Footwear Plus Magazine | March 2016

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MARCH 2016 F E A T U R E S 10 Proceed with Caution In a topsy-turvy world where the new normal is abnormal, the industry struggles to get a grip on where the market is headed this fall. By Greg Dutter 14 GDS Reflects What’s Current The Fall/Winter ’16 edition of GDS in Düsseldorf, Germany, was a study in contradictions. By Lauren Olsen 20 The Mother of All CEOs Mandy Cabot, CEO of Dansko, has raised the comfort company from birth, nurturing it over the past 26 years into a category mainstay and positioning it to be a thriving entity for decades to come. By Greg Dutter 22 Profiles in Excellence Honoring the 2015 Plus Award winners for retail and design excellence, and sharing their secrets to success. By Ann Loynd, Lauren Olsen and Greg Dutter

Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL Ann Loynd Senior Editor Lauren Olsen Associate Editor Kathy Passero Editor at Large Melodie Jeng Contributing Photographer Judy Leand Contributing Editor ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher Katie Belloff Associate Art Director Production Manager Allison Kastner Operations Manager

40 Book Smart Gentlemanly styles plus unexpected details usher in new classics. By Ann Loynd

Bruce Sprague Circulation Director


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

On the cover: Esquivel bluchers with removable kiltie, A.P.C. suit, Uniqlo shirt and socks, eyeglasses by Salt, Dior tie. This page: Felt oxfords by Woolrich, Vintage sweater vest, Uniqlo shirt and socks, Salvatore Piccolo tie, scarf by Yves Saint Laurent, Prada trousers. PA G E


Caroline Diaco Publisher

Photographer: Trevett McCandliss; Fashion Editor: Ann Loynd; stylist: Tara Anne Dalbow; hair and makeup: Matthew Sky/Next Artists; model: Christopher K./ 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.

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E D I TO R ’S N OT E The Tipping Point?


The disruption eruptions are coming fast and furious as the status quo goes out of fashion. KANYE WEST TAKES no prisoners. Everything he does is a calculated attempt at massive media disruption—all in an effort to gain more fame, market share and, of course, money. (He married into the Kardashian clan, after all.) His recent fashion show/album drop during New York Fashion Week basically obliterated the runway concept as we knew it. Remember when runway shows were exclusive events that popped up in unannounced hideaways and invite lists were tighter than Frank Sinatra’s inner circle? Well, so much for that clandestine approach. West turned his Yeezy Season 3 show into a 20,000-strong spectacle that was streamed live to millions of fans. Business as usual? I think not. Perhaps sensing the traditional runway show was over too, Burberry shook the industry to its core that same week by announcing its plans to nix the customary six-month lead time format in favor of a “see now, buy now” consumer-facing event. Beginning in September, the iconic British brand will hold two shows a year instead of four and combine women’s and men’s in the same presentation. The styles on the catwalk will be immediately available for purchase online and in select stores. Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey said the brand’s shows have been evolving to close this gap for some time—via live streams, social media campaigns and, soon, buying straight off the runway. This marks the latest step in a creative process that will continue to evolve—and disrupt, according to Bailey. Burberry is not the first to introduce this concept. But it is arguably the biggest to announce the shift and, not coincidently, Tom Ford and Michael Kors quickly announced they would be doing similar see-now, buy-now events come fall. Rebecca Minkoff even got a head start by showing a collection during New York Fashion Week that was immediately available for purchase and pre-order. Minkoff stated: “Fashion Week should be for everybody; that’s really the future.” Does that sound like someone supporting the status quo when it comes to the business of fashion? Definitely not. The future is coming fast and furious, and the digital age is at the epicenter of these recent market disruptions. Consumers expect instant gratification because, well, their smartphones enable it. People can shop anywhere, any time for pretty much any item.

Want booze delivered to your door at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday? There’s an app for that. Want to purchase a pair of shoes a complete stranger posted on Instagram in Hong Kong? It takes a few clicks, at most. You don’t have to wait weeks, months or even years for your local retailer to stock the item—like you did in the (not so) olden days. News and trends today go viral, and that has changed the consumer mindset into an instant gratification mentality. The subsequent earthquake-like disruptions to the supply chain and retail are forcing everyone to re-invent the way they do business because the old way just doesn’t cut it anymore. For proof, you need only look at how digitally driven disruptions are wreaking havoc on traditional retailers—namely Walmart, Sears Holdings and Macy’s. These brickand-mortar institutions are being hit with serious body blows. Massive store closings, attempts at new formats and, of course, huge investments in omnichannel capabilities are all part of their effort to remain relevant in this new retail age. The power of Amazon cannot be denied. Nor can the growth of online sales across the board in all retail tiers and formats. And while one could argue that this shakeout is long overdue in an over-stored landscape, the acceleration of late is not strictly tied to a weak economy or unseasonable weather patterns. Those factors have greased the wheels, but the truth is, an aged format drawing fewer shoppers while carrying a hefty overhead was bound to come crashing down. Speaking of crashing down, the disruptive forces rocking our nation’s political process these days are jaw dropping. It’s also indicative of Americans’ increasing intolerance for the status quo—with pretty much everything. It’s like the entire country is sticking its head out the window and collectively screaming, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” These are strange and disruptive days indeed. How many took Donald Trump’s candidacy seriously at the onset? And remember when “bimbo eruptions” were front-page news? They seem like small potatoes now. The question, of course, is whether any of these disruptions will bring meaningful change. Blowing up a system is one thing. Actually replacing it with something better is an entirely different challenge. At least we’ll soon find out if Washington’s ways were really intolerable, or we’ll pull back from the precipice and elect the nation’s first female president, ending a 240-year status quo.

Greg Dutter

Editorial Director

6 • march 2016

Purveyors of luxury European comfort footwear

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Party On THE INAUGURAL USRA’S The Social at Tao restaurant in Las Vegas saw 300-plus footwear industry members come together to exchange pleasantries, ideas and, of course, a few business cards amid a relaxed setting. “The objective was to bring all segments of the industry together for networking, building camaraderie and creating lots of positive energy,” says Gary Hauss, owner of the J. Stephens chain and long-time USRA board member. “Everyone loved the opportunity to actually talk to one another, because during the show most of us are so rushed and don’t have the time.” The event, held the night before the recent FN Platform show, included diamond sponsors Footwear Plus and FN Platform as well as gold-level sponsors Aetrex, Clarks, Mephisto, Spring Step and Taos.

David Kahan, Christina Porter, Edward Kanner, Janice Abernethy and Jennifer Smith.

Elani Myers, Sam Posner and Leslie Gallin.

Man Cave IT JUST MIGHT be the ultimate man (shopping) cave. Barneys recently unveiled its new 19,000-square-foot, two-floor, men’s-only store in San Francisco adjacent to its Union Square location. The sleek, modern décor lets the merchandise do the talking, and the conversation just got a lot deeper thanks to a clothing and shoes department more than twice than the previously allotted space next door. The shoe mix includes plenty of brands that are well known and a few that are not. Barneys is the home of discovery, according to Tom Kalenderian, EVP of men’s. “We find things that no one knows about but that are great,” he states. “It’s not enough to be different, it has to be better.” Philippe Hum, Barneys EVP of store design, notes that the new store is designed for today’s man—sophisticated, modern and minimal. It’s a male consumer who is also coming into his own in terms of style and shopping needs—both reasons that call for an exclusive and expanded space.

Wheel Deal Gary Champion, Mindy Ojea and Jim Clarin.

Caroline Diaco and Jennifer Craig.

Jim Salzano, Bob Infantino, Neal Newman and Greg Dutter.

Party people.

Joe Gradia and Gary Hauss.

Jim Riedman, Rosco Rolnick, Christine Harris, Kevin Flanagan and Bruce Kaplan.

8 • march 2016

WITH MORE THAN 3 million tires discarded annually in the United States and 65 percent of that figure ending up in landfills, Austin Rubber sought a better, cleaner and reusable solution. It developed its APX compound, a material converted from recycled tires, that just so happens to make for a really good outsole material. So good, in fact, the company has since created a subsidiary, Austin Footwear Labs, to market its new sandaldriven line, Tredagain. “The issue of recycling old tires into new tires is a quality issue,” explains Brittany Thomas, marketing coordinator for Austin Footwear Labs. “Footwear is a bit safer, but talking to manufacturers, they wanted to see a complete product. So we made flip-flops, and some of the guys in the office started wearing them.” The rest, you might say, is (the beginning of the brand’s) history. The line has expanded to include women’s styles, plus rain boots and a river shoe are in the works. “It’s been fun learning a new industry,” Thomas says, noting that the brand received a positive response at Outdoor Retailer for its comfort and slip-resistant properties, as well as its affordability. (Suggested retail for the made-in-the-U.S.A collection is $70.) Thomas says the company’s first account was a Texas boutique. “We need people in a specialty environment to communicate our story,” she says.

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Proceed with Caution

In a topsy-turvy world where the new normal is abnormal, the industry struggles to get a grip on where the market is headed. By Greg Dutter

SSESSING THE GENERAL mood at the In an industry that depends on the next season’s success regardless of the recent round of trade shows (FFANY, GDS, past season’s performance, wariness is to be expected. So is optimism. But FN Platform and The Atlanta Shoe Market) lately, a lot has been hitting the proverbial fan at once. was like trying to corral a bunch of feral cats. “No one is coming out of this fall feeling good about fall,” says David Kahan, Basically, it couldn’t be done. There has been CEO of Birkenstock USA. “Retailers are positive about the U.S., but scared far too much market volatility and too unpreabout business overall.” And while Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes dictable a world climate for anyone to feel in New York, concurs that many of the show attendees he met at FFANY, GDS confident about what the Fall ’16 season will and FN Platform appeared upbeat, nearly all “complained that business was bring. Most people don’t even know what business will look like next month. not great.” He cited a general industry malaise where flat is the new up, and Welcome to the new world (dis)order. sales were down for many businesses. Reality TV star Donald Trump as a presi“Everyone knows that the industry had a dential front-runner? It’s like the coiffed tough season this past fall—weather, tourist Coolway hair atop a mountain of uncertainty. It’s declines, poor exchange rates, early discountalso evidence that we may be marching into ing, etc.,” notes Tracy Smith, president of parts unknown. The unpredictable nature of U.S. operations of Geox. He adds that many just about everything of late—the economy, show attendees were talking about this being Sebago presidential campaigns, employment statisan election year, and uncertainty about the tics, retail sales (or lack thereof ), runway country’s future also affects the consumer’s formats, fashion forecasts, MAP pricing, willingness to spend. weather patterns, Amazon’s impact—you “Election years are typically not great,” notes name it—has caused everybody to shrug and Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director say, “Your guess is as good as mine,” when it of The Atlanta Shoe Market. Despite those comes to predicting market trends. headwinds, she reports the overall mood of Dansko The oft-heard phrase at the shows was attendees was upbeat. “There was a great “cautiously optimistic,” both from buyers and energy among everyone,” she says, adding exhibitors. It’s the phrase of the season, in fact. that the show was sold out and buyer attenExtrafine “Retailers, by nature, are cautiously optimisdance was up. tic,” notes Leslie Gallin, president of footwear Ron Fromm, CEO of FFANY, reported for UBM, organizers of FN Platform. Yet she an equally positive vibe among the show’s described the overall mood of the show as attendees, but clouds of uncertainty were robust. “Retailers seemed bullish on finding also prevalent, the presidential election being Leading Fall ’16 trends included heavy lug soles, gender-bending the best quality and unique items,” she says, one source. It’s a “wake-up call” that reflects silhouettes, short boots and athleisure influences. noting attendance was up from new, established the fact that fashion and business cycles are retailers as well as first-timers at the show. “being disrupted and becoming more chal“Buyers appeared cautiously optimistic,” echoes Brittany Knudson, direclenging,” he offers. He cites Burberry’s recent announcement of a “see now, tor of marketing for Blueprint, a new comfort brand. “As we head into the buy now” consumer-facing runway format as one example. Everything comnew year, the changes in retail versus online are having an impact,” she adds. ing out of New York Fashion Week last month had a “flavor of confusion,” he Nonetheless, Knudson reports Blueprint was well received at FN Platform. says. Collective uncertainty and a changing market “could actually change a “We were floored by the response, and we believe that our fresh new look company’s ability to be successful,” Fromm says. “This is something everyone provides a new mindset to this space,” she says, noting Blueprint met with must pay attention to.” more than 150 potential customers. Ed Habre, owner of the Shoe Mill chain based in Portland, OR, agrees >53 10 • march 2015



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GENTLEMEN’S CLUB Dapper New York dudes sport wooly layers and natty shoes for a smart look that’s anything but buttoned-up. Photography by Melodie Jeng 12 • march 2016

THE EUROPEAN REPORT: FALL/WINTER ’16 The Fall/Winter ’16 edition of GDS in Düsseldorf, Germany, was a study in contradictions: Traditional cold-weather hues sat alongside shimmery metallics, emerging niche brands were a stone’s throw away from industry heavy-hitters, eco-friendly takes and high-tech digital technologies were presented next to comfortable standbys and classic styles were updated with contemporary twists. Overall, the season showcased seemed empowered, inspired and was a nod to the sometimes paradoxical spirit of today’s man and woman—an homage to life in an evolving, modern world. —Lauren Olsen

GDS Reflects What’s Current Penny loafers are a force for the season, but they aren’t the only thing that has us thinking currency exchange—burnt pennylike copper hues brimmed all over GDS. The shade is particularly common in sneakers, paired with brown laces and white outsoles or with dark laces and deep brown outsoles, giving the trend an athletic, neutral and surprisingly adaptable appeal.


Bordeaux is back—as are maroon, raspberry, cherry, wine and all of the other shades that conjure images of a vineyard. From runways to the GDS booths, the fall staple—a more vivid and cheery, alternative to cooltemp. blacks and grays— spans across sneakers, pumps and boots of all lengths in fabrications from suede to leather.


Wild West Kickers

Wine Time

Saddle up. The dusty roads of the West beckon once more. Western boots are in classic traditional styles, to appearances in bold blues, to iterations updated with fun takes on fringe. The result? A fashion mainstay, building on success from previous seasons and likely inspiration from the growing festival music scene and popular Western films like Jane Got A Gun, that feels more urban than cowgirl-chic.



Got Milk? Ammann of Switzerland

Spotted across ankle boots, pumps and sneakers, cow-print has made its way into the season’s repertoire. It’s a fun nod to the Western trend, and a refreshing change from the usual leopard, zebra and snake takes. This is also a trend where the U.S. can take a bit of international inspiration. Marc Ammann, CEO of Ammann of Switzerland, a brand who uses the print as its signature, says that it is actually cow-print that sells best in countries that tend to be a little more conservative style-wise, citing its popularity in his native Switzerland and surrounding countries. Kupuri

14 • march 2016


Lucky Penny


FALL 2016




On the Fringes All-over fringe is a no-fail, but the stars of fringe this season were styles with a subtle approach. Framing side zippers on taupe ankle boots or lightly trailing the backs of black or blue pointy heels, fringe as an accent showcased a just-assassy but perhaps more versatile (even evening) potential.

Pick of the Patch All patched up to be a hit, patchwork is featured across boots and pumps. Leather and suede turn in various combinations of rich autumnal colors. Monochromatic styles also make an appearance, and one manufacturer projects these as best-sellers—think highly transitional with a little bit of funk. Paired with also-trending chunky heels, this pattern feels especially balanced and wellsuited to the modern wardrobe.

Stéphanie Classic

Patent Warranted Frye



Sparkle On


The season’s forecast is far from somber— sprinkled all over the collections are sequins, glitter, beads and all types of sparkle in every color under the rainbow. It sets the stage for a more upbeat approach to the cold and dark months. Among the bedazzled are sparkly loafers, sneakers and boots. Expect to find embellished footwear presented as full-on styles or as accents everywhere.


It’s great to sparkle, but just as important to shine. Patent leather is key to the season, and while the look has been said to be around since the 1800s, this season brings to mind images of the Jazz Age (think Downton Abbey’s jazz-heavy final season). This finish, featured in everything from bright red pumps to combat boots, to chunky brogues and bright red accents on loafers, attracts by day and stuns by night.

Over the Top

United Nude

Siren Song Sea-inspired themes don’t have to stick to Spring/Summer— seasonal-appropriate mermaid-like iridescent teal metallics leak through many of the fall collections. A vibrant, unexpected change from more traditional gold or silver, this metallic is featured in tall boots, glitzy sneakers and futuristic gravitydefying styles fit for a fin. (Designers suggest that this color may become popular amongst the mermen, too.) The iterations in this hue (and others) had a—some might say, scaly—appearance. For options that are really fishy, check out different colors in Veja brand’s Tilapia styles, which use Brazilian vegetable-tanned leather from the edible, tropical namesake fish. 16 • march 2016

It has been said that as pant lengths continue to get shorter, shoe heights rise. But the overthe-knee boot styles popular this season take this trend to extremes. Vampy black leather turns are taken, but suede (and its imitations) in both heeled and flat styles ranging from slightly over-the-knee to a provocative mid-thigh take center stage. In neutrals to maroons, these super-soft, svelte options seem like perfect armor for the modern woman—more comfy than stilettos, but with an equally sultry feel. As one manufacturer put it: “A second skin.” Claudia Ghizzani Lemon Jelly


Man’s World Designers expand their Fall collections to meet the stylish demands of today’s man.

Selected Homme


Crock Rock

Floris van Bommel

Usually it’s the women who steal from the men’s aisles, but there was a definite androgynous feeling in the collections, reflecting the less-tight gender roles of the day. Dandy-like brogues and softer materials reflect this, but the approach feels loudest in animal-inspired touches. Crocodile-prints are featured on sneakers and boots—ranging from neutral colors to maroon and metallic teals—and touches like thick slashed outsoles keep the look masculine and edgy.

Pete Sorensen

Lyle & Scott

Downtown Sole The sneaker-crazed, athleisure-loving masses have spoken—dress shoes no longer need be so dressy. Uptownmeets-downtown seems never more well represented than by dress boots with casual, thick outsoles. Brogues and sumptuous leathers in classic colors like brown and black are paired with heavier outsoles and thicker, more athleticlooking laces. Exhibitors at GDS agree this is a huge trend for men and will continue to be so, as it reflects the needs of the modern man’s lifestyle: grounded in an urbane, contemporary aesthetic with a dressed-up nod to tradition.

Soft Touch The use of felt and wool in men’s, particularly when combined, is rampant throughout fall collections. Manufacturers describe these materials as warmer and cozier, and when paired with leather, the combination looks striking on sneakers and boots. Konstantinos Chatziagapoglou, founder of The Felters (a felt and wool-based brand), adds that some consumers are turning to the material in search of vegan, no-kill alternatives. With veganism and other specialty diets on the rise worldwide, expect these softer fabrics to play an increasingly greater role in demand, he says.

18 • march 2016


The Felters

JUNE 7–9




















SKECHERS corporate identity



C = 100 M = 46 Y=0 K = 70


Lifetime Achievement

The Mother of all CEOs Mandy Cabot, CEO of Dansko, has raised the comfort company from birth, nurturing it over the past 26 years into a category mainstay and positioning it to be a thriving entity for decades to come. BY G R EG D U T T E R


EW CEOS ARE as bonded with their company as Mandy Cabot. Dansko is truly her baby. She and husband Peter Kjellerup introduced the brand to the United States in 1990 and have nurtured it every step of the way since. The parenting began when the thenprofessional horse trainers started a side business of selling the Danish-made clogs out of the back of their station wagon to friends on the equestrian circuit. During early adolescence, the parenting shifted to growing the little clog company steadily into a bona fide “shoe company.” And now as it flourishes in early adulthood as a full-on lifestyle brand spanning women’s, kids’ and, beginning this fall, men’s collections, the parents are in the process of making sure it will live well beyond them. It’s been the ultimate parenting job, where the duo has always tried to do what’s best for the brand and, more importantly, do right by its employees, retail partners and consumers. Take Dansko’s recent decision to become 100-percent employee owned. Rather than sell to another entity and let new parents decide Dansko’s future, Cabot, the industry-facing part of the team and the spiritual force behind the company, believed the best way to ensure that their child could continue to pursue a life of its own was to turn ownership over to the people who are most invested in its continued well-being and who would also be most directly affected by a sale. Kjellerup says that’s just his wife’s natural (motherly) instinct at work—she’s totally unselfish and wants what’s best for Dansko and its employees. “Mandy always puts aside her own needs and focuses on everybody else’s,” he says, adding, “I think one of her greatest qualities is that she always asks, ‘What can I do to help others?’” Cabot says that whenever she speaks about Dansko, she talks about it as her baby. “That’s what it’s always been for me, and probably always will be,” she says. And like all good parents, she has looked out for her “child” and done everything in her power to make 20 • march 2016

body who has put their sweat equity into Dansko,” Kjellerup says. “They will have a good chance to continue working here and also get their share of equity from helping build the company.” Cabot views the decision to become an employeeowned company as one of her proudest moments at Dansko—so far. Rather than worry about an exit strategy, she believes this is a solid succession plan, which is one of the most important acts a parent can hope to achieve. “We’ve done our job as the birth-parents of Dansko,” she affirms. “We’ve built a company that can move through time, rooted in our values but at the same time, strong, smart and brave enough to create its own future.”

sure it grew up to be an upstanding citizen. “We want our kids to play well with others and to make the world a little bit brighter by their presence in it,” she offers. “We give them our values, our dreams and our sense of responsibility. Like all parents, we want our kids to thrive, to achieve things that we as their parents can’t even dream of.” That life-long commitment and vision is evident in Cabot’s decision to not sell the company. While it would have been much easier (Kjellerup confirms that several companies have expressed interest over the years) and highly lucrative personally, concerns about what it would mean to others quickly arose. Would the company remain based in West Grove, PA, where it has developed deep roots within the local community? Would all the employees be able to keep their jobs? Unable to assure yeses to those questions, the decision to become employee owned was a no brainer. “We have at least secured every-

Super Mom Cabot has always been part doting parent, part tiger mom when it comes to running Dansko. The CEO (a title that has also stood for Chief of Everything at times over the course of her career) believes the company’s products are unparalleled in their comfort benefits. (What parent doesn’t think their child is special?) But she never has been one to let the company rest on its laurels. Cabot is always striving to improve Dansko, be it in regards to product, sourcing, retail partnerships, business practices or legacy. It’s the total package, and proof that what a company happens to make should be just part of the equation for overall success. When asked what has she achieved in rearing Dansko, Cabot replies: “I think we’ve done a good job of balancing the interests of our various stakeholders. We’ve given hundreds of employees respect and purpose, and opportunities to grow both personally and professionally. We’re a trustworthy, responsive resource for our retailers and a trustworthy, long-term partner to our supply chain. We give our consumers comfort and confidence to lead active, productive lives. We’re a significant supporter of local nonprofits.” Indeed, there are many different communities that Dansko belongs to and lots of different stakeholder groups whose interests it

serves. To this regard, Cabot says, “It’s never just been about selling shoes.� Take Dansko’s LEED certified Gold headquarters, for example. No footwear company has (or has to) go to such lengths and expense to lessen their impact on the planet. But that’s just how Cabot and Kjellerup (overseer of the building projects) roll. The 80,000-square-foot facility and adjacent 200,000-square-foot warehouse come complete with a living wall, vegetated roof (reduces heating and cooling costs), recycled rain water system for watering plants and plumbing, pervious paving allowing water to filter back into water table, and 1,100 solar panels that currently provide 25 percent of all energy needs. Those are just a few of the state-ofthe-art eco-friendly aspects. It serves as a model of excellence and proof it can be done—profitably. Yet while plenty of companies talk a good green game, few actually back it up to the extent Dansko has. Dansko’s membership in B Corporation is another example of its willingness to go the extra mile in terms of being a good corporate citizen. Cabot describes it as the mother of all gauges of corporate social responsibility. In 2007, Dansko became the first shoe company and one of the organization’s 80 founding members consisting of like-minded, forprofit businesses that benchmark their practices against the triple-bottom-line of people, planet and profits. “We’re 100-percent employee owned, giving our people an unbelievable opportunity to share in our company’s success,� she explains. “Our buildings are all LEED-certified Gold, treading as lightly as we can on the planet. And as certified by B Lab’s high standards of accountability, transparency and performance, we are profitable.� Taking it a step further, Cabot says there are two more “P’s� at Dansko worth noting: product and philanthropy. “In terms of product, everything we bring to market is SATRA- or ASTM-tested and APMA-certified,� she says. “And regarding philanthropy, nearly 90 percent of our employees participate in community service work, and the Dansko Foundation, run by our employees, supports dozens of local organizations.� The Greater Good For Cabot, it’s always been about a greater-good approach to doing business and living life. It’s the only way she knows how to go about it, regardless of whether it’s a more difficult or expensive path to take. “We almost never take the easier path,� she says, referring to herself and husband. “We don’t use escalators when we can climb stairs. We don’t use people movers when we can walk. We don’t cut corners if we can help it, and we try not to do anything half-way.� Cabot adds, “That’s just how we’re wired. But that’s also where we get all our energy.

The phrase, ‘pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient’ sums it up pretty well for me.â€? That commitment to excellence begins with the shoes Dansko makes. For starters, none of the other good generated by the company would even be possible if its products didn’t deliver. In this regard, Cabot has always been an involved, product-oriented CEO—part of her “chief of everythingâ€? traits. While she has learned to delegate more recently, she was notoriously involved in every little product detail, according to Kjellerup. “We’d go to the factory and she’d always be fine-tuning,â€? he says. “Every single shoe she went down to the last detail.â€? It’s not easy to do, he adds. It requires good partners, spanning sourcing, design, product development and sales as well as being on top of every aspect to know if you actually have good partners or not. Kjellerup says his wife wouldn’t have done it any other way. “If she isn’t proud of the product in terms of quality and value, then she’ll never put it out there,â€? he says. “She’s not just about trying to sell more shoes. She’s never said, ‘We could do 100,000 pairs more of this shoe if we just cut a little here and we then we can make more money‌’â€? Anyone who has been in this business a while knows that Cabot’s approach here is the exception, definitely not the rule. That integrity and honesty, Kjellerup says, has been recognized throughout the industry. “She is very trusted, and they respect her for that,â€? he says. “Dansko has been a trusted and valued resource since we first began carrying the brand,â€? confirms Ed Habre, president of The Shoe Mill stores in Oregon.

The 10-store comfort specialty chain began selling the brand’s signature Professional clog in the early ’90s when wood-bottom clogs were hot. “They became the comfortable and quieter walking option in category that was important in independent retailer inventories,� he notes, adding the partnership has flourished since. “Dansko has evolved into a foundational brand for us. We look to it first in the categories that it represents and fill in with other brands around it as needed,� Habre says. Joe Gradia, co-owner and vice president of the Connecticut chain, Hawley Lane Shoes, reports a similar strong partnership that now spans 20 years. “She has been an incredible partner of ours over the years, and we have built a very strong and successful business together,� he says, adding, “Dansko is very important to us as a top brand in our stores for customers with foot problems as well as for nurses, chefs, teachers—people who are on their feet all day and night.� Cabot takes great pride in making quality products that deliver on their comfort attributes. She also takes great satisfaction in how Dansko has helped popularize the clog, in particular, overall. “I think we legitimized the silhouette beyond a service-only application as it is viewed in Europe, and beyond the hippies-only counter culture phenomenon of the ‘60s,� she says, adding, “Dansko brought clogs from the fringes into the mainstream.� Habre says Dansko took clogs in a direction that the style had never been before, and credits Cabot with the ability to identify early on that success could be achieved with footwear that filled >55

D I D YO U K N OW. . .

Mandy Cabot is one interesting woman. Ä‘ĆŤ )!.% *ĆŤ .%#%* (Ä?ĆŤHer family tree traces back to the Mayflower ship that landed ashore in 1620. Ä‘ĆŤ 1) *ĆŤ +1 $Ä?ĆŤShe originally studied to be an anthropologist. Ä‘ĆŤ 25ĆŤ ! #1!.Ä?ĆŤShe later earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School. Ä‘ĆŤ -1!/0.% *ĆŤ !0Ä? She and her husband, Peter Kjellerup, ran a successful horse farm before getting into the shoe business.

Ä‘ĆŤ !0ĆŤ0$!ĆŤ .!/% !*0Ä?ĆŤShe had a sit-down with President Obama in 2012 and discussed Dansko’s commitment to corporate responsibility and how it aligned with the President’s vision of reducing inequality and promoting innovation and sustainability. Ä‘ĆŤ 3 . ÄĄ +.0$5Ä?ĆŤShe is a recipient of the T. Kenyon Holly Humanitarian Achievement Award from the Two Ten Footwear Foundation.

2016 march • 21


THE PLUS AWARDS Recognizing excellence in design and retail for 2015.


SKECHERS SNEAKERS AT BRUNCH, at work and pretty much anywhere and everywhere—in addition to the gym—is now standard attire. The sneaker’s reign and the coinciding athleisure fashion movement (think the ubiquitous yoga pants craze) continues unabated, and that is just one of the key factors fueling the record growth of Skechers, the 2015 Plus Award winner in the Athleisure and Company of the Year categories. The latter award marks the second year in a row for Skechers. Skechers’ 2015 numbers speak for themselves: record annual sales of $3.14 billion (22 percent over the prior year) on top of record fourth-quarter sales of $722.7 million—an increase of 26.8 percent over the previous year. The company is now ranked as the second-largest athletic brand in the United States and is considered the number one walking and work brand. What’s more, the company’s international division accounted for 41 percent of total sales in the fourth quarter, bringing Skechers closer to its stated goal of reaching 50 percent within the next two to three years. While the success of its GoRun, GoWalk and Memory Foam franchises is well-documented, the growth has been across the board in its men’s, women’s and kids’ divisions. The broad appeal has also helped fuel retail store growth, which surpassed 1,300 doors worldwide last year. Plans are to open an additional 330 to 340 doors this year. CEO Robert Greenberg says thanks to new technology that allows engineered knit uppers, the use of unique materials and innovative constructions, there is a much greater variety of sneaker options, pushing many consumers to sport sneakers outside of the gym. “They have become a fashion statement as well as a product with technical qualities,” he says, 22 • march 2016

adding, “The line that used to divide fashion and athletic apparel no longer exists.” Michael Greenberg, Robert’s son and company president, agrees: “Athletic footwear isn’t just for the gym anymore.” The younger Greenberg cites the rainbow-colored Skechers Flex Appeal sneaker as a particular success story in 2015. A best seller around the world with consumers of all ages, he says the shoe harkens back 24 years to the brand’s Southern California active lifestyle and casual fashion roots. Other top sellers from last year include the Energy and D’Lites sneaker collections and the iconic slip-on Bikers sneakers with a bungee lace closure. Robert Greenberg notes that the Skechers Sport, Active and Performance divisions all grew exponentially in 2015 as athleisure continues to be a “dominant force within the market.” The GoWalk 3 and Go Flex Walk collections, in particular, were best sellers throughout the year as consumers loved the lightweight materials and variety of color options. The colorful, comfortdriven Skechers Sport, Skechers Sport Active and Skechers Active collections for women also drove sales, according to the CEO. Indeed, Skechers has mastered the trendright approach to footwear design. The company crafts footwear based on what the consumer is wearing and has held fast to this principle for decades. “When we develop new shoes, we look at trends that are driving sales in the apparel industry and translate that into footwear,” Robert Greenberg explains. Examples include the “wildly successful” Stretch Fit construction which was inspired by the comfort of yoga pants—a stretchable sock-like liner hugs the foot for a custom fit. He also cites the popularity of relaxed-fit jeans as seeping into its collections, incorporating the comfort of a wider toe area and roomier fit into sneakers. “We also offer hundreds of different colors and prints, so consumers can accessorize their pants or tops in any color with a perfectly matching pair of sneakers,” Greenberg adds. Both men agree this is a trend that spans all ages. Skechers makes universal fashion as everyone, it seems, loves to be comfortable. “Skechers’ footwear collections reflect this combination of comfort and style—and that resonates with consumers around the world,” Michael Greenberg says. —Lauren Olsen


VINCE CAMUTO IN 2015, ALL eyes were on the Camuto Group to see how the brand would carry on after the death of its founder, Vince Camuto, last January. In the year since, the brand’s executives and creative team have carried on Camuto’s legacy to rave review, nabbing yet another Plus Award (it won last year’s Little Black Dress nod). “We continue to listen to our customers and, as the brand expands, our designs evolve to reflect the lifestyle and fashion choices of the women we are dressing,” says Louise Camuto, who took over as creative director after her husband’s passing. “We looked at the trend of casual footwear, and we filled a void in this segment by offering a strong fashion point of view coupled with the quality, comfort and value that is synonymous with the Vince Camuto brand.” Though it saw a drop in sales—along with most manufacturers—in the tall boot category due to last year’s mild weather, Vince Camuto garnered gains in other classifications that made up for the dip. Crossover styles, in particular, were a hit among consumers. “Our customers prefer to invest in wardrobe styles that they can wear across seasons and restyle for both day and night occasions,” Camuto offers. A favorite multipurpose style was the casual, stacked-heel bootie. “This style has a lower cone heel and is easily worn all day,” she says, adding, “Casual booties are very versatile and have become a season-less wardrobe staple.” Vince Camuto continued to be a trend trailblazer last year as well. Besides the favorite stacked-heel boots, other best-selling silhouettes included ghillies, architectural pointed-toe flats, espadrilles in colorful suedes and gladiator sandals. “In 2015, we were inspired by a range of trends and offered our customers especially versatile collections that featured new silhouettes and style hybrids, as well as rich materials, specialty techniques and textured finishes,” Camuto says. Camuto predicts the ambitious growth the founder laid out will continue to unfold on a big scale, as will her grand marketing vision, which was marked by the company’s first-ever Super Bowl ad. If you missed it, you can watch the spot featuring Jack Daniel, a shoe-loving Boxer dog, on —Ann Loynd




COMFORT ONE SHOES THE 22-STORE Comfort One Shoes chain is a well-oiled machine. Approaching a quarter century in business in the Washington, D.C., metro area, the chain just completed a record-breaking year sales-wise on the heels of last year’s best-ever performance, reports owner Maurice Breton. Not bad considering the soft economy, increasingly competitive landscape and unfavorable and unpredictable weather patterns of late. But Breton doesn’t concern himself with things beyond his control. And that’s key to Comfort One’s success. “As an independent retailer, my responsibility is to run my stores the best I can,” he explains. “I make sure my staffs are trained and knowledgeable, that we have the highest standards, that the lights are all on and that the stores are clean, organized and stocked so that we have the right goods at the right time.” Breton also credits Comfort One’s employees for the chain’s success. They receive extensive training before ever setting foot on a sales floor. This includes completing Comfort One University, which consists of 22 classes followed by several weeks of mentoring by trained personnel. “We set very strong goals for all of our employees,” Breton says. “We monitor them, reward them for exceeding our goals and coach them on performance enhancement methods if warranted, including maybe going back to Comfort One University for a course or two.” Extensive training and high expectations benefit the employees as much as the business overall, according to Breton. “We want them to earn a decent living in an expensive area,” he says, noting the chain operates on a commission-based format and offers plenty of spiff programs. “We’re not interested in someone wanting to earn $12 to $14 an hour. We want them to earn $25 to

assortment—we go to more shoe shows than anybody I know,” Breton says. “We do a very thorough style-out process. When we buy a shoe, it’s the best shoe to cover that specific need for that customer in that color and price range.” In addition to being a point of differentiation, Breton says the product mix enhances Comfort One’s margins and keeps the bargain-hunter at bay. “It takes away the whole shopping-by-cell-phone atmosphere because our selection is just not available everywhere else,” he explains. Along those lines, Breton believes this year’s product mix benefitted from a deeper expansion into athletic styles, but it didn’t involve the usual suspects. “We’ve done very well with a couple of brands. They’ve grown like mad for us,” he says. One, in particular, is the Swiss brand On. “They make really cool shoes that are great looking and extremely comfortable—guys buy a pair, and they come back and buy a couple more,” he says. Breton adds that the men’s category, in general, has been strong as guys continue to up their fashion game and replenish their closets after the recession. Last but not least, Breton says the growing popularity of add-on sales— namely insoles, socks and umbrellas—helped deliver strong returns in 2015. The former is the chain’s biggest add-on sales category. “It’s part of our product demonstration and foot analysis,” he says, noting Aetrex’s iStep fit systems and Lynco customizable orthotics are popular. As for umbrellas, Breton says it’s a no-brainer: “It’s an easy business. If it’s raining, we open umbrellas in the window and someone passing by, who might have a meeting at the Pentagon and is wearing a $600 suit, will gladly spend $30 to prevent getting soaked.” It all adds up to a winning combination for Comfort One Shoes, and one

$30 an hour.” Breton credits its system—set up by a consulting company nearly 20 years ago. “We’ve just abided by it and taken it to the next level,” he adds. Breton believes Comfort One’s premium mix of brands, many of which are exclusive, is equally vital to the chain’s success. “Our selection is unique and of fabulous quality—many are top-of-the-market German and Austrian brands,” he notes. Exclusivity has been a key strategy for Breton since Day One. He had seen the writing on the wall during his previous years working for a mall-based shoe chain where every competitor was selling the same brands and trying to beat the other on price. Breton shifted to standalone locations in upscale neighborhoods, where customers would appreciate and pay more for exclusive brands. “I started with all European brands and sizing,” he says. “Brands that, back then, were almost unheard of. I didn’t even know how to pronounce Mephisto.” Finding that merchandise mix takes a lot of legwork and skill. The Comfort One buying team attends the GDS show in Germany as well as all major and regional shows across the country. “We spend a great deal of time on our product

that Breton is optimistic will continue. “I believe we’ll have a small singledigit increase in our comp store sales this year,” he cautiously predicts. “While there’s certainly greater potential for something to go wrong in the economy, I can’t control that, nor can I control a brand selling direct to consumers.” What Breton can control is what shoppers experience inside his stores. “Our customers love our service and our selection, and they are very loyal to us,” he offers. That statement might be the understatement of the decade. The top Comfort One customer in 2015 spent a whopping $35,000. Number 200 on that list spent $5,800. “We are located in some of the best neighborhoods, and a lot of our customers own multiple homes. It’s not an issue for them to spend a good deal on their wardrobes,” Breton explains, adding that he remains a firm believer in the in-store shopping experience. “People like to buy a new pair of shoes—they like walking out of the store feeling good about themselves,” he says. “And they are especially happy because they have also been treated so well by our employees. It’s a real emotional connection, which is a good thing.” —Greg Dutter

24 • march 2016


BIRKENSTOCK BIRKENSTOCK PROVES THAT its potency goes beyond fad status, snagging the Plus Award in the Women’s Comfort category for the second consecutive year. The cocktail for success involves, first and foremost, the legendary brand’s comfort footbed coupled with a reinterpretation of iconic styling featuring on-trend materials and colors. “Our focus on comfort remains consistent across the entire product range,” offers David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock USA. “Our iconic, anatomically correct footbed provides the ultimate comfort experience, something different from any other brand.” But Birkenstock didn’t just rest on its comfort laurels in 2015—a year that reports “unprecedented” growth in sales. Its fresh takes on the classics kept the brand relevant as well. “Seasonal updates tie directly to color and material trends in readyto-wear,” Kahan explains. “Our metallic collection was a particular highlight, as were our python print leathers and shearling options.” Birkenstock also pushed beyond sandals into the boot market last year, introducing the Bennington low booties and Stowe moto boot, both of which were sold out by November. “In a time of challenges for fall products in general, we achieved phenomenal success,” Kahan reports, adding that the Boston clog also continued to perform strongly at retail,

especially with a younger demographic. Kahan stresses that even in new categories, it’s the Birkenstock DNA that delivered success. “These styles resonated with consumers first because of their look, and also because of the authenticity of the Birkenstock footbed,” he says. Along those lines, Kahan believes that style and comfort is no longer an either/or scenario. It’s not enough to offer one or the other. Consumers today expect and demand both. “The lines between comfort and fashion are not what they used to be,” he says, adding that it’s a good thing for a brand like Birkenstock. “We believe comfort should be fashion, and that no one should have to compromise wellness for any reason.” That’s why Kahan says Birkenstock is committed to its heritage as a comfort-first brand. “Staying true to these beliefs—to the quality, features and benefits of a brand that dates back to 1774—that’s what’s resonating powerfully with consumers,” he says. It’s also why Kahan is confident of the brand’s continued success. “Every indication is that this momentum will continue in 2016,” he reports, adding, “Even with the snow and cold around much of North America, our early spring deliveries of new styles like our Shiny Snake collection are exceeding expectations and are basically sold out before spring even starts.” —A.L.


UNDER ARMOUR FOR A SPORTS apparel brand that began producing footwear only ten years ago, Baltimore-based Under Armour’s 2015 success is astounding. data reports the company’s footwear sales, including the running, training and basketball categories, expanded by 61 percent in the third quarter to an impressive $196 million. Matt Powell, analyst at the NPD Group, confirmed that remarkable growth by stating that during the last month of 2015, the brand’s footwear sales more than doubled. “Overall, we had a 95-percent growth rate in UA footwear revenue,” concurs Peter Ruppe, senior vice president of footwear. “It was a phenomenal year.” Under Armour can attribute its success to a concentration on sports, premium positioning at good price points and a focus on empowerment and inspiration. Several celebrity athlete partnerships contributed, but it was the launches featuring Stephen Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, that set the brand’s footwear sales on fire. The signature Curry and Curry Two styles, both featuring the proprietary super-lightweight, responsive, and shock-absorbing Charged Cushioning technology, flew off shelves. Powell attributes much of UA’s December 2015’s success to growth from these styles, and states that the Curry shoes had sell-through rates topping 90 percent. The contract with Curry has already been extended through 2024, and based on its success, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has stated he plans to build a $1 billion basketball venture out of the collaboration, alone. While Under Armour’s foray into the basketball category has been hugely successful, the brand has also retained its leadership position in football footwear for the past several years. The category’s exaggerated high-top Highlight Cleats continue to be the highest-performing model at a premium price. In the running category, the brand introduced affordable running options that were a big source of growth at the end of the year. But it was the introduction of its SpeedForm technology (the upper molds to the foot for a precision-molded, seamless fit) introduced the previous year that allowed the brand to make a name for itself in the highly competitive category. Ruppe says the prior year’s SpeedForm Apollo (made in a clothing factory) performed well at retail, as did other new additions like the SpeedForm Fortis and long distance–focused SpeedForm Gemini. The Bandit style, featuring a form-fitting 4D foam footbed, also led sales. Other notably successful launches in 2015 included the highly unique Fat Tire shoe trail runner, in which the brand took inspiration from oversized bike tires. “We work with Michelin, who is known for being the leader in bike tires,” notes Ruppe. “It was unexpected, and it really resonated with people.” Ruppe points out that key design inspirations often come from the sizeable sports science team at the helm of the company. Ruppe says their suggestions are taken very seriously, and he attributes much of the brand’s success to their input. Last but not least, kids’ was another successful footwear category for the company in 2015. Already a global leader in athletics, Ruppe says Under Armour is now on the footwear map. “We’ve arrived,” he says, noting the company has found its rhythm. “We haven’t been at it that long, but we’re questioning things other brands take for granted.” —L.O. march 2016 • 25


COLE HAAN COLE HAAN, A frequent Plus Award winner in the men’s dress categories over the years, has a knack for blending classic styling with the latest technologies to make shoes that stand out from the masses. Last year was no exception as the brand’s ZeroGrand collection (first introduced in 2014) continued to be a runaway success at retail. The hybrid pairs sport bottoms with casual dress uppers to offer extremely lightweight, flexible and versatile shoes—an entirely fresh approach in a market segment long considered stagnant. ZeroGrand is an offshoot of the Cole Haan’s breakthrough Grand.OS platform, a revolutionary operating system designed to reduce weight and mimic the foot’s natural flexibility, all while providing responsive cushioning to help bear life’s day-to-day demands. “ZeroGrand footwear is the pinnacle expression of Cole Haan’s innovation platform, Grand.OS,” notes David Maddocks, chief marketing officer and general manager of business development of the Apax Partners Worldwide subsidiary. “The assortment integrates innovation and craftsmanship in an engineered product that is the lightest and most flexible shoe the brand has ever created.” Reduced weight, adaptive flexibility, responsive cushioning and breathability highlight the latest collection. Several new introductions—including a suede wingtip oxford and waterproof tall boot—were standout silhouettes in 2015. Of the former, Maddocks says, “These silhouettes are a styling game-changer and add an unexpected twist to business attire.” With regards to the latter, he describes it as a traditional rugged hiker meets a technically made boot with added weather resistance that offers “lightweight urbanity.” Such innovative features, Maddocks says, never come at the expense of the traditional styling and craftsmanship that has made Cole Haan famous for 88 years. “The elegant collision of craft, style and engineering is exactly what our consumers want and expect,” he says, noting that the brand’s proprietary Grand.OS technology means a “traditional shoe can deliver modern performance.” That balance between performance sport and elegant styling hit a sweet spot amid the macro athleisure trend overtaking both men’s and women’s fashions. Sneakers are hot, and to ignore the look or, more importantly, the lightweight comfort benefits commonly associated with such footwear is at a brand’s own peril these days. Not surprisingly, Maddocks reports that sales—particularly in the ZeroGrand franchise—surpassed expectations in 2015. “We designed a product to take people from work to play, street to studio, or around the globe in style and comfort,” he says. To drive that message home, Cole Haan’s Fall ’15 ad campaign, titled “Prepare for Takeoff,” featured ballet dancers and parkour athletes dancing and jumping around the Eero Saarien–designed TWA Flight Center in Queens. The future-forward campaign came on the heels of the brand’s first Global Innovation Center, opened last February in the company’s home base of Greenland, NH. The center was created to enable the company to aggressively expand its offering of ZeroGrand products for men and women as well as join forces with best-in-class partners and manufacturers to deliver an integrated collection of lifestyle products. “We want to bring to life elegant, innovative products designed for the active lives of extraordinary people,” Maddocks says. —A.L. 26 • march 2016


TAMARIS TOUTED AS EUROPE’S bestknown shoe brand (every other woman in Germany owns at least one pair), Tamaris broke into the U.S. market in 2015 to rave review after 50 years of success abroad. Though it’s too early to comment on exact figures, Jan Brinkmann, president of the U.S. division, is proud of the brand’s inaugural results. “We had a plan, and the selling was right on,” he says. “We’re looking at selling out, and with the perspective of this challenging retail environment, we are very satisfied with what we achieved in that first season.” The recipe for success was a condensed, cohesive package—about 30 percent of Tamaris’ European collection was presented stateside. Of particular note was the brand’s signature Western-meets-city style, which Brinkmann describes as “girl with a guitar,” that resonated strongly with consumers. Short boots marked by feminine lasts and full-grain leathers, enhanced with comfort technologies including an anti-shock heel, were best sellers. “[Our short boots] were rich in materials and authentic styles, finished in fun decoration and embellishments to give rugged boots a feminine, festival twist,” Brinkmann says, adding that the goal overall was not

to introduce anything too outrageous. “Unique is a strong word,” he notes. “We focused on fresh, new interpretations of fashionable styles, packaged together in a comfortable unit. The trick was to deliver all that at a price that didn’t break the bank.” Tamaris’ short boots range from $130 to $150 retail without skimping on quality or comfort, according to Brinkmann. The boots look and feel much more expensive than they are priced. “The combination of rich materials has to be right, and they need an attitude in the last and heel shape, and they have to have the right proportions,” he says of their upscale look. “And I think we did that well.” Drawing inspiration from Coachella, Brinkmann believes the “Western chic” bootie was strong due to the silhouette’s versatility to be paired with leggings, dresses and shorts. Other winning Tamaris styles in 2015 included pumps and waterproof boots— both of which sold out. Brinkmann adds that the goal moving into year two is to build off of what worked well last year: “We need to ask how our retailers did with each category and bet on that to make our lines stronger for next season,” he says, noting that results in early 2016 are already promising. —A.L.


MANDY Your passion for improving the quality of peoples lives and a commitment to a better tomorrow is an inspiration to us all. on receiving the Footwear Plus Lifetime Achievement Award

Dansko, Dansko and the Wing Design, and the Wing Design are all trademarks of Dansko, LLC. Š 2016 Dansko, LLC.1.800.326.7564.

Your passion for improving the quality of peoples lives and commitment to a better tomorrow is an inspiration to us all.

Uncommon Comfort with Unexpected Style




HOKA ONE ONE WHILE A SOFT economy and unpredictable weather patterns have wielded a double whammy on many footwear categories over the past year, running appears to be “running” smoothly. Analyst Matt Powell of the NPD Group notes that the category grew in the high-single digits towards the end of 2015, which was attributed to the record-warm fall across most of the country as well as the increasing popularity of casual lifestyle running. It’s an easy, relatively affordable activity that can be done pretty much anywhere and at any time. Indeed, those were contributing factors to the success of Hoka’s sales in 2015, but there’s much more to what spurred the brand’s unprecedented growth. “In the U.S., sales were up 61 percent in 2015, and that is on top of a 300 percent increase in 2014,” reports Jean-Luc Diard, vice president of innovation for Hoka One One, a division of Deckers Brands. “We continue to have explosive growth within a challenging market.” Hoka’s success is grounded in its revolutionary oversized midsole design. Introduced to the market in the midst of the minimal running shoe craze a few years back, the brand’s Meta-Rocker midsole geometry encourages a smoother ride and faster transition to the forefoot. The midsole, which provides maximum cushioning, stability and rebounding, instantly caught fire, and sales have been on a rapid rise ever since. In 2015, specifically, Hoka introduced new colors to appeal to a younger consumer. Diard notes that the award-winning Clifton 2 road running shoe was improved with an updated upper and lightly padded tongue. “The Clifton 2 was a best-selling shoe for Hoka because it improved on an award-winning ride with thoughtful updates added for better fit and comfort,” Diard says, adding, “Other Hoka styles gained traction in the running marketplace as consumers look for a shoe to take them from a run to errands around town.” Other standouts in 2015 included the launch of the Speedgoat (a technical shoe designed for rugged terrain in collaboration with 100-mile winning record holder Karl Meltzer), the “highly supportive” Mafate 4 trail shoe, and the Tor Ultra Hi WP hiking shoe. Last but not least, Diard says Hoka’s design and innovation teams joined forces to introduce the Pro2Lite technology in 2015. Designed for racing, the shoes are just as light but more protective and cushioned than many existing models on the market. It provides runners the necessary propulsion for a race, but is as stable and more protective than many trainers, so that when runners become fatigued they can maintain speed and rhythm. The Clayton, the speed line’s pinnacle product, progresses from a softer heel to a firmer forefoot thanks to multiple foam compositions. “In 2015, the focus for our product team was to push the boundaries of innovation to address the needs of the performance runner— in a whole new way,” Diard says. Mission accomplished. —L.O. 28 • march 2016

NORDSTROM HAS GARNERED the Plus Award in the National Chain category for the fifth straight year. Winning factors proved to be a balance between full price and discount, and between e-commerce and brickand-mortar. While the Seattle-based department store chain experienced a rough second half of the year saleswise—as did pretty much all retailers battling record warmth and a shaky economy—the company continued to invest heavily in ominchannel capabilities, which included the opening of six namesake stores (including its first international flagship in Vancouver, Canada) and 27 Nordstrom Rack discount stores in 2015. Beyond the expansion, Scott Meden, executive vice president and GMM of the footwear division, attributes the chain’s success to excelling at the basics. That starts with maintaining its industry gold standard when it comes to customer service. “Our number-one goal continues to be: improve customer service,” he says. “Customers increasingly expect a personalized service experience that merges the richness of stores with the convenience of online.” For example, Nordstrom was the first national retailer that enabled customers to shop by text through an initiative called TextStyle. “We know that 90 percent of our customers have a smart phone and, increasingly, customers are researching, comparing and shopping on their phones,” Meden explains. “For customers who prefer text messaging, TextStyle is a way for our salespeople to provide a personalized styling experience and for customers to view and buy seamlessly with the convenience and simplicity of a secure text message, wherever and whenever they like.” To further blur the lines between online and physical space, Nordstrom is testing a curbside pick-up platform

that would allow customers to retrieve online purchases from stores without leaving the car. Even more personalized was the expansion of its exclusive in-store partnership with Shoes of Prey, an online concept that allows customers to custom design select styles that will arrive within five weeks. Following the success of its first studio (opened late 2014 in Bellevue Square, WA), Nordstrom opened five additional studios in 2015. Offering hundreds of heel, style, color and size combinations, the innovative program has been especially appealing to young customers. And offering sizes 2.5 to 15, it is a particularly valuable resource to those with uncommonly sized feet. Beyond that, Shoes of Prey is a perfect example of merging the latest digital technology in a brickand-mortar setting, thereby creating a state-of-the-art omnichannel shopping experience. Similarly, Nordstrom introduced Space, an in-store boutique for emerging designers, in four locations and on The shops feature a cross-category selection of apparel, shoes, handbags and accessories. All signs point to continued success in the years to come for Nordstrom. The retailer recently announced the footprint for a new flagship Manhattan store, slated to open in 2019. “We’re building in the context of the world’s greatest stores in the best retail city in the world,” states Co-president Pete Nordstrom, adding, “Our ambition is to create an entire experience that reflects the best of what we have to offer.” What Nordstrom has to offer, Meden reiterates, begins and ends with unparalleled customer service. “Our focus continues to be on elevating the service experience we offer our customers, remaining relevant and serving the customer however they want to shop,” he says. —A.L. A Nordstom Shoes of Prey design studio.



JAMBU TWICE IS NICE for Jambu, a division of Vida Brands, which took home the Plus Award in the Children’s category for the second consecutive year. Vida Kids Director of Sales John Licata reports that 2015 was a record-breaking year for the company’s leading children’s line, now called JambuKD. “We achieved exponential growth and tremendous gains across all channels in 2015, including independents, online, premium department stores, sporting goods, athletic specialty and catalog,” he notes. What fueled the sales growth? Licata says that

though the girl’s category continued to be the lead gender, the past 12 months saw significant strides in boy’s. “That led to market share gains that allow us to become more balanced as the brand moves forward,” he adds. On the girl’s side, JambuKD’s Mary Janes were bestsellers once again—the Fia being the brand’s top-selling style. “It’s one of the strongest silhouettes. We develop it in the freshest colors every season and use shimmery webbing that girls gravitate to,” says Naly Lee, design director for Vida Shoes. The brand expanded its offering of Mary Janes in response to comments from retailers seeking to freshen up a category staple. “The design never changed,” explains Lee. “It’s been either a dark ‘back to school’ shoe or very toddler-like. We’ve been able to carve out a niche that little girls want to wear.” To innovate the classic silhouette, JambuKD added dainty straps in colors ranging from aqua to purple to hits of pink. “We’re finding more and more that kids are gravitating away from typical pinks,” she adds. Glitz and sparkle take the sporty designs up a notch as well. Lulu, for example, features an iridescent upper and glitter-infused outsoles. Similarly, the brand reinterpreted a classic,


TIMBERLAND PRO TIMBERLAND, A BRAND renowned for its urban and outdoor roots, launched its Pro division in 1999 to better serve the safety footwear needs of professional tradesmen. Over the years, the division has made steady strides in a category dominated by a handful of established players, and 2015 marked a stand-out year, capped off by its first ever Plus Award for design excellence in the Work Boots category. Bert Spiller, senior director product creation, footwear and workwear, for Timberland Pro, credits a lot of the success to its heavy investment in customer research. In fact, the 2015 collections were inspired by a “reach out” policy, where team members went out into the field to observe consumers at work. “This outreach, combined with rigorous material and product performance testing and refining, helped us deliver unique, functional safety footwear solutions,” Spiller says. Overall, Spiller credits a contemporary design approach coupled with the latest performance features that enabled Timberland Pro to reach a broader audience in 2015. Highlights of the collection included the Timberland Pro 30 • march 2016

closed-toe fisherman sandal that was a hit for boys. “A lot of the sandals in the outdoor category for boys are in basic colorways—takedowns from the adult line,” notes Lee. “We’ve been able to infuse them with design elements from the popular athletic categories that boys are drawn to.” In addition, Lee says incorporating animal-themed design elements is a popular draw. The best-selling Piranha sandal, for example, allows JambuKD to incorporate education into its shoes. “If a kid is curious about something, they’re more likely to learn about it,” Lee notes. Aesthetics aside, JambuKD stays true to its heritage as an outdoor brand, and function is a top priority. Its latest spring designs, for example, are all water-ready with removable insoles that can be taken out and cleaned. In addition, Lee notes that while most children’s brands use the same last in creating their boys and girls shoes, JambuKD uses gender-specific ones. “Anatomically their feet are different, and their aesthetic views are different,” Lee explains, noting it uses a wider, chunkier last for boys and a more tapered last for girls. “We are always thinking about end use and ask ourselves questions,” Lee says. “We’re always finding different ways to innovate.” —A.L.

Boondock and the new Ag Boss series—which brought brand’s outdoor heritage to life. Both featured modern hybrids of Goodyear-welt and cement construction. Spiller says they performed well at retail, as did the Rip Saw collection built “to take on punishing and unpredictable landscapes.” Key features included the all-temperatures-ready Vibram Fire & Ice Outsole and anti-fatigue technology, which absorbs shock and then returns it to key zones of the foot for maximum strength and stamina. “These styles continued to drive healthy growth with their best-in-class craftsmanship and durable construction,” Spiller says. Last year also saw the successful introduction of Timberland Pro’s Raptek microfiber, featured in the uppers in the Valor line of tactical work boots, offering superior abrasion-, chemical- and bacteria-resistant properties. Another element that boosted sales for the year was the patented GripMax outsole technology featured in the brand’s primarily indoor Stockdale collection of work boots. The tread design is inspired by “wiper technology” that helps to clean a path by enabling the outsole to make contact with a less contaminated surface and help reduce slips and falls. Last but not least, Spiller cites the Powertrain series of work shoes that combined the safety and durability of a traditional work boot with casual lifestyle aesthetics (think bright, multi-colored uppers and outsoles) as having performed big at retail last year. Other factors contributing to Timberland Pro’s success in 2015 included job growth in the automotive and residential construction industries (more people working equals more boots sold) and the ongoing influx of Millennialaged consumers into the workforce. With regards to the latter, Spiller notes that Timberland Pro performs exceptionally well within that demographic. Younger workers are more open to choosing newer brands and are not set in their brand preferences yet. It has enabled Timberland Pro to establish a strong connection with this next-generation work force, he says. To that end, Spiller says Timberland Pro remains committed to the mission it set out on in 1999: to make the best work boots possible for an ever-evolving market. “Timberland Pro is embracing rapidly changing dynamics while remaining true to the authentic, heritage-based classic styling [our brand] is known for,” he affirms. “Timberland Pro’s product creation team is always pushing the envelope.” —L.O.





PERHAPS THE MOST notable aspect of the Ugg brand’s Plus Award–worthy success in 2015 was the fact that the evolutionary takes on the brand’s Classic boots led the way. What’s old was definitely new again as Leah Larson, vice president creative director of the Deckers Brands division, cites the introduction of the Classic Luxe and Classic Slim collections as reinvigorating the staple at retail last year. “We had a great time infusing newness into our Classic collection,” Larson affirms, adding that the new offerings appealed to the brand’s existing global fan base as well as attracted new customers. Made in Italy, the Classic Luxe collection provided a sophisticated take on the (bulkier) sheepskin boot. Larson says the sleeker, more fashion-forward silhouette featuring refined details provided consumers with more flexibility. They can pair the boots with dressier outfits without sacrificing warmth and comfort of the original design, she explains. The Classic Slim collection also featured a sleeker silhouette, thanks to a 10 millimeter Twinface sheepskin shaft that delivers the same warmth and comfort consumers expect. Another highlight is a new Treadlite by Ugg outsole offering lightweight durability and comfort and an arch cookie for additional support. The collection came in two heel heights (a flat and a wedge) and four shaft heights, giving customers a variety of options to wear with everyday fashion. Each style was also pre-treated to provide protection and water repellency. Larson describes Classic Slim as a beautiful mash-up of Ugg-trusted DNA and modern style. To help illustrate the versatility of the new collec-

tion, Ugg partnered with stylist Rachel Zoe on a curated look book depicting what types of outfits worked well with the boots. “Being comfortable doesn’t have to be casual,” Larson says. “No one knows that better than Rachel Zoe, a leading authority in fashion.” In addition to the success of Classic collections, Larson notes that the new Shaye rain boot (featuring the brand’s exclusive sheepskin footbed and offered in an array of colors) sold out online and performed extremely well at retail last year. Another star was the Piedmont collection—weatherproof boots packaged in a slim, feminine silhouette and featuring eye-catching buckle and belt details. The collection “had an amazing sell-through,” Larson reports. The year also marked the 15th anniversary of the brand’s cold weather staples, the Adirondack for women and men’s Butte. The waterproof boots can withstand temperatures below zero-degrees Fahrenheit, and their contemporary styling provided a fresh alternative to the bulky looks commonly associated with the cold-weather category. Larson says that both styles sold wonderfully last year thanks, in part, to a record cold winter in the eastern half of the country. Last but not least, Larson credits the brand’s success in 2015 to the reputation it has built over the years. “The luxurious warmth and comfort, premium quality, craftsmanship and effortless style of Ugg continues to set the brand apart in the marketplace,” she says, adding that another key attribute is the brand’s relatively affordable and accessible luxury. “The beauty of Ugg is that it is truly for everyone,” Larson adds. —L.O.

NO STRANGER TO Plus Award wins over the years in the Woman’s Comfort category, Dansko’s latest nod in the new Clog category speaks directly to the brand’s DNA and represents a silhouette that took the market by storm this past year. “Our heritage stapled clog is the center of the Dansko universe,” notes Design Director Ann Lashendock, but it was new takes on that classic that got consumers attention last year. “For 2015, we layered new looks around [our stapled clog] to offer the same exceptional comfort and allday support in contemporary new silhouettes,” she says. “The Maria boot is a great example: Its simple and timeless style has touched all of our demographics from the twentysomethings to the empty nester.” Kitty Bolinger, executive vice president of sales, can vouch for the style’s success. “The Maria bootie was our Fall 2015 home-run item,” she says. The low-cut style is crafted in leather on a contoured wooden sole featuring a roomy toe and side zipper. “It is a perfect blend of stapled clog, our icon, and fashion bootie, so you know that it is a Dansko when you are wearing it, but you’re surprised at how trend-right it looks,” Bolinger says, adding, “It embodied uncommon comfort with unexpected style— our promise to the consumer.” Dansko initially introduced the Maria in a small quantity in the fourth quarter of 2014, but when it sold out in eight

weeks, the company knew it had a winner for the coming year. And they were proven right: Bolinger reports that the brand hit its sales budget for 2015 despite a difficult retail climate. “We were realistic with our projections, but given the disruptive marketplace for the fourth quarter of 2015, we were fortunate to succeed,” she says, adding that toward the end of the fall season sales of its original Professional clogs in antique brown and black oiled uppers picked up. “It marked a true return to our roots,” she says. It was this mix of heritage and innovation that made 2015 a standout year for Dansko, according to Bolinger. “We were inspired by the idea of transforming the simplest silhouettes through the use of exciting new materials and surface techniques, both in the leather character itself or in embellished details added in shoemaking,” she explains. “Our leathers are richer, softer and more luminous than ever before.” Embroidery, embossing and studs round out the aesthetics, while comfort aspects remain consistant. “To be successful, we believe we need to feed both the heart and the mind,” Lashendock offers. “The mind responds to the quality, comfort and support that defines Dansko, while the heart responds to beautiful colors, soft, touchable leathers and the little finishing touches like beautiful enameled buckles and hammered metal ornamentation.” —A.L.

march 2016 • 31



ZAPPOS IT PROBABLY DOESN’T come as a shock that Zappos nabbed the Plus Award recognizing retail excellence in the Online category for the fifth straight year. Ask most any wholesale exec who is the most important player in the tier and the response is immediate and nearly unanimous: Zappos. While the Las Vegas–based subsidiary of Amazon has been causing a bit of a stir with its self-management Holacracy corporate structure (think no bosses), two things that didn’t changed in 2015 were the fact that the retailer moved a ton of product for a wide range of brands, and its partnership attributes remained second to none. Indeed, Zappos credits its Plus Award win to its above-and-beyond customer service approach with consumers and wholesalers. “We believe it’s our fast, free shipping, free returns, our incredible customer loyalty team—our whole approach to customer service—in addition to Zappos’ wide range of brands and styles that set us apart from the competition year after year,” says Kristen Richmer, a member of Zappos’ awareness marketing team. She also cites the company’s unique culture and out-of-the-box mindset as winning factors: “We’re a brand that is fun, a little weird, adventures, creative and open-minded.” That open-mindedness led to some buzz-worthy marketing campaigns in 2015, including a loyalty initiative that delivered a surprise package of goodies in the middle of the night to a small New Hampshire town full of devout customers—all 1,800 of them. In another unorthodox move, Zappos spontaneously piggy-backed onto another company’s promotion. “We found out a giant tech company would be offering up free cupcakes to consumers on the streets of Austin, TX, in exchange for testing out their new photo-sharing service,” explains Richmer. “So, we thought it would be fun to hijack their stunt, and offer up even more happiness with ‘Pay with a Cupcake’ by providing goodies—sunglasses, backpacks, watches—to those who ‘traded-in’ their tech-provided cupcakes.” (All in good fun—the cupcakes were given right back.) The creative thinking didn’t stop there: In 2015, the company sponsored holiday pet adoptions, offered free returns and gift cards for unwanted gifts—and donated them to charity—handed out free umbrellas in the rain, passed out Mother’s Day cards to college kids, provided stamps on tax day and more. “All in an effort to build meaningful relationships with our customers,” Richmer states. But these are not viewed as gimmicks by Zappos. “First, we consider ourselves to be a customer service company,” Richmer explains. And servicing customers anywhere and anyhow—including the unexpected gifts—is all part of its grand plan to offer the best in customer service. Of course, that involves the blocking and tackling online shopping needs as well. “We believe that the speed at which a customer receives an online purchase plays a very important role in how that customer thinks about shopping online again in the future, so at Zappos we put a lot of focus on making sure items get delivered to our customers as quickly as possible,” she offers. To achieve said speedy delivery, Zappos houses all inventory in its own warehouse, and won’t make an item available for sale unless it’s physically in stock. The brand’s offbeat culture and top-notch customer service produced another successful year in sales, establishing Zappos as the online source for shoes. Naturally, the retailer is hoping to leverage its outstanding footwear reputation to other departments. “If we can get customers to associate the Zappos brand with the absolute best service, then we can expand into other product categories beyond shoes and clothing,” offers Richmer. “And we’re doing just that.” —A.L. 32 • march 2016


NEW BALANCE “WE FIRMLY BELIEVE that nothing great ever happened by playing it safe,” says Chris Davis, global strategic business manager, lifestyle at New Balance. “Our mission as a team is to be the epitome of risk and lifestyle innovation.” Davis says that approach helped the brand garner the Plus Award in the Athletic Lifestyle category for the second straight year. Specifically, he cites its “technical fashion” premise as the basis of its success. “Sport style, to us, is the marriage of our heritage product and modern technology executed in a contemporary, trend-relevant manner,” he explains. While New Balance remained consistent in its commitment to high-quality footwear, Davis believes the 2015 collection was more unique than ever before. The Sport Style category featured a wide range of products, ranging from high fashion to high tech. Highlights included the global Deconstructed collection, in which the team focused on styles with a rich history and a sense of authenticity within the global fashion market, and then modernized the pieces through deconstructed and re-engineered designs. For example, the 996 and 1500 Deconstructed models—featuring premium suedes and lightweight foams—were received extremely well globally. Another successful launch last year was the C-series collection, which featured metropolitan cycling themes. Overall, Davis reports the majority of New Balance’s Sport Style line far exceeded sales expectations for the year. “The 1550 was a dark horse at Foot Locker Europe and smashed expectations both internally and externally,” he reports. The goal, he adds, is to meet the needs of a 24/7 lifestyle—shoes for the global metropolitan trend-setter that can be used just as easily at the gym as for heading out for a night out with friends. Davis says the drive to offer innovative and versatile designs will only pick up steam in the seasons ahead. “We look forward to introducing additional fresh product like the 580 Deconstructed and CRT300 Deconstructed this upcoming year,” he says. Early this year, the brand also announced a new Digital Sport division (a high-tech digital ecosystem of interactive experiences and wearable technologies) that will continue to push the envelope of athletic lifestyle footwear. “We have an extremely youthful, collaborative team that wants to go out on the limb and change the trajectory of the global lifestyle market,” Davis says. “We have a constant desire to stay fresh and think differently, all while having our fingers on the global trend pulse.” —L.O.

ThAnk yOu tO aLl oUr VaNs fAmiLy aNd fRieNds fOr sUppOrtIng uS tHroUgh 50 “OfF ThE WaLl” ® yEarS! © 2 0 16 VA N S , I N C .



CONCEPTS FOR CONCEPTS, 2015 marked the year the trendy retailer officially moved beyond its Cambridge, MA, base with the opening of a permanent location last fall in New York. Concepts also reached out to Miami and Los Angeles with wildly successful pop-up shops—making a physical connection with many of its online fans who snapped up its coveted collabs. “Spreading our wings and gaining a permanent foothold in New York were huge steps for us,” affirms Deon Point, general manager, noting that 2015 was the store’s best in its 20-year history. “Obviously, the collabs are our bread and butter, but the business performed incredibly well last year across the board.” Point cites the enormous popularity of sneakers in general as a factor contributing to Concepts’ growth. Beyond that, he credits the team’s tireless drive to go the extra mile to deliver a unique shopping experience and collabs that are truly special. “The sneaker culture is exploding and it’s bigger than ever,”

Inside Concepts’ new New York digs.

he says. “We don’t see that slowing down any time soon, but we are doing our part to ensure that our customers remain loyal to us by creating products and in-store experiences that keep them coming back.” It starts with being trying to be unique as possible. “A lot of collabs seem to have no rhyme or reason to them, whereas we always dive into every project and fully commit to the story—down to customizing thousands of shoe boxes ourselves,” Point offers. “We dig as much as possible. When it comes to storytelling, I believe we are the best in the business.” One of the best stories the retailer told in 2015 was the controversial Asics Gel Respector “Coca” collab—an homage to the cocaine-fueled ’80s lifestyle depicted in the films Scarface and Blow. “That was probably our most memorable event of the year,” Point says. The pop-up shop was located in a rented Miami mansion (i.e. a stash house), complete with Lamborghinis double-parked out front and piles of “cash” stacked to the ceiling. Hundreds of fans waited in line for hours—something that Point notes is uncommon in that area—to get their hands on the kicks that featured a green (coca leaf ) suede upper, reflective paneling and Concepts logo on the tongue and insole. Topping it off: custom boxes made to look like bundles of cash. “It was a touchy subject, but we wanted to be as authentic to that story as possible,” Point says, adding, “The event was a huge success.” Additional noteworthy stories told last year included the Asics Gel Lyte III “Boston Tea Party” and the Nike SB “Holy Grail” collabs. Both made their debuts in New York as pop-up shop releases in the space that has since become the permanent Concepts location in lower Manhattan. “We built a 10-foot-tall ship that looked like it was crashing through the wall, and there appeared to be floating tea boxes everywhere,” Point says of the American Revolution–themed collab. “For the Holy Grail drop, we brought in three tons of sand and had skeletons, mosaic walls, stained glass windows, candles and a fog machine as part of the décor. It was a really interactive experience that involved three separate shoe launches. The kids loved it.” Last but not least in 2015, Concepts’ “Mix and Match” collab with Asics 34 • march 2016

encouraged shoppers to buy more than one pair for a unique and versatile multi-colored fashion statement. It also marked the first time that a Concepts partnership extended into toddler sizes. And its New Balance 997 “Luxury Goods” collab was rated the year’s best by Complex magazine. Made in the U.S.A., the all-orange upper was inspired by Hermès. The pure simplicity of the design proved to be a huge hit with sneaker fans. Keeping it fresh is the mantra for Concepts going forward, according to Point. The goal is to continue to grow the Concepts brand, via pop-up shops, additional permanent locations and, of course, a steady stream of collabs. The idea, Point says, is to make a meaningful connection with customers. Brick-and-mortar, in particular, is a key element of this plan. “Whether it’s a pop-up or an in-store experience, we are looking to engage with our customers,” he explains. “It’s important—to not only add to the culture but to help create and cultivate it.” Point likens Concepts’ in-store experience to going to a favorite restaurant where the maître d’ knows you and the chef comes out to say hello after your meal. “We believe people prefer shopping in a place where they feel comfortable,” he says. “That’s the level of service we provide.” It also enables Point to meet with customers—an invaluable learning experience. In fact, he often spends hours talking with people waiting in line for Concepts’ sneaker drops. “You can only find out what’s coming next with the kids through face-to-face interactions,” he says. Another element of Concepts’ success is its merchandise mix—namely, no me-too items. Part of the store’s draw, Point explains, is the discovery process, where shoppers learn of new brands and exclusive collabs. “Our customers, as educated as they are, look forward to discovering why we have partnered with certain brands in the ways that we do,” he explains. “They love learning the entire background story.” And while it takes time to build trust with premium brands, Point believes it’s worth the effort. “A lot of stores are carrying the same brands and kind of just sharing them,” he says. “We don’t do that.” Everything Concepts does is a calculated part of a grand scheme. For instance, just because Google analytics shows that the retailer has a strong online customer bases in certain areas of the country, that doesn’t mean Concepts will set up shops there. “We wholeheartedly respect other sneaker stores in those regions of the country,” Point says, noting that pop-ups provide a way of stopping by without disrupting the flow. Moreover, Concepts doesn’t want to be perceived as another run-of-the-mill chain. “We don’t want to move anywhere where there are a bunch of existing competitors,” he says. “We are going to open in areas where we can create something from scratch.” —G.D Nike SB x Concepts “Holy Grail” Series


THE NORTH FACE FOR A BRAND that cites the inspiration behind its 2015 outdoor styles as its own mountaineering boots, technical tents and packs where “proper engineering can be a matter of life and death,” it is fitting that The North Face (TNF) again takes the crown for the 2015 Plus Award for design excellence in the performance Outdoor category for the second straight year. The line is built to both perform and protect in the harshest of elements. The brand, a division of VF Corp., has been making footwear for more than a decade (successful franchises of note are the Hedgehog and Chilkat winter boot), and since 2014 it has been expanding business by adding increasingly progressive collections like the Ultra Series and the Litewave. Brian Moore, TNF vice president of footwear, says the brand’s 2015 outdoor styles capitalized on the very strong momentum it established the previous year. Offerings for the year ranged from mountain-sport, backpacking, hiking and trail running styles to products for urban exploration to daily essentials for those living in mountain towns. Moore points to the Ultra Fastpack, the Ultra 110 and the Hedgehog Fastpack as all being the best-sellers of 2015, saying the styles share elements of versatility, trail-appropriate and sophisticated design. But by far, the stand-out series for the brand in 2015 was the Ultra. “Ultra is the leader for us,” states Moore. “[It is] our most progressive collection—this season we focused on subtle, engineered details, including the integration of our geodesic support cage into the construction of the upper.” Shape magazine named the woman’s Ultra Equity as the year’s best trail runner as part of its annual Shape Sports Awards. And the the blog site Outdoor Gear Lab awarded the men’s Ultra 109 GTX an Editor’s Choice award (its highest accolade), citing its “great do-everything” design. Moore notes that, over time, TNF’s designs are also becoming more subtle (think not bulky and clunky hikers) and sophisticated with its use of color, incorporating more blacks and shades of gray as opposed to bright pop colors and prints. It’s a point of differentiation in the marketplace, according to Moore. “We consider them less traditionally outdoor,” he says. “We have less reliance on brown leather and suede and traditional outdoor colors and materials.” The result, he notes, are styles that are lighter in weight than usual, but with an elevated performance appearance and feel that is just as at home on the trail as it is on city streets. Above all, Moore says TNF owes much of its success in 2015 and previous years to its commitment to the customer. “We are always thinking about that person who trusts The North Face for the best apparel and equipment in any season to keep them getting after their outdoor pursuits,” he says. “That same customer will appreciate that same thoughtful design, and rigorous testing we put into every shoe.” —L.O.


DISNEY X VANS WHEN BRAND NAMES like Vans and Disney join forces, it is perhaps unsurprising that their collection wins the 2015 Plus Award for Celebrity Collab. But the iconic brands’ teamwork stretches far back—both of the brands boast a heritage in Southern California (Anaheim) and have been collaborating for longer than much of their fan bases have been alive. Since the ’70s and ’80s, the Van Doren family (founders of Vans) made footwear for the Disneyland staff, and the family also designed a shoe that was available exclusively at the park, says Dabney Lee, senior director of global classics footwear at Vans, a division of VF Corp. For years those prints were lost to the public, and Lee says it wasn’t until 2013 that the brand debuted a (quickly sold-out) Disney x Vans Vault collection that showcased original designs from the ’80s. In 2015, Vans x Disney released new prints for the Disney Young at Heart series and made the pieces more accessible across consumer group categories by incorporating a broader print collection and extending the designs across accessories, apparel and footwear. The Mickey and Friend’s pack (Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto and Winnie the Pooh) grounded the collection, says Lee. The Vans Era style featured the “entire gang,” while the Sk8-Hi focused on a different Disney character on each side of the shoe. New women’s and girls’ styles were also

launched in 2015, displaying designs of different Disney princesses, from Ariel to Jasmine, and also included a multi-print pattern featuring all of the princesses. “We couldn’t leave out Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty!” exclaims Lee. Sizes in toddlers and kids’ expanded and prints were introduced to both men’s and women’s collections. A design highlight for Vans was Disney’s willingness to allow it to add unique designs to sit alongside beloved Disney characters—the definition of a true collaboration. Examples? The Winnie The Pooh Authentic in Light Khaki in which Pooh wears a homemade helmet and skateboards, Mickey on a Sk8-Hi and Minnie Mouse in a Vans Slip-On in Frost Grey. “We were able to include a nod to our skateboarding heritage in a special way that spoke to our consumers through a design that was never seen before,” explains Lee. The response to the collaboration’s collection was tremendous. “Everyone around the world loved it,” says Lee. She notes that Vans was deeply inspired by the element of discovery so germane to the Disney brand, referencing the inclusion of hidden characters within the styles. “The playful nature of the project truly inspired us,” she says. Above all, though, Lee says what really caught the hearts of consumers was the breadth of both brands’ appeal. “When you define the young and the young at heart as your consumer, it really reaches everyone,” she says. —L.O.

march 2016 • 35





SOREL THE RECENT UNSEASONABLY warm fall (downright balmy) hit many in the boot business hard. Yet Sorel, a brand renowned for making cold-weather gear, boasted record fourth-quarter sales growth despite the hot hand Mother Nature dealt. How so? The brand’s continued evolution in offering performance boots packaged in trendy styling. Sorel is at the forefront of the haute hiker movement making what were once considered only weather-dependent boot needs into everyday fashion statements. Today’s consumers increasingly want it all—the look as well as the comfort of knowing that they are prepared for whatever weather conditions may come their way. “After success in recent seasons with our wedge boots, Sorel continued to expand into the fall fashion space in 2015 with a selection of boots that offer striking options for any wearing occasion or type of weather,” confirms Kimberly Barta, senior global brand director of the Columbia Sportswear division. The 1964 Premium Wedge and Cate the Great Wedge collections joined the brand’s successful Joan of Arctic franchise to round out Sorel’s elevated offerings. “These profiles leveraged our iconic heritage designs for earlier in the season,” Barta says. The key was incorporating fashion influences—particularly the season’s military trend—with such utilitarian features as waterproofing, traction and premium leathers. Since many Sorel consumers live in cities, Barta says the boots are designed to protect the wearer from her first subway ride, to a long day at work or school, to late-night socializing. The wedges, in particular, satisfy these requirements with a wide range of color and material offerings. Also popular, Barta notes, was the Major collection of boots, which features a slimmer silhouette and lighter outsoles for all-day comfort “while being on-trend with military cues.” For winter weather protection, Barta reports the Tivoli II boot was a popular seller, sporting classic styling in suede, canvas or knit uppers. Perhaps most indicative of the strides Sorel is making as a fashion choice was the fact that many customers made their purchases earlier than ever in 2015. It didn’t hurt that the brand garnered some major fashion cred when several styles were featured in Vogue’s September issue. “The boots paired beautifully with couture dresses,” Barta notes. Indeed, Sorel has been on a strong run of late, evolving from a cold-weather, one-season business into a year-round lifestyle fashion brand. To help build on that momentum, Sorel turned its Manhattan pop-up shop into a permanent location and opened additional flagships in Boston, Chicago and the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Barta adds that Sorel will continue to broaden its apparel collection and, this spring, will introduce warm-weather shoe and sandal styles. Regardless of the season, however, Barta says the brand’s design-first premise will remain its guiding principle. “We are obsessed with design,” she says, noting it’s an ethos that Sorel President Mark Nenow has instilled in the entire organization spanning product creation to marketing to sales. “It is a competitive advantage and is the essence of all we do and strive for every day,” Barta says. —A.L. 36 • march 2016

NEW BALANCE HAD a slew of highly successful collaborations in 2015, spanning the trendiest sneaker boutiques such as Concepts and Kith. But it was its partnership with the more mainstream J. Crew that was especially a hit with consumers— from fashion-forward J. Crew devotees to New Balance sneaker collectors. The reason? According to New Balance Product Manager, Lifestyle Ben Cuthbert, “[It was about] what each brand could offer collaboratively,” he says. “As the only major sneaker brand to still manufacture in the U.S., New Balance brings to the relationship a very unique offering of craftsmanship and quality that fits well with the J. Crew consumer.” This, he adds, combined with J. Crew’s keen eye for design and subtle detailing resulted in a particularly sought-after product. Jen Lynch, New Balance’s senior product manager, lifestyle, adds J. Crew’ s penchant for having its finger on the modern pulse as another key ingredient to the collab’s success. “They have re-defined the American dress code,” she says. While the brands have worked together for several years now (a team leader at J. Crew reached out to New Balance after buying a style they loved in Japan a few years ago to get the partnership rolling), the 2015 collections for J. Crew as part of its In Good Company series quickly sold out. Cuthbert notes both brands’ mutual respect for the approach as contributing to the success. He cites joint work on New Balance classics, such as the 990V1, 996, 998 and 1400 models offered in a variety of colors exclusive to J. Crew, as being highlights of the year. But most noteworthy was the excitement over new colorways on the iconic ’90s-era 998 model. “The loudest press and most love from blogs and sneaker aficionados this year came from that shoe,” he states. “The J. Crew colorways on this model have not only continued to help further solidify the 998 as an iconic New Balance style but have also helped solidify J. Crew as a sneakerhead destination for unique fashion executions in our Made in the U.S.A. line.” One of the stand-out colorways for the 998 collab, in particular, was the Hilltop Blues release. Inspired by New York City baseball stadiums, it featured suede and nylon accents of brown, navy and red. Frank Muytjens, menswear designer for J. Crew, credits the unique color combinations as being a difference maker. “The traditional red and blue looks fresh again against the unexpected brown pops—it takes it out of the active sportswear arena and make it more street,” he says. “It was one of the big drops of the year,” agrees Lynch, adding that the success of this item went beyond color. “It felt like 2015 was the year of the sneaker,” she says. “Sneakers have become fashion items.” —L.O.



NAOT A RECORD-COLD spring in 2015 across much of the country sure didn’t help the sandal business overall, but once the weather finally cooperated Naot’s sales caught fire. “Our sandals were flying off the shelves early in the season,” reports Ayelet Lax Levy, vice president of Yaleet, distributors of the Israeli-made brand. It was a bellwether to the success that would soon follow nationwide once the weather broke, she adds. Levy attributes much of the Naot’s success to taking design risks. “We upgraded some of our classics, added ornamentation that we are known for in unexpected places and used color blocking in a unique way—combining orange and brown or brights with neutrals,” she explains. The goal, she adds, was to make sandals as unique as possible so they stood out on store shelves and let the product start the conversation with shoppers. Perhaps the best example of that design premise was the introduction of a hand-painted leather collection. Each pair is unique, and the handcrafted appeal was well received at retail, according to Levy. “Only our designers are trained in the craft,” she adds. Another design attribute contributing to the success of Naot’s sandal sales last year was its ongoing commitment to making them as comfortable as possible. “We not only have designers working on every sandal, but there is a development person paired with them throughout the manufacturing process to make sure every style will be extremely comfortable,” Levy says, adding, “We always think of the needs of our end consumer.” Examples include removable footbeds that are orthopedicfriendly and also allow consumers to replace an insole and not the entire sandal, and Strobel construction (in the Koru collection) for optimum flexibility. “Strobel is a much more expensive process,” Levy notes. “So many companies have moved away from it.” But she says Naot remains committed to the construction. “It’s better for the environment as almost no glue is used in the manufacturing process and it’s better for foot health in general,” she says, noting the Etera and Papaki styles were the year’s top sellers in the category. Another standout in 2015 was the launch of Naot’s Supreme sandals collection, which was chock-full of block heels that attracted a new, younger customer to the brand. “It’s more fashionable and on-trend with what is happening now in heels,” Levy reports. “It also brought in some customers who had never experienced true comfort before.” Levy adds that resurgence in the Kayla and Dorith styles in Naot’s Elegant collection appealed to a broad age range of consumers, as well. “[This line is] not marketed towards a specific age group,” she says. “I’ve seen women from 18 to 80 wearing them.” To that end, Levy believes Naot’s broad consumer appeal affirms that its sandals designs were spot-on for 2015. “Women of all ages love beautiful sandals that can go with anything,” she says. —L.O.

38 • march 2016


ECCO COMFORT FOOTWEAR USED to (and in many cases still does) conjure images of outdated, puffy shoes more commonly associated with grandparent’s attire—nothing that today’s generation, where age is merely a number, wants to wear. Ecco has met this increasing demand for style head on in 2015 with an updated and refreshing take on feet-first style. “The basic, traditional, mature looking comfort shoe category is in steep decline,” notes Felix Zahn, product director Americas for Ecco USA. Zahn says that the company is redefining the category, by introducing styles that incorporate the same level of comfort but “do not look like comfort shoes anymore.” Instead? “They have a cool attitude, combining comfort and style,” he says. Zahn cites Ecco’s sneaker collection with its understated and simplistic Scandinavian styling (the brand is based in Denmark) as being a big hit in 2015. In particular, he says the contrast-heavy black leather uppers with white outsoles were key drivers. Inspirations for the sneakers were drawn from the popular athleisure and retro style trends. With regard to the latter, Ecco created a cup sole aesthetic but without the added weight thanks to its direct-injected PU outsole construction process. Instead of gluing, cementing or stitching the outsole to the upper, the “super lightweight” technology allows superior fit, durability and comfort. Zahn adds that the construction process is featured in more than 90 percent of the line. “It goes perfectly with the cup sole look that is very in now,” Zahn adds. To join the year’s Intrinsic style launch, Ecco introduced its Soft7 concept mid-year, targeting younger, more contemporary consumers. Zahn says that the brand’s 2015 sales were extremely positive and mainly driven by the new launches. “We definitely outperformed the market again in 2015,” he says, adding that the designs being produced are in line with the modern man and how his role is evolving. “Consumers are changing fast,” he explains. “We started to target the consumer below 40, attracting him with a new look and style, as comfort is less important at first—but once the shoes are on his feet, he is blown away by the comfort.” But, he adds, it’s not just the younger consumers who are responding. “Another positive effect we are seeing is that we convert existing core Ecco consumers to our new look, so we are not just limited to younger consumers,” he says. He adds that the campaigns for the year were notably edgy. Entrenched as a premium men’s comfort and dress brand that dates back more than 50 years, Zahn says Ecco has made great strides in updating its look as well as broadening its selection. Since 2010, he notes, Ecco has put particular emphasis on modernizing and rejuvenating its U.S. division. “We came a long way in the past five years, and are very proud to see where our brand and products are [now],” he says, adding, “Comfort is trendy these days, but it has to be done in the right way.” —L.O.

TThank hank you PlusPlus for honoring us with the 2015 PlusPlus Award youRetailers Retailersand andFootwear Footwear for honoring us with a 2015 Award.

for Excellence in Design, Women’s Comfort.


Pskaufman oxord, Prada suit over vintage sweater, eyeglasses by Saint Laurent Paris. 41

Double monk-strap dress shoe by Furla. J. Crew sweater worn over Uniqlo shirt with Brooks Brothers tie, A.P.C. trench coat, pants from Gap, Uniqlo socks, vintage hat. Opposite: Rockport wingtip lace-ups. 42

Clockwise from top: Johnston & Murphy double monk-strap wingtip, Bruno Magli monk-strap dress shoe, oxford by Born, Bed Stu double-monk loafer, Western-inspired T.U.K. loafer, Sebago wingtip oxfords. Opposite: monk-strap boots by Wolverine 1000 Mile. Vintage scarf and coat worn over Maison KitsunÊ cardigan, Calvin Klein trousers, stylist’s own hat, Uniqlo socks. 44

Helm desert boot. Opposite: Felt lace-up oxfords by Woolrich. Vintage sweater-vest over Uniqlo shirt with Salvatore Piccolo tie and scarf by Yves Saint Laurent, Prada trousers, Uniqlo socks.


Clockwise from top: Peter Nappi lace-up boot, wingtip by Pikolinos, Oak Street Bootmakers oxfords, burnished brogue by Robert Graham. Opposite: Florsheim monk-strap loafers. Vintage sweater under Modesto Bertotto blazer, trousers from Calvin Klein, vintage glasses, Uniqlo socks. Fashion Editor: Ann Loynd; hair and makeup: Matthew Sky/Next Artists; model: Christopher K./Red Model Management. 48



BLUE SUEDE SHOES L o a fe r s, ox fo r d s o r d e se r t b o o t s— jus t d on’ t s t e p on ’e m.




50 • march 2016

Wolverine 1883 Naot

in an old meatpacking plant. “Nashville is considered the third coast. We have a lot of entertainment customers—artists, management, label owners, directors,” he explains. “Our style definitely attracts those types.” Five years into living his dream and reconnecting the family footwear chain, Nappi continues to perfect his craft and expand offerings in order to reach more consumers. “This isn’t a race,” he says. “I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life.” —Ann Loynd Who is Peter Nappi’s core customer? People aged 40 to 65 who appreciate nicer things—be it travel, art, wine. That said, we’re working to get prices down. Our core product went from $695 to $575. I’d like to see it even lower. What is the theme of your Fall ’16 collection? The theme embraces European craftsmanship, made in Italy. Our photo shoot was at a beautiful vineyard outside of Florence. We’re not afraid of getting dirt under our fingernails, but we offer that sophistication and refinement.


Where do you look for inspiration? I love vintage things, traveling and just being able to spend time alone. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle of running a business. I keep my journal close by so when I have ideas, I can get them on paper. What celebrities would you like to see wearing Peter Nappi? Brad Pitt and Lenny Kravitz. My wife and I saw [Kravitz] once at a Paris flea market. She was trying to get me to take off my boots in the rain to show him. Sting would be cool, too. I’m attracted to that European rock ’n roll mystic. That’s who we are. But not in a dark way, rather, a humble way. What do you love most about your job? Researching and interacting with clients. I like being in the store and talking to customers. They’re the boss. What’s your motto? Ti voglio bene. It means, ‘I want you to be well.’ It’s a phrase for brotherly love. We approach every relationship like that.


PHILLIP NAPPI NEVER met his grandfather—a shoemaker who emigrated from Southern Italy in 1904 when he and his brother, a fellow cobbler, settled in Columbus, OH, and opened a shoe store to sell their handmade wares. In fact, Nappi had no idea his father’s side of the family made shoes for generations stretching back to the mid-1800s. However, a seed must have been planted because about a century later, Nappi would abruptly switch career paths to launch a shoe company named after his grandfather, Peter Nappi. “Living in Ohio as a child, I lost my parents at the age of 10 and 11, so I never really knew about my father’s family, or about my grandfather,” the designer explains. “When I was in my twenties in college, I started working in shoe stores—I had a natural attraction to the business,” he adds. Back then, Nappi dreamed of moving to New York and opening his own shoe boutique, an idea that stayed with him after college. But it wasn’t until years later that he made the decision to change careers. He was living in Nashville, TN, running a recycling business when he uprooted his family and moved to Italy to learn the art of shoemaking. It was a bold move that proved to be a wise one. “Doors opened for me immediately,” he recalls. “I got connected with this family—the father started making shoes for Gucci when he was 11 years old and still makes quality shoes at the age of 70.” Nappi learned all he could from the master craftsman and eventually entered into a partnership to launch Peter Nappi shoes in 2011. The designer continues to craft select styles with his teacher, who introduced him to another family of shoemakers. “Our people have been working out of the same villa in Tuscany for four generations,” he says of his current factory partners. “The cobbler has a treasure-trove of inspiration—his father was making Beatle boots in the ’60s and he still has all of the wooden lasts. We’re going to make some Beatle boots using those lasts.” Nappi has since moved his family back to Nashville where he designs bespoke men’s and women’s styles and lets his factory partners bring them to life. The result is a unique blend of American personality and Italian sophistication. Nappi’s dream to run a shoe store has also come true—a flagship based in his hometown housed

E - B E AT

Let’s Get Physical Report explains why brick-and-mortar retailing remains essential to long-term survival. BUYER CHAT

Valerie Smith Otte

AT SOME POINT, we all wonder what could have been if, somewhere along the road, we had taken a different turn. Valerie Smith, associate buyer at Otte, would likely have followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a psychotherapist. “I love being able to analyze people’s thoughts and actions,” she says, noting that there’s certainly an element of this in buying. “I often find myself analyzing why a certain style didn’t perform well, and what the customer’s thought process was that lead her to not buy the item.” Smith joined Otte as a buying intern in 2014, and has since worked closely with Kay Lee, Otte’s founder and head buyer. “It is invaluable to see all of the trends across the board each season and to piece everything together to create a cohesive merchandise mix,” she says. The retailer, established in 1999, focuses on a downtown-meets-uptown aesthetic and includes an array of thoughtfully curated luxury and contemporary pieces from both emerging and established designers. The store’s consumer varies by neighborhood (Otte boasts five boutiques across Manhattan and one in Malibu, CA), says Smith. But serves “a totally different customer” from all over the world. The site became shop-friendly in 2009, and Smith calculates that up to 45 percent of its shoe sales are now digital. And, while the customer varies by place, spans a broad age range from 16 to 70-plus, and has a wide range of tastes and needs, the Otte team prides itself foremost on a customer-oriented approach. “Everything comes down to the customer,” Smith says. “It doesn’t matter what is on-trend or what brands the most influential bloggers are wearing. If she doesn’t love the way she feels, then she won’t buy it.” —Lauren Olsen What trends are you focusing on for Fall ’16? I’ve seen a revival in Western. We just wrote our first season with Toga Pulla, and I believe their Western ankle buckle boots will be a hit with our customers. Patent leather is also making a comeback. Any footwear brands new to Otte that you are excited about? This is our first season with Brother Vellies. Aurora James, the brand’s founder, was one of the 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winners. We just picked up Alejandro Ingelmo for pre-fall. I think our customers will love how sexy the shoes make them feel, and appreciate the amazing craftsmanship. What surprises people most about your job? It’s a lot of numbers. A lot of people think you shop all day, but that could not be farther from the truth. I study sales reports every day, and translate them into information that is extremely beneficial for our business.

WHEN ONE OF the world’s largest retailers (Walmart) announced recently it would close 269 stores on the heels of Macy’s shutting 36 doors and Sears Holdings cutting upward of 600 locations, one might conclude that the future of brick-and-mortar retailing is shaky, at best. This made the timing of the retail report, “Death of Pureplay Retail” by L2 in collaboration with Simon Property Group, all the more noteworthy because its key finding is that brick-and-mortar stores are essential to a retailer’s survival. The report finds that today’s consumer

Comfort options at Eneslow Shoes in New York are best experienced in person.

wants a physical experience as much as a digital one. Three groups were studied to conclude this: pureplay retailers (online-only), evolved pureplay retailers (companies that began as online-only, but now have established locations), and omnichannel leaders (retailers that have effectively synchronized in-store and online businesses). One reason a pureplay approach is at a disadvantage, according to the report, is the high shipping and marketing costs. “[Pureplay retailers] spend three times that of their evolved counterparts on search engine marketing,” notes Taylor Malmsheimer, research associate for L2. And, she adds, that extra money doesn’t deliver a decent ROI. “Pureplay retailers have struggled to drive online awareness and acquire new customers,” she adds.

In contrast, Malmsheimer says evolved pureplay retailers that have opened at least one store have seen organic search traffic and brand awareness rise. She cites Rent the Runway, noting that the retailer saw significant increases in monthly organic search traffic following their first pop-up and permanent store. Instead of fighting for first page search visibility on Google, a brick-and-mortar store also allows for the organic “walk-in traffic” that does not exist online. (The report states that only five percent of consumers visit the second page of Google results.) For the 19 evolved pureplay retailers examined, those with more physical stores were name-searched by Google more often per month. And those stores are performing well. In 2014, for example, stores were responsible for 60 percent of Blank Label sales and 20 percent of BaubleBar sales. These brick-and-mortar stores don’t only do well, they are “marketing vehicles” that, through increasing awareness, make online sales boom, according to Malmsheimer. Last but not least, the study found that consumers still cite a traditional in-store experience as being the most important touch point when considering whether to make a purchase. More than half of customers enjoy being able to buy the product immediately, and 60 percent of consumers report they want to be able to see, touch and try on the merchandise. Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of the NPD Group, notes that this is especially important when it comes to footwear. “Trying on is still a key driver,” he says. Robert S. Schwartz, president of Eneslow Shoes in New York, agrees. “If you specialize in comfort, the experience in-store far exceeds the experience online,” he says, adding that the findings of this study are affirming. “The purpose of shopping online has been proven, and the need for brick-and-mortar stores has also been proven.” —L.O.

2016 march • 51



How has the recent athleisure trend impacted your sales? Sneaker fashion in general has been expanding for the past few years, and athleisure is a big part of it. We’re more conscious of health aspects. Our lifestyles are changing; even the staff and the people who shop here are more concerned about living healthier. From gym to office to home, it’s all a part of sneaker fashion. Now there are so many different colorways and brands—Adidas Tubulars for the gym to more upscale Filling Pieces styles for going out at night.

u r‡l i:n ‡g tBo o n ,s tVoT n , M A B

OW DOES A sneaker boutique that doesn’t advertise and hides its merchandise behind a fully functional bodega survive? Exclusivity and the art of discovery, according to Oliver Mak, one of the founding partners of Bodega. Over the past 10 years, the 2,000-square-foot Boston-based boutique has become a best, not-so-well-kept secret for street fashion fans in search of exclusive product collabs with leading athletic brands as well as the latest styles from up-and-coming indie labels. “The physical experience of discovery really resonates with people,â€? Mak says of the store’s success. “It’s the allure of really special product.â€? Special products include Vans’ Vault collection (Bodega is the only store to carry the collection in New England), a 2.0 account with Nike that features the highest pinnacle releases, membership with the Adidas Consortium for limited releases and a similar program with Saucony called Elite. The heavily exclusive selection, Mak says, draws street fashion enthusiasts from around the world in search of something special. “When we launched, we conceptualized the store as a living art installation,â€? he explains. “We started stocking the best stuff we could find, and it became a global sensation.â€? Of course, being located in a city that is home to many colleges provides a steady flow of 18 to 24 year olds—many urban creatives—who are exactly the type of customers Bodega is looking to serve. “In the past 10 years, our customers have included generations of people who make culture move forward,â€? Mak says. “That’s the key to success with brick and mortar: the collision of creative people.â€? —Ann Loynd What are some of the best-selling brands you’ve added to Bodega’s mix of late? Clear Weather is really cool. They have an awesome design effect. And Article No. has been doing well in this forward-thinking time. We also have a collaboration with Filling Pieces out of Amsterdam coming out in April. Amsterdam, in general, is a vibrant fashion hub, and we’ve been keeping our eye on interesting people coming out of there right now. We’ll also be the exclusive seller for our friends at York Athletics—we think they’ll make a big splash. 52 • march 2016

Are you seeing any footwear trends beyond sneakers gaining traction in your store? We’ve always had a little niche boot business and brands are diversifying more into [that category] recently. The Common Projects line is a good example. They had their premium staples inspired by basketball, but now they’ve been expanding into things like Chelsea boots—styles that are a bit more grown up. This whole segment has a lot of versatility on how people want to dress.

What are some of your best-selling accessories? Head Porter and Head Porter Plus, a wallet case line out of Japan. And we have some superdetailed, gentlemanly tie clips coming out of New York by George Frost. (Full disclosure: It’s our former shop manager’s line.) Retrosuperfuture [eyewear] is really good for us as well. How was the past year sales-wise? Overall, it was up from previous years. We’ve been really blessed with good fortune, and the internal structural changes we’ve been doing to expand our web presence has paid off. We’ve introduced more editorial photography, for example.

What are your goals for the future? We want to work on refining our presentation and building within our trusted brands, as well as supporting the indies that are coming up in the market. What’s the biggest challenge currently facing your business? Time. There’s never enough days for what we do and never enough time for the retail cycle that keeps getting shorter and shorter with social media. We’re expected to predict buys eight months ahead of time when our customer wants to see it immediately. It’s an accelerated culture. The best thing about this season has been‌No snow! That’s really good for sneakers. A lot of what we have on the shelf right now is basically a sock.

continued from page 10 that these are disruptive times. “Everything about how we do business is changing, and changing at a breathtaking pace,” he says. “Those who will remain successful are the ones who are willing to adapt and embrace change.”

WEATHER WORRIES While major disruptions to supply chains and buying cycles may still be a few seasons off, wacky weather is having an immediate impact on business. A record warm fall on the heels of one of the coldest springs ever was a leading factor driving retailers’ cautious buys and new merchandising tactics. “With fall more of a true weather-driven season, it puts even more focus on spring,” offers Kahan. “It’s a longer retail selling window and most styles, while weather-related, are not weather-dependent.” He notes that consumers may buy a sandal or an open-toe wedge if weather is okay, but they won’t buy a boot unless its really winter-like. Wasserman says he was on the lookout for short boots, a less weather-dependent silhouette. “I think that will take a lot of the overall shoe business, and that was my main focus,” he reports. Beyond that, Wasserman was seeking interesting items. “My goal was to be more selective in our core vendors,” he offers. “Each shoe needs a reason for being.” “If it doesn’t look fresh and interesting, customers will walk on by these days,” Habre concurs. “If we want them to come into our brick-and-mortar stores to touch and feel, then we have to show them products that will entice them to do so.” He says color remains important, with rich tones and textures giving products a higher perceived value. And short booties look to be strong again. Jan Brinkmann, president of Tamaris USA, reported a similar reaction from the buyers shopping its fall collection. “We continue to have success with short boots,” he says, adding that interesting details showed well across the line, too. “Material interests, be it laser-treated uppers and belt details or artisanal-finished glove-soft nubuck uppers with embellished belt details, were well received,” he says. “Man-tailored looks with slightly elongated tapered lasts in a city-oriented patent and patent combination uppers also showed well.” Fromm believes that the unusual weather patterns are ushering in a seasonneutral/transitional trend where versatility is the leading design premise. However, there’s a flipside to such versatility—namely, less reason for consumers to buy multiple pairs suitable for specific occasions. The increasingly popular comfort and athletic categories, where Fromm says the “freshness of those styles lasts longer” also impact frequency and replenishment sales.

There were some silver linings: a growth spurt in kids’ and a renaissance in men’s.

SILVER LININGS There were some sliver linings running through the shows. A growth spurt in kids’ and a renaissance in the men’s market are two examples. “Men’s is a huge surprise,” reports Kahan. “We received an excellent response to our new offerings.” Maurice Breton, owner of the 20-plus Comfort One Shoes chain based in the Washington, D.C., area, cited the strong showing in men’s offerings as a welcome surprise. “The men’s casual and boot collections were some of the most improved categories at all of the shows,” he reports. He hopes it will spark a resurgence in men’s business. On the women’s front, Breton notes,

key vendors showed many more silhouettes featuring multiple materials (a patent tip coupled with a nubuck upper and snake trim, for instance). “Most of our suppliers updated classic silhouettes and recommended moving away from older, proven uppers,” he says. “In most cases, we absolutely agreed and are more than eager to update our assortments for fall.” Breton’s positive outlook is indicative of the shoe industry: Despite the myriad of challenges, optimism still carries the day. “In the end, all we can do is look to the future, learn from what has happened and try to work together to build a more successful season next time around,” Smith says. For Geox, that means continued focus on its lightweight and versatile Nebula walking collection, which will expand into women’s and kids’ for fall. “It’s a great transitional shoe that sold extremely well right through October and into November,” Smith reports. “The story for fourth quarter will be Amphibiox, waterproof and breathable styles across men’s, women’s and kids’ in dress, casual, outdoor and sport.” Brinkmann says offering fresh designs—and retailers having an open mind about them—can be the difference between a blah season and a good one. He notes that those who were willing to try something new last season were generally rewarded. “I believe that approach will become more valid going forward,” he says. “Our industry needs to be seductive and alluring. The consumer doesn’t want or need more of the same ol’, same ol’.” Fromm is confident that wholesalers will deliver on that premise, because that’s historically been the case. “The footwear fashion business is amazingly resilient and moves on to the next opportunity pretty quickly,” he says. “So thank goodness this season is over and another season is underway.” On the upside, difficult conditions help drive innovation. “When this industry experiences a difficult cycle, innovation sprouts,” Fromm says. “I see next fall as a season of opportunity. People are positive and building for the future.” •






Sport Style Dress-meets-sneaker hybrids to field any occasion. 1. Robert Graham 2. Florsheim 3. Furla 4. Sebago 5. Ecco

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Lifetime Achievement continued from page 21 a purpose that is both stylish and trend right. “For years it was the perfect crossover choice for both work and play,” he notes. “She communicated this vision clearly to us and helped us play to the strengths in her product line.” Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes in New York, cites Dansko’s ability to continually improve upon its product line over the years—a partnership that began in the mid ’90s. “They make consistent product and are always updating constructions and extending the product mix for customers, especially in the occupational sector, which is growing,” he says, adding that Cabot has been there every step of the way. It is uncommon of many CEOs to be so hands-on, he notes. “Mandy is a unique person; she is transparent and has been very involved in the day-to-day operations,” Wasserman says. “She was always checking on our business and loved to discuss the shoe business in general. She lived her product and saw its worth.” Such passion, Habre believes, is contagious. “Mandy began her company out of a passion for a unique product and has nurtured it into well-respected brand,” he says. “She has also surrounded herself with people who share her passion. A visit to their state-of-the-art facilities is a reminder of how positive and upbeat this company is and shows it’s a part of their culture.” Gradia looks at Dansko and Cabot, in particular, as role models for small businesses. “Mandy has taken a small business and grown it into an unbelievable one,” he says. “Her strategy to build a unique business model is one that you don’t see every day.” One of a Kind Will the industry ever come across another CEO like Cabot? Her unique background, business philosophy and track record of success surely make

her one of a kind. Do today’s increasingly consolidated market conditions even allow for a business to organically grow and evolve the way Dansko has? If you ask Cabot, that’s exactly what she hopes for—more companies to operate like Dansko. Ego has nothing to with it. It strictly relates to her belief that there’s a right way to go about trying to create and run a business. “In terms of business model, I’m thrilled to see more footwear companies becoming B Corp certified—Oliberté, OluKai and Eileen Fisher, for example,” she says. “I’m sure Dansko had nothing to do with that directly, but it’s a ripple effect that we love to see.” Dansko is like a beacon, a reminder that there’s another way to go about this business or any business, for that matter. You don’t have to copy the company’s ethics to the letter, but its best practices are one instance where copying is encouraged in this industry. Cabot remains committed to doing the right things and ingraining that philosophy into Dansko’s corporate DNA. The goal is for that ethos to live on in future stewards of Dansko. That’s her motherly instinct at work again. Cabot knows her employees are the company’s greatest asset and the key to its future success. “Dansko’s employees are my extended family,” she says, noting her job now is more background conductor than helicopter parent. Her focus now mostly involves “surrounding myself with really smart people, orchestrating great talent and occasionally providing some backup vocals of my own.” When it’s all said and done, Cabot says, “I hope that we made shoes that changed people’s lives. It certainly has done that for me, and I think it’s done that for our employees and many of our customers as well.” •


Dance Fever

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE Electric Styles’ LED kicks catch fire thanks to viral video. By Ann Loynd AVE YOU SEEN the light yet? Specifically, the Electric Styles LED sneakers sported by Elena Cruz-Nichipor, a 22-year-old bartender from Florida, whose self-made video portraying her dancing in a pair went viral on YouTube. At press time, the page had received more than 100,000 views and sales of the light-up kicks have been electrifying the Santa Monica, CA-based company’s website ever since. Born out of the EDM (electronic dance music) scene, Electric Styles added shoes to its LED accessory mix this time last year, and the brand has struggled to keep styles in stock since, reports CEO Nicholas Kneuper. Though other dancers have posted videos in the sneakers, Kneuper says Cruz-Nichipor’s video has made the biggest splash to date and sales have doubled since. “There’s been an impact on sales and overall traffic,” he confirms, adding that Electric Styles has since entered into a sponsorship deal with Cruz-Nichipor. “The dance style she’s doing in that video, shuffling, has its roots in the EDM music festival scene,” he says. “It’s kind of a natural chemistry—shuffling and light-up shoes.” And while Cruz-Nichipor

56 56 • february 2016

At left: shuffle dancer Elena Cruz-Nichipor. Above: Electric Styles’ Bolt LED hi-top.

may not be a “professional” dancer, she sure bops across the floor like one and that has made for a fruitful partnership. Though the light-up sneaker concept is not necessarily new—Kneuper points to LA Gear’s Lights from the ’90s as well as Skechers’ many later iterations—he maintains that Electric Styles’ take on the concept delivers a bigger wow factor. “The whole sole lights up and changes color, which is especially impactful for dancers,” he explains. “At EDM festivals, the parties are at night. That’s part of the reason the shoes have been blowing up—people are dancing in them at parties.” Kneuper believes LED styles have staying power beyond a niche music scene, noting that the brand recently received an email from a 65-year-old grandmother saying she loves her light-up shoes. LED’s staying power, he adds, is in stride with the wearable-tech movement. “There’s so much potential, and we’re just at the beginning,” he says. “Imagine dancers doing a choreographed dance, and their shoes are programmed to go with it. That’s not far off, and we’re on the forefront.” Currently available exclusively through, the brand is in talks with retailers to stock styles next season.

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