlike any other on Earth. “Individualism is valued more than ever these days,” says BucketFeet’s Nemani. “We strive to provide products

that allow people to express this—whether they want to stick out, fit in or just wear something that expresses how they feel.” He notes that across numerous industries, consumers are “finding uniqueness and authenticity more appealing than ubiquity and conformity” and desiring products that aren’t mass-produced. Shoe art also allows for a very particular expression of taste—one that’s more attainable to the average person than, say, a painting or a sculpture, Klempa explains. “If it’s street art, you can’t own the side of a building, but you can own a piece of footwear by an artist you idolize. It gives you that tangibility.” She adds that so-called “wearable art” links consumers and artists, giving the former a sense of belonging. By wearing a pair of Vans emblazoned with one of Eley Kishimoto’s prints, for instance, “It’s like I’m a piece of their artwork as well,” she states. Arguably, customization programs from major brands like Nike (with Nike ID) and Adidas (with Mi Adidas) are a testament to the trend’s timely cultural relevance. “Everyone’s looking for a way to be unique and to stand out and to express who they are for the world to see,” Klempa explains. “Sneaker brands have figured out how to capitalize on the movement…effectively legitimizing the whole custom sneaker approach,” Dunne declares, adding that customization in sneakers is hardly a new trend. “Early collectors like Bobbito [Garcia] were breathing new life into styles by hitting them with custom colors,” Dunne notes. He cites San Antonio, TX-based Dank Customs and New York’s Revive Customs as examples of “heavy hitters” in this space. Another aspect artist-designed shoes offer that isn’t so easy for big brands to replicate is authenticity—something else that’s big with today’s consumer. People are drawn to products with a story attached, and moreover, they can tell when that story is legit (and when it’s not). Barash notes that while >95 Desert Wu boots by Rene Gonzalez for Clarks: Rebooted.




Footwear for the beach, shore, boat, sidewalk, boardwalk and beyond.


Outdoor Preview: Spring 2016

URBAN RENEWAL In an effort to build broader consumer appeal, outdoor brands are blending trail-worthy designs and performance benefits with metro style touches. By Judy Leand

VER THE PAST few seasons, urban influences have been permeating the outdoor market. From New York to Seattle, we’ve seen the rise of the Urban Woodsman, the fully bearded, Paul Bunyanesque alter ego of the typical hipster in his plaid flannel shirt, skinny jeans and beefy leather hiking boots. Next came the Lumbersexuals, with a more rugged take on the meticulously manscaped look. And most recently, we have the sportier MetroJack movement that’s inspired more by modern mountaineering than retro forestry school. What’s the common thread running through these various motifs? Industry experts point to younger, tech-savvier, more sophisticated consumers in rural, urban and suburban areas and their growing desire to take it outside, so to speak, through activities like hiking, camping and mountain biking. An increased interest in the great outdoors is fueling the popularity of the products and fashions involved in these pursuits—as is the obsession with looking the part, even if one never sets foot on a trail or spots a single firefly. In addition, today’s consumers—of all ages and genders—increasingly seek performance versatility, such as waterproofing and durability, as well as styling that can go seamlessly from the asphalt jungles to off-road. Technical yet wearable designs are in step with the ‘smart products’ movement that’s spreading across all consumer categories. “It used to be all about function in this world, but things have changed,” says Carl Blakeslee, creative director of

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Woolrich Footwear and co-founder of its licensee, Portland Product Werks. He notes that everyone demands great design these days, whether shopping for a coffee maker, a climbing harness or a pair of shoes. “It’s forcing brands to focus more attention and resources on design and storytelling,” Blakeslee says. “It’s not enough nowadays to come to the table with another light hiker at a key price point. Brands must tell stories about who they are.” Merrell Creative Director Martin Dean and Global Marketing Director Jamie Mandor Glassman both note that although the movement has been building over the last decade, now more than ever the outdoors is a lifestyle and not just a destination for many consumers. These users are more likely to go on a weekend camping trip or a day hike than to conquer an epic climb, and they want versatile products that take them from the trail to the streets at a moment’s notice. “Textile, color and prints play a bigger role not only in creating more unique aesthetics, but also [in offering] more affordable performance solutions,” Dean says. “The biggest shift, however, comes with cross-pollinating looks—true hybrid silhouettes that are just as at home on the trail as they are in the city.” It marks an about-face from the traditionally heavy, single-use hikers of the past. The new buzzwords are ‘versatile,’ ‘lightweight’ and ‘stylish.’ “These young-at-heart adventurers range in age and location, but all seek dynamic active experiences, selfbetterment and social interaction,” Dean observes. “This is a significant shift away from the outdoorsman of Sorel old and we believe it is a long-term shift for the category.” The outdoor category used to be entirely tech-driven, but as Linda Grosser, VP of merchandising at Rockport, puts it, “Because of the evolution of apparel and consumers’ more active lifestyles, it’s critical to bring a more stylish, brown shoe interpretation to the category.” Greg

Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor in the U.S., concurs, adding that the popularity of activities like indoor rock climbing is “fueling a demand for products that can be worn to and from the gym and around town.” He cites the brand’s Mountain Breaker Mid GTX, with its urban-friendly blackon-black color scheme, Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, Boost cushioning technology and Stealth rubber outsole, as a boot that can perform on the trail and look cool in the city. “It’s not a typical brown leather boot yet it’s well-suited for hiking in an urban environment, plus it’s comfortable and it looks good,” he notes. Similarly, Grosser explains that Rockport’s performance offerings are designed to work with apparel, incorporating pops of color with tonal, neutral backgrounds. “Today’s consumer is looking for 360 degrees of design, so they expect to see the color carry through in the lace detail or outsole,” she says. Lowa is addressing the crossover trend in easier, more flexible constructions that provide instant break-in and fit. The brand’s new Heritage Collection for Spring ’16 is derived from classic styles, but with a modern twist. For instance, the full-grain leather uppers are pebbled for texture and branded with an original logo from an old press that was found in a drawer. Standouts in the line include the alpine-inspired Wendelstein Mid boot that combines traditional looks with modern technology, and the retro men’s Lenggreis and women’s Tegernesse trail shoes that blend the look and feel of alpine footwear—such as a red crampon welt at the heel—with modern sneaker design elements. The target consumer, says General Manager Peter Sachs, is a hip, slightly older urban male Lumbersexual. “It’s not young kids—they can’t afford [the high-end heritage product] because they spend all of their money on iPhones and other technology,” he attests. That’s hardly to say companies are ignoring the younger consumer. Brad Bischel, senior footwear product line manager for Columbia, reports that the brand is focused on building more versatile products that work on the trail and with jeans. “Consumers—especially younger ones—don’t want a $200 hiking boot that can only be used on the trail; they want to get many uses out of it,” he says, adding that many Millennials lack a surplus of discretionary dollars, so combining versatility with style is a key selling point. Just as an iPhone is much more than a phone, Bischel believes that the expectations have risen for product versatility with shoes as well. “Today’s consumers often leave their homes early in the morning and won’t return until later that night, so they demand products that will take them throughout the day without skipping a beat,” says Gregg Duffy, Timberland’s senior director of outdoor, adding that the brand’s unique design formula, SPG (Style, Performance and Green), highlights versatility along with eco-friendliness. Ryan Riggs, global senior product manager for Keen, says hybrids that balance good-looking casual style with performance elements that can be worn “on the trail, to work and to the bar” anchor its spring collection. Examples include the Uneek hybrid sandal, the Versatrail trail shoe, the men’s Glenhaven Mid boot and the women’s Dauntless Posted sandal. A younger, more risk-taking consumer encourages brands to push boundaries. At Jambu, a division of Vida Brands, designers look to globally-minded Millennials for cues, pushing themselves outside of traditional concepts and blending classic with contemporary and retro with innovation, according to General Manager David M. Jonah. “Fashion and particularly footwear is just one way [Millennials] can express their passion for exploration and adventure. They are more open to shocking color palettes and materials that make a statement—their statement—and they relish being different,” he says. Similarly, at Ecco, U.S.A. Sales Director for Sport David Helter says the brand is blending brighter colors and fashion-influenced designs with proven technical features. “This has really opened up outdoor footwear and clothing to a wider demographic,” he notes. “Before, these consumers were almost exclusively those that participated in outdoor activities on a regular




Adidas Outdoor

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Outdoor Preview: Spring 2016

basis. Now that there are so many fashionable crossover options available, we are seeing occasional participants buying in much greater numbers.” While many experts say Millennial males account for the majority of consumers in this category, it’s not exclusively a boys’ club. One company that is particularly intent on embracing women is Sorel. According to Kimberly Barta, senior global marketing director, the brand’s target consumer is the style-conscious female who’s looking for apparel and footwear that can help her get the most out of life. “We began to expand our women’s line almost seven years ago by introducing fashion-forward, all-weather styles while staying true to the brand’s history of protection, comfort, warmth, durability and craftsmanship,” Barta explains. “Our women’s collection has almost doubled in terms of units in the past seven years.” The growth of women’s hiking—especially day hikes—is increasing rapidly, says Thomsen of Adidas Outdoors. He adds that for this customer, “It’s about being fit as well as being stylish,” noting that it’s similar to surfers who live in the Midwest, miles from any ocean, but still want to live that lifestyle on a daily basis. “Today, the outdoor lifestyle is based on where you’d like to be as opposed to where you actually are,” he says. Along those lines, the outdoor-urban movement can be a boon for retailers as there are more styles to choose from and a broader audience to tap. In addition, Woolrich’s Blakeslee believes it gives brick-and-mortar retailers in particular an opportunity to reinvent the physical shopping space in order to engage customers. He suggests using vintage furniture and accessories to help bring these rich brand stories to life. Rockport‘s Grosser agrees, noting that these styles need to be merchandised on their own in a separate environment. “They need to be romanced. Features and benefits need to be called out more than any other product because the shoes cost more and consumers need to understand why they’re spending more,” she says, adding that it presents the opportunity for a broader spectrum of retailers to partake in the category. One such example is Brooklyn, NY-based sneaker boutique Kith. Victor Kan, footwear buyer, is seeing a big response from young males ages 15 to 30 to this type of hybrid product. “Last year sneaker/boot hybrids were big and this year hiking styles will also pick up,” he expects. “People are getting tired of athletic footwear. Bright pops of purples, yellows and blues on trail boots are coming back. The new outdoor offerings look fresh on the shoe wall.” Matt Birko, business development manager of Brooklyn Camp Supply, which launched an e-commerce site six months ago and is preparing to open two stores in Brooklyn this summer, is high on the outdoor-urban crossover trend as well. “The outdoor world has always had a good look and is now being adopted by fashion brands outside of the Lumbersexual thing,” he offers. “We’re seeing a high interest from younger customers, ages 18 to 30, especially in brands they may never have heard of before.” Birko reports strong influence is coming from Europe and Asia, where there’s a lot of passion for the outdoors. “It’s a very diverse clientele and the more the trend gets popularized, the bigger and better it will get,” he predicts. “Eventually, we’ll see fast-fashion players such as H&M and Zara pick up on this.” Change is good, and for Blakeslee, it’s high time for the outdoor market to embrace a new, broader aesthetic. “There was a time, not so long ago, when the outdoor footwear wall looked boring—too many brands chasing the same aesthetic,” he says, citing the recent overabundance of minimalism styles as one example. “That has given way to more fashion-forward, stylish products and fresh takes on heritage looks.” Blaskeslee adds, “It marks a shift in thinking about what ‘typical’ is for outdoor. Brands are innovating around their heritage or around real problem-solving, and sometimes both, which is pushing evolution and rethinking the norms.” • 66 • august 2015








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Outdoor Specialty ers range “from infants to retirees” and hardcore athletes to weekend warriors. And many keep coming back, as Kanner proudly notes, “We are now serving fourth generation regular customers.” —Laurie Cone What shoes brands do you carry? Nike, Adidas, Brooks, Saucony, Frye, Ugg, Teva, Reef, New Balance, Chippewa, Timberland, Red Wing, Hi-Tec, Merrell, Dansko, Kamik, Northface, Diadora, Columbia, Muck, Bogs, Clarks and Rockport. What are some of your top-selling brands? Our most popular brands are Nike, Adidas, Ugg, Teva and Reef. What’s the hottest outdoor shoe trend this season? Drainage styles are the hottest outdoor styles. They are used for paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking and general water sports. Parents also love them because their children can bring them to camp as an all-around summer shoe that can get wet and will dry fast. What do you see as an up-and-coming outdoor shoe trend? Innovation in mid-soles. Cushioning materials like those in Adidas’ Boost and New Balance’s Fresh Foam seem to be the trend. Is there a sport or activity that is especially popular now? Paddle boarding, lacrosse and soccer continue to grow in popularity.

NATICK OUTDOOR STORE Natick, MA atick, a mere 15 miles west of Boston, may not have the name recognition of Beantown, but it certainly has a rich history of its own. For starters, the first factory dedicated solely to making baseballs opened there in 1858 and the town is also known for its rich shoe-making history, which dates back to the 1830s. (In 1880, there were 23 shoe factories in town.) Perhaps it’s only fitting then that the town is home to Natick Outdoor Store, a sports gear mecca carrying equipment, apparel and footwear from more than 1,600 vendors. Or, as Manager Henry Kanner says, reciting the store’s motto, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!” Having originally opened as an Army & Navy surplus store in 1947, Kanner says the business has steadily grown over the decades to meet the changing sports and recreation needs of area residents. Unlike many big box retailers, Natick Outdoor prides itself on its experienced staff and family business atmosphere. Several employees have been with the store for more than two decades and they know their respective departments backwards and forwards. People come for the products as much as the product knowledge. “We are that little neighborhood family store that has grown up,” notes Kanner, who came onboard in 1983. “I was working in West Virginia as a buyer for a sporting goods distributor,” he says. “I moved to Framingham, MA, after marrying my wife and joined the family business, which was started by my father-in-law, Huck Saxe.” Kanner’s “office” has kayaks hanging from the ceiling, deer heads and fish mounting the walls, shelves and racks overflowing with boating, hunting, camping and sports gear and dozens of athletic shoe styles on display. It’s a sports lover’s paradise for all ages and abilities. In fact, Kanner says custom68 • august 2015

How do you best communicate with your consumers? We have a Constant Contact e-mail list and a Facebook page. We also run TV commercials and have been featured on a local TV program as a destination spot in Natick. We’ve won many yearly awards from local newspapers as the best sporting goods place to shop too.

Do you offer any classes? We offer fly-fishing classes both in casting and tying and we host annual Canoe and Kayak Days. What makes your store unique among the competition? We take great pride in the personalized, knowledgeable service and the fair prices that we provide to each and every customer who walks through our doors. What is the biggest challenge facing your business right now? All brick-andmortar stores are challenged by the Internet. It’s a worldwide marketplace now. The Internet is our biggest competition. Do you have an e-commerce business? Our online shop isn’t set up exactly as it should be. We need to improve our e-commerce and we’re working to develop it. How did you fare in this year’s extreme winter? Believe it or not, winter was great for us. The more extreme the weather, the better it is for us. We kept winter items stocked late into the season since we saw people were still looking for boots and long underwear to combat the cold. Have you added any products within the past year? We’ve added a lot more lacrosse gear, like more cleat styles, for example. Kids are starting to play lacrosse at a younger age; it’s not just for high schoolers anymore. What is your No. 1 goal for the rest of this year? Our constant goal is to respond to our customers. Because we’re a single, hands-on store, we’re able to quickly get the products our customers ask for. We can maneuver fast and we’re not afraid to add new brands. •

Toms suede espadrilles. 70


Soludos leather espadrilles. Opposite page: AgilisBarcelona snake-embossed espadrilles, black leather espadrilles by Artola Brooklyn, Natural World canvas espadrille with lace-up details.

Seven Dials backless clogs with grommet detailing, BCBG MaxAzria dress, choker by Biko, Mary Gallagher necklace. 75

Maguba woven detail clogs, dress by BCBG MaxAzria, Clyde felt hat, Kristin Miller necklace. Opposite page: Fringe jacket by Zara, necklace by Geography 541. 76

Dolce Vita cross strap platform clogs, Free People dress, Clyde hat, Geography 541 bracelets and earrings, necklaces by Kristin Miller and Laurel Hill Jewelry. Opposite page: Five Worlds kiltie clogs, Free People top, jean shorts by Zara, Clyde hat, necklaces by Mary Gallagher and Laurel Hill Jewelry.


No. 6 peep-toe braided clogs, Zadig & Voltaire chambray top, scarf by YSA NYC, necklace by Ayaka Nishi. Opposite page: Flogg embellished clog with buckle closure, Musse & Cloud platform clog, chambray top by Zadig & Voltaire, necklace by Ayaka Nishi. 81

MIA lug sole clogs, Free People top and skirt, BCBG MaxAzria shawl, necklaces by Geography 541, Kate Hewko and Biko. Opposite page: metallic strappy clogs by Calou, top and pants by Free People, YSA NYC scarf, Mary Gallagher necklace, cuff by Laurel Hill Jewelry. Fashion Editor: Tara Anne Dalbow; stylist: Claudia Talamas; hair and makeup: Sacha Harford/Next Artists; model: Aspen/Red Model Management. 83

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chunky rubber sole construction. “It’s similar to a sneaker, without being a sneaker,” she says, noting that uppers range from woven leather brogues to strappy lace-up gladiators. “It’s that juxtaposition that really adds interest,” she notes. Key colors include graphic black and white, as well as pops of acid green and orange. “Think Pac-Man colors,” says Williams, who predicts an ’80s redux on the heels of the ’70s craze of the past few seasons. Though flats anchor the collection, Williams includes a capsule collection of tough, edgy uppers on spindly heel constructions. Williams says the variety of her Spring ’16 collection reflects current fashion in general. “It used to be that there was one trend and everyone did their version of it,” she says. “But now stores are buying so differently. It’s much more [about filling different] niches.” —Tara Anne Dalbow In what ways is your love of architecture reflected in your designs? In the early stages of my company the upper patterns referenced iconic architecture from New York. With the re-launch, I applied architectural influences to wearable con-

structions: thicker geometric heel shapes, angles in the soles, hardware details and angular structural shapes in the patterns. If you could have been involved in the design of any New York landmark, which would it have been? The Brooklyn Bridge would have been fascinating. What part of the shoe design process do you find most rewarding? It’s a great feeling when you see someone you don’t know wearing your design, particularly when they have a really defined style and point of view in how they dress. If you could change one aspect about the industry what would it be? Following the financial collapse it takes longer to gain a retailer’s trust to buy into a new brand. Even when they love your product, many look to the same established brands to fill their open-to-buy. The market ends up saturated with a lot of the same product. So I wish more major retailers would invest in emerging lines. It would help evolve and grow the industry. •


WHEN MOST PEOPLE look up at a building they see just that, a building, but not footwear designer Heather Williams. She sees the making of a structural stiletto heel or a graphic pattern perfect for embossing in leather. The young designer, whose resume includes graduating from Rhode Island School of Design and stints at Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, says footwear is the perfect blend of her two passions: architecture and fashion. “I’ve always loved building things,” Williams says. It was this desire to create that inspired Williams to move to Milan and study at Ars Sutoria, a technical footwear design school located near Italy’s most prestigious shoe factories. “I really immersed myself in production,” she says, “and that pushed me to get my own line going.” Williams launched her eponymous label, H Williams, in the fall of 2008 with an imaginative collection of over-thetop dress shoes that were picked up by Dolce & Gabbana’s Spiga 2 and Saks Fifth Avenue. Despite the initial success, the ensuing financial collapse made maintaining an emerging luxury brand next to impossible. So Williams took a break and switched to consulting. Fast-forward three years and Williams was consulting for Donna Karan when one of the designer’s factory partners made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: Partner with us to relaunch your label. “They could tell that I had spent a lot of time in factories and understood that side of production,” she notes. H Williams re-launched this spring with a collection of fashion-forward shoes that are comfortable, functional and urban. “The H Williams woman is in and out of the subway. She also wants to stand out, but doesn’t want to look like she’s trying too hard,” she offers. For Spring ’16, Williams looked to her Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg for inspiration, culling design motifs from the surrounding industrial architecture, as well as vintage military jackets and ’80s-era video games. Key styles are built on a patented

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S THE WORLD wakes up from a long winter’s nap and springs to life with color and light, kids’ footwear designers take a tip from Mother Nature, with a vibrant palette of hues, a barrage of playful prints and a lineup of goanywhere styles. To spot top trends, look to adult collections, says Beth Clifton, a buyer for online childrenswear retailer Alex and Alexa, noting that Spring ’16 styles offer lots of opportunities for “mini me” ensembles. And sneakers are still going strong; Clifton points out that easy-to-wear slip-ons in particular are not only trend-right, but great for kids on the go. BY KIRBY STIRLAND

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Feeling Festive

The popularity of music festivals has forged a new category in fashion—in fact, this year, H&M teamed up with Coachella to offer a concert-ready collection that was heavy on crochet and tribal prints. Similarly, far-out fringe, bright embroidery and globally inspired boho patterns strike the right note in warm-weather kids’ footwear. Earthy, organic-looking materials and pops of rainbow-bright hues are made for endless summer adventures, even if little ones won’t be standing front row at Bonnaroo.

Chooze Minnetonka

High Achievers

With sneakers accounting for the majority of children’s online footwear sales in the last year according to data from the NPD Group, expect the category to stay strong for Spring ’16. Sharon Blumberg of Chooze notes that the hi-top silhouette in particular has been hot in the European market and is poised to hit it big stateside next spring, offering that it adds “a creative edge to any outfit,” from leggings to shorts to dresses. Whether treated with playful mismatched prints or perforated leather, hi-tops are comfortable and versatile with just the right amount of throwback cool.

See Kai Run





Good Jeans

As American as apple pie, denim is a wardrobe staple for a reason, and for next spring it’s making its way to footwear. In a range of washes, this timeless textile will pop up on everything from casual shoes to special occasion styles. Nicole Yee, childrenswear editor at style forecasting site Fashion Snoops, says to keep an eye out for interesting textural treatments like embroidery inspired by the traditional Japanese art of sashiko, which offers extra visual interest.

Sporting Chance

Gym-class inspired materials and colors, like mesh and neon, as well as gummy white or colored soles, are playful, fashionable and right in step with the enduring athleisure trend. Playful kicks are the perfect way to top off activewear ensembles (like those “ubiquitous jogger pants,” notes Yee).

Jack & Lily

Shine On

Nine West Kids


Make way for metallic—it’s “now very much a spring thing as opposed to in the past, when it was thought to be just for fall/winter,” says Yee. She reports that superfine micro-glitter, rose gold and metallic treatments of a range of colors will be big for Spring ’16. Also keep an eye out for iridescent materials, which are casting a space-age shine on kids’ styles. More subtle than glitter but with more dimension than typical gold or silver, this holographic finish is eyecatching on sandals and sneakers.


Making Faces

Come face to face with a cast of creatures, from piglets to peacocks, which adorn sweet Mary Janes, moccasins and ballet flats. Rob Buell, owner of Jack & Lily Footwear, says the brand drew inspiration from children’s relationships with their favorite blankets and toys for its 3D character mocs. “Our Tiger, Kitty and Bunny are so playful and fun that kids can think of them as play pals.” Yee expects this whimsical spin on the animal motif trend to be big for spring, in addition to classic prints in unusual color palettes (like leopard rendered in bright pink and purple).





Vans Timberland

The New Normal

After the advent of Normcore brought a stripped-down aesthetic to adult fashion, resulting in a surprisingly chic resurgence of Birkenstocks, Tevas and Adidas slides, the look is making its way into kids’ for next spring. “The big trend towards casual and comfort in adult footwear is impacting the way parents shop for their kids,” attests Blumberg. Yee predicts minimalist sneakers and sandals will be big, noting, “Footwear continues to be more gender-neutral.” Think footbed slides, spare leather sandals and utilitarian sneakers.

Snack Pack

Last spring, appetite-piquing patterns covered kids apparel and décor, and now there are quirky edible-themed prints on the footwear menu for next season. Kids’ designers raided the fridge for inspiration, resulting in sneakers, boots and sandals emblazoned with tacos, hamburgers, cupcakes, bananas and cherries that will appeal to even the pickiest tots. “All kids love junk food, especially when their parents don’t let them eat it a lot,” says Maddison Ek, product line manager for Vans Kids Classics.

Western Chief



Cole Haan

Do or Dye

Though best known for being popular among hippies of the late ’60s, tie-dye has ancient roots around the world (including Japanese shibori and Indonesian ikat). Last year, designers like Michael Kors and Alexander Wang mined the swinging style for their resort collections. Whether in sun-bleached pastels or a psychedelic riot of brights, the modern iteration of this trippy treatment adds fun, crafty flair to casual sneakers. It’s a colorful, kid-friendly way to try on the retro trend.

88 • august 2015

Water Babies

All-over prints on simple silhouettes, like vulcanized slip-ons, aren’t going anywhere. Children’s designers take a deep dive next season with creature patterns inspired by ocean life. Vans’ digital shark print was designed to look as realistic as possible, Ek explains, so it’s just ferocious enough for the shark-obsessed. Too young for Jaws? Cartoonish piranhas, like those on Chooze’s sneakers, and preppy lobsters, like the ones on Cole Haan’s loafers, are playful, not scary.

E - B E AT


Gabriela Barreto Shopbop

Coach, New Balance and Jack Rogers have worked with Olapic to create social media marketing campaigns.

Picture Perfect

Olapic helps brands monetize the millions of photos that get uploaded to the web by social media users each day. UNLESS YOUR LAST name is Kardashian, Instagram isn’t all about getting the most possible likes on your latest selfie. According to a recent study from Dotcom Distribution, more than 50 percent of people have scoured social media for photos of products they were thinking of buying, and more than 60 percent were convinced to make a purchase as a result. In other words, it’s rife with opportunities for marketing and sales. Olapic, a self-described visual marketing platform that just commanded $15 million in new funding, leverages the fact that social media users have, through their product-filled photo posts, unintentionally become ambassadors for their favorite brands. It does this by aggregating relevant posts on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest and other social channels and liaising between the creators of that content and the brands in question. Brands can curate the content they deem best suited to deliver on their marketing goals (with the guidance of Olapic’s algorithm, based on over 40 different signals extracted from each image, like dominant colors and number of likes), tag it with their own social media handles, make it shoppable by embedding links and 90 • august 2015

labels like Alexander Wang, Salvatore Ferragamo and Sergio Rossi. Casual flip-flops for $25 are found right alongside runway-worthy boots and heels for upwards of $1,000, Barreto notes. It’s the right mix for an e-tailer that caters to a shopper who “comes to us for her favorite basics but also can’t resist those major fashion or emotional items like the season’s must-have over-the-knee boots, gladiators or statement sandals,” she adds. Beyond the know-how that comes from experience, Barreto has that intangible ingredient shared by all the best footwear pros—passion. “I get giddy at the thought of shopping for a new season,” she says. “Seeing new product and trends and discovering new brands are by far my favorite parts of the job.” —Kirby Stirland WHEN IT COMES to matters of taste, it’s best to trust your intuition. That’s something Gabriela Barreto, the women’s footwear buyer at online retailer Shopbop, can do with confidence—her fashion background includes majoring in Textile and Apparel Management at Cornell, interning at Prada and working at Bloomingdale’s. “My buying philosophy starts with my gut,” Barreto declares. “If I gravitate toward it I tend to follow my instincts.” Of course, that’s only the beginning—Barreto also refers to past and current selling history when considering brands and styles. It helps to get inside the head of the Shopbop customer as well. “If you can envision what outfit she’s going to wear it with, how she’s going to style it and where she’s going, you’re probably going to have a hit,” Barreto explains. Shopbop launched in 2000 at the height of the luxury denim craze, aptly focusing on high-end jeans. Since then, it’s been acquired by Amazon and has evolved to carry apparel, shoes and accessories from a host of top designer brands, both established and up-and-coming. The site’s shoe assortment encompasses around 150 brands, ranging from Sam Edelman, Dolce Vita and Soludos to Schutz, Rag & Bone and Tory Burch all the way up to designer

Who is the typical Shopbop customer? She is obsessed with fashion. She loves to mix high and low and is always very fast to pick up the latest trend. She has her own sense of what’s cool and is confident about it. What are some key trends for Spring ’16? Wood bottoms, platforms and wedges are going to continue to be big for us. I think the casual trend is going to continue with an increased attention to flats and driving loafers, while more feminine slides are going to replace the chunkier version of this past season. What about for this fall? We are still seeing a lot of over-the-knee boots and an increased interest in natural tones and browns. Oxfords and loafers will continue to be big, but this season it’s all about platform styles and interesting materials. What designers should we keep our eye on? Not necessarily new, but Aquazurra should definitely be on everyone’s radar. I lust for literally every pair! Are there any trends you’re tired of ? Dare I say it…the footbed sandal. It’s time to get dressed up again!

“When you get to see the product in a more authentic environment, conversion rates go up.”

publish it to their digital channels. They chosen by a cool brand, says Sanz, and it’s can even request rights to use their chosen apparently more than enough. “Most users pieces of user-generated content in other are excited because we work with a lot of formats, both online and off. iconic brands,” he explains. “The reaction Since its inception in 2010, Olapic has tends to be pretty positive.” In fact, with partnered with a number of fashion and more than 80 percent of users granting lifestyle brands, including Timberland, Vans, Olapic permission to use their content Stride Rite, Sperry Top-Sider and Steve (expressing their enthusiasm with, on averMadden. Luis Sanz, co-founder and COO age, 2.4 exclamation marks), the company’s of Olapic, notes that larger companies with bigger challenge is sorting through the huge significant followings are the best fit because volume of material at its disposal. there’s a large body of existing content from Olapic is hardly alone in its efforts to which to cull. Pricing is based in part on monetize user-generated social media con—LUIS SANZ, CO-FOUNDER, OLAPIC a brand’s volume of sales; licenses start at tent. Pinterest recently introduced a “Buy” $25,000 per year and go up from there. button that will allow users to purchase Using content created by consumers is faster and cheaper than staging items they pin. When users like an Instagram photo with a full-blown professional photo shoots. The results can also be just as good. link, the service emails them shopping details. And e-commerce platform “These days, because of the quality of cameras in phones, everyone can take ShopStyle has joined forces with online luxury retailer FarFetch, as well as really good pictures,” says Sanz. What’s more, the algorithm Olapic uses to several well-known fashion bloggers, to make it possible to shop from fleetgather insight about which photos produce the most user engagement found ing Snapchat photos. that realistic images—those that depict a product in real-life context—drive In a sense, Olapic is advertising and marketing for a new generation—one more sales than simple product shots on plain white backgrounds. “When that is incredibly wary of being pitched by corporations. User-generated you get to see the product in a more authentic environment, conversion rates images offer brands an element of authenticity in their communications go up,” Sanz states, adding that Olapic aims for its content to be integrated that is essential when speaking to Millennials. “The Millennial generation is into brands’ media channels as seamlessly as possible. approaching commerce in a different way,” Sanz asserts, “and we’re a part of So what’s in it for the photographer? The honor of having his or her photo that movement.” —K.S.


Spanish Conquest AgilisBarcelona advances its espadrilles-driven expansion plan.

Straight Talk BackJoy expands its feel-better posture premise. Lower back strain, herniated discs, chronic back pain, knee ache, foot troubles . . . Any of these painful ailments afflict you or someone you know? The answer is most likely a resounding yes. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 75 to 85 percent of Americans will experience back pain during their lifetime and millions more will suffer from the other aforementioned maladies. And a leading cause of these issues is bad posture. But before trying to balance a book on your head or hightailing it to the chiropractor, it’s worth noting an easier and less expensive solution for improving your stance—and your general well being—is in the offering. Specifically, it’s a new collection of shoes developed by BackJoy, the 10-year-old company that’s made its name on refining the way the world sits, stands and sleeps in order to improve posture. BackJoy’s flagship product, the SitSmart seat that tilts your hips just so, has become a runaway success. The company has since expanded into apparel, like fitted shirts that pull the shoulders back for improved alignment, and selfadjusting pillows. But the recent expansion into footwear, according to CEO and Founder Bing Howenstein, could very well represent the company’s biggest growth opportunity. “Our research tells us there’s market potential for our brand to enter the comfort footwear category as consumers want more than just comfort—they also demand functionality, which our shoes provide,” he says. Howenstein is a firm believer in the benefits of good posture, which really kicked in when he met Preston Willingham (creator of the SitSmart seat) while working as a Hollywood producer. Eager to leave the L.A. movie scene, Howenstein lent his entrepreneurial spirit to Willingham’s design and a partnership was born. Fast forward 10 years and the two have introduced the new StandRight Zen collection for men and women for Fall ’15. “We’re not just angling your feet; we are balancing your whole body, from your pelvis to your head,” Howenstein says of the collection. “From heel strike to toe off we can balance the pressure of your foot.” Special features include Active Core padding that disperses energy and a Natural Gait Line Groove on the sole that helps the foot move through its optimal motion. BackJoy products are distributed in 40 countries, with eight stores in Asia. For now, the plan stateside is to target leading comfort specialty boutiques that can explain the benefits of BackJoy shoes. Aimed at the 45-plus set, BackJoy styles range from booties to lace-ups to chukkas in neutrals accented with pops of color, retailing for $89 to $139. Howenstein is confident that consumers will respond positively to the brand’s unique approach to posture: “We’ve got a great story to tell.” —Laurie Cone

92 • august 2015

WHAT FIRST COMES to mind when you think of Spain? Sangria? Tapas? Flamenco dancing? Or, for readers of this page, perhaps great shoes, particularly espadrilles. The classic casual staple has been crafted in Spain since the 13th century. Now, AgilisBarcelona is pumping up its country’s heritage style with fresh materials and wellness features. The aim of AgilisBarcelona, a relative newcomer (launched in 2012), is to provide stylish and beneficial footwear. “We knew consumers wanted shoes with benefits, but they wouldn’t try them on if they didn’t look good,” offers John May, international sales and marketing manager. Thus, the brand settled on espadrilles as an aesthetically pleasing style with the potential to provide great comfort. “The espadrille segment is on trend and highly fashionable, but has never had benefits or updates to fit 21st century consumer demands,” May explains. Along those lines, AgilisBarcelona began by developing “the world’s first ‘anatomical’ espadrille footbed,” which relieves pressure on the back and hips, gives arch and metatarsal support and reduces impact on joints. In addition to comfort, the company is also interested in craft, employing artisan workers (sometimes three generations of the same family) to hand-sew uppers onto footbeds in its Murcia, Spain factory. The company is concerned about the well being of the planet too with the launch of its bamboo-soled style for Spring ’16. According to May, bamboo is environmentally friendly (it doesn’t need much water to grow and it releases 35 percent more oxygen into the air than trees). The bamboo espadrille styles, complete with AgilisBarcelona’s signature footbed technology, will include classic slip-ons, a lace-up sneaker, wedges and sandals. Retailing for $90 to $150, the collection is intended for men and women, ages 35 to 60. AgilisBarcelona relies primarily on independent retailers to “tell the brand story and explain the espadrilles’ unique benefits.” May adds, “People don’t expect an espadrille to be comfortable, so inviting them to try it on is important.” Along those lines, the company is looking to expand its presence stateside. “We want to open new accounts in the U.S., both in fashionable stores that may not have looked at wellness footwear before and in comfort-focused stores that may view espadrilles as stylish, but lacking in benefits,” May says. “We want to evolve into a brand that is known for innovative footwear, cutting-edge technology and on-trend style.” —L.C.

continued from page 18/Tech Talk notes. “In other words, look at the process the consumer goes through on the way to a purchase. That’s a major component of successful marketing.” 2) Recognize the Importance of Micro-moments “Another important trend we’re seeing at Google is a shift from long sessions on the desktop to short bursts of activity driven by mobile devices,” Stewart explains. “Now that consumers have mobile devices that are always accessible and always on, these micro-moments play a pivotal role in purchase decisions.” To be successful, retailers need to figure out how to deliver the best experience for the customers in these brief moments, she says. Recognize that consumers are using their phones to make decisions about their in-store purchases and that their expectations are high. “This will be a huge adjustment for retailers, because everyone looks for the big moment—the purchase—but what we’re seeing at Google is that these micro-moments are the way of the future,” Stewart contends. “Think about the consumer’s journey and the micro-moments that would occur along it and how you can make the biggest impact on shoppers.” Retailers need to ask themselves, are they mobile first? Google is now focusing on ways to make that process as friction-less as possible, Stewart reveals. “We’re investing in local inventory ads. We’re also looking at Android pay and shopping on Google using a buy button people can use to purchase products featured in online shopping ads instantaneously.”

“Now that consumers have mobile devices that are always accessible and always on, these micromoments play a pivotal role in purchase decisions.”

3) When you Hear About a Trend, Learn About It Stay curious about what’s happening around you, Stewart urges. If you hear buzz about a new app, download it. Find out how it works. “Many times it’s easier to keep doing what you’re doing, but always experiment,” she advises. “Push yourself to find the potential edge. When you do, you start to see things differently.” Stewart’s advice? Find out what’s going on, especially with consumers. Be more courageous in terms of looking at new, emerging technology and online marketing that might give you a new perspective and help you stay abreast of trends that are occurring. 4) Find Ways to Get Shoppers Actively Engaged with Your Business Consumers have an abundance of choice, so they are in control when it comes to how and when they interact with brands, Stewart notes. That means retailers need more than a great product. They also need to make sure they stay relevant and useful. Start by exploring all the mobile platforms to see yourself through a potential customer’s eyes. How would a customer engage with you through technology? “It might sound challenging, but it’s actually exciting for retailers,” says Stewart. “Engagement offers a tremendous opportunity for retailers. There are so many creative ways you can engage with consumers that enhance your product offering and service and promote a sale at the end of the day. “When consumers are actively engaged with your store or your brand, it’s

a powerful thing,” she adds. YouTube is a perfect example of this concept in action, Stewart says. YouTube has more than a million channels and millions of users who go to the site to find product review content related to all aspects of retail. In fact, reviews on YouTube have grown 50 percent year over year, according to Google data. 5) Think Omnichannel Even with the rise of online buying, in-store retail still accounts for 90 percent of all sales, according to Google studies. What’s more, many online pure-plays are now adding brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers need to follow their lead—albeit, in reverse—and take an omnichannel approach. “That means investing in a great online and e-commerce experience and understanding how your digital strategy impacts your in-store sales,” advises Stewart. Ugg stores are a great example of this approach, in Stewart’s opinion. “They’ve been experimenting with tablets not only to connect with consumers from an omnichannel perspective but to better utilize the store itself. It gives them the opportunity to have a smaller footprint but infinite inventory the customer can see on the tablet and order right then in the store,” she says. There’s no debating that the journey to purchase is more complex than it was years ago. “That’s one of the reasons that at Google we’ve been investing in measurement tools that show retailers things like how many store visits and store sales resulted from a search campaign,” says Stewart. “Our Google retail team works directly with retailers, providing information, research and case studies to help retailers of any size understand how to create a successful online-to-store journey.” •






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Designers ing to a ’70s Vibe for Spr

continued from page 25 it’s a matter of building it the right way. The goal [in five years] is to be a well-balanced, focused, tightly distributed brand that is communicating with and connecting to the market and consumers in a fresh and cool way. That’s what could make Geox special in the market. A lot of that has to do with a brand’s fundamental positioning: price points, whether you are just men’s or just women’s, are you just dress shoes or just sneakers, etc. When I add it all up for Geox, even if we just get a nice slice of market share in many of those aforementioned categories that we play in, it can be a substantial business. Which Geox is in Europe. In Europe, Geox has 70 percent unaided brand awareness. You can’t go to a European city without encountering either a Geox store or a retail partner selling the brand. It’s as well known as any brand is in the U.S. Certainly, it has a bigger brand awareness than Cole Haan. If we could come anywhere near that in this market, think of the potential. It’s really powerful.

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And the re-launch begins in earnest for Spring ’16? Yes, this is a re-launch of Geox in the U.S., pure and simple. We’re going to start with marketing activity in November and December on’s weather and weather alert pages. We’ll own the banners and will advertise Geox Amphibiox, which is our waterproof and breathable collection. We want to connect the weather to Amphibiox in consumers’ minds. They say, conservatively, over those two months the pages receive between five and seven million impressions. When most people in the U.S. think ‘waterproof,’ they think Gore-Tex. What’s the difference with Amphibiox? Amphibiox is entirely breathable. Without calling out any other technologies, depending on how they are constructed, they can keep water from getting into your shoes but they don’t necessarily keep your feet dry because they are not breathable. Amphibiox keeps you dry from the elements and by not causing the foot to perspire. It’s available in men’s, women’s, kid’s, dress casual and sports-inspired styles. It really is a sub-collection. I also think it shows how the brand has evolved because a lot of people who may know Geox are apt to say, ‘they make the moccasins with the breathable soles.’ But we’ve expanded our technologies into waterproofing and now, with the introduction of Nebula for Spring ’16, we will offer all-over breathability. Nebula uses the lining material found in Geox apparel that channels the air up and out. It’s our hero product for Spring ’16. I don’t think people understand how much the company and the product offering has evolved, and that’s why the story is so compelling. What do you love most about your job? Well, it’s a long list but right now it’s about building and leading a team that’s really focused and tirelessly pursuing one common goal. It’s always about product and people, and about bringing those two aspects together. That’s what I love and I get to do both every day. Is this your dream job? It is, for me, at this stage of my career. As I’ve said, I’ve been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have experiences in a lot of different areas of the business and what I wanted was the opportunity to be able to utilize all of those areas. To do that, along with the ability to build and forge a corporate culture, is a dream job for me, and I have only just started. I’ve not been one to jump around from company to company. I spent 13 years at Florsheim followed by 18 years at Cole Haan. I’m not a hopper. [Laughs.] Once I’m committed and passionate about something, it’s about seeing the goal to the end. And I’m very fortunate to have the power of this global brand and the support behind me to help reach that goal. •


Two for the Road

Abeo Biomechanical Footwear brings a pair of comfort wholesale vets onboard. “WE’RE KIND OF a kooky bunch and we like to think of new ways of doing things,” says Andrew Feshbach, CEO of Abeo Biomechanical Footwear. Fortunately, that unorthodox approach appealed to Mephisto USA CEO and President Rusty Hall, who has just stepped into the role of president of wholesale at Abeo. Joining Hall is David Murphy, former executive VP of sales and marketing at Dansko, who has been appointed chairman of the Abeo advisory committee. Andrew Feshbach, Along with a quality product and a track CEO of Abeo record of retail success, Hall says he was attracted to Abeo because of its “very creative and unique concept that enamors itself to the independent base.” The guiding principal for that forward-thinking attitude, Feshbach says, is “footwear of the future,” and it encapsulates both Abeo’s product and its approach to business. “My team and I felt like the comfort industry was somewhat stuck in the past,” he notes. To that end, Abeo shoes incorporate biomechanical technology features that have helped the brand become the top seller at The Walking Company (of which Feshbach is co-founder and CEO). On top of that, Feshbach says, “We have a different and more modern way of doing business as a partner with independent retail stores, as opposed to, ‘I’m the seller and you’re the buyer.’” He describes a retail utopia in which brands, independent retailers and the Internet can peacefully coexist. “The Internet has been a great tool, but it hasn’t necessarily benefitted the sales of independent comfort retailers,” Feshbach notes. Abeo’s distribution strategy outside of The Walking Company stores involves partnering with a select group of sit-and-fit comfort specialists and providing them with significant support and training in the product line. Feshbach’s ideal scenario is one in which “we can all benefit from the modernization of business and not necessarily have winners and losers, where the Internet wins and therefore the independent loses.” Hall and Murphy, both established industry veterans, are part of the strategy to bring that vision to fruition, as Feshbach notes that achieving a strong internal structure is a top priority. Accordingly, Hall’s resume includes executive-level positions at brands like Easy Spirit and SoftWalk in addition to his most recent role at Mephisto, while Murphy, before Dansko, held high-ranking positions at Sperry Top-Sider, Sebago and Lowell. “Combined, [Murphy and I] have over 80 years of experience in this business and with these people who we want to bring on and to partner with,” Hall states. While offering an excellent product is key, Feshbach says he also strives to be “the vendor for other independents that we would want for ourselves.” He illustrates his goal with an anecdote about the first time he traveled to Hong Kong, 25 years ago, when an agent told him the old adage about working with vendors: “‘You want quality, price and delivery, but you can only pick two.’ But I said, I want all three!’ That’s how I feel about this. We want to deliver.” —Kirby Stirland

continued from page 62/Blank Canvas it’s cool that Converse and Nike let people customize their shoes to a certain extent, “That doesn’t have a story behind it. People following me on social media and knowing I’m a graffiti artist from California who hand-paints shoes…that really gets [them] excited.” Nemani adds that this element resonates with retailers both large and small, who report that BucketFeet shoes always stand out on shelves. “It’s not just about buying a great product, it’s about telling a great story and building an emotional connection with our consumers…that understanding of a deeper story makes for a unique experience.”

BRIGHT FUTURE A made-to-order business model like Barash’s is tough to scale, but he says expansion is “not necessarily the number-one goal.” He explains, “I would like to focus on doing less quantity and more quality. Five years from now you’ll probably see me phasing out a lot of lower-end shoes and focusing more on high-end shoes.” While he suspects sneakers will remain his bread and butter, Barash muses that future possibilities include designing motocross and snowboard boots for the U.S. Olympic team or even a pair of stilettos for the First Lady. In the more immediate future, he’s keen to license his designs to a retailer or brand. From a retail perspective, Dunne points out that there’s a ceiling on the growth potential of this segment, “since custom sneakers are always going to be more expensive than mass produced ones.” However, BucketFeet makes artist-designed footwear available to a broad audience, with a multi-channel distribution strategy that includes directto-consumer online and at its Studios in New York and Chicago, plus domestic and international wholesaling. “With travel and exploration a key part of our company’s founding, as well as our motto, ‘Art is for Everyone,’ [it’s important] to hold true to that,” Nemani states. “We’re not interested in building a company that has created a niche product that appeals to a particular audience online. We are interested in creating a universal brand, so we connect with our customers wherever they are.” He adds that the artist-designed category is full of opportunity, and says that while BucketFeet is focused on expanding its product offering under the footwear umbrella, they haven’t ruled out exploring other categories in the future. Though Barash says he’s open to any retail distribition offer that comes his way, even in his moneyed home turf of Orange County, CA, “$300 customized A shoe from BucketFeet’s shoes in local skate shops just wouldn’t Savusavu collection by Jack Muldowney make sense.” Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people who will happily drop that much dough on a pair of custom kicks. Barash says he’s been surprised at his success in Middle Eastern locales like Dubai. Self-expression has fueled an artistic approach to fashion for decades and resulted in gallery-worthy clothing and footwear. And with social media giving more creators access to a broader audience, the outlook for artists in fashion is one of thriving, not starving. As Barash puts it, without a trace of artistic broodiness: “There’s no better time to be a creative than in 2015.” • august 2015 • 95


Beach Boots Bingo

COWGIRLS ( AND BOYS ) IN THE SAND Redneck Boot Sandals’ cross between a Western boot and a sandal is kicking up a debate: is it fashion, function or fugly? By Laurie Cone

TYPICALLY, LEATHER AND heat don’t mix, but what if you want to wear your favorite Western boots in the summer? What are you to do when your heart is set on boots but the reality is sandals weather? Enter Scotty Franklin, an entrepreneur from Springfield, MO, who created the mash-up of a Western boot and thong-style sandal that is gaining traction through word of mouth and is the subject of a growing (and heated) fashion debate in Bloomberg Business, Vice, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Paper and the New York Post. While the “Redneck Boot Sandal” definitely has its share of haters, the old adage that any publicity is good publicity rings true. Not to mention, the industry has a track record of so-called ugly shoes going on to become beautiful success stories, like Crocs, Ugg, Vibram FiveFingers and MBT. Franklin describes the hybrid as a “new style, new look and a new Take a gander design” and believes it’s not a flash at Redneck Boot Sandals. in the pan. (He also believes beauty is in the eye of the beholder.) For starters, the hybrid has a utilitarian premise and offers style versatility. It can be dressed up or down. It can be worn to the beach or to a rodeo. “I don’t want to call it a trend. It’s for everybody,” he says. Hence the company slogan: For All Walks of Life! “There is no real pattern for consumers,” Franklin adds. “It’s been everybody from hipsters to grandmas, and we’ve had not one complaint.” The intact boot shaft with a cut-out vamp is a unique fusion idea that came to Franklin while vacationing on a Gulf Coast beach in Alabama a few years ago. He spotted a man walking by in a pair of cowboy boots. “It was pretty hot and I thought, ‘That can’t be comfortable.’ I had my flip flops next to me and I wondered if I could cut up boots,” he says. For his initial attempt, Franklin was only half-serious and turned to some unexpected tools. “I used a drill, an old 96 • august 2015

pocketknife, duct tape and an industrial stapler.” Soon though, Franklin’s buddies began asking that he transform a pair of their boots into his hybrid design, which he began doing for $20 a pop. Business has grown organically since, with orders now streaming in from around the country and international interest building. “Canada is booming, especially the Calgary area because they have the Calgary Stampede [in the summer], one of the largest rodeos in the world,” he reports. “People in Australia are also inquiring about the shoes.” This year Franklin took the next step with the official launch of Redneck Boot Sandals, purveyor of customized, amalgamated footwear. For now, customers still send in their boots to be transformed with prices ranging from $50 to $75-plus, depending on the shipping address. Franklin, however, is no longer wielding household tools; a cobbler friend does the work in a Springfield shop to keep pace with the increasing demand. In addition to the flip-flop style, a second design will debut this month. Customers can place an order on Redneck Boot Sandals’ Facebook page and website (coming soon). As for the future of Redneck Boot Sandals, Franklin predicts more growth. He is looking into retail and wholesale distribution partnerships and hopes to manufacture his own boots down the road. “We’ve had some distributors talk to us,” he says. “We want to sell to them, but for now we’re just trying to keep up with demand. And we’d like to get to the point where we’re making our own shoes.” In the meantime, Franklin is taking it day by day and sticking with the company’s start-up family business approach. (His mom, Bev, is the CFO.) Speaking of his mom and how he chose the company name, Franklin declares: “The redneck thing—why not? I grew up as a country boy.” Perhaps the name is fitting as Franklin quips, “We’re real fancy, obviously.” •



pring Footwear, founded in 1991 and soon to be


celebrating 25 years of bringing European style and

comfort to America, is the brainchild of twin brothers, Avi and David Benzikry. The dynamic duo brought their passion, wisdom and experience from working in their family shoe manufacturing business in Israel first to the streets


of New York and, in the years since, globally. Spring Footwear is dedicated to providing consumers with shoes that are flexible, supportive and impeccably styled. The collections—Spring Step,


L’Artiste, Azura, Patrizia and Flexus— are synonymous with quality, comfort and value. Styles span a plethora of work-appropriate options to weekend casual offerings that meet the active 5

lifestyle needs of our consumers. Spring Footwear is committed to providing our consumers with an unforgettable experience that keeps them coming back to your stores season after season. The company’s latest spring collections are no exception.

Cover: L’Artiste Fab blue stacked heel peep-toe sandals with laser cut leather floral designs, adjustable backstrap and full-comfort insoles. $109.99

Boho Chic


1. Breckel camel T-strap wedge with rainbow collar features a full-cushion insole, leather wrapped sole and back zip closure. $99.99. 2. Johari turquoise strappy peep-toe platform with edgy snake print upper and low ankle strap features a zip-up heel closure on a leather inset heel, multicolored leather strips and padded insole. $99.99. 3. Guiditta snake print leather slingback with hidden Velcro adjustability, embellished stitched flowers on a hand-painted leather inset heel. $99.99. 4. Imani sandal with multi-leather love knots motif, adjustable ankle strap, stacked leather inlay heel and a cork platform. $99.99. 5. Bazooka sandal with tonal hand-painted sunbursts features adjustable top and heel hook ‘n loop leather closures and soft yet structured ribbon toe strap. $99.99. 6. Santorini toe ring sandal with hand-painted flower appliqué and stitching detail. $89.99. /,.%*#"++03!.ċ+)ƫđƫāċĉĀĀċĊćĂċĀĀăĀƫ





Mauri floral print cork footbed sandals, peach quarter strap and leather inset heels. $99.99.



1. Bao red buttery soft leather bootie with lazer cutout details on a stacked heel. $139.99. 2. Dafine peach hand-painted leather toe ring wedge sandal with hidden adjustability under embellished flower accents. $89.99. 3. Mittie croc-embossed rainbow leather slip-on with hidden velcro adjustability under decorative flower buckles, padded insole and contoured sole. $89.99. 4. Sharina iridescent floral textile wedge and hand-painted camel leather upper with cutout chain design. $89.99. 5. Mauri (on model). 6. Jive sky blue peep-toe sandal with hand-painted sunbursts, orbs and flowers, wavy ankle strap, laser dots and herringbone pattern platform. $99.99.

All prices MSRP.

From Italy With Love Vivi floral-print leather printed wedge slip-ons with padded insole and cork footbed. $89.99.

1. Vivi (on model) 2. Mitu turquoise laser cut leather wedge with abstract flower motif, modern wide buckled ankle strap and textured cork footbed. $79.99. 3. Rosemont orange wedge with intertwined braided leather and soft stretchy straps for snugness. $89.99. 4. Chaya orange gentle sloped peeptoe wedge with laser cut details and wavy edge trim. $69.99. 5. Pala turquoise slide with leather circle laser cutout design, padded insole and cork footbed. $59.99. 6. Bojana off-white gently sloped wedge with full suede upper featuring petal cutout details. $99.99. 7. Moriah tan suede T-strap wedge with sparkly embellishments, padded insole and cork footbed. $99.99.



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The New Neutrals

1. Arual two-tone gray slingback shootie with laser cutouts, heel strap, comfort footbed and stacked heel. $139.99. 2. Maiche two-tone T-strap with modern diamond cutouts. $129.99. 3. Embossed off-white vintageinspired leather oxford and full-cushion comfort footbed. $149.99. 4 & 7. Navis tonal pumps with off-white patent leather cutout detail and stacked heels. $159.99. 5. Kauai beige stacked heel pump with whip stitched edge and bow. $159.99. 6. Nosrac (on model). 8. Ace taupe summer bootie with geometric laser cutout detail, full-cushion insole and comfortable short stacked heel. $169.99.

All prices MSRP.

Nosrac off-white loafers in buttery soft leather with laser-cut petals trim details and full-cushion insoles. $149.99







8 7 1. Rho beige wedge with ankle jewels and criss cross straps of printed snake and smooth faux leathers. Padded insoles and fringed back zip with tassel. $49.99. 2. Catalonia gold wedge with glitter and snake print straps, massaging insole and faux cork sole. $59.99. 3. Harlequin Multi (on model in turquoise) gold gentle sloped wedge sandal in faux leather with flower appliqué detail. $49.99. 4. Kochi gold snake print T-strap with natural rope bottom wedge and white sole. $49.99. 5. Anoush sandal features 11 rows of multi-colored jeweled embellishments with a gold inset slightly wedged heel. $49.99. 6. Jabbah slide with double buckle uppers in paparazzi gold glitter and tonal snake print accents, padded insole and a faux cork sole. $59.99. 7. Dema sandal with crisscross iridescent straps fastened with gold studs atop a gentle sloped wedge. $59.99. 8. Brescia wrapped wedge sandal in camel with sparkling clear and gold crystal chain design straps. $49.99. /,.%*#"++03!.ċ+)ƫđƫāċĉĀĀċĊćĂċĀĀăĀƫ

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Alluring Accents


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Harlequin Multi turquoise gentle sloped wedge sandal in faux leather with flower appliquĂŠ detail. $49.99.

1. Fern mint peep-toe slingback with diamond laser cutouts and faux cork sole. $49.99. 2. Donata green thong sandal with crystal ornamentation and padded insole. $49.99. 3. Harlequin Multi (on model). 4. Edita green thong sandal with center jeweled embellishment, iridescent snake print straps and padded insoles. $49.99. 5. Anouk teal T-strap sandal features nine rows of multi-colored jewels, gold inset wedge and padded insole. $49.99. 6. Daly green T-strap sandal adorned with three vintage-inspired gems features a zip-up heel closure. $49.99. 7. Rho turquoise wedge with ankle jewels and criss cross straps of printed snake and smooth faux leathers. Padded insoles and fringed back zip with tassel. $49.99.

All prices MSRP.


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The Luxe Life 1. Limey black peep-toe shootie with open adjustable back strap, padded footbed and sturdy stacked heel. $89.99. 2. Quidam (on model). 3. Etta Bohemian-inspired thong sandal with decorative black and white beaded design and leather insole. $79.99. 4. Romance white gently sloped wedge with decorative fringe tassles and padded insole. $89.99. 5. Tunisia black and cheetah print leather strappy sandal with padded leather footbed and zip-up heel closure. $69.99. 6. Malaysia thong sandal with decorative jewels and leather padded footbed. $59.99. 7. Pure vintage-inspired strappy black patent leather sandal with golden bezel set stones and curved chunky heel. $89.99.

All prices MSRP.


Quidam silver print python caged sandals with padded insoles, zip-up heel closures and stacked heels. $109.99.

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Footwear Plus | August 2015  

Flashback: Designers Groove to a '70s Vibe for Spring | The New Summer Staple for Guys | Check Out this Wearable Art | Geox Set for U.S. Rel...

Footwear Plus | August 2015  

Flashback: Designers Groove to a '70s Vibe for Spring | The New Summer Staple for Guys | Check Out this Wearable Art | Geox Set for U.S. Rel...