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12 Bright Lights

J U LY 2 0 1 2

Runners and non-runners alike are donning colorful minimalist running shoes, keeping pace with the latest fashion craze. By Angela Velasquez

16 Q&A: Highline United Matt Joyce reveals how emotion is a key ingredient to his boutique house of brands, which includes Ash, Luxury Rebel and Tracy Reese, among others. By Greg Dutter

24 Sneaker Kings Owners of sneaker boutiques in the Big Apple open up about what makes their stores tick, and what it means to be a true “sneakerhead.” By Maria Bouselli

28 In the Works Work boot brands push the envelope on lighter weight yet durable designs. By Lyndsay McGregor

32 True Grit Our spring work preview harvests a crop of hiker-inspired, classic and western looks. By Lyndsay McGregor

38 Up All Night Bright colors, bold patterns and bling turn up the style volume on sneakers for Spring ’13. By Angela Velasquez

Caroline Diaco Publisher Greg Dutter Editorial Director Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL Angela Velasquez Fashion Editor Lyndsay McGregor Associate Editor Maria Bouselli Assistant Editor Margaret Maloney Location Coordinator Kathy Passero Editor at Large Judy Leand Contributing Editor Tim Jones Senior Designer ADMINISTRATION Alexandra Marinacci Operations Manager Laurie Guptill Production Manager Melanie Prescott Circulation Manager Mike Hoff Webmaster

8 Editor’s Note 10 This Just In 22 Trend Spotting 48 Shoe Salon 54 Dress 56 What’s Selling 58 Comfort 60 Last Word

On the cover: J. Litvack hi-top. This page: Patent hi-top by Fila, Born lilac hi-top. Metallic wedge by Giuseppe Zanotti. ZiGi Black Label spiked wedge.



Photography by Trevett McCandliss. Styling by Angela Velasquez. Model: Neelia at Fusion. Correction: In the June Scene & Heard story, “A Retailer Goes to Washington,” Saxon Shoes President Gary Weiner attended FDRA’s Annual Washington Footwear Summit, not the AAFA’s.

Theodore Hoffman Special Projects Director OFFICES Advertising/Editorial 36 Cooper Square, 4th fl. New York, NY 10003 Tel: (646) 278-1550 Fax: (646) 278-1553 editorialrequests@ Circulation 21 Highland Circle Needham, MA 02494 Tel: (800) 964-5150 Fax: (781) 453-9389 Corporate 9Threads 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300 Xen Zapis Chairman Lee Zapis President Rich Bongorno Chief Financial Officer

FOOTWEAR PLUS ™ (ISSN#1054-898X) Vol. 23 issue #6 The fashion magazine of the footwear industry is published monthly (except for bimonthly April/May and October/November editions) by 9Threads, 36 Cooper Square, 4th fl., New York, NY, 100037118. 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. ©2012 by Symphony Publishing NY, LLC. Printed in the United States.

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editor’s note in the running 7

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THEY’RE EVERYWHERE—NOT just in gyms or on jogging trails. They’re sleek, snazzy and some might even say downright sexy. They come in a rainbow of neon colors, with pink being the most popular of late. They are lightweight, minimal shoes born to run in, although many are used for strutting as much as for huffing and puffing. Leading the way is Nike Free with its distinct chalk-white outsoles. Other chic and techy minimalist running styles making the scene come from Adidas, Saucony, New Balance, Brooks and Skechers, to name a few. Why have minimal running shoes in a kaleidoscope of shocking brights become as fit for the runway as the treadmill? I’ve been covering the footwear industry for nearly 20 years and I’ve seen many a trend come and go. But the fact that the latest must-have women’s shoe is not a pump, a flat, a platform, a wedge, a boot or a sandal intrigues me. It harks back to Reebok’s Freestyle craze of the ’80s, which coincided with the aerobics boom when headbands, leg warmers and body suits were all the rage. Is there an epidemic of women catching Olympics fever? Perhaps. NBC sure has promoted the London games heavily in the hopes that people will tune in to events like the 5,000-meter run. But an Olympicsgenerated style boost won’t really kick in until the games begin. So my Summer Olympics theory, while possibly a contributing factor, is not the main driver. Is the increasing popularity of marathons, triathlons and charity runs and walks fueling the running shoe fashion surge? More women are lacing up their runners to do good for their mind, body and soul. I’ll buy that as another contributing factor to sales growth, but it’s not enough to make running shoes a hot fashion accessory for people who aren’t exercising. How about the recession as a contributor? People accuse it of influencing pretty much everything, so why not? Try this theory on for size: When the world fell into the financial abyss a few years back we ushered in dark, austere fashions. (Remember recession chic?) The pendulum was bound to swing back to brighter and lighter eventually. Let’s face it, consumers have enough economic baggage weighing them down without having to pile on heavy fashions. Moreover, wearing the economic downturn on one’s sleeve just isn’t all that fun. And if you think about clothing beyond basic needs, having fun is pretty much the whole point: It should make you feel good both physically and emotionally. The world might be going to hell in a hand basket, but that doesn’t mean people want to dress the part. Maybe that’s why colored denim is so popular this spring. All those bright jeans scream, “I’m happy!” Or at least they put a happy vibe out there, which beats the alternative. One final theory ties the running shoe’s current popularity to technology. The thinking goes like this: What’s really fashionable these days is smart phones, iPads and iPods, Kindles, Garmins, flat screens and the need to be charged. Running shoes are just keeping stride with a macro design aesthetic that says lighter, quicker, smarter and sleeker (i.e. more efficient) are today’s key consumer touchstones. The only difference is that the shoes are human-powered. But maybe that’s only a matter of time, too. Greg Dutter Editorial Director

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Kicks Stand

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Bright Lights Minimal running shoes in an array of shocking colors are creating a sales stampede. By Angela Velasquez COLORFUL, SLEEK RUNNING shoes are not just for track stars these days. If you are one of the 50 million-plus runners the Sporting Goods Manufacturer Association reports who has laced up a pair of running shoes at least twice during the last year, chances are you’ve taken a psychedelic color trip back to a post-recession time when such a statement was in vogue. Or you might be one of the hundreds of thousands more who is making the minimalist chic fashion statement while running errands around town. Sales in the running footwear category have exploded and styles in a rainbow of vibrant colors are setting the pace. According to NPD retail sales analyst Marshal Cohen, it’s about time. “The biggest surprise isn’t how the athletic category has embraced color, it’s the fact that it is the last market to get back into the color business,” he says. From kitchen appliances and automobiles to iPods, smart phones and jeans, color has flooded consumers’ consciences and is playing an important role in their buying decisions. “People are more willing to express themselves with color,” says Dan Sullivan, vice president of product for Saucony, noting it’s been an ongoing trend in Asia and is now finally migrating to the States. “Color is a unique way to express yourself,” Sullivan adds. “It’s not permanent, like a tattoo, and nowadays bright and bold doesn’t look weird. You can have fun with it.” Of course, making a colorful fashion statement is not the only factor invigorating the $2.5 billion running footwear market, says William Hartford, owner of South Boston Running Emporium (though he has already booked some “flashier styles” for spring). He sees the activity’s simplicity, along with its obvious health benefits, relatively low cost of purchase ($110 is the sweet spot amongst his clientele) and it being a fun activity that offers a lot of camaraderie that have created the perfect storm that is fueling the spike in sales. And it doesn’t hurt that at least 65 percent of runners in his store’s neighborhood are women, given the fact that gender shops more often and buys more shoes overall. David Helter, vice president of sales at Ecco, says athletic companies should be thrilled that more women are running, as it is allowing them to expand their lines and reconsider what an Nike Free attractive running shoe can look like. Claire Wood, senior product manager of running for New Balance, agrees and reports its sales are on the uptick with active 25- to 40-year-old women. “She is fashion-conscious and has every right to

demand a running shoe that she falls in love with, that looks beautiful on the foot and that allows her to pursue her passion and engage in running in whatever realm she chooses,” Wood notes. One such increasingly popular realm is the natural motion category, thanks to the intrigue of its potential new fitness benefits as well as the ability to make a colorful and techy fashion statement while wearing them. Light, bright and sleek feels as good as it looks. NPD reports that the minimalist segment contributed $673 million to overall running sales last year. Brooks Footwear Product Line Manager Carson Caprara believes the media’s fascination with “trying to figure out barefoot running” has cast a wide spotlight on the category as a whole. Cohen tags the Nike Free as the style landing squarely on fashionistas’ radar, which didn’t catch on until it was offered in hot pink. “Color plays an important role when you are dealing with a product that people already have in black or white,” Cohen explains. “And having a visual, like color, is one of the easiest ways to showcase new technology.” And it just so happens that color is a particularly good fit with respect to minimal shoes. “Lightweight is the perfect vehicle to do bright colors, because keeping the designs to a minimum lets the color speak volumes,” says Nancy Hirata, merchandising manager of footwear for Asics America. Sullivan agrees: “Whether you’re wearing it casually or to run in, people look at this product because it represents fun and freedom.” Catchy colors aside, the value of trained employees who can convey the pros and cons of minimal running shoes should not be overlooked completely. “People are excited by the prospect of these lighter, brighter shoes, but they need to have a conversation on whether it is right for them,” Caprara explains. “And that is where running specialties have an edge,” adds Helter, “because consumers are not coming to them just for fashion. They are coming to them for an expert’s insight and for answers.” Shoes don’t come with an owner’s manual, which is exactly why Bill Carley owner of Pace Setter Athletic in Portland, OR, hosts regular foot striking clinics at his 30-year-old store. The lifelong runner has seen many technologies, brands and styles come and go, but now more than ever before he believes training is necessary. He recalls one clinic when a man who purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers >14

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New Balance


continued from page 12 from another store came in looking for advice. “He ran half a block in them and had to stop, but the store didn’t warn him of how different the Vibrams would feel from his traditional running styles,” Carley recalls. “Retailers can’t leave their customers high and dry.” In fact, Carley is concerned that some companies may go with wild colors just to sell shoes and neglect the performance aspects. And that’s what his customer base cares about

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most. This year, for example, one brand he regularly stocks went overboard on colors. “Except for one style, everything in the line was neon or the colors contrasted too much,” he explains. “That might work for the college crowd, but not the 30 and up.” Brands like Saucony are heeding this concern and making room for less flashy styles by increasing some Spring ’13 model runs from four color options

to six. Similarly, Brooks plans to pepper off black and gray styles with subtle neon accents. “The serious runner is more concerned about a shoe’s components,” agrees Cohen, who expects the market to take a shift before the color trend ends. “You might get more companies to add color to serious running shoes or some brands that will use the trend as an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we don’t use gimmicks; we’re all about function, not color.’ Ultimately, you have to find right balance based on your clientele.” But with so many colorways to choose from, selecting the right mix as well as carrying enough variety can be a difficult task. And there are store demographics and locations to take into account. “It’s hard for the smaller guys to really delve into colors because there are so many great buzzworthy options,” Caprara explains. “But this is what consumers want—options to narrow down when shopping.” And even if everyone is not searching for the Nike Free in neon pink, it may spike their curiosity if the shoes in the store window come in a variety of flavors. That’s why Wood of New Balance is seeing many shops embrace this trend color merchandising stories. “Color is pleasing to the senses and draws customers in,” she offers. “An overall rule I have for retailers is to take ‘sweat’ out of the equation. Just because someone may be buying these products to sweat in, doesn’t change the fact that the setting in which they’re buying them should be an enjoyable experience.” Along those lines, Asics debuted a color-themed window display promotion with Foot Locker last month. It involved 500 of the chain’s windows with a series of 3-D installations that highlighted its newest and brightest running styles. The promotion, dubbed “Colors That Run” gave the illusion of Asicsbranded paint cans pouring a kaleidoscope of color into the shoes. “With the amount of color that the consumer is exposed to at retail, I feel like it has given the consumer a sense of color confidence,” Hirata explains. Asics color theory will continue into next spring, but Hirata offers that the hues may tone down a bit. “It may not be so much about color clashing, but more about color play—colors that complement and accent,” she says. Colors may transition from shocking to a more subdued palette next season, but Cohen believes the trend will not fade away overnight. Post-recession, he says, color is the most dramatic way to lure people into stores. “You see colors before the price, before you try it on, before you learn about a product’s features and benefits,” he notes. “Colors motivate people and, for that reason alone, it will still be a success story for quite a while.” •

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A LIFE’S WORK At 30 years deep, Matt Joyce, president of Highline United, makers of Ash, Tracy Reese and Luxury Rebel among other labels, has made a career out of knowing what women really want when it comes to shoes. By Greg Dutter


ATT JOYCE IS a footwear industry lifer and he wouldn’t have it any other way. His 30 years of career experience spans retail and wholesale, having earned him the equivalent of Master’s degrees in each sector. You simply cannot have worked for more than a decade at Nordstrom—climbing the ranks from the stockroom to a DMM—and then made the crossover to wholesale and not have learned a thing or two about how to survive in this business. All of the schooling, grounded by a priceless retail education where Joyce learned the inner workings of the female mind as it pertains to shoe shopping, have been stored into a memory bank that he readily taps since launching his own company, Highline United, in 2008. It’s as if Joyce has been cramming for his current job for nearly three decades and now, as headmaster, he is reaping the rewards. “Working at Nordstrom was like getting an MBA at Harvard in selling shoes,” he confirms. “And working at Intershoe, Kenneth Cole, Nine West and Steve Madden gave me an incredible education in wholesale.” But Joyce always wanted to create his own company, so the Highline United launch was only a matter of time. For starters, his extensive experience provides him an edge over numbercrunchers. “My retail experience helps guide my design team to say I love this, but I’m missing that. I know where we need balance,” he offers. “And I’m cognizant of how to make shoes look great but where the pricing isn’t so outrageous that consumers can’t afford them.” And then there’s Joyce’s pure passion for shoes, specifically his drive for each style to “exude emotion.” “Shoes need to [do that] because a woman doesn’t need another pair of shoes. She has to want another pair,” he says. “When she looks at a shoe she says to herself, ‘That’s the one. That shoe is telling me something special.’” That’s why Joyce and business partner


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O&A Franco Cicciola stuck to their original vision in launching Highline. “We always said if we ever start our own company it would be boutique brands that are special in the marketplace,” he describes. “The most important aspect would be how creative they could be at $125 and up.” What makes Joyce’s career story all the more interesting is that none of it would have probably transpired if he didn’t happen to get a job to help his parents pay for his college expenses. It was 1976 and even though Joyce had earned a scholarship to attend Washington State University, he opted to work for a year first to save for the following year’s expenses. “I went to work as a foreman in a French bakery,” he says. For Joyce, finding work came natural. As a kid he would work on farms near his home in Tacoma, WA. “During What are you reading? the summers I would get on a bus at Game of Thrones. I’m on 6 a.m. to pick strawberries, beans or the third installment in whatever and come home with money the series. in my pocket,” he says. And the bakery job was no different. It was so good, in Who is the world’s most fact, that Joyce spent five years working influential person in there while attending night and weekend fashion right now? With classes. “It was a great experience,” he so many facets to fashion recalls. “At the age of 18, I learned how I don’t ever think of it as to manage people who were much older.” being influenced by just Joyce was on the verge of going back one person. to school full time when he and his wife found out they were expecting. He needed What one word another job that would allow him to work best describes you? evenings and weekends while attending Workaholic. school, and that’s when he joined Nordstrom. It was 1981 and Joyce was What is inspiring you off and running on his footwear career. “I most right now? The stocked shelves for a couple of weeks and creation of shoes—how a then I went onto the floor,” he says. “I did designer puts a sketch on that for about a month and then I got into a piece of paper and how a management position and, a year later, I that design eventually was promoted to open Nordstrom’s store comes to fruition where in San Mateo, CA.” By then, Joyce was a it gets out into the marshoe buyer, a task he performed at several ketplace and sells. other locations including in Seattle and Southern California (South Coast Plaza). If you could hire anyIn 1990, he became the merchandise manager at Nordstrom’s East Coast debut in Paramus, NJ. For the next five years he managed the buys for several other stores that opened in the area. Then came the move into wholesale to pursue his love of design. “I always loved traveling to Italy and Spain and working with the factories to develop private label collections,” he says. “After almost 15 years working at Nordstrom, it was either in my blood or not.” Joyce’s first stop was at Intershoe as vice president of sales for Via Spiga where he worked alongside designer Paolo Battachi, the person he credits as one of his biggest influences on the art of footwear design. “He and I would come up with lots of ideas while looking through collections,” Joyce says. “We had a nice rapport.” Five years later, Joyce moved to Kenneth Cole as vice president of sales of

its women’s shoe division. “It was a great experience to learn how he set up his company with its great mix of wholesale and retail,” he says. “It’s a fabulous mousetrap.” Joyce then returned to Via Spiga to launch the VS line for men and women. After the company was sold he made the move to Nine West as a group president of Easy Spirit. “It was a full-on corporate atmosphere,” he says. “But I learned all about sourcing, delivery and marketing.” Deadlines mattered—a lot. “At Via Spiga if we said we were going to be 15 days late on a delivery our retailers would usually respond, no problem,” Joyce offers. “But when selling Easy Spirit to Kohl’s or J.C. Penney it’s a bit of a different response. There was a lot of pressure.” Joyce then made the move to Steve Madden as president of its women’s division, body, who would it be? which presented a different kind of pressure. I’d hire great designers, When asked what that experience was like, but I don’t know if there in a word, Joyce responds, “Crazy.” He adds, is one particular person I “The guy is 24-7 at all times. He never even would choose. I’m always thinks about stopping.” But it all stems from after people who can Madden’s passion for shoes, which Joyce create from nothing into clearly identifies with. “He is the best reactor new concepts, ideas and in the footwear industry. I think what he has designs. been able to create is unbelievable,” Joyce says, adding his favorite Madden saying: “I’d Who would be your rather be the fastest second than the first most coveted dinner one out.” guest? Donald Trump. It Fast-forward a few years and it’s 2008 would be interesting to when Joyce and Cicciola decided to launch get inside his brain and that company they always talked about. see how he works. The result is Highline United, which now includes a mix of owned brands (Ash, United What is your motto? Nude and Luxury Rebel) and licensed ones Work hard every day. (Tracy Reese, Jean-Michel Cazabat and Elie Tahari). After a challenging start thanks What is your favorite to launching at the height of the financial hometown memory? collapse, Joyce says the company has gained I was born and raised its footing and is growing nicely. “We are in Tacoma, WA, and it’s developing the businesses we have and are of being able to ride my always looking for new opportunities,” he bike anywhere and be says. “There’s opportunity for growth from on my own from 9 a.m. within and from outside.” to 10 p.m. But, remember, none of this ever would have happened if Joyce didn’t decide to help his parents pay for college. Life can be kind of funny that way.


When you first started at Nordstrom did you have any inclination you’d still be in this business 30 years later? None at all. When my wife and I found out we were expecting I thought I had to make a career of something, so I said to myself, “let me see what I can do here” (laughs). It was the gold standard in terms of learning how to buy and sell shoes. I always tell people that if I have learned anything, I’ve learned it at Nordstrom. I learned every aspect of the business: how to sell to a customer, how to manage salespeople and run a floor, how to merchandise

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and how to buy shoes. To be exposed to all of that made a huge difference in my career. Exactly how did you sell a shoe at Nordstrom back then? They ingrained into you to always take care of the customer. You invited them to sit down, to take their shoes off and then you measured both feet with a Brannock device. We tried to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. And never did you once come out of the backroom with less than four styles, including what she asked for as well as what she might need, gleaned from your conversation with her about how her day was going. Is that a lost art or, at least, a dying one? It’s a dying one. In those days, it was a different world. Women would shop with their friends and it became an outing. I mean, customers could smoke cigarettes in the shoe department. We’d light them and then move the ashtray over while we went into the back room and pulled some shoes. Today, customers can’t do that and they don’t want to take that much time shopping. The difference now is the art of selling is basically running to get what the customer wants because she found it on display. She is not really worthy of “selling” the other way. How were you able to master the art of buying? First off, that first shoe you ever buy is your first mistake. That was kind of our mantra at Nordstrom. You learned by failing. The reps would come in and put all their styles on the table and I would have my salespeople pick what they liked because they were on the frontlines every day. You and your salespeople were all in it together and everyone took an ownership in the process, which is a huge difference compared to today where someone is doing the buying from an office that is thousands of miles away from the stores. Is that leading more to misses or generic buys? Both. You end up walking more customers because there are huge differences in buying for downtown Seattle or Walnut Creek in Northern California or the Westside of Los Angeles compared with South Coast Plaza. And now that person is also buying for Chicago and Miami—those are just two totally different customers. But this is the road everyone has pretty much chosen to go down. All of those smaller department store chains are gone. And customers demand that pricing be the key issue. If we went back to selling shoes based on the pricing we worked on it wouldn’t work. There are a lot less shoes in the back room than there were 15 years ago. What makes Highline United unique compared with other companies? First off, our showroom is set up in a penthouse in (Manhattan’s) Chelsea neighborhood. We use the kitchen as part of the office space and the living room, dining room and bedrooms are individual brand showrooms. Every collection has its own little boutique feel. It’s not bright lights and slat walls where you sit down at a table and have three or four people presenting shoes to you. In my past experiences, there’d be all of these people asking, “What do you think?” And you didn’t want to piss them off. It’s just not a comfortable scenario. In contrast, our customers are greeted, offered a cup of coffee and we chat a bit about how they are doing. Then my salesperson shows them our lines. We want them to truly understand what we are doing in terms of the product and the label and how it can work into their business.

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“You can tell if a customer is wearing United Nude from a mile away.”

What was launching the company at the height of the financial collapse like? I was scared to death. We put everything into the company and everybody’s open-to-buy pretty much went away. But in the same respect, when the economy is tough it opens up opportunities. You have to have great product because the customer is not coming into your showroom looking for the same things that they were before. Buyers weren’t just looking for a different label. That’s why I knew it would open doors for us— our unique products. After all of these years of being in the shoe business, you learn how to move yourself into positions to make sure your line builders and designers are putting out the best products as possible. When did you begin to feel that Highline would weather the economic climate? Within the last 18 months we felt we were in a good place and had positioned our brands with the right partners. I think we are in a calm period right now, which is great. But you never know what might happen around the corner—what may happen this fall. Is the weather going to be cold, or is it going to be like last winter? That type of uncertainty is always there. Also, what’s happening with trends like Toms in juniors and Ugg— do they continue? If they falter, then that opens up many options. And if boots are tough again, you better be ready to have shoes on the floor. Is there a particular one of your brands doing well right now? Our biggest growth is with Ash, as sneakers are all the rage right now. Ash also has a fabulous boot and bootie business and is doing well with flats and sandals. When we took over the label it was an independentbased business. But we have since gotten Ash into Bergdorf ’s, Neiman’s and Saks—places that are very appealing for all of our customers. Our Luxury Rebel business is also doing very well. In fact, our retail business across the board is good for all of our lines.

SUPER BRUTE Superior comfort and brutally tough durability

Where does United Nude fit into the mix? Their design concept is totally different from anything else we offer. Rem D Koolhaas (designer) has taken his architectural background and put it into constructions for footwear that are very distinct. You can tell if a customer is wearing United Nude from a mile away. Which brand has the most growth potential? The biggest growth potentials are with Ash and Luxury Rebel. Our Ash business in comparison to how it has permeated the European market is nothing. So we definitely have huge potential for similar success here. Having said that, there are ways to take a business from $0 to $100 million by providing display tables in every department >59

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August 17 - 19, 2012: Atlanta Shoe Market - Atlanta, GA August 21 - 23, 2012: FN Platform - Las Vegas, NV 6/22/12 10:51:37 AM

SNEAKER KINGS Four stores in the Big Apple talk about how they stay relevant to the ever-changing kicks culture, what they see for the future and define what it takes to be a true “sneakerhead.” By Maria Bouselli The Collector


Are you thinking of expanding your selection? We constantly get new stuff. We’re going to start carrying Toms, Vans and Adidas skateboarding. We also want to [have] more women’s stuff. We want to [make it] 50-50. Do you have any crazy customer stories? We have a lot of celebrities and stylists that shop here. But I had a guy from Brazil that didn’t look like a guy that has a ton of money. He asked for a full size of every Supra sneaker I had. The bill came out to around $17,000 and he paid everything in cash. Do you personally have a favorite brand or style of sneaker? I collect [Nike] Air Max 1s. How does Premium Laces keep ahead of the game? We always get Jordans in two or three weeks before release, and customers that follow us on Facebook and Twitter know [we have them] and we’ll sell out before [the sneaker] even comes out. I have a certain amount of clients that we just text right away when a new Jordan comes in, and I have enough of them that I’ll sell the whole stock. How would you define what it means to be a “sneakerhead?” Someone who has to have every sneaker that comes out before the release date and has two pairs—one to wear and one to collect. A sneakerhead will know the make, the model, the original date of when it was released—the whole back story. That’s a sneakerhead.


WHILE THEIR SOHO location helps with foot traffic, manager Eddie Banderi says it’s word of mouth that directs customers to this “hidden gem,” adding that they can buy sneakers here they wouldn’t necessarily find in other shops. Its diverse clientele, from the sneaker enthusiast to the tourist, matches its shoe selection that ranges from New Balance and Asics to Supra and the current sought-after Jordan. Banderi says since he’s started working at the 8-year-old store four years ago, the sneaker industry has become more mainstream, and a moneymaker for those who buy a sneaker just to sell it at a higher price. “It’s bad if you’re a collector and you love sneakers,” he notes. “It’s good if you’re Nike, I guess.”

Premium laces in SoHo. Manager Eddie Banderi (right). 24 • july 2012

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The Worker


Memes owner Merwin Andrade.

The Veteran



TUCKED IN A small nook in NoHo, Memes is for the customer who looks for what’s next in the sneaker game. From T-shirts to the latest Reebok or Dr. Martens, this boutique has evolved as the sneaker enthusiast’s tastes have varied. Owner Merwin Andrade has seen the world of sneakers—and sneakerheads—change greatly in the 15 years he’s been in business. “Originally when we opened it was specialty sneakers and casual shoes catering to professional sneakerheads,” he notes. “Now we cater to the more casual, fashion-forward guy who has to have the better sneakers, not just the heavy-marketed sneakers.” Andrade also has an online store in the U.S. and Japan and a shop in Berlin. Do you have any favorite collection or launches throughout your years in the business? My favorite was when Reebok launched the Diamond Collection. It was only [out] for a few seasons but I think it was some of the most amazing shoes ever made. I wish they’d bring them back. How do you see the sneaker boutique tier evolving in the future? I think that sneaker stores are going to have to broaden their assortments. With all the competition out there, stores are going to have to cover a few more categories. You have to mean more to the consumer and give them more reasons to come in and shop. What would you say the importance is of stores like yours in comparison to chains like Foot Locker? There will always be a consumer who is looking for what’s next and what is not being offered by the big chains, and as long as stores like Memes keep pushing, there will always be a need. That being said, the trends are getting faster and faster, and the length of time a store can ride a new trend is less and less. Speed is everything these days. Speed is what separates the good from the bad. Stores that embrace this, and are the most creative in how they reach their customer, will win. How would you define what it means to be a “sneakerhead?” Now I call [them] shoe hoarders more than sneakerheads. They don’t wear [the shoe]—they worship it, collect it.

A SNEAKER OASIS in Park Slope, owner Clarence Nathan keeps his selection simple and up-to-date. He caters to the neighborhood customer whom he’s come to know since moving to his current location in 2005. Laid back and approachable, Nathan doesn’t try to trick his customers, and ensures that all of them have a fair chance of getting the latest styles, like raffling off a few pairs of Air Yeezy 2’s for purchase. “We don’t do a line-up or any of that because then kids that don’t work will just line up, and then people that work can’t get them,” he says. Nathan, who usually works the store on his own, counts Nike, Jordan and Vans as his store’s top sellers. His original store opened in 2002 in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and his second location in Houston, TX, opened in 2004. What’s your retail philosophy? When I started it was different; there weren’t as many stores doing the boutique thing so my store was able to stand out. Not as many of the big stores had the same products, and even the regional chains didn’t have access to the stuff I [did]. Now it’s different— pretty much anyone can get whatever so that makes things difficult, so I just cater to the neighborhood and try to get styles they might like. What is your store’s aesthetic? I want it to be clean and simple. There’s no extra smoke and mirrors, there’s no bait and switch. I keep it minimal enough so the shoes stand out. The shoes are the focal point.

Owner of Premium Goods, Clarence Nathan, in Park Slope.

How do you get the word out about new styles coming in? I have a blog. I don’t do [a write up on] every shoe we get in but the shoes that I know the kids are looking for I will post. If we get a new Jordan, or a limited quick-fire release, I’ll put those up. I’ll take a picture and then tweet it, just using the picture, name and style number, and that’s it. No extra come and get it, no limited supply—just the shoe, “available now,” that’s all. How do you feel about the reissue angle? There’s no research development. They don’t have to spend $20,000 building a shoe out—they just have to pick colors and put it out. For those brands, it’s like free money. How would you define what it means to be a “sneakerhead?” There are different kinds. A sneakerhead is a person that just likes sneakers. If you just like one brand then you’re not really a sneakerhead; if you like kicks then you like kicks regardless of who makes them. That’s what I think it was before. But now people kind of narrow it down—“Oh I just collect Jordans, I’m a sneakerhead.” Kids are so specific about what they’re into, but they have the option to be like that because everything comes back— everything’s retro. 2012 July • 25

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The Skater


A SKATEBOARDER’S DREAM is how some might see Dave’s Quality Meat (DQM). While the store, which Chris Keeffe opened in 2003, began with more of a streetwear vibe, it’s now developed into a shop outfitted for someone who spends his time riding the streets. With the store’s pick of Vans, Huff, Quiet Life and an in-house brand, to name a few, not to mention a second Vans-collaboration store in SoHo (Vans DQM General), this shop is dicing up one of the best sneaker selections in the city. Manager and skateboarder, Keith Denley, explains that keeping up with trends isn’t hard for the DQM team. “We’re all just around the culture,” he says. “It’s not like we’re looking at it [as] an outsider. We’re in there so it’s easy to see what’s coming.” What’s the hot sneaker look right now? The most popular silhouette is definitely a Vans-era, more authentic sort of style. We just got in these Van Doren [Vans] that have been killing it lately. The Nike Dunk is also a very popular one. It’s mainly been more of a lowcut, slimmer style—a very simple, clean-cut look. What makes DQM unique? Our branding. A lot of other sneaker stores in New York don’t have their own clothing line. And I feel like we have a wider selection of certain types of shoes. It’s more [than] crazy Nikes. This store is more selective with what we offer.

Manager of DQM Keith Denley.

What’s the hardest part about running a sneaker boutique in New York? A lot of stores close, I feel, because of biting off way more than they can chew, and that’s why we’ve kind of changed how we buy. We’ve toned it down and become more selective. It’s just trying to pinpoint and stay ahead of the curve as far as people’s choices and keeping your eyes open and keeping tabs on what’s going on. Do you have a typical customer? You would expect a place like this to get more of a hype sort of kid, but surprisingly it’s a mix. We do get a lot of skateboarders, and then we get a lot of businessmen coming in as well and tourists, obviously. But it’s also a lot of people that I wouldn’t expect.

“The most popular silhouette is definitely a Vans-era, more authentic style... More of a low-cut, slimmer style—a very simple, clean-cut look.”

How would you define what it means to be a “sneakerhead?” Over the years I think it was easier to define the sneakerhead but now business guys that you would expect want some casual authentic Vans [actually] want this super crazy Nike that we just got in. I feel like a lot of people have gotten into that sort of culture now and you can’t just look at them and say, “That looks like a sneakerhead.” It’s a [much] wider customer base.


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Occupational brands are raising the comfort bar and taking a load off to help get the job done. By Lyndsay McGregor

From left: Caterpillar, Nautilus.

IF IT WORKED well for running brands, then why can’t it work for work brands? It wasn’t too long ago that a running shoe was loaded up with bells and whistles—to a point of over-construction that saw layers of cushioning and stability technologies distancing the runner from the road as much as possible. But then along came the barefoot movement and the belief that less is more beneficial when it comes to design—be it less structure and less weight. Minimalism is the new black, and consumers—as evidenced by sales of the popular Nike Free shoes—are gobbling it up. Now that minimalism has gone mainstream and is not something as foreign in concept as a pair of FiveFingers once was, work brands are embracing the design premise to a greater degree. For starters, many of those entering the work force have grown up wearing sneakers and are accustomed to lightweight constructions and the perceived benefits of cushioning technologies. Moreover, there are many similarities between the needs of an athlete and a worker: both demand performance, comfort, durability, cushioning and protection out of footwear. It’s a critical piece of equipment. And then there’s the competitive factor: The advances in athletic technologies and design have helped spark innovation in the work industry. Nobody making performance footwear ever wants its products to be relegated to the scrap heap of outmoded design. As such, work boots are becoming lighter and more seamless than ever before. And what’s on tap for next spring is no exception. “Consumer’s expectations of how much shoes should weigh are evolving into lighter and lighter territory,“ confirms Roger Huard, Wolverine’s vice president of product development. “And if your shoes aren’t comfortable, they’re not going to go anywhere.” Indeed, expectations have never been greater and the words on everybody’s lips are “lightweight,” “durable” and “comfortable.” Jeremy Stark, vice president of sales for Rocky’s Work & Duty division, is excited to see work brands push the innovation and technology envelope. “I think the work segment is approaching innovation in a more intelligent manner than in the past, focusing on benefits most important to today’s consumer and occupational demands,” he notes. Jared Oviatt, vice president of sales at Georgia Boot, a division of Rocky Brands, compares it to the athletic industry’s technological advances in the late ’90s and early ’00s, adding

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that those advances recently seen in work are designed to “meet specific needs.” But it’s not simply a case of keeping up with the Joneses; consumers are demanding it. “The market has adjusted from an age perspective so we look at the up-and-coming work force that’s entering the industry,” says Karry Johnson, national sales manager for Caterpillar, pointing to the influx of entry-level workers who grew up in sneakers. LaCrosse Footwear Product Line Manager Hans Albing agrees: “There’s a lot of design going towards meeting [the new workforce’s] needs as opposed to what they used to wear in that industry. Now they want athletically-inspired constructions.” And while execs and designers are quick to note that minimalism is an obvious misnomer when it comes to work boots, footwear that allows the worker to feel as comfortable at the end of the day as it does at the beginning is a bandwagon everyone can hop on. This means engineering product with deep cushioned insoles, gels, extra arch support and reinforced heels to protect the foot and absorb the pounding of a full day’s work. “There are more components, more applications and more performance requirements to consider when developing the next generation of lighter weight work product versus athletic footwear,” says Albing. “Both categories innovate in materials and design for performance, but work product must also be durable enough to last in harsh conditions and meet strict safety needs for a wide variety of industries.”

SAFETY FIRST For Caterpillar, a licensee of Wolverine Worldwide, this means working closely with Biomechanics Evaluation Laboratory at nearby Michigan State University. “At the end of the day our promise is validated through testing,” Johnson attests, pointing out that in the past two years, the brand’s athletic-like Argon shoe has become a bestseller, with its full-grain leather upper, nylon mesh lining, slip-resistant rubber outsole and composite safety toe. “We do a lot of field testing with delivery individuals and plant workers before the shoes even hit the market to make sure they’re comfortable and will hold up,” he reveals. For spring, the brand is updating its T870 silhouette: Aesthetically similar to a hiking boot, it’s lightweight and slip-resistant with a leather and mesh combination upper and Ergo technology for enhanced cushioning, support and all-day comfort. “We have an SRX compound that we inject into the rubber to make it super slip-resistant,” he adds. “It’s the best of work with the best of athletic—a hybrid.” Oviatt likens Georgia Boot’s field-testing to athletic companies using their network of professional athletes to refine new

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product introductions. “The only difference being a potential product failure has real consequences to the person testing the product,” he notes. While purpose-driven product like Diamond Trax (a slip-resistant outsole that gets better with age) and Comfort Core (an energy return heel plug) continues to pull people in, Georgia Boot’s Thermal Tech—a line created specifically for those working in aluminum plants and steel mills—is the brand’s big push for spring. “We developed a rubber outsole that will exceed a 500-degree temperature and we stitched the entire product with Kevlar (fire-retardant thread) so workers don’t have to worry about the boot failing under high heat conditions.” At LaCrosse, boots are put through their paces during four months of field tests in their respective work environments. “Our footwear has to stand up to some of the harshest environments for long hours,” Albing says, noting that the company’s Danner and LaCrosse brands are tested to ensure all linings, waterproof membranes and outsoles deliver. “All work product has to pass certain ASTM, SATRA and CSA standards specifically for slip-resistance, safety toe and metatarsal guards.” For spring, Danner is introducing the Vicious, a hiker-inspired boot with a more anatomical fit and a wider non-metallic toe box, while LaCrosse continues to improve its rubber work line, using dipped neoprene technology designed for the hydraulic fracturing industry. “We’ve incorporated all the feedback we received over the years and added new components like a molded Vibram rubber toe, heel and vamp area,” he reveals. Meanwhile Wolverine, whose patented ICS comfort dial allows the wearer to adjust the level of support, is extending its Peak AG series, taking the idea of lightweight technology and building it into a boot suitable for heavy industrial work, with a 360-degree security stitch and direct attach construction to ensure double protection for the outsole. But, as Huard points out, even with all these new bells and whistles, work boots are not fashion accessories; they’re something that workers need. “Part of this emphasis towards durable footwear is because people are more careful about what they’re going to spend their money on,” he says.

NEED, NOT WANT Christopher Scott, industrial product lead at Dr. Martens, says that while consumers are asking for lighter, flexible footwear, they still want durability and adds, “[They’re] looking for multi-purpose footwear. They want something they can wear to work, that’s functional and that they can wear out afterwards. They want value.” Ann Dittrich, creative director at Dansko, agrees. “We never think of our shoes worn for service as being

6/25/12 1:59 PM

“Make sure your employees get personal ‘feet-on’ experience with the products they sell.”


—JARED OVIATT, VP OF SALES, GEORGIA BOOT any better or different than lifestyle,” she says. It’s little wonder that healthcare professionals, teachers and others who spend the majority of their day in motion and on their feet are Dansko fanatics. “Customers deserve and demand the comfort, support and the performance of [the brand] in all of their end uses.” “For the worker on the job site, we have to balance safety innovations with performance innovations,” says Johnson. “The average worker buys far fewer pairs of work boots than an athletic consumer buys sneakers, so if you let him or her down once, they may not come back to your brand.” Caterpillar must be doing something right in this regard: The brand’s topline sales through 2011 grew 35 percent. “The consumer knows our brand is durable and

now that we’ve built in these comfort factors, he or she is willing to spend more,” he says. Oviatt shares this sentiment, adding that that while people are looking for more bang for their buck, they’re not willing to compromise on safety. “A year and a half ago people compromised on not replacing their product as much as they needed to but now I see them putting more money into their footwear,” he says. More to the point, consumers are smarter. “It’s no longer sufficient to differentiate our products by style alone or following a trend in materials or branded components,” he says. “In order to gain the loyalty and trust of work consumers you need to deliver a clear message and exceed their expectations on all fronts.” The same goes for retailers: Brand

recognition is no longer enough and a slew of new technologies and promises mean squat to consumers without competent sales pitches to back them up. “Make sure your employees get personal ‘feet-on’ experience with the products that they sell,” advises Oviatt. Because occupational footwear is now so packed with features and benefits, shoppers want to know in the quickest and easiest way what’s on offer. As Albing points out, “Guys know what their job site requires and they’re going to want to know if the product fits that requirement. Whether it’s on-product labeling or a quick guide, they want to know if it’s the shoe they need.” And if you don’t have it, someone else probably will. “First and foremost you need to have inventory,” says Johnson. “Joe Six Pack doesn’t pre-plan >57



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’ WE DON T JUST ARRIVE . WE’RE MORE COMFORTABLE KICKING DOWN THE DOOR. Carhartt Footwear introduces a revolution in protection, flexibility and comfort from the ground up. Get the full story. Black Diamond Group 855-277-8944 r

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Tony Lama Georgia Boot



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Justin Boots



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Timberland Pro

Avenger Keen



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From left: Keds camouflage tennie, K. Bell tights. Patent hi-top by Fila; Born lilac hi-top.

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CHOP STAR Metallic wedge by Giuseppe Zanotti. Shot at East 6th Street Barber Shop, NYC


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GUITAR HERO From top: Puma tennie; chukka-inspired sneaker by GBX, tights by Happy Socks. 41

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Vans tennie, K. Bell tights, boots by Dr. Martens.

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From left: J-41 zebra print hi-top, Motel Rocks striped pants. Snake print hi-top by Paul Mayer Attitudes.

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From top: Tsubo wedge; retro jogger by Asics, tights by Happy Socks.

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BLUE CRUSH N.Y.L.A. wedge sneaker, Motel Rocks shorts. 45

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BRAIN FREEZE From left: ZiGi Black Label spiked wedge; silver studded hi-top by Sixty Seven. 46

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SLIM SHADY New Balance trainer. 47


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Hey Jute Espadrille soles are a natural choice for men’s spring styles.

D E S I G N E R C H AT :

Clockwise from top left: Hawaiian print lace-up by Keds; espadrille moc by SeaVees; Toms hi-top.


E D I T O R’ S P I C K S

How would you describe your personal style? Effortless with a twist. I like to dress comfortably but I need an accent or punctuation. I love different color palettes and mixing styles that contradict one another. What is your first shoe memory? It’s a very profound one: I was 6 years old and desperate for red patent shoes. My mom literally called every store in California. She wound up finding a pair in another state and they were two sizes too big. I still wore them, even with a pastel dress. What is your favorite social media network? I’ve been slow to conform to social media, but I love Pinterest. It feels personal and social, not selfpromotional. I think it’s going to change the way people shop. What shoes are you wearing the most? Loafers

because they go with everything, and I like wearing boots with summery clothes. Which magazines do you read? I like the ones that blend art with fashion, like Purple, Self Service and Dossier. And you have to read Elle, Nylon and Vogue—those are indisputable. What’s the most difficult part of your job? Promoting myself is a little against my nature. What do you like the most about your job? Thinking about its potential, from new shoe styles to branding possibilities and directions the company can take, all while staying true to the foundation of the line. If you weren’t designing, what do you think you’d be doing? I’d be a choreographer. I like to arrange things in space. People as subjects can be powerful.


GABRIELLA HIATT LEFT college wondering how she would apply her degree in philosophy to the real world. Luckily, her creativity, curiosity and love for dance would negate the need for an academic career. In 2008, after coming up empty handed in her quest for a street version of her favorite ballet flat she wore for dance, Hiatt sent a sketch to overseas shoe factories. And then she saw a photo in a 1920’s dance magazine of Nina Payne, a vaudeville dancer that would become the namesake of Hiatt’s footwear company. “She was a futuristic dancer and wore a lot of bold patterns and metallics,” she says of her muse. “Even though her style comes from the past it feels relevant today.” The result has evolved into an Americanmade collection that now reaches beyond ballet flats to incorporate metallic leather oxfords, patterned demi boots and suede loafers. “When I decided to use leather instead of canvas, I knew I had to clarify the look by working with one factory,” Hiatt says of her decision to go stateside with production. “Knowing it was going to take at least 24 hours to get an e-mail response from a factory overseas was discouraging. And we’re supporting local labor and cutting down on our fuel useage.” The designer says her retail partners— mostly upscale boutiques—are surprised to learn the shoes are made in the States, given the line’s $160 to $260 retail range. For Spring ’13, buyers can expect to see more oxfords and loafers with pops of metallic pewter as well as the line’s first sandals and a boot with side lacing inspired by yet another old photo Hiatt found. —Angela Velasquez 48 july 2012

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Cocktail Party & Casino Night Opening Night • Friday, August 17, 2012 | 6-9:30 pm

COBB ENERGY PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE Round-trip shuttle service (two-minute ride) is available to and from the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Pick up and drop off at the East Parking Lot of the Cobb Galleria Centre. Featuring “Celebrity Allstars” Complimentary to all attendees Elaborate buffet & one complimentary drink per person

Featuring Celebrity Allstars

Saturday, August 18, 2012 Breakfast 7:30 am Seminar from 8:00 - 9:00 am Renaissance Waverly Hotel Chancellor Room Presented by Ellen Campuzano $10 per person and the $10 will be refunded the day of the seminar. Space is limited, so please register early. Make checks payable to: Southeastern Shoe Travelers. Registration Deadline: July 13, 2012.

HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS Renaissance Waverly Hotel – $134 Please refer to The Atlanta Shoe Market. 888.391.8724 Embassy Suites Galleria – $109 single, $129 double. 770.984.9300 Atlanta Marriott Hotel NW – $99 single/double. 800.228.9290 Sheraton Suites – $99 single/double. 770.995.3900

AIRFARE SPECIAL RATE We have arranged a 10% discount on the lowest available AirTran Airways one-way fare. In order to receive this special rate, you must book your reservation by calling the EventSavers Desk at 866.683.8368. Please refer to: Event Code AMS12. Please call from 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. EST, Monday thru Friday.

CAR RENTAL To reserve a vehicle, contact Hertz at 800.654.2240 and refer to code CV #022Q5172

AIRPORT SHUTTLE SERVICE MT TRANSPORTATION For reservations: By phone; 770-880-1757 By e-mail: Private car or SUV - $65 one way Round Trip - $120


A & M LIMO & GALLERIA DIRECT For Reservations: By phone: 770-955-4565 (Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) By email: Online: *Prices subject to change Service to airport every hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. $30* one way (advance reservations only); $50* round trip (advance reservations only).


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For nearly two decades, Cat Footwear has been designing and engineering quality footwear that lives up to the hard-working reputation of the Cat brand. One small boot collection has grown into an expansive line of men’s and women’s styles sold in more than 150 countries worldwide. Visit us at FFANY, Project NYC and Las Vegas, Outdoor Retailer, FN Platform, The Atlanta Shoe Market, TRU and Boston Shoe Travelers.

Durango is expanding its line of fashion footwear with “modern vintage” styles inspired by the boot brand’s American heritage. Designers at Durango created collections that draw inspiration from classic American footwear complete with modern styling and the latest comfort technology. Be sure to check out what’s new at Durango at FN Platform and The Atlanta Shoe Market.


TwistMeConfused Plasma comes in multiple neon color options. The TwistMe Tongue collection highlights a reversible tongue that switches from black to neon and also features multicolored rubber cup outsoles, soft PU shiny neon upper materials, padded tongue and quarter linings, heel counter and reflective heel tab logo. They’re fun, junior, different, bold and cool. Come see us at FFANY, Outdoor Retailer, FN Platform and The Atlanta Shoe Market.

Rocky 4EurSole is for women in the healthcare industry who are dynamic, performancedriven and always on the run. The innovative insole provides for superior comfort and unique customization, allowing each shoe to be as individual as the woman who wears them, while addressing the demands for comfort, versatility and style. Rocky 4EurSole will premiere at FIME in August, followed by The Atlanta Shoe Market and FN Platform.

The spring collection from Bearpaw is filled with fashionable options for everyone, with pops of color, material detailing and the casual comfort consumers have grown accustomed to over the past 12 years. It’s time to put away your boots for something more revealing and fun—spring with Bearpaw.

Rocky S2V is a climate-mitigating footwear and apparel system that fuses cuttingedge design with essentials that prepare outdoor enthusiasts for the unforeseen. Vetted for authenticity by the special operations community and leading outdoor professionals, elevated details make it S2V: Strong, smart and versatile. Join the adventure at Outdoor Retailer and on Facebook and Twitter, and traverse the unforeseen.

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6/25/12 9:16 AM

Since its creation, Yaleet (distributor of Naot Footwear) has been guided by two basic principles: We offer solutions and we promise trust. Our superbly crafted products demonstrate our response to the compelling need for healthy, comfortable and fashionable footwear. At the same time, our unfailing commitment to integrity makes quality customer service our very highest priority. See us at FFANY, Chicago Shoe Expo, Outdoor Retailer, The Atlanta Shoe Market, FN Platform and BSTA.

Your junior fire chief is sure to be seen with the new Western Chief Kids’ illuminated raincoat and reflective rain boots. LED lights are embedded in the front and back of the coat paired with reflective elements on the boot. Western Chief Kids wear a big smile as they safely walk about town. You will too.

Introducing the new Paraiso by Bella Vita collection of rubber fashion footwear from Brazil. The textured uppers look like leather, lace or reptile, with fresh details and vibrant colors. The key component is the profound flexibility and comfort construction. Styles in sizes 5 to 12 will retail from $50 to $80. See us at The Atlanta Shoe Market, FN Platform, FFANY and all regional shows.


Skechers GObionic is an ultra-minimal zero-drop performance running shoe featuring 18 Bio-responsive Zones that offer protection without compromising responsiveness. The shoe’s decoupled Resalyte cushioning is connected by unique ligaments that allow increased plantar and dorsiflexion. Look for Skechers GObionic at FFANY, Outdoor Retailer, FN Platform and The Atlanta Shoe Market.

Blossom Footwear has been successfully building a lifestyle brand “De Blossom Collection” presenting highfashion women’s footwear, including dressy, platforms, wedges, sandals, boots and many more. What inspires us is the glamour and sensuality of today’s fashion trends. Check us out at ENKWSA and FN Platform.

Chooka introduces its new line of lightweight neoprene footwear in bright colors and feminine silhouettes. Comfort is not lost with these minimalist skimmers. Instead, flexibility is maintained as you add spark to your look. With Chooka, fashion meets function.

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6/25/12 9:16 AM

Launching November 2012, the Adrienne Maloof footwear line has the feel of luxury at an affordable price. Adrienne holds no bars when it comes to the glitz and glamour as she represents The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Spring ’13 will surely entice the consumer with printed wedges and sandals featuring the embellishments that have come to represent Adrienne so well.

Gravity Defyer is committed to transforming the footwear industry through the application of its revolutionary VersoShock Reverse Trampoline Technology, which will improve comfort and performance. Our total lifestyle selection includes walking, running, casual and dress footwear in a variety of sizes for men and women.


Famous for producing soft, supportive, flexible, lightweight comfort footwear, Fly Flot offers a new season of beautiful leather sandals designed and produced in Italy using our unequalled “Four Points of Comfort.” Experience the footwear that adjusts to the way you walk, stand and live. Our style “Willamette” features layers of padded softness to cushion your foot, and a slightly elevated heel to create a cradle effect. Topped off with a classic button/ bow trim, this beauty will remain in the forefront of style for many years to come. Find us at The Atlanta Shoe Market and FN Platform.

Aetrex’s Essence Heeled Sandals collection provides extraordinary comfort and support without compromising on the highest fashion standards. All styles proudly feature a Lynco orthotic footbed, memory foam cushioning and anti-microbial technology. The Kyla is a stylish, fully adjustable three-strap slide made from luxuriously tumbled leather and stretch fabric upper. Visit us at FFANY, Outdoor Retailer, Platform and The Atlanta Shoe Market.

The Original Muck Boot Company introduces the first rubber boot designed for AllTerrain Vehicle (ATV) enthusiasts. The Muck Terrain, ranked No. 1 rubber/neoprene boot by Outdoor Life, was designed with ultimate comfort and durability in mind for outdoor adventures. They are supportive yet flexible enough to control the pedals of an ATV. Contact Ari Mintz at 401-757-2487 or at ari.

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This is a very exciting time for Alegria. We have paved the way with quality and comfort and, of course, our wide color assortment. We have a beautiful new summer collection complete with exclusive prints and new styles. Look for us at Outdoor Retailer, FN Platform, LAZR, The Atlanta Shoe Market, TRU, URA and NW Market.

6/26/12 10:33 AM

Look no further for spring comfort—slip into the Nadine moccassin from Ara. Why sacrifice style for comfort? With its stylish upper and memory foam footbed, the Nadine will have you looking and feeling your best! Whether it’s business casual or a weekend stroll in the park, Ara has you covered. Ara: Shoe fashion that fits me. Come see us at FFANY, The Atlanta Shoe Market, FN Platform and Outdoor Retailer.


PRIMIGI covers all categories with bright colors and glam details while keeping in mind comfort and quality. Spring/Summer ’13 previews with bright patents, metallics, luxe detailing and sea and sand-inspired styles. Follow our show schedule to ENK Children’s Club, KSA, FN Platform and The Children’s Great Event Shoe Show. Contact us at 800562-2212 for show appointments and the new PRIMIGI F/W ’12 open stock catalog.

Spring/Summer ’13 offers the most impressive assortment of Earth Brands footwear to date. From Kalso Earth Shoes and the original wellness shoe to Earthies and the new Earth collection of contemporary comfort footwear, there are countless fashion-savvy styles that deliver unexpected comfort. Follow the path to wellness and view the new collections at FFANY, Outdoor Retailer, FN Platform, TRU and The Atlanta Shoe Market.

Spring Step reaches new heights this season, featuring the finest natural leathers and expert craftmanship. Express your individuality in beautifully hand-painted footwear embellished with stylish gems and objects d’art. The “Lilac” style from our L’Artiste collection is ultrafeminine and sexy with inlaid stones, ornamental stitching and intricate hand-painted floral design. A trend-setting comfort and fashion sensation. See us at The Atlanta Shoe Market and FN Platform.

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6/25/12 9:16 AM


Back in the Saddle

Industry veteran Stephen Moergen takes the reins of the newly launched Handsewn Company. IT WASN’T GOING to be just any branded opportunity that would bring industry veteran Stephen Moergen back into the fold. After 38 years in the business that included executive positions at Trimfoot, Havana Joe, Timberland, Rockport and Sebago, he left to run operations for a political consulting company. Short of owning a shoe store, he believed his footwear career was complete. But then, as the saying goes, he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Through an unexpected mutual acquaintance, he met fellow St. Louis resident Wallace McNeil, who runs Lyn-Flex, a footwear component and manufacturing company. McNeil had been itching to start his own shoe brand. And with his back office skills combined with Moergen’s front office ones, the duo were on to something. “He has the ability to manufacture high-quality products and I have long-term relationships with retailers as well as the sales and marketing experience,” Moergen says. “Together, it’s a match made perfect.” But that doesn’t mean Moergen didn’t have a few visions of Michael Corleone in The Godfather III as it pertains to his famous line, “Every time I get out, they keep on bringing me back in!” “I wasn’t looking to start a grassroots– level amount of work that this is going to take,” he admits. “But after several months of consideration (and prayer), I came to the conclusion that this is an opportunity that very few in this industry ever get a chance to become involved.” The cherry on top, he adds, is the solid support from McNeil to develop this business as it rightly should be done. That right way, Moergen says, is the Handsewn Company, a collection of men’s

and women’s classic handsewn styles that feature minimal detail and fine leathers. The shoes are made in the Dominican Republic in the company’s own factories. “The Dominican Republic has become the world’s go-to for classic handsewn products,” Moergen says, adding that support vendors (tanners, findings, packaging, etc.) have increased their presence on the island. The suggested retail price range for the Fall ’12 debut runs from $130 for men’s cup sole driving mocs to $190 for leather soles styles. (Women’s runs $100 to $130.) Like the brand’s attention to handcrafted details, Moergen says the shoes are aimed at consumers who appreciate subtle qualities and a timeless design. “Any man or woman who is attracted to classic American footwear and clothing is our customer,” he says, adding that it’s evident in younger consumers who shop at stores like J. Crew, as well as older people who grew up wearing this kind of footwear. “The snapshot is: no socks, khakis and polo shirts or button-down oxfords.” In today’s dress-casual world, it equates to weekend wear and business casual. “It’s about understated lines, materials and colors that show a confidence of self without chasing the latest fashion trends,” Moergen adds. If he were alive today, Moergen says the ideal Handsewn spokesperson would be Steve McQueen, who was known for his understated sense of style that didn’t shout over his personality. To make a little fashion noise, however, Moergen says Handsewn has included some subtle detailing in the form of contrast stitching and outsole constructions that set the brand apart from the few remaining ones in the category. Specifically, he cites the brand’s construction and outsoles as being extremely durable and stable. Furthermore, the fact that each shoe is handcrafted ensures a good fit, which Moergen believes is a far cry from a lot of lower quality, machine-made footwear that is more about achieving commodity price points. To help convey this quality message, inside the shoe box each pair will be packed in separate soft-cloth bags for storage and travel protection. An added touch: A signed card from the sewer who made that particular pair inserted into each box. “We are optimistic that independent retailers around the country will see our brand as a pre-trend opportunity, one that they will be able to consistently take the long-mark and capitalize on the return to handsewn footwear,” Moergen says. So far so good as Moergen reports a strong reaction from retailers shopping the recent FFANY show. “The reaction was fantastic. We received solid comments about our construction, quality of materials, design and pricing,” he confirms, noting the category as a whole is being buoyed by the ongoing popularity of boat shoes. Beyond that, Moergen is glad he took the footwear plunge again. This time around Moergen says the entrepreneurial aspects are particularly rewarding. “There is no board of directors, shareholders or a certain value that must be generated to keep those people ‘happy,’” he offers. And with no debt, there is no pressure on Moergen to push the launch faster than necessary and, over the ensuing seasons, beyond its natural size. “We will stay firmly rooted in our launch strategy of only better-grade independent footwear and clothing retailers that understand our vision,” he confirms. Down the road, Handsewn expects to launch a line of premium leather accessories, including men’s portfolios, women’s purses and small leather goods. In addition, custom programs and shop-in-shops will be in the offering. —Greg Dutter

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6/22/12 10:40 AM

Dress to Impress Local Uniform delivers the goods with edgy updates on men’s staples. NEW YORK-BASED design studio Banfi Zambrelli wants to show men there’s more to next spring than boat shoes as it continues its foray into the men’s market with the luxe line Local Uniform. “Footwear for men in spring is a completely lost category,” says co-owner Frank Zambrelli. “Guys tend to go absurdly casual or they just default to a boat shoe. While boat shoes have their place—and we love them—there’s a lot of opportunity to show men what else works for spring. We hope to open up footwear without crossing decorum.” After decades of behind-the-scenes design work for the likes of Calvin Klein Collection, Cole Haan and Hunter, as well as its namesake women’s line, Zambrelli and partner Silvano Banfi stepped into the men’s arena this fall with the launch of Local Uniform. Produced in Brazil and Italy, the high-end line will debut exclusively at Bloomingdale’s in September and retails for $295 to $425. “We wanted to fill a void that we felt keeps up with what has been happening [in menswear],” says Zambrelli, who adds, “Men are still not terribly brave when it comes to fashion.” For that reason, the root of the collection was grounded in re-proportioning classics: wing tips, leather-soled brogues, laced chukkas and hi-top sneakers, but re-imagined. And for next spring retailers can expect to see more colors and materials. “The vocabulary is familiar; we’re just stringing the sentence together in a more

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creative way,” Zambrelli says. The duo has paid as much attention to fit as style, with leather-covered removable cushioned footbeds that allow for personal orthotics and wider widths. And the name? “Even men who aren’t extremely into fashion have their own sense of style,” the designer says, noting that he himself dresses exclusively in jeans. “We tend to find those zones (i.e. uniforms) that we’re comfortable in and we stay concentrated in them.” After focusing solely on women’s footwear for years, Zambrelli says designing for men proffered a challenge that he relishes. “It’s always more difficult to do things that have natural constraints to them,” he says. “There are far fewer limits in women’s design. You can use the full 64-box of crayons as opposed to eight, maybe 10, in men’s.” Zambrelli adds, “It’s more challenging because of those limitations, but what may equate to a lack of freedom is actually a very comfortable place. You’re working in a very small room, and you have to be more creative because you have less to work with.” —Lyndsay McGregor

6/22/12 10:40 AM

what ’s selling

run ning s pecialty/sneak er boutique


THIS MIDWEST RUNNING specialty store’s trained staff has known how to keep customers happy and fitted properly from the time it opened in 2000. Since moving to its new location, the upscale shoe spot offers runners 3,000-square-feet of retail space where enthusiastic employees help guide serious and aspiring runners to the perfect performance shoe. Owner Kris Hartner says the goal is to be considered the No. 1 running store in the U.S. thanks to its relentless focus on customer satisfaction, commitment to the community, and energetic and helpful employees. By Maria Bouselli

Describe your fitting process. We talk to customers about what they’ve been doing and what they have been wearing. We do biomechanical checks on each person—watch them walk and measure their width, length and arch. Using their feedback, we walk them through the fitting process and bring out shoes we think will be a fit. We put them on the treadmill so they can run with them for a while and [record] them with a highspeed camera to see how the foot reacts in the shoes. They’re ultimately making the decision but we’re feeding them what we think makes sense.

What do you think of the minimalist trend? We’re discussing it with our customers as natural running—products that are either super-flexible and compliant or have a lower heel drop. Sales have been up 20 percent for this year [for that category]. We are definitely telling our customers, however, that you don’t want to put on FiveFingers and run on the road. That’s just not what that product is meant to do. The bottom line is if you want to run comfortably and quickly you need a decent shoe on your foot. I recommend limiting how far you run in those shoes.

Do you expect an Olympics sales bounce? I think the likelihood of someone starting to run during that time is bigger. We’ll also have Olympicthemed merchandise [featuring] some pretty cool products that tie into retail.


Atlanta, GA

OPEN SINCE 2004 (with a re-launch two years later) this Southern sneaker boutique is a sneakerhead’s dream, from its vast collection of Air Jordans, The Hundreds and Vans, to its library-inspired design. Owner Lauren Amos adds that her store’s energy and the sales staff’s product knowledge are two other reasons customers keep coming back. “We’re constantly engaging and seeing what’s out there and trying to make it relevant to [us],” she says. Franklin Cook, store manager, says the store’s best-selling accessory, snapback hats, completes the look.

Where does the retro sneaker stand right now? FC: I think it’s really coming back. It’s just amazing that [Jordans] can continue to sell out and customers are not even seeing [Michael] Jordan play. It’s a lot of hype around the NBA and it’s really coming back strong.

What does it take to be a true sneakerhead? FC: It takes a lot of dedication. I’ve seen people camp out for 10 days straight for the Nike Air Yeezys the first time. It’s staying up on releases and what’s new in the market. LA: I think they have a willingness to go to any length to get the shoe. While some people would collect art, these guys collect shoes. They see it as buying a piece of contemporary history.

He was very generous. People brought in everything from books to T-shirts, and he even marked customers’ skin and people got it tattooed. He’s collaborated with a lot of important people in the music and the lifestyle industry. Also, a couple of years ago, we had a Jordan in-store promotion that showed a future product to the public. It was What’s the coolest promotion your one of the only in-store promotions store has done? LA: Definitely the that the brand has ever done. The (T-shirt) collaboration with KAWS. store was packed. Customers were He came and did a meet-and-greet. so excited to have that opportunity.

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6/22/12 10:38 AM

“Joe Six-Pack doesn’t pre-plan and rarely shops online. If you don’t have their size, they are going to walk right out and into the next store.” —KARRY JOHNSON, NATIONAL SALES MANAGER, CATERPILLAR


continued from page 30 and rarely shops online. “If a customer walks in and you don’t have their size, they’re going to walk right out and into the next store.” One challenge now facing manufacturers is how to make their product stand out. From similar constructions to typical black, brown or honey nubuck options, work boots and shoes tend to look the same regardless of season or brand. “There’s a wall of 50 styles of work boots and we have four styles on the wall: We want to knock our competitors off that wall,” Johnson says, adding that Caterpillar’s women’s business is growing at a good clip. One way they’re capitalizing on this growth is by offering styles that aren’t simply takedowns of men’s. “We’re trying to infuse more colors and make them even more lightweight,” he says. According to some execs, another key factor to the category’s success at retail is down to an increasing number of weighty boots stomping their way down the runway. Call it blue-collar chic, but menswear designers like Adam Kimmel, Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, to name but a few, all displayed some serious lug south of those pants hems in their

Fall ’12 showcases. If that’s not enough proof, Huard confirms that Wolverine’s 1000 Mile label—premium heritage styles featuring Horween leathers, stacked leather outsoles, Vibram soles and a Goodyear welt construction—tripled its sales in 2011. And though many believe domestic growth of the category going forward rests squarely on market share, Oviatt believes international growth is possible as well. “Even though the market itself is not expanding, the world market as a whole—as Asia and Eastern Europe continue to develop—is, so there’s a larger market that a lot of brands have potential access to.” Stark, coming off a 300 percent leap in Fall ’12 bookings for Rocky, remains optimistic: “As long as we keep identifying a unique niche, growth will surely follow,” he maintains. But no matter the color, silhouette or technology, it’s comfort and safety that matter most to occupational customers. “It’s about focusing on the best product at the best price. We need to really look at what consumers need and how we can best serve them,” Oviatt insists. And remember, he adds, a work consumer is a buyer, not a shopper. •


800.962.0030 |


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6/22/12 10:36 AM


Burn Rubber

Bella Vita introduces a hot new collection of 100-percent rubber fashion styles. WHEN YOU THINK of rubber as it pertains to footwear, what probably first comes to mind are sneakers followed by wellies, flipflops, safety footwear and those galoshes you might have worn eons ago as a kid on the way to school during stormy weather. But stylish pumps and flats made completely of rubber? That’s a new twist and one being launched as Paraiso by Bella Vita, a division of Easy Street Shoes based in Somersworth, NH. President Keith Gossett decided to use the malleable attributes of rubber to make more fashionable silhouettes, thinking that if it works for other styles, then they surely would apply to a collection of fashionable shoes. “Some of the wonderful advantages of rubber footwear are its unparalleled comfort as the shoes mold to the wearer’s foot,” he says, adding rubber is highly flexible and extremely versatile for design and color applications. “The collection features the additional benefits of being anti-fungal, antibacterial and odor free.” What’s more, Gosset says, the shoes feature a removable ergonomic and breathable footbed, providing the wearer with all-day comfort. Gossett reports a strong bounce—pun intended—coming out of the line’s debut at FFANY. “[Retailers] responded to the fact that the textures on the uppers look like leather, lace or reptile and noted other precise details and the vibrant colors,” he says. But it’s the comfort factor that is a key selling point. “The profound comfort construction is felt immediately upon stepping into the shoes. No one who tries them on wants to take them off,” he claims, adding it’s a sentiment backed by wear trials in numerous focus groups. Another factor giving rubber a lift is the material’s current popularity at the designer level. Specifically, Gossett notes, designers are making a statement about the environment as rubber is a readily available and renewable resource that can easily be recycled. It’s also relatively affordable. Paraiso by Bella Vita will be sourced out of Brazil with a suggested retail price range of $50 to $80. Sizes will run from 5 to 12 and the collection will be supported with an in-stock program. In addition, Gossett says the unique construction is patented and exclusive to Bella Vita in the United States. The initial distribution channels will be department stores and independent retailers nationwide, with e-commerce being another key tier to the launch. Overall, Gossett has high expectations for the collection. “We will expand the offering into all categories of footwear and are very excited about the prospects for Paraiso by Bella Vita.” —Greg Dutter

Doctor’s Orders

Vasyli combines orthotic technology with style. WHEN VASYLI WAS established in 1979, it looked to fill a void in the market—to provide stylish footwear to those in need of pain relief. “We’ve incorporated orthopedic technology into footwear that doesn’t look orthopedic,” says Lisa Bazinet, vice president of marketing. “Our customers can look normal and wear summer flip-flops without looking like their doctor told them they had to wear those types of shoes.” Today, Vasyli is made up of three main brands: Orthaheel, Dr. Andrew Weil Integrated Footwear and Vionic. Orthaheel, which retails for an average of $70, features what Bazinet calls “classic styling at a great value, considering the orthotic technology that’s built into them.” Weil Integrated Footwear is casual footwear, made with better quality materials and a slightly elevated design that retails for around $100. The Vionic sandal is geared towards the “sportier” customer as a post-recovery shoe for athletes and costs on average $100. Since the company originates in Australia, a major focus is on sandals and flip-flops. “Flip-flops don’t seem to be going away in the market,” Bazinet notes. “So it’s really expanding and branching out from pretty classic into a wider offering of sandals with more adjustability and versatility.” Some of the brands have even expanded into various enclosed shoe styles, including mules, house shoes and slippers. Vasyli’s main focus for Spring ’13 is to develop a variety of new styles with pops of color, embellishments and trims that are on trend for the season. “We find that customers might already have several pairs, so they come back looking for the newest one for the season,” Bazinet says. The company is also putting a focus on walking for the spring, which has been popular with both customers and retailers. “Consumers are looking for more, and more for less, and I think we’re on target with that,” she notes of the price point and new styles and designs. Bazinet says all three brands have a common denominator when it comes to customers. “It’s anyone who has experienced any non-injury related foot pain looking for a solution,” she says. She adds that the company is putting a particular focus on independent retailers as an area for growth for the Spring ’13 season, stating that the collection was “very well-received” at FFANY in June. “Our mission statement is creating life-changing footwear solutions and our hope for the brand is to expand that even further,” Bazinet says. “We want to find more customers who are looking for solutions to their pain so we can help even more of them.” —Maria Bouselli

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6/21/12 4:14 PM

continued from page 21 store, paying for markdowns for X brand to allow the store to clean up its inventory, and then putting your shoes in. That’s a great way to do it if you have the capital and wherewithal, but we do business a little differently. We seed the product in the key stores—where it needs to be. And by having Ash in Bergdorf ’s and in Neiman’s catalog, for example, other customers become intrigued and sell to nice independents and start building a solid business. And I should note that our lines are not in the department store where they are banging them out every day at 30 to 40 percent off. We keep ourselves in a position where they’re going to be sold at regular prices. Our independent partners can feel comfortable to carry us for a season and not worry that the department store down the street is putting everything on sale. What’s the difference between a Tracy Reese and a United Nude customer? Tracy Reece is a woman who goes into her closet each morning and really thinks about what she’s going to wear. She plans each outfit—it’s this dress, this bag and these shoes. In contrast, the woman that buys United Nude may put on a cool little black dress and then it’s all about the shoes. She wants people to say, “Woah, where did you get those?” Do you wear one brand hat one day and then another the next? I wear all hats every day. It’s a lot to attend to, but I equate it to being a merchandise manager and buying for multiple stores. I had 14 buyers working for me at one time. We’d attend shows, pick shoes and assort for each door. Our Paramus store could carry the entire collection, but when it came to Freehold, NJ, it couldn’t because it didn’t have the budget or the customer base to support the whole buy. You had to choose what shoes you thought would do well. It’s pretty much the same philosophy here—trying to decide what’s best for Tracy Reese, Luxury Rebel, Ash, etc.

fall. I don’t think many are looking for increases over the last fall and, if they are, they’re minimal ones. The economy is not that great. And it being an election year doesn’t help because that’s never that good for business. The issue comes down to having a shoe, boot or bootie that is going to exude emotion. So when that woman does walk into a store she stops and says, “Wow. I want to buy something that makes myself feel better today.” That’s it. Do you have any advice for retailers? I think the best thing retailers can do is think closely whom their customer is and to look closely at products. While there are a lot of retailers that just buy labels because of status, there are those that can see something that’s amazing and not even blink an eye at what the label is. I believe product is king. That’s how I was bred into the business: Always buy the best item at the best value for the consumer. The same rules apply today: Know who your customer is, go into the marketplace with open eyes and try and have that same emotion that the designers put into the product when you look at shoes. That same emotion has to come out onto your sales floor. Along those lines, I would try at least every season to work in a few new brands to keep customers excited because they get tired quickly. Your best customers shop your store at least twice a month, so if you don’t have freshness, new ideas and concepts, then it becomes stale. They’ll go down the street and see if there is something else.

“There is a cycle of every four to five years where boots are just on a rampage and then it calms down. It’s one of the reasons I think booties will be the strength this season.”

What’s your prediction on boot sales for this fall? We’re about ready to start shipping and I’m wondering, “Geez, do I really want to?” There is always a cycle of every four to five years where boots are just on a rampage and then it calms down. It’s one of the reasons why I think booties will be the strength of the category this season. It’s going to come down to constructions where wedge boots and booties will be the push. Basic boots will probably not be as big because women have three or four pairs in their closets right now. It’s also one of the reasons why we are seeing shoes perform extremely well this spring, particularly those with color, materials and details. If you go back to last spring, there wasn’t much freshness in the stores with regard to shoes. I think that helped bring in the updates for this spring. Are buyers hedging bets on this fall primarily due to last year’s warm winter? I think pretty much everyone is hesitant about what’s going to happen this

Is there a perfect shoe? Paolo Battachi used to say the last, heel, construction and pattern would all move in the same direction. Now is there a perfect shoe that appeals to everyone? Nah. Perhaps there was once—it was a Roman sandal. But if there was one today we would have little to do. Thankfully, there’s still plenty to choose from. Yes. Walking into a shoe department for women can be a very fun experience because she can try on a bunch of styles with little concern. But if she shops for a swimsuit, it can be one of the most excruciating experiences. Now it’s about her entire body. That’s why women are so enamored with shoes. A new pair of shoes can make a woman feel fantastic. What do you love most about your job? What I love most is that every day is a new experience in that I get to work on different projects and concepts. It keeps me really in tune with what’s going on in the shoes business. And I love the diversity and the elastics of the business. I also think the people in the industry are great. I love walking around a trade show and seeing people I haven’t seen in years. I have a great rapport with many of them. Our industry has a great camaraderie. • 2012 july • 59

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6/26/12 8:22 AM



Grow Your Own

Rayfish Footwear takes customization to a whole new (sea) level.

EVER WISH THAT you could customize your kicks down to the leather’s pattern? Rayfish Footwear might just have your answer—as long as you are willing to shell out the big bucks, and don’t twinge at the thought that this pattern comes from a fish’s skin genetically made exclusively for you. The Thailand-based company has created a process that genetically alters stingray skin to produce

a specific pattern to your liking. Raymond Ong, CEO of Rayfish Footwear and grandson of its founder, knew from the moment he took over the company’s helm that he wanted to do something different. “Many of the shoes were already made specifically to fit customer sizes, so the step to actually start breeding fish according to personal wishes of customers wasn’t that big of a leap,” he offers. “It’s just so exciting what is technically possible nowadays, and I think it’s particularly interesting to connect the most advanced technology with ancient traditions.” Rayfish Footwear has been around for decades, creating custom shoes out of stingray skin. Ong says this aquatic creature’s skin is

Rayfish Footwear offers 29 patterns that can be combined in countless ways to create a customized stingray skin sneaker.

10 times stronger than cowhide. With the new customization feature, customers can go online to the company’s website and choose from 29 patterns, or mix them together, to create a unique leather, hand-sewn hi-top. For now, Rayfish Footwear is only accepting designs entered into an online contest. The company selects the winning designs, “grows” them into a sneaker and gifts the custom kicks to the designer free of charge. “I think we are unique with the fact that our customers know that they’re wearing a shoe with a unique pattern that has been grown on a living animal, which has been bred especially for them,” Ong says, adding, “I fully realize this is not to everyone’s taste.” Reactions to the shoes have been mixed. While Ong states that

most Facebook fans have been enthusiastic and there have been countless entries into the design contest, animal rights groups have not been so kind, particularly when an image surfaced of stingrays in a smaller tank, which he assures is for transportation purposes only. “I must say this saddens me as we really love our fish and treat them in the most humane way I can imagine,” he says. “I think the comments that have been made since our company website was launched recently reflect the complexity of our consumptive relationship with animals.” Ong notes that he takes the “less enthusiastic” comments very seriously and he personally addresses these concerns on the company’s website, stating that stingray skin is commonly used in fashion and that the “meat” from the stingray is donated to charities and employees. Ong goes on to say that the bio-customization process is no different than genetically modified organisms, such as Glofish, and other animals used in research. A section on the website also briefly describes the process as identifying genes (kept in the company’s “genetic library”) that are associated with specific colors and patterns and are then inserted into fetal rays before they’re born. Ong hopes to add webcams and other online capabilities to allow consumers to follow the story of the shoe, from the birth of the stingray to the construction of the sneaker. Once full production begins this fall, the shoes, which Ong describes as “organically and honestly produced highly fashionable and personalized product,” can be purchased at approximately $1,800 a pair through its online store, www. —Maria Bouselli

60 • july 2012

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6/22/12 10:45:35 AM

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6/25/12 1:15:11 PM

Footwear Plus | The Source for Retailers | 2012 • July  

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