STORM SURGE: AIDING HURRICANE VICTIMS
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MULES RULE The Sophisticated Slide Ups the Style Ante for Spring
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be There for A MilesTone celebrATion of our inDusTry sAving lives!
O C T O B E R / N O V E M B E R 2 0 17 Caroline Diaco Publisher
F E AT U R E S 12 The Commitments
Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors
A computer science engineer by trade, Rick Wang, president of Propét, is
positioning the comfort brand to be
Aleda Johnson Assistant Editor
smart, quick and reliable. By Greg Dutter 18 Shelter from the Storms Following hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the industry has shown its huge heart by mobilizing to help millions of people in need with product and financial donations. By Aleda Johnson 26 Style Driven Vroom, vroom! The classic men’s silhouette gets tuned up for spring with fresh coats of paint, slick details and sporty soles. By Aleda Johnson 28 Flights of Fancy Sleek, snazzy and sophisticated mules contain all the elements of statement-making style. By Aleda Johnson
D E PA RT M E NT S PA G E
6 Editor’s Note 8 This Just In 10 Scene & Heard
This page: Badgley Mischka velvet mules, top by Suncoo, Baby Ghost pants, earrings by Sarah Magid.
On the cover: tassled mules by Vionic, suit by Maison Kitsune, vintage gloves from Habit NYC, blouse by J. Crew. Photography by Trevett McCandliss Stylist: Dani Morales; hair and makeup: Dawn Brocco/Next Artists; model: Elena K./APM Model Mgmt.
22 Note To My Younger Self
Emily Beckman Assistant Editor Kathy Passero Editor at Large Melodie Jeng Contributing Photographer ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher Laurie Guptil Production Manager Bruce Sprague Circulation Director Mike Hoff Digital Director Ana Novikova Office Administration OFFICES Advertising/Editorial 135 W. 20th St., Suite 402 New York, NY 10011 Tel: (646) 278-1550 Fax: (646) 278-1553 editorialrequests@ 9Threads.com Circulation 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300 circulation@9Threads.com Corporate 9Threads 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300
24 Trend Spotting
Xen Zapis Chairman
38 Shoe Salon
Lee Zapis President
40 Comfort 42 What’s Selling 44 Trend Spotting
Rich Bongorno Chief Financial Officer Debbie Grim Controller
FOOTWEAR PLUS ™ (ISSN#1054-898X) The fashion magazine of the footwear industry is published monthly (except for bimonthly April/May and October/November editions) by Symphony Publishing NY, LLC, 36 Cooper Square, 4th fl., New York, NY, 10003-7118. The publishers of this magazine do not accept responsibility for statements made by their advertisers in business competition. Periodicals postage is paid in New York, NY, and additional mailing offices. Subscription price for one year: $48.00 in the U.S. Rates oustide the U.S. are available upon request. Single copy price: $10.00. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to FOOTWEAR PLUS, P.O. Box 8548, Lowell, MA 01853-8548. Publisher not responsible for unsolicited articles or photos. Any photographs, artwork, manuscripts, editorial samples or merchandise sent for editorial consideration are sent at the sole risk of the sender. Symphony Publishing NY, LLC, will assume no responsibility for loss or damage. No portion of this issue may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. ©2008 by Symphony Publishing NY, LLC. Printed in the United States.
4 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
Best Foot Forward
better days THERE ARE DAYS, and then there are days that time. He furnished the store with the most comfortable chairs he could feel like the End Times. Now, for example. Deadly find—and afford—from yard sales. He installed shelves and stocked them hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires are just a with must-read running books. He hung photos of Tiger-shod runners few of the natural disasters wreaking havoc on us and made silk-screened T-shirts with Tiger emblazoned across the front, humans. Toss in nuclear war posturing, terrorism, which he handed out free to his best customers. He also stuck Tigers to racial tensions, sniper attacks, cyberattacks, political a black lacquered wall and illuminated them with a strip of lights. Per unrest, economic uncertainty, a pervasive culture Knight, it was “Very hip. Very mod.” The store became a “sanctuary” for of sexual assault and harassment that extends well runners, says Knight, a gathering place that doubled as their own little beyond Hollywood, and you’ve got a witch’s brew. Star Trek convention. According to Knight, the store “didn’t just sell Can a plague of locusts be far behind? (customers) shoes but celebrated them and their shoes. Johnson, the It’s hard enough trying to survive in today’s ruthless retail climate aspiring cult leader of runners, finally had his church. Services were without such ominous news. The so-called Retail Apocalypse has claimed Monday through Saturday, nine to six.” numerous victims and others are heading toward the brink. The harsh It’s a retail religion sure to convert any cult audience. Skaters and freereality of a new retail world order has forced many to reimagine their thinkers, for example, will likely be drawn to The General by Vans, the businesses. The era of getting away with recently opened flagship in collaboration the same ol’ approach are long gone. So with Chris Keeffe, founder of the DQM are the days of opening more physical boutique. This marks the team’s second stores to report “growth.” And relying on General store, this one in the holy land of merchandise or the latest “big” sale to reel hipsters—Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Events in shoppers? That seems like a distant from art shows and zine fairs to designmemory. Back in the day, supermodel ing a custom pair of Vans are featured. Naomi Campbell claimed she didn’t get out “The General is all about experience,” of bed for less than a $10,000 modeling says David Theiss, Vans’ vice president fee. Well, it’s safe to assume that today’s of Direct-to-Consumer. super-saver consumers aren’t getting off Similarly, shoppers hitting one of their couches for another “one-day” sale DSW’s new concept stores are in for or bogo deal—not when they can probably a religious experience. The stores are find the same item quicker, easier and going back to their “warehouse” roots, possibly cheaper online, have it delivered adding pallet fixtures and flexible roller the next day for free, and—if they don’t conveyors that let them showcase 70 like it—return it for free. percent more shoes. It allows for curated The Birkenstock BOX x 10 Corso Como, a new mobile pop-up The rules of retail have changed. It’s product stories that mimic an online concept for select retail partners to customize inside and out. evolve or die. But fortunately, there’s good shopping experience, according to news on the horizon. Real change is finally happening. DSW, Macy’s, Michele Love, COO. “Today’s customer craves more than just a transNordstrom, Target and Neiman Marcus have all overhauled their business action. They want an experience,” she states. Meanwhile, Birkenstock models. The new formula is leaner, meaner, more exclusive and—the recently rolled out a new mobile retail concept called the Birkenstock latest retail buzz word—experiential. From malls to department stores BOX. (Barneys New York was the first U.S. stop.) Retail partners can to mom-and-pops to branded flagships, the experience factor is now design and furnish the BOX inside and out, making every stop unique paramount. In-store custom design studios, intimate private shopping and exclusive. The approach lets retailers offer an element of surprise parties, exclusive items and lines, magic mirrors, guest speakers and and moves beyond traditional pop-ups, which often have space and events, drop-off points for online purchases and returns, community design constraints. David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas, likes gathering places—they’re all examples of experiential retail. Kudos to to say the brand is “not in the shoe business; it’s in the show business.” all who are putting their best foot forward in this regard. It starts with the shoes, but “people shop to be entertained,” he says. Actually, as innovative as this sounds, it’s not really a new concept. In Indeed, the BOX is really cool. It’s worth experiencing. his captivating memoir, Shoe Dog, Nike founder Phil Knight writes that We humans are drawn to art and beauty. And we love cool experiences. during his pre-Swoosh days as the U.S. distributor of Tiger running shoes It’s what fashion is all about. For our industry, the key is finding ways to (circa late ’60s), his lone sales rep, Jeff Johnson, opened a store that was make the search for—and discovery of—beautiful, wearable art enjoyable a “mecca, a holy of holies for runners.” It was the experiential retail of its and engaging. That’s an experience that can make any day better. Greg Dutter
6 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
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THIS JUST IN
sock it to me! From ankle to over-the-knee, sock boots packed a stylish punch during Paris Fashion Week. Photography by Melodie Jeng
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Miles from mainstream.
SCENE & HEARD
FFANY Shoes on Sale Gala is ‘Pinktacular’ THE 24TH ANNUAL QVC Presents “FFANY Shoes on Sale” Gala benefitting breast cancer research and education was held this month at its new home, The Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York. The event, the largest fundraiser in the footwear industry, kicked off with pink carpet celebrity arrivals that included Mandy Moore; Martha Stewart; Jill Martin; Ron Fromm, president and CEO of FFANY; Mike George, president and CEO of QVC; designers Mark Badgley, James Mischka, Isa Tapia and Dennis Basso; Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast; and Elizabeth Rodbell, president of Lord & Taylor. The evening’s honorees included Patrick Wayne, activist and son of John Wayne, who was presented the Jodi & Jerome Fisher Humanitarian award; Alexandre Birman received the Designer of the Year award and Zappos was named Retailer of the Year. Jeff Espersen of Zappos captivated the audience with the retailer’s extensive philanthropic outreach efforts, which included its response to the Las Vegas shooting tragedy. In a word, Fromm says this year’s event was “fantastic.” He credits a phenomenal new venue, distinguished honorees and an amazing designer shoe salon as having created the “perfect footprint” to thank shoe donors, recognize researchers and raise critical funding. “Between the gala, the live QVC broadcast and the continued selling on QVC.com through the end of the year, we hope to grant nearly $3 million directly to ‘first step’ breast cancer research institutions in the fight to find a cure for this disease, which affects one out of eight women,” he says, adding the event also provided an opportunity for the industry to come together for a great cause. “The gala brings together and strengthens the industry each year. Together as an industry, it’s important that we don’t stop supporting breast cancer research and education until we find a cure.” To date, QVC Presents “FFANY Shoes on Sale” has raised more than $53 million to fund breast cancer research at some of the nation’s leading institutions. “We look forward to seeing everyone at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in October 2018 for the 25th gala,” Fromm says. The exact date will be announced Nov. 1 on FFANY.org.
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Irregular Choice: Museum-Worthy IT’S A FIRST for a designer who has delivered many creative firsts since launching his irreverent Irregular Choice label in 1999. Danny Sullivan’s first full archive exhibit opened recently at England’s Horsham Museum and Art Gallery, which is home to more than 300 pairs of shoes dating back to the 17th century. “To know that people want to come and see what I’ve been creating for the last 18 years makes me very happy, and I’m glad that I’m doing something that brings them joy, too,” Sullivan says. “The opportunity to showcase our brand and the journey we’ve shared with our fans is important to us. Irregular Choice has gone from strength to strength over the years, but our core ethos has remained the same: to be completely unique and truthful.” The exhibit, Irregular Choice’s Ethereal Dream, tells a story driven by Sullivan’s philosophy to “recapture your freedom, which eloped with your youth.” The Irregular Choice archive is showcased in full irreverent glory, proving why megabrands like Disney have collaborated with Sullivan on his pop-art creations, and celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg have dedicated entire rooms to his eclectic designs. “It’s been a fun journey down memory lane, going through all of the old styles and deciding what to display,” Sullivan says. “I could have easily filled 10 more rooms!” The exhibit (running through Jan. 18, 2018) includes some of the earliest Irregular Choice shoes, as well as footage of interviews with Sullivan. “It reflects the evolution of the brand and our journey from the first styles to present day collaborations,” he says. “It also shows the advances we’ve made in terms of what we are capable of developing and the technical detail we can now achieve.” The exhibit is a hit. Fans have reportedly been travelling from all over the U.K. and beyond to view it. “The museum says there’s been a constant stream of visitors from opening to close every day,” Sullivan says. “We’ve received rave reviews.”
Rihanna Rally at Bloomingdale’s
New Vans Experience THE GENERAL BY Vans flagship ranks high in experiential retail. Located in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, the space fosters interaction with products and experiential elements. For example, an installation at the entrance tells new product stories while customers can DIY Vans in the custom design studio (above). “From hosting events like art shows and zine fairs to designing a custom pair of Vans, The General is all about experience,” states David Theiss, vice president of Direct-to-Consumer for Vans.
SHE’S DEFINITELY TOO cool for school! Superstar Rihanna had Bloomingdale’s New York flagship abuzz as she marched into the store (literally) to the drums of a marching band in celebration of the debut of her fall Fenty x Puma pep rally-themed collection this month. Foam fingers, banners and bleachers served as the backdrop to the high-spirited affair. Rihanna was in full-on Fenty U. spirit and garb, thanking fans who lined up for hours to get a glimpse of their idol as well as first dibs at the new collection. Shoe-wise, standouts include lug-sole creepers (left), colorful “F.U.” emblazoned pool slides and leather ankle-strap platforms sneakers.
Comfort. Classic. Stylish.
10/2/17 2:57 PM
BY GREG DUTTER
THE COMMITMENTS A c o m p u t e r s c i e n c e e n g i n e e r b y t r a i n i n g , R i c h a r d Wa n g , president of Propét, is positioning the brand to be smart, quick a n d c o m m i t t e d t o b e i n g a r e l i a b l e p a r t n e r.
ANY FOOTWEAR EXECUTIVES have an extensive industry background. Some start out on the sales floor of a local shoe store and service countless consumers as they rise through the retail ranks, gaining valuable insights into what shoes sell and why. Others get their start on the manufacturing side, learning the ins and outs of design, production and sourcing. Rick Wang didn’t follow either path. And that’s what makes his nearly 20-year career before becoming president of Propét in 2015 so noteworthy. Wang is not a shoe designer or retailer by trade. His background is in information technology. That didn’t stop Wang from climbing Propét’s corporate ladder after being hired in 1998 to help with the company’s computer systems. About three years later, he was hired full-time as the firm’s IT manager. Just five months later, the owner asked him to take over the operations and finance sides of the company. “To be honest, accepting that promotion was either the smartest or the dumbest decision I ever made, because before that I was simply an IT guy,” Wang says with a laugh. He excelled at his new position and, over the next decade, streamlined operations while Propét’s sales grew steadily. In 2009, the owner promoted Wang to vice president of operations and, in 2015, he was named president of the company. Wang is the first to admit that his career trajectory is unorthodox in this industry. He credits much of his success to his computer science training. “Some of the things I did to help the company grow involved introducing new technology platforms,” he says. “We were one of the first companies to introduce drop-shipping, more than 15 years ago.” Wang also cites the implementation of a new warehouse system in 2009 that “totally changed” how the company operates—for the better. He believes his IT background makes it easier for him to find suitable vendors and explain exactly what the company needs. Propét’s tech-first approach extends beyond internal systems. Wang has revolutionized the sourcing pipeline since being named president. It marks
12 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
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O&A a big change for a company that he says had been very conservative when it came to design and manufacturing since its founding in 1985. He is proud of the progress the brand has made. “The last couple of seasons have been quite different compared to what we did in the past,” he says. “We’ve introduced many new styles that have changed people’s view of Propét and how they feel about [our] footwear.” Wang credits many of the improvements to Propét’s new manufacturing partners. He and the company’s head designer have been traveling to China four to five times a year the past few years to find new sourcing partners. “It’s enabled us to see what other factories do, and we’ve incorporated some of those innovations into our collections,” Wang says, noting that China is still the biggest shoe manufacturing base in the world and there are new technologies coming online regularly that offer fresh ways to design shoes. “It’s been a great learning experience for us,” he adds. What are you reading? I just Improved looks are one aspect of finished A Brief History of Propét’s recent success. Another is Humankind and now I’m the brand’s steadfast commitment reading the follow-up, A Brief to offering optimum comfort and History of Tomorrow. The fit, starting with the entire collecauthor presents a different tion being available in sizes and viewpoint on the history of widths. Wang sees this as a key humankind, and his insights point of differentiation in today’s on what the future might be marketplace. “How many compaare very interesting. nies in the industry offer sizes and
standing by their retail partners. “We didn’t forget them,” he says. “We actually invested more in their businesses to help them better display our products.” Propét’s online sales are growing “dramatically” too, thanks to the company’s systems efficiency, says Wang. “We’re not a huge business for those retailers, but in terms of an efficiency scorecard we rank in the top tier because of our drop-ship capabilities,” he says. “If we have the inventory, we can drop-ship more than 99 percent of the orders in the same day.” Before the upgrades, Wang says, Propét would have been lucky to ship 85 percent of orders in the same day. “It’s a big jump,” he says. Carrying the inventory is a tremendous investment, he concedes, but “If you don’t, you can’t provide the service that retailers demand. It’s the price you need to pay because service is so important to every customer today.” Success requires enormous commitment on every level—delivering fresh styles, carrying a large inventory, helping drive traffic to stores, investWhat is the smartest business ing in the latest systems upgrades— decision you’ve ever made? Over whatever it takes, says Wang. And he the last couple of years we’ve is committed to delivering on all of outsourced our production to sevthem. In fact, it’s what the “IT-guyeral manufacturers. We used to turned-shoe-executive” has wanted make shoes with just one factory. to do since joining Propét 19 years It’s a big change for us, and it’s ago. “I’m making the decisions that turned out to be very positive. I’ve always wanted to make,” he says. “I’ve always been a firm believer that If you could hire anybody who this company could be much bigger, would it be? Warren Buffett, for his and my motto is if I believe it, I stick long-term insight. To me, he is a with it.” visionary.
OFF THE CUFF
widths? Not many,” he says. “Surveys What was the last movie you show that the most important factor saw? Going In Style, which when buying a particular shoe is its I watched on a return flight comfort—not the price or the brand. from Asia. I liked it. If a shoe doesn’t fit well, how can it be comfortable?” Sizes and widths In a phrase, the shoe industry up the comfort potential greatly, right now is? Changing rapWang says. “I believe we have the idly with new technologies potential for much greater growth and innovations. because that’s our core strength. “This company should be at least What is your motto? three times bigger than we are today,” Stick with what you believe Wang maintains. He says the market and do it. potential is there, but only if consumers know the option exists. “We are upping our marketing efforts to tell the world what we have to offer,” he says, and the Internet makes communicating that message much easier. So far, so good. “Over the last three years we’ve introduced more changes to our systems, product and marketing than in the 32 years before that combined,” he says. “And we did so without losing our identity.” Wang adds that Propét’s growth this year proves the company is on the right track. “We’re targeting 20-percent sales growth this year,” he says. “It’s very aggressive, but we expect to reach the goal.” Not bad in a year when growth of any kind has been hard to achieve. Propét’s success is even more remarkable given the fact that much of it came from traditional brick-and-mortar stores, says Wang. He credits that, in part, to 14 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
Which talent would you most like to have? To better manage people. It’s not easy for me, whereas for some it comes so naturally. What is your favorite hometown memory? I’m from Taiwan, and it’s memories of the simple life: feeling content, plenty of good food and many old friends.
You are projecting 20-percent growth this year amid what’s been a very challenging market. So it can be done. Yes. We hope to make that figure, but if we don’t we’ll definitely have double-digit growth this year. It’s because of our fresh styles, sizes and widths offering, new marketing and ongoing investment in systems. We also have been very successful in the medical market; it’s been a big growth area for us.
Is the retail environment as challenging as it appears to be? Lots of people are saying the traditional store is dying, and we are not oblivious to that. But I believe there is still plenty of opportunity in that segment, particularly for Propét. There are still many retailers that we haven’t even touched yet, so we aren’t giving up on that market. We also see new stores opening. Every month it seems like we have a new customer who has recently opened. Beyond that there are some who know how to go about the business the right way. If you refuse to make changes and just sit and wait for the customer to come to you, then I think you’re in real trouble. If you are willing to change your approach and adapt, I believe you can find a way to survive.
S O F T P E R P E T U A L
G E O M E T R Y N A T U R A L
M O T I O N
O&A Well, the demand isn’t going away, but the way consumers purchase is changing. The question is to what extent? The impression of late is consumers will soon shop online for everything. History often shows that when things go to an extreme it reaches a turning point. I shop online for a lot of things, but not everything and especially not shoes because I really like to touch and feel and try them on first before I buy. Also, let’s not forget that one of the leading benefits to shopping online is the free shipping and returns. But how long can that last? Eventually those retailers won’t offer that anymore. Once they start charging for that, I guarantee that’s the day consumers will change the way they shop for shoes again. I guess we’ll see soon enough. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve invested heavily in our inventory, technology and services—specifically to service traditional stores to help them survive. Many of them are struggling, so it’s more important than ever for them to get support from vendors. If they don’t, then they might die off faster and that does neither of us any good. That said, we treat all our retail partners the same, no matter the size or
format. We provide the inventory and try and offer whatever services they need, and we ship right away. I think that approach can help traditional retailers to at least maintain their level of business or maybe even regain some of it. In addition, a lot of our partners in this tier are adding an online component. The difference is not many companies can work with them as efficiently as I believe we can. How so, for example? Our return rate is considerably lower than most of other brands. A good margin is a must, but it really depends on the return rate as to whether those retailers are able to make a profit selling online. And thanks to our sizes, widths and construction that fits better than other brands, there are fewer reasons to return a shoe. It’s one of our strengths, so the selling online can benefit a brand like us in many ways. A sizes-and-widths business model requires a huge commitment. Hence, the relative scarcity of vendors that offer it. It does, and it’s not just the inventory commitment. The manufacturing aspect is also very challenging.
It requires an enormous commitment, and you need to have a good relationship with the factories because it’s very difficult to make shoes in sizes and widths. Fortunately, we have developed close relationships with our factories. We feel we now know each other well and they understand our specific needs. What’s your main goal for the rest of the year? In addition to meeting our sales growth goal, we will continue to invest in our IT infrastructure so we can provide an even more accurate, quicker response to our customers’ needs. We are committed to servicing them to our best abilities. For example, we’re ahead of a lot of vendors on the product development cycle. We’ve almost completed Fall ’18, and we’re on to developing Spring ’19 product already. I believe that benefits both us and our vendors. They have a chance to offer some feedback, and we’re able to make any changes in time. It also lets us approach any potential customers earlier in the buying cycle. The earlier you can approach them, the earlier you might get a commitment from them. Because you never want to hear, “Oh, I love your shoes, but I spent my money already.”
So we’ve been working hard the last couple years to push our production schedule up four to five months ahead of what it was, and now I think we’re in the right time frame. Is there any danger of being too early? I don’t think that’s the case for us. We are mostly getting ahead on concepts and constructions. Plus, in our category, we’re not trying to be super fashionable where looks can change in a couple months. Another benefit of being earlier allows us to feature the shoes in our printed catalog. It gives us another head start on selling a new collection. And the fact that we offer all our styles in sizes and widths means consumers have a much greater choice to get the right fit. Unfortunately, most don’t even realize a choice exists. Many are walking around in shoes that don’t fit properly. This is something we must advocate to consumers: the importance of a proper fit. That’s why we are going to be more aggressive in reaching out to new potential customers, because we believe the demand is there. We’re going to provide more in-store programs to promote our shoes as well as expand our marketing efforts.
I believe a great opportunity for brick-and-mortar stores is to create a sort of Midas shop for feet. Sit the customer in a comfortable chair, offer them a cup of coffee and let a trained technician give a feet tune-up: sizing, pain and discomfort consultation, proper fitting, possible add-on recommendations, etc. I agree with you, and our retailers don’t necessarily have to carry a bunch of inventory. As long as they have the right sizes to fit people, we can ship any style that they may not have in stock right away. You make it sound almost easy yet I often hear complaints how the business is so much harder today. It’s more demanding, competitive, difficult and less cooperative. Do you agree? It’s tougher in many ways than when I first came into the industry. Personally, what’s most frustrating is the overproduction. The market is full of cheap shoes. It’s a dead end because there’s always somebody who is going to be cheaper than you are. And if you get caught up in trying to compete on price, guess what, you start making cheap shoes, using inferior materials that will eventually damage your brand. We don’t want our retailers to sell
a cheap shoe, nor do we want them to sell a shoe cheap. That’s why we must create products that our customers feel comfortable selling at a respectable price. (Propét’s range is $60 to $130 retail with select styles up to $189.) A price that consumers also feel comfortable spending. The price pressure from Amazon, mostly, surely makes this job to at least maintain price harder for all brands. Consumers have been trained to shop online for the lowest prices, and Amazon is committed to delivering them. You’re right. So far we’ve been able to maintain our prices without it affecting our quality. We’ve also invested heavily in a MAP pricing program that seems to be working, and we sell some exclusive items to select retailers, which helps prevent price competition. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing the industry right now? In addition to a market flooded by cheap shoes, the supply chain is another big challenge. Specifically, nobody wants to pay more than what they are currently paying for shoes, yet the cost of making each pair continues to rise. There’s really not much >43
Soles4Souls preparing a Bearpaw donation for Hurricane Harvey victims.
Shelter from the Storms F o l l o w i n g h u r r i c a n e s H a r v e y, I r m a a n d Maria, the industry has shown its huge heart by mobilizing to help millions of people in need with product and financial donations. BY A L E DA J O H N S O N
N THE EVENING of Aug. 25th, Hurricane Harvey to crying, however, only when her son is at school as the epic struggle made landfall along the Gulf Coast, bombarding a to try and rebuild their lives drags on. “I’m trying to work as much as I large swath of Texas with winds up to 130 mph and can,” she says. “It’s scary because I don’t know how much longer we will dumping more than 50 inches of rain be able to live at the motel. The simple fact is they want over the ensuing week—the highest money every week, and I only get paid every two weeks.” amount ever recorded of any tropical Thankfully, the Two Ten Footwear Foundation has storm or hurricane in the lower 48 come to the aide of the Laws. After being advised to call states. This wasn’t any 100-year flood; this was more like for assistance, Director of Social Services Jestina Walcott a once-in-a-millennia-sized deluge that claimed the lives promptly wired Laws money to cover the cost of the motel of 77 Texans. The estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain that for an extended period. “Jestina was very kind, and the fell over parts of the state over the course of the six-day information she required was easy to get to her,” Laws storm was nothing short of catastrophic. More than 30,000 says. “It gave me a sense of relief that I don’t have to find people fled their Houston-area homes alone—many with everything right away, because my son and I have nothing just the clothes on their backs—as floodwaters rapidly rose at all.” She adds that the generosity of Two Ten has been and destroyed all their worldly possessions. a life saver. “It’s let me move forward, because I have a Norma Laws, a part-time assistant manager at Lady 7-year-old son who I cannot fail,” she says. “I can’t let him Foot Locker in Houston, along with her seven-year-old see me cry because he’ll then ask me what’s wrong. How son, were two such victims who have since spent more do explain adult problems to a child?” than two months calling a local Houston motel home. Neal Newman, president of Two Ten Foundation, says Laws says dressing out of duffle bags and going to work the organization has done everything in its power to assist Norma Laws and her son each day while also searching for an affordable new home industry members impacted by the three hurricanes—just Jo’Syah, 7, were aided by the has been a tremendous and stressful challenge. She admits like it has done following previous natural disasters and Two Ten Foundation.
18 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
will do in ones, unfortunately, to philanthropy that supports more than come. He estimates the response 200 organizations annually. “Helping to these recent storms is likely to the victims of these hurricanes is exceed that of Hurricane Katrina all part of our continuing support and will be just shy of what it did to of giving back to the community,” help victims of Superstorm Sandy. Krueger says. “It’s in our company “With Sandy, we had 463 families DNA. It’s what we do, and when we who received about $290,000 in have tragedies like these, we try to emergency assistance, whereas really step forward.” with Katrina it was 329 families Compared to other industry and $160,000 in aide,” he says. responses to disasters, Buddy Teaster, Newman recommends that people president and CEO of Soles4Souls, still in need of assistance contact reports Harvey ranks third behind Two Ten at socialservices@twoten. the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and org, to set up an appointment to Super Typhoon Haiyan, which speak with one of its social workrocked the Philippines in 2013. “We ers. The response time is faster, he have upwards of 150 companies says, but people can also call Two who have committed to donating Ten at (800) 346-3210. The charproduct, which is a tremendous ity will respond usually within 48 response,” he says. Teaster adds that hours. “Once their industry status many companies even waived their is verified, we’ll cut a check that policy of donating products within Red Wing Shoe Company donated $500,000 in work boots, shoes, socks and coveralls to Hurricane Harvey first responders and victims. can be delivered to pay a bill or get the country to prevent counterfeit money into their hands to rent a car, or reselling of goods. “In a time buy food, clothes, etc.,” he says, adding that it can deliver up to $1,000 like this, those products are highly valued and these companies have right away. “If there are more complicated issues they need help with, stepped up to help those in need,” he adds. we can try to provide additional financial help,” he adds. Newman credits the incredible generosity of the footwear industry HONOR ROLL for Two Ten’s ability to assist thousands of shoepeople in need. He says The list of brands and retailers who have stepped forward is as extensince the three hurricanes it has, to date, received donations from 42 sive as its impressive. It spans all categories and tiers of distribution companies (Asics, Caleres, Crocs, Marc Fisher, Zappos, Deer Stags, as well as involves numerous local and national charities. Red Wing DSW, Foot Locker, Micro-Pak and Vibram, to cite a few) and $70,000 Shoe Company, for example, partnered with Good360 to donate and in financial contributions—and that’s without even asking. Newman distribute $500,000 in work boots and coveralls for first responders, as believes giving comes naturally to an industry where many of its leadwell as socks and footwear for individuals whose lives have been affected ing execs started their careers working in shoe stores, where they got by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The company’s philanthropic arm, the down on their knees to fit customers. “There’s something in that act Red Wing Shoe Company Foundation, also contributed funds through that’s permeated the DNA of people in this industry, where they respond its “Partners in Sharing” program by matching employee and retiree to what a customer needs in real time,” he says. “I’m awestruck by the monetary donations to qualified charities. CEO Mark Urdahl says Red collective kindness and caring that people in our industry express.” Wing has about 100 stores it does business between its flagships and It’s a generosity streak that’s come in torrents particularly of late. retail partners in the Texas and Florida areas affected by the storms. Wolverine Worldwide, for example, committed more than $2.6 mil“Protection of our employees was our No. 1 priority,” he says, noting lion to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts through financial, footwear about 10 of its employees had to be evacuated and a handful suffered and apparel donations, sending more than 35,000 units of footwear flooding in their homes. “We monitored employees every day to make and apparel items to victims and first responders through the Two Ten sure they were safe,” he adds. Foundation, the American Red Cross and the United Way. In addition, Urdahl says Red Wing’s concern for people impacted by the storms the company established an internal fundraising campaign to encourage extends well beyond its employees. As a 110-year-old, family-owned employees across the organization to individually support relief efforts company, he says it has a long-term perspective and believes helping as an example of one of its core values: to “Make the World a Better those in need is just good business. “We’re a community of long-standing Place.” Blake Krueger, CEO, says it’s just the type of company Wolverine relationships with vendors, employees and customers, and this is the is and the type of people Americans are. “Frankly, it’s just part of the right thing to do over the long run,” he says, citing the company’s guidAmerican way. It’s ingrained in us to help our neighbors and others in ing principles of respect, integrity, community and excellence. “It’s what need,” he says.” In fact, Wolverine’s home base of Grand Rapids, MI, is we do, and while we don’t do it for publicity’s sake, our employees and the second-most philanthropic city, per capita, in the country. Wolverine our customers are proud of our efforts,” he says. Urdahl believes such is surely doing its part to achieve that ranking, with its rich history of corporate philanthropy can also be contagious. “It sets a tone for other
2017 october/november • footwearplusmagazine.com 19
organizations that maybe they should so ing to lend our support,” states Michael something too,” he says. Greenberg, president, adding that plans Every bit counts. Rack Room Shoes and are in the works to also help Puerto Rico Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse chains, for once conditions allow. example, made a $25,000 donation to the Because the severity of conditions vary, American Red Cross following Irma and Skechers is orchestrating donations in mulMaria and is working with Yolanda Navarrotiple phases to address a variety of needs. Black Houston Shoes for Kids to distribute Immediate local product donations in shoes to children in need via the Houston Texas, for example, were organized through Independent School District. The retailer its stores in the region and Children’s has also set up two websites through the Hunger Fund. Additional product was Red Cross, one for associates and another distributed through Skechers’ home base Bracelet given out to Boot Barn employees affected by the storms. for customers to donate. “Helping the of Manhattan Beach, CA, and its new sister communities we serve is imbedded in our city, Cleveland, TX. The company also DNA,” says Mark Lardie, president and CEO, noting part of the mission partnered with Delivering Good (formerly K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers), statement of its parent company, The Deichmann Group, states that the Children’s Hunger Fund and Stage Stores (parent company of Palais Royal, company must serve the people. “Establishing consumer trust through Stage and Bealls chains) on a Bobs from Skechers donation event for kids a host of non-profit partnerships is a hallmark of our brands,” Lardie in the greater Houston area last month. Kids received school supplies says. That’s why when the headlines of these storms drop from the news donated by Stage, in addition to a pair of Bobs. To help those impacted cycle, the chains will still be helping people get back on their feet. “We by Hurricane Irma, Skechers is teaming with Neighbors 4 Neighbors, a know the impact of these storms for many families will continues for a charity founded by CBS Network following Hurricane Andrew, as well significant amount of time, and we’ll continue to help local organizaas Farm Share and the Entercom Miami Radio Stations. The company tions by offering donations and discounts to is donating thousands of pairs of socks and numerous charitable organizations,” he says. shoes for men, women, and kids. A long-term commitment to helping is O Loves M, a Colorado-based bag maker, critical, according to Teaster, who says 80 has also taken a long-term view, specifically percent of funds are usually donated in the in support of retailers affected by Irma. first week after a disaster. But organizaMerle O’Brien, owner and designer, created tions like Soles4Souls are in the second a collection of American-made handbags to wave of relief. “The country might move be offered at a special discount so retailers on to something else in a few months, but can create a mark-up that provides a greater victims will still have muddy houses,” he profit margin to help with funds needed to says. “After Hurricane Sandy, we probably rebuild. “I feel it’s important to give store visited the same community twice a year owners some relief so they can rebuild their for two or three years after.” Teaster asks businesses and livelihood,” she states. that companies keep Soles4Souls in mind year-round, particularly in January when CLOSE TO HOME any old inventory purges might be made and For Twisted X, which donated 10,500 pairs of the charity will still be responding to Texas, shoes to Soles4Souls for victims of Hurricane Florida and Puerto Rico. If inventories are Harvey, it was personal. The storm hit close low, he says cash and gift card donations are to its Decatur, TX, headquarters. “We needed always welcome. to take care of our fellow Texans,” says CEO Skechers is taking a similar comprehensive Prasad Reddy, adding it partnered with and long-term approach to its hurricane Soles4Souls because the company wanted to relief efforts. The company quickly donated “make sure the shoes would go to the right tens of thousands of shoes and socks to those people” as quickly as possible. Reddy says affected by Harvey and Irma in addition to Twisted X donated casual shoes and work donating $10,000 to Best Friends Animal boots, which have been in particular demand. Society via its Bobs for Dogs charity program “In flooded homes, the shoes are usually stored to help pets in those regions. “Our ties to these on the floor and were all ruined,” he says. “It’s communities and the surrounding regions the first thing they lose and the first thing go back two decades with many friends and they need.” In addition to helping people get extended family impacted by the storms, back on their feet—literally—Reddy believes Baytown, TX, Boot Barn employees, several of whom lost so we have heard first-hand reports about it’s just the right thing to do. For Twisted X, everything in Harvey, show their gratitude to Twisted X for the shoes—part of the 10,500 it donated to victims. the widespread need and have been workthat involves being involved in a range >39
20 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
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FA M I LY T I E S Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of The Atlanta Shoe Market, on the importance of family a n d p u r s u i n g o n e’s p a s s i o n s .
DEAR LAURA, Looking back over my life, I often wonder what husband, the love of your life, would always say, “The world will teach I could and should have done differently. But no one ever prepares you you.” He was right, like he was about a lot of things. for life’s journey. You never really know what to expect, but I’m happy When I reflect on the early years of my career, they were some of the to tell you that it’s been a great journey so far, one filled with family, hardest years of my life, but they were also some of the best. Whenever laughter, friends and a career you absolutely love. times got really tough, I would tell myself, “You can do this. Remember Growing up in a middle class, Italian family in Pittsburgh, PA, was a your grandparents, who came to this country with no money, and found blessing. I believe my inner strength and strong a way to succeed.” The next day the sun would work ethic were both instilled in me as a young girl rise, and so did I. living on that quiet street with my grandparents Under your stewardship, The Atlanta Shoe just four houses away. Always surrounded by a Market grows exponentially, becoming a mustloving family, I never thought I would leave that attend event twice a year for thousands of industry street and the comfort that home provided. But members. I’m proud to tell you it’s been sold there will come a day when you realize it’s okay out for the past six years straight. Of course, to venture out to find your own way. it’s never really been a “job.” You love your assoAfter earning a degree in medical technology, you ciation members, which are like family to you. soon discover that it’s not your passion. You begin Bringing wholesalers and retailers together in searching for the right career fit, one that you will a setting that allows them to focus on the busibe passionate about. (Mental note: Never give up ness at hand—selling lots of shoes—while you on trying to find and embrace your passions. It’s handle all the show details is what you do best. a key to happiness.) Similarly, every unexpected You are a hostess of one very big family, and challenge in life presents an opportunity to overyou love it! come it for the better—for you and those close Over the years, there will be several touchstones to you. Like when you get divorced, you embark in life that you will look back upon to inspire and on a new chapter in life, moving to Atlanta with guide you. No. 1: Be proud of your childhood your 11-year-old daughter, 13-year-old son and and appreciate how your family prepared you pet dog in tow. The day after you settle in, you for life. No. 2: Learn to depend on others when come across a want ad in the Atlanta Journal & you need support. No. 3: Always understand Dream job: Laura Conwell-O’Brien in 1982 Constitution posted by the Southeastern Shoe that business can be difficult, but it’s not about takes charge of The Atlanta Shoe Market. Travelers Association seeking an assistant director winning personality contests. Do your best and for its trade show. Little did you know then that it what’s best for the people you serve. No. 4: Take would be a “match made in heaven” and become time for yourself; you can only help others when your work passion for the next 34 years (and counting)! your energy and spirit levels are high. At the start of your new career, however, you weren’t so sure. It was the Life is a journey filled with many wonderful and special people that early ’80s and the shoe industry was predominately male. You thought, you meet along the way. The experiences, friends and memories you “What did you get into? You know nothing about trade shows or shoes?” collect are what makes life grand. While I find myself now often wonBut these are just two more (big) challenges that you must overcome dering where did the time go, I remind myself to try and appreciate after being promoted to executive director just six months into the job. every moment. I’m pleased to tell you that I’m finally listening to my You act like a sponge, soaking up as much knowledge as you can about inner voice. I’m smelling the roses and taking pleasure in the change of both industries. You work hard while still attending your daughter’s seasons. I’m enjoying spending time with my children, granddaughter basketball games and son’s golf tournaments and, after your kids go to and entire family. They remain such a significant part of the person bed, you study everything you can get your hands on. Sometimes being that I have become. At the end of each day, I thank God for the path self-taught is the best way to go about learning a new field. Your second that he has carved out for me.
22 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
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2017 october/november â&#x20AC;˘ footwearplusmagazine.com 27
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Tassled mules by Rockport, Rachel Antonoff jacket, shorts by Samantha Pleet, Sarah Magid jewelry. Opposite, left to right: Seychelles, Earth and Bill Blass mules, vintage glove from Habit NYC. 30
Left to right: Badgley Mischka,Tamaris, Patrizia by Spring Step, Azura, Spring Step, Butter mules, dress by Rachel Antonoff, vintage glove from Habit NYC, Sarah Magid bracelet. 32
TMRW Studio pointy toe mules, dress by Sarah Swann, vintage gloves from Habit NYC, jewelry by Sarah Magid. Opposite, left to right: mules by FSNY and Right Bank Shoe Co., Rachel Antonoff jacket, Mola Walker pants, vintage glove from Habit NYC, Sarah Magid bracelet.
Top by Mola Walker, DeuxA jumper, vintage collar from Habit NYC, Sarah Magid earrings. Opposite, clockwise from top left: mules by Restricted, Musse & Cloud, Summit White Mountain. Hair and makeup: Dawn Brocco/Next Artists; model: Elena K./APM Model Mgmt. 37
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FITTINGLY, THE MUSE behind Heirloom, a newly launched men’s collection by Creative Director Scott Burr, is his grandfather. Burr’s ancestor is part Choctaw Native American and a former World War II fighter pilot, both traits that serve as inspiration for the collection that meshes Native American and military style elements. (Think suede boots with fringe detail found in moccasins paired with brass buttons and sturdy soles of a military uniform.) “I’m drawn to vintage, archival-type items,” says Burr, an avid collector of Native American heirlooms such as moccasins, spears and shaman bags. “I’m fascinated by the detail in the beadwork and the incredible amount of style found in that heritage.” Burr is also drawn to the abundance of military style that is found throughout fashion. He says the decision to incorporate some elements into his designs was a “no-brainer,” as well as a nod to his grandfather’s fighter pilot past. While Burr has no formal footwear design training, he spent nearly a decade working in the hospitality industry overseeing hotel renovations where he learned the importance of detail. “Those designs were meant to last 10 years, so you think about the micro details required to make those renovations a success,” he says. After shifting into sales at Ralph Lauren, Burr’s longtime itch to design shoes grew, and the importance of focusing on the details was reinforced. For Burr, it’s always been all about the finer points, be they subtle heritage hints or quality craftsmanship. With regards to the latter, he leaves no stone unturned: Heirloom shoes are manufactured in the same Italian factory used by many high-end designers. “We strive to create top-notch product,” he says of the tight-knit, three-style collection that debuted this fall on heirloomnyc.com. The only difference is the price, which retails between $295 and $495. “Shoes have always been a passion of mine,” Burr says. “A shoe really can make or break an outfit; it’s an important piece of what you wear.” —Aleda Johnson In addition to your grandfather, are there any other Heirloom muses? Lenny Kravitz. He wears things in a creative way that other people wouldn’t think of—like using a blanket as a massive scarf. He can pull it off, and there’s something to be said for turning an everyday item into a fashion accessory.
38 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
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So Heirloom shoes are rock star-worthy? Lenny Kravitz would be one person I could see my shoes on. But the styles are simple enough and can be worn in a much more casual way.
the road, grow Heirloom into full clothing line. Our motto is, “One day at a time.” We’ll see how it sells in New York, which tends to be an incubator and hopefully then trickles out to other cities.
What’s new for Spring ’18? The collection takes the Native American and military themes a step further, focusing on details like shotgun-shell buttons and colorful beads, channeling a Native American shaman on a cosmic journey. I included brighter colors in touches this time. It’s trippy and fun.
Any designers you admire? Michael Bastian. He’s done nice job of taking some of the ideas Ralph Lauren started out with and created his own modern, preppy aesthetic.
How’s business? Sales are starting to pick up. It’s only been a short time, but people on the street are asking about the shoes I’m wearing, and we are getting more email inquiries. We’ve also met with boutiques in the city for possible distribution, which is our focus for now. Where do you envision Heirloom in three years? I would love to expand into women’s footwear and, a little further down
Is there a perfect shoe? Something that’s transitional, comfy and stylish. I could wear it on a plane, then change outfits but wear the same shoes to dinner. What do you love most about designing shoes? The freedom of expression and the ability to take an idea and turn it into a finished product. What might people be surprised to know about you? I have a St. Bernard, which is a massive dog to have in New York. His name is Ernie, after my favorite author, Ernest Hemingway.
E D I TO R ’ S P I C K S P H OTO G R A P H Y BY T R E V E T T M CC A N D L I S S
continued from page 20 of charitable causes throughout the year. “We’ve been blessed to be in a position to give back,” he says, adding, “They are important causes near and dear to our hearts, and maybe we’ll help leave a better place to live for our grandkids.” With 20 of Boot Barn’s 50 Texas-based stores forced to close at the height of Harvey, the company also saw the devastation first-hand and knew it needed to react fast. Mike Love, senior vice president of marketing, says the chain made a corporate donation to the Red Cross and posted links on its website so customers could do the same. “Our immediate concern was the safety of our team and fellow citizens,” he says. “We were worried about homes and families first, then the business.” Several Boot Barn stores suffered damage and remained closed for weeks. Employees needed to be temporarily reassigned to other locations. Two outlets, however, must rebuild their interiors after three feet of water soaked the inventory. To help all employees affected, Love says the company also raised money internally. “We created a fund and made it easy for people to donate,” he says, adding, “We had many vendors also write checks to that fund to help our employees rebuild their lives.” Last but not least, Love reports management travelled to Texas and Florida to visit with employees to let them know Boot Barn is there for them. “We try to support our employees in any way possible,” he says, noting that the corporate head office even created a bracelet that reads, “We got your back” that it recently handed out to its Texas and Florida management teams during a holiday season prep conference. “It’s about an atti-
tude and an outlook of family,” Love says. “We’re one team, and we support one another wherever we live.” HEART OF THE MATTER The list of footwear-related wholesale and retail companies as well as individuals who have come to the aide of millions of people impacted by these hurricanes is far too long to include in its entirety here—and that’s definitely a good thing. The industry’s collective generosity is exemplary. “Our friends in the footwear industry continue to show strength of character in times of need,” says Lardie. “It’s been very heartwarming to see the outpouring of compassion, time and money during these national crises.” Teaster of Soles4Souls describes the industry’s outpouring of support as nothing short of “fantastic,” and Boot Barn’s Love couldn’t agree more. “The footwear, western and work industries asked what they could do to help and then stepped up,” he says. “The outpouring of support has been truly heartwarming.” Krueger of Wolverine Worldwide is equally pleased, but not surprised by the industry’s collective goodwill. “I’ve seen it quite often,” he says, noting that Two Ten Foundation started in the 1930s when a group of salespeople got together to help fellow industry members who were less fortunate. “That cause is as relevant today as when it began, and the industry-wide generosity that has supported the organization all these years is inspiring.” •
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U P C L O S E C O M F O RT
A Moving Story Ecco’s latest brand campaign delivers message of craftsmanship and innovation.
ECCO’S NEW CAMPAIGN is titled: Perpetual Natural Motion, which the Scandinavian company says demonstrates the poetic collision of its old-world craftsmanship and next-generation technology. Fittingly, the campaign’s tagline, Premium Materials x Dynamic Comfort = Perpetual Natural Motion, is a message that will be delivered in a modern way (think plenty of social media) while featuring examples of Ecco’s rich shoemaking heritage that spans more than 50 years. “We always strive for dynamic comfort—the kind that makes you want to keep moving and engaging in each day and new journey,” says Liam Maher, Ecco’s global creative director. Up until now, he says this has always been communicated simply as “comfort,” but now the concept of being able to move (i.e. live) comfortably will be the brand’s new platform delivered to consumers. The campaign, which launched last month, is re-introducing consumers to Ecco via captivating storytelling through digital communications as well as merchandising displays in Ecco’s stores, ecommerce experience and social media extensions. The Perpetual Natural Motion philosophy will also guide Ecco in its designs across outdoor, casual, dress, golf and sport footwear categories, as well as leather accessories for men and women. According to Maher, recent styles that showcase dynamic comfort design include the Kinhin sneaker, which features a unique non-chrome Alu-Silica tanning combined with a two-component outsole system highlighted by a self-customizing, 95-percent renewable cork footbed; the Soft 7 and Soft 8 casual sneakers with direct-injected Flexure cupsoles and rich Droid leather; and the Cross X sneaker/moc hybrid that combines Firestarter camel leather with its soft-tumbled Quarry leather. Maher says such mashups of comfort and craftsmanship are in tune with the athleisure movement, where the level of consumer expectation for comfort has only increased. “By developing both traditional leathers and bold innovative qualities in our own tanneries and engineering our own distinct direct-injection process (DIP), we can bring these two elements together to deliver modern, active comfort,” he says, noting the latter is a design process built around a natural, anatomically-based last geometry that takes the whole foot into account. “Ecco has been developing its FluidForm DIP since its 40 footwearplusmagazine.com • october/november 2017
early days,” Maher adds. “Our aim has always been to deliver comfort that takes full advantage of the 360-degree nature of our production process.” This movement toward all things comfort shows no signs of abating, Maher believes. He cites macro consumer trends that began with sneakers in the ’60s followed by movements like the Counter Culture, paperless offices, Friday dressing, the Creative Class and athleisure/hybridization as examples of comfort’s overriding influence on society. “There’s been a long, unstoppable march toward contemporary comfort and, at the same time, consumers are equally passionate about authenticity, quality and rich raw materials,” he says. In a sense, Ecco’s new campaign invites consumers to step into the future without letting go of the past—just as many appear to be doing in many facets of their lives, according to Maher. He believes that the new campaign is also current in that it’s to the point and authentic, which should appeal to consumers often overwhelmed by an abundance of information as well as growing concerns about fake news. “The locations are real—it’s our tannery, factory and local landscapes of Denmark,” he says. “Consumers who may not have been aware of these core aspects of our brand should see it as an uncomplicated introduction to who we are and what inspires us, and those who might already be fans will see it as confirmation that Ecco is what it’s always been.” Above all, Maher believes the new campaign is without gimmicks. “Our team’s passion with engineering dynamic comfort is true,” he says. “These are aspects that define our day-to-day design and production ambitions.” And while he notes consumers saw elements of this message in earlier campaigns (including its “We Are Shoemakers” series in 2013 marking Ecco’s 50th anniversary), the new campaign invites viewers directly into its world to celebrate and share the brand’s unique enthusiasms. So far, so good as Maher reports the initial reaction by consumers is favorable. “Most have seen it as confirmation of something deeper and more timeless in the brand,” he says. “There’s a sentiment about true shoemaking, the true inspiration of Southern Denmark, where we work, and a true depiction of perpetual natural motion—the kind we see in nature all around us, but also the kind we feel inside ourselves, propelling us forward to ever greater endeavors.” —Greg Dutter
COMFORTABLY COOL IN “MOZART”
Sandals Splash Chooka dips toe beyond rain gear for Spring ’18.
CHOOKA, A BRAND known for its colorful rubber rain boots and skimmers, is launching a line of casual sandals for Spring ’18. It was just the right time for the brand extension, says Karl Moehring, CEO of parent company, Washington Shoe Co. “For years now we’ve been focusing our efforts on being the best at our core category: waterproof boots,” Moehring says, believing that Chooka’s strengths in designing and executing prints on boots will translate well to sandals. “We created a water-friendly sandal collection that can be worn year-round with simple, clean designs, just like our rain boots,” he adds. The collection of 11 sandals is led by a footbed material that mimics the comfort of yoga mats for cushion and a slight lift in the heel for a more ergonomic fit. “They’re designed to be comfortable compared to inexpensive flip-flops, which are very flat and cause feet to ache after a day of walking,” says Designer Kate Wright. Aesthetically speaking, Wright says the sandals come in several signature Chooka boot prints, like polka dots and florals, as well as pulls from current trends. Wright’s personal favorite, for example, is a slide with a crushed velvet upper in current hot hue, Millennial pink. “We focused on very on-trend silhouettes (includes a flatform) and waterfriendly materials like EVA and not leather, so if its gets splashed it’s not a big deal and you still look cute,” she says. Wright adds that using durable materials in understated looks also makes the sandals suitable for when consumers want to “throw them in a gym bag and wear them throughout the year.” The suggested retail price range of the collection is $25 to $40, which is on target for the brand’s current audience that seeks affordable comfort with a splash of casual style. As for the initial reaction from retailers, Moehring reports it’s all good. “In general, our customers have been excited that we’re offering something new and expanding the line,” he says, noting that the distribution strategy is focusing primarily on the brand’s existing customer base at the start. “We are working with retailers who know and love Chooka to help mutually support the introduction of this new category,” he says. “We’ll then look to expand distribution in the future.” —Aleda Johnson
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WH AT’ S S ELLI NG
MURRAY ’S SHOES Littleton, CO
OR JIM MURRAY, selling shoes is all about the mileage: how long the shoes he sells will last and how far his services go. As owner of Murray’s Shoes in Littleton, CO, the certified pedorthist always “goes further than the extra mile,” not only diagnosing foot problems and finding the perfect fit, but inviting customers back after a month to make sure the shoes are working for them, which may include a tweak or two—free of charge—to let them know the store is with them through the entire process. “We treat customers with the utmost respect and kindness, finding out what their foot problems are and addressing them,” Murray says. In the age of Amazon, he believes this mantra of hands-on service to the max is the store’s difference-maker. That, plus his more than 100 years of family shoe retailing knowledge passed down through his forefathers since the first Murray’s Shoes opened in 1875 in Illinois. “I don’t run scared of Amazon,” he says, “because there isn’t anything I can do to prevent that so we’ll continue to get down on the floor, check the size to make sure it’s right—for every foot.” Murray branched out from his older brother to open the current location in 1991, which he now runs with his daughter—the fifth generation of shoe-retailing Murrays—and now in charge of buying. Dad reports daughter possesses a keen eye for fashion. “The color schemes scare me sometimes, but they never end up on the sale table,” he says. The 3,500-square-foot space stocks comfort staples (in as many sizes as it can) from Birkenstock, Earth, Clarks, Dansko, New Balance, Rockport and Merrell, among others, as well as an array of footcare accessories such as arch supports, insoles and compression socks. For those with tougher issues, the store boasts a lab for making custom orthotics. For Murray’s, it’s all about being a solution for customers. In fact, Murray is currently working on a monthly lecture program—in addition to the extensive materials featured on the store’s website—where customers can learn about foot issues and possible solutions. “We truly care for people. My dad was that way, and his dad was that way,” Murray says, believing such service is rare today. “We put so much feeling into what we do to help people because we want them to come back,” he adds, noting that he regularly assists people from across the country who call after coming across the website. Murray often refers retailers nearer to them who can help. “I educate them just like any customer who walks though my door,” he says. —Aleda Johnson What are your top-selling brands this season? No. 1 is Vionic. By the end of the year, no one will be anywhere close. New Balance is second, followed by Rockport and Merrell.
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Are there any new brands added to your mix of late that are performing well? In the last three of four years, Taos has done well and continues to grow. Aetrex is also growing, and we just brought in Olukai, which is doing extremely well. What are your best-selling accessories? Compression and diabetic socks have been strong for us. A lot of runners are wearing the compression sleeve and telling their parents about how good they feel. Arch support is another big category. Vionic’s Orthaheel is No. 1, but we also carry Birkenstock, Aetrex and Nimco. Osgoode Marley handbag sales have also really increased this year. Who is your core customer? They are between 40 and 65, but we’re trying to cater more to people in their 30s as well. From an income standpoint, we cater to people who can afford higher-quality shoes. Overall, our customer is very casual, more so than other areas of the U.S. The nice thing about that is department stores aren’t competitors anymore because they are focusing on dressier styles that are lower in price and lack most comfort features. In fact, our best referrals of late are coming from department stores. How’s business overall this year? It’s doing well. I’m still working on our new website, which went live about a month ago, to make it more mobile-friendly. Cell phones will be the computers of the future, and I’m excited about the direction digital is taking. Might you ever consider selling online? We haven’t gone that direction yet, but we might someday. The percentage of returns, however, is high, and most online sales would likely come from outside our area. So between returns and the fact that it’s hard to offer our kind of service over the Internet, it would be difficult. What is the biggest challenge facing Murray’s right now? It’s tough figuring out how to get the word out to our customers. Newspapers are becoming a thing of the past, and radio and TV advertising are both expensive. We’re finding a balance between traditional marketing and digital. We hired a company to do Facebook and Google ads, and we’ve gotten a better response to our Facebook page and website as a result. Where do you envision Murray’s in five years? Hopefully, bigger and stronger. We’re working hard to increase our volume so we can expand, if that’s what my daughter wants. I’ve got experience working with multiple stores—my brother and I operated about 10 doors in Illinois. It’s more of a challenge as you have to train people to your philosophy. It would be a new chapter in my daughter’s life, but I have no doubts if she wants to, we could do it.
O&A continued from page 17 left to squeeze out a profit anymore. Fortunately, since we began outsourcing production it has enabled us to maintain a reasonable margin with respect to operations and not have to raise prices. If production prices keep rising, there’s a breaking point eventually, no? Yes. But I can tell you that if we raise our prices it will be because everybody else has already raised theirs. We will not be the first one who does that, especially since we’ve got it under fairly reasonable control for now. Would you consider yourself to be optimistic going forward in terms of Propét and the industry overall? I’m very optimistic for Propét, for sure. As for the industry, I don’t think we will see big changes in the immediate future. I expect it to be flat to maybe a little increase. It’s surely not going away, which is another reason to feel optimistic, especially with respect to our sizes-and-widths concept. That I expect to continue to be a growth market.
We are a wholesale company. We are committed to our re tail c ustomers and, at this point, haven’ t se t up any schedule to do DTC.
see the traditional wholesale model as our core business still. Where do you envision Propét in five years? I’m hoping to at least double our size. What do you love most about your job? I’m kind of like a janitor here. I clean up any messes and help people work together. I think the most enjoyable aspect is that I work with a bunch of very nice people. They all have respective talents that they bring to their jobs and I enjoy working with them and helping solve any problems they may have. That always gives me great satisfaction.
Speaking of growth markets, what’s Propét’s stance on direct-to-consumer sales? We are a wholesale company. We are committed to our retail customers and, at this point, haven’t set up any schedule to do DTC. We prefer to stay committed to our retail customers and not compete directly with them.
You are an IT guy by trade, but is it fair to call you a Shoe Dog now? Don’t get me wrong, I love shoes but I don’t see myself as an expert. I don’t think I’m a Shoe Dog just yet. But I’m still learning. Our head designer qualifies as one, and I continue to learn a lot from him as I do from our factory partners. Maybe one day soon. •
Well, you’re one of a very few wholesale executives who has clearly stated that. Yes, it seems everyone else is selling DTC. But we
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STORM SURGE: AIDING HURRICANE VICTIMS
FAST TIMES: MEN’S DRIVING MOCS
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MULES RULE The Sophisticated Slide Ups the Style Ante for Spring
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ON THE GREEN Shades of the spring staple sprout across silhouettes. From top: Propét, Naot, Johnston & Murphy, Musse & Cloud.
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