Footwear Plus | July 2022

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JULY 2022 VOL 32 • ISSUE 6 • $10

WHAT A KICK!

EASY-BREEZY KNIT UPPERS AND CUSHY OUTSOLES FOR SPRING ROCKY AND ROLLING CEO JASON BROOKS EYES THE $1 BILLION MARK THIS JUST IN MEN IN MILAN HOLA, HOLO MEET THE STARTUP’S NEW PRESIDENT

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Tr a n s f o r m t h e w o r l d y o u w a l k i n

Spherica™ is the new Geox comfort concept that gives you an incredible cushion beneath your feet, thanks to its innovative Zero Shock System featuring ultra-soft sole spheres. Find out all its colours in-store and on geox.com

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JULY 2022 F E AT U R E S 10 Method Man Jason Brooks, CEO of Rocky Brands, on guiding a company that has doubled in size and setting its sights on the $1 billion sales mark. By Greg Dutter 18 Running Tally Central Park runners share their shoe and shopping preferences, as well as why the urban oasis is an ideal place to keep fit and escape New York. By Carrie Berk 24 Hot to Trot From retro to modern, the jogger silhouette sets the pace for guys this spring. By Ann Loynd Burton 26 Knit Picks Atop chunky foam outsoles, fabric uppers and accents spin a breezy athleisure tale. By Ann Loynd Burton

Caroline Diaco President/Group Publisher Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors EDITORIAL Kathy Passero Editor at Large Ann Loynd Burton Fashion Editor Bernadette Starzee Contributing Editor Melodie Jeng Marcy Swingle Contributing Photographers ADVERTISING/ PRODUCTION Belinda Pina Director of Sales Noelle Heffernan Senior Account Manager Laurie Guptil Production Manager Kathy Wenzler Circulation Director

D E PA RT M E N T S 4 Editor’s Note 6 This Just In: Milan 8 Scene & Heard 22 A Note to My Younger Self 38 Shoe Salon 40 Last Shot

Catherine Rosario Office Manager Mike Hoff Digital Director WAINSCOT MEDIA Carroll Dowden Chairman Mark Dowden President & CEO Steven J. Resnick Vice President & CFO

On cover: Geox two-tone jogger with lightweight outsole and knit upper; Love the Label dress, socks by Free People. A.Potts dress; ring by Maiko Suzuki Jewelry PA G E

26 J/Slides slip-on with breathable knit upper.

Photography by Justin Bridges; Styling by Melina Kemph; Fashion editor: Ann Loynd Burton; Model: Lauren Forge/The Industry Model Mgmt.; Hair and Makeup: Lindsay Cullen; Prop stylist/set design: Diana Bianchi; Casting by Eric Cano; Photo assistant: Tyler Kufs .

OFFICES ADVERTISING/EDITORIAL

One Maynard Drive Park Ridge, NJ 07656 Tel: (201) 571-2244 editorialrequests@ 9Threads.com CIRCULATION

One Maynard Drive Park Ridge, NJ 07656 Tel: (201) 571-2244 circulation@9Threads.com

FOOTWEAR PLUS ™ (ISSN#1054-898X) The fashion magazine of the footwear industry is published monthly (except for bimonthly April/May and October/November editions) by Wainscot Media, One Maynard Drive, Park Ridge, NJ, 07656. The publishers of this magazine do not accept responsibility for statements made by their advertisers in business competition. Periodicals postage paid at Mahwah, NJ, and additional mailing offices. Subscription price for one year: $48 in the U.S. Rates outside the U.S. are available upon request. Single copy price: $10. 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. Wainscot Media will assume no responsibility for loss or damage. No portion of this issue may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. ©2008 by Wainscot Media. Printed in the United States.

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E D I TOR’S NOT E

I Have Issues

Heads Over Heels I’VE BEEN CREATING issues of Footwear Plus from scratch for approximately 26 years. That’s 10 times a year, or 260 issues, give or take a few. No two issues have been the same. That’s thousands of editorial pages, including thousands of unique stories that contain millions of words about thousands of companies that involve even greater numbers of people, as well as God knows how many shoe images that have been featured within our pages. When I stop and think for a moment, those are some big coveragerelated numbers for one industry, albeit an industry that just broke the $100 billion mark in annual spending in the United States alone. That’s a really big number. The process of creating each issue—one that involves reporting on what’s contributing to that $100 billion—begins with an editorial outline a couple of weeks in advance of publication. However, like mice and men, the shoe industry’s best-laid plans often go awry. Every issue takes on a life of its own. Sometimes news breaks and must be included. Other times, stories evolve in the reporting stages and take entirely different directions from what we first envisioned. That process of discovery is a good thing as it often results in the truth being told. (PSA: It’s why journalism serves an important function in our industry and society.) Then there are the unexpected organic directions our issues often take. Sometimes, an overall theme takes shape in the process of reporting, writing and graphic design. This also is usually a good thing. It reflects a unique coalescing of creative forces. Like a wedding album, each issue captures a moment in our industry’s time that will never be replicated. Our latest issue is no exception. The theme that arose organically this time involves the higher-than-usual number of images of industry people featured. Footwear Plus is all about the shoe candy—and, rest assured, there are plenty of tasty, predominantly athleisure styles for Spring/Summer ’23 on the menu. But this issue appears to be a case of heads over heels. For starters, our Scene & Heard section includes four such images.

There’s Laura Conwell-O’Brien (p. 8) and Gary Hauss (p. 21), show directors of The Atlanta Shoe Market and The IR Show, respectively, giving the 411 on what attendees can expect to see and do at their latest events next month. There’s a newcomer to our pages (p. 20) Coleman McCartan, director of the Society for International Menswear, a new show in New York this month (July 17-18), on why the head-to-toe, curated format presents a fresh opportunity for footwear buyers to shop that segment. Rounding out the section (p. 9) is Yuri Rodriguez, new president of Holo Footwear, the hot outdoor startup featuring a unique platform of diversity, affordability and sustainability. The path that led to Rodriguez’s current leadership position is inspiring: Hers is a true immigrant success story—one that began when she was nine and had to learn English from scratch. Jason Brooks, CEO of Rocky Brands and the subject of this issue’s Q&A (p. 10), is the subject of another headshot. His reflections on how the company acquired and then integrated Honeywell Intl.’s division of rubber boot brands, led by Xtratuf and The Original Muck Boot Company, is an intriguing read. Essentially, the deal has doubled the size of the company to a $400-plus million entity, and Wall Street projects Rocky Brands will surpass $600 million this year. Brooks envisions the portfolio hitting $1 billion in the foreseeable future. Those are some big numbers. And while Brooks admits the acquisition has been a heavy and complicated lift, the exec explains in candid detail why the blood, sweat and fears have and will all be worthwhile. Equally compelling are the fourth generation CEO’s personal reasons for leading the company down this exciting path. Last but not at all least is John Pierce, vice president of sales for Lamo Footwear and the latest participant in our “A Note to My Younger Self ” series (p.22). The photo of Pierce, proudly sporting his Foot Locker uniform, was taken at the NFL Experience event during the 1997 Super Bowl. It’s an awesome throwback photo! It captures Pierce at a specific moment, a time when he had no idea of the career path that awaited him—one that would include moves across the country, a successful crossover into wholesale and unexpected speedbumps along the way. It’s a life story, all in just one page featuring one (great) image. I have no issues at all with that.

Greg Dutter

Editorial Director

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THIS JUST IN

Boys’ Toys Sneakers in play at Men’s Fashion Week in Milan. Photography by Melodie Jeng

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SCENE & HEARD

Industry to Gather in Atlanta IF A “NATIONAL SHOE SHOW” champion belt exists, it’s firmly in the hands of Laura Conwell-O’Brien, long-time director of The Atlanta Shoe Market (TASM). With 98 percent of booth space sold months in advance of the upcoming Aug. 13-15 event at the Cobb Galleria Centre and buyer attendance up 20 percent in early June over last February, the show, sponsored by the Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association, now stands as the top dog. “Our four partner hotels sold out early, and there’s no more room, per the fire marshals, on the show floor.” Conwell-O’Brien reports. “The aisles have shrunk to where they won’t shrink anymore.” An indication TASM has attained national show status is the increased attendance from regions well beyond its Southeast base. Exhibitor attendance, up 42 percent from August 2021 and 13 percent from August 2019, includes sales reps who serve the growing number of buyers from the Northeast and West. “We’re picking up retailers, like Schnee’s in Montana, who are bringing eight buyers,” O’Brien says. “These are people who maybe went to Vegas. We’re getting a lot of those phone calls.” Not only will those buyers see the most brands under one roof than anywhere else, they’ll do so affordably. It’s a concern that’s top of mind, as businesses emerge from the pandemic while dealing with soaring inflation. Conwell-O’Brien believes TASM’s ability to keep costs in check is a key to its success. “It’s what we stand for as a member association that aims to keep prices down,” she says, citing the daily $7 buyer lunches and free opening night Cocktail Party with buffet dinner. But it’s not just buyers looking to rein in spending. “We had a brand just sign up that hasn’t been here since Covid and they struggled to get the funds approved, even though our show isn’t that expenLaura Conwell-O’Brien, sive,” she says. “Brands are still show director, TASM struggling to come back but, because of our price point and success, they realize that if they’re not seen and heard here, it’ll look like they’re out of business.” It helps that the upcoming TASM marks the fourth edition since the pandemic. That head start has been huge, Conwell-O’Brien believes. The pandemic protocols are ironed out and, more importantly, the business-asusual approach has created a sense of safety and comfort. Like, for example, NSRA once again holding its board meeting and Retail Workshop. This show’s seminar is titled, “What Will it Take to Win at Retail Next Year?” A complimentary continental breakfast (Aug. 14) will be provided by TASM. In addition, a Retailer Influencer Marketing campaign will award gift cards ($50, $250 and $300) to buyers who post the most about the show on their social media feeds. TASM will also conduct live broadcasts of select exhibitors. “We need a show like this now,” Conwell-O’Brien says. “Our industry wants an affordable show where it can do business. Come here, do your work and write your orders. That’s what’s important.”

“It’s Raining Cookies” rain boots.

Western Chief Gets Sweet CAN 1.7 MILLION Girl Scouts of America (GSUSA) be wrong? Specifically, can the approximately 200 million boxes of cookies these girls sell annually, generating about $800 million in revenue, not signal the mouthwatering potential of the new Girls Scouts x Western Chief cookie-themed rain boots collaboration? Washington Shoe Company, makers of Western Chief, believe the recipe has huge potential. CEO Karl Moehring cites the two entities’ rich American heritage—one steeped in the love of fun and adventure—as a key ingredient. GSUSA is 110 years old and Western Chief is 131. “The collection pairs GSUSA’s adventurous spirit with Western Chief’s fourth generation, family footwear heritage and signature whimsical prints,” he says. “It’s built to evoke smiles.” The debut collection, for back-to-school, features three kids’ and two adult styles, including an “It’s Raining Cookies” mommy and me set (SRP $55 and $45, respectively). Adorned with classic Girl Scout cookies, the kids’ boot features mint glossy waterproof uppers with brown EverGlitter infused trimmings and lug outsoles, while easy on/off pull handles promote self-dressing. The mommy style features single side buckles accented with silver rivets. Both feature a removable insole for padded comfort. The Neon Neoprene boot ($70) features a WarmBuilt lining for protection up to -20°F. Bright capital letters spell “girl scouts” with neon pink and blue piping against matte ebony. The matte ebony outsole includes a pop of blue detailing, while removable memory foam insoles provide warmth and comfort. The adult Legacy Danielle ($60) is a mid-height classic duck boot in navy with a smooth matte finish. A blue trefoil pattern across a navy shaft, tan PU/leather lace up tie detailing with metal rivets and a gum rubber tan outsole round out the look. The boot features a printed polyester fleece lining and removable insole. Additional styles and ponchos will be introduced next spring as part of the multi-year partnership. “Our designers are munching on thin mints and tagalongs, hard at work on the next ideas,” Moehring says, noting that a portion of sales will support GSUSA and its non-profit efforts. “We look forward to evolving this partnership with GSUSA, an organization that aligns with our mission to support strong, independent women.” Moehring adds, “We proudly support GSUSA’s mission to build girls of courage, confidence and character, and who make the world a better place.”

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SCENE & HEARD

Holo President Breaks New Ground for sustainable footwear at an attainable price is a driver for us to give HOLO FOOTWEAR HAS burst out of the (trail) running blocks. Since it our all to grow this brand and make it something that’s a movement the outdoor brand debuted in 2021, its unique platform of affordability, that becomes the norm,” she says. “Sustainability shouldn’t be something diversity and sustainability has caught the attention of buyers, including that only a few can afford.” Nordstrom, REI and Macy’s. Few startups can boast such heavy hitters Rodriguez is convinced that the demand exists partly because she is the right away. target consumer. She knows what it feels like to want to take part in the The fast start has prompted Rommel Vega, founder and head sustainability movement but not to be able to afford to—and/or to feel designer, to enlist expertise to help manage the next phases of expected unwelcome. “I’m sure there are lots of people who want to take part—just rapid growth. His choice: Yuri Rodriguez, a nearly 20-year veteran of like wanting to eat organically—but the price points are barriers,” she Wolverine Worldwide. The exec most recently served in international says. Coming from a background of limited resources gives her (and Vega) merchandising for the conglomerate’s kids’ brands, including Merrell, an edge in understanding this consumer in ways that Saucony and Caterpillar. Prior to that, Rodriguez aren’t always considered. That extends beyond selling worked in operations, managing accounts in Latin Holo shoes, she adds. “We want to use this platform America, Europe and the Middle East for Sebago, to introduce people of all walks of life—economic Wolverine and Hush Puppies, among others. She backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, etc.—to a lifestyle of also managed Merrell’s apparel and accessories diviliving sustainably and doing outside experiences.” sion for a time. Rodriguez got her start at Wolverine That’s where Vega’s creative vision and Rodriguez’s working it its “hot and stinky” tannery in Rockford, business skills will come into play. The duo’s respective MI. It was there, she says, that she learned the shoe right- and left-brain talents complement each other business from the ground up. when it comes to building a brand for the long haul. “All I’ve ever done really is work in footwear,” “My background is international operations, supply Rodriguez says. “I had my first exposure in leather chain management, business development and, most making and shoe manufacturing, working in the recently, product merchandising,” Rodriguez notes. tannery’s lab testing samples. I got to see not only “And with Rommel’s design eye and creative brain, how leather is made, but the process of why that has that’s such a good balance.” Full disclosure: It also to happen for a shoe to eventually be packaged in a makes for good partners; Rodriguez and Vega are box. I knew then that I wanted to pursue a career in currently engaged. this industry.” Nepotism, however, played no role in this appointRodriguez’s climb up the corporate ladder is an ment. Rodriguez has been a shoe whisperer on Holo inspirational immigrant success story. She came to from the early stages of development. It was her idea, the U.S. with her family at age nine and had to learn for example, to add the sustainable design element English from scratch. The family had no support Yuri Rodriguez, president, to Vega’s initial vision of an affordable outdoor brand systems. She knew that if she were going to make Holo Footwear aimed at a more inclusive audience. The advice came something of herself, it would only be through hard four years ago—before sustainability was top of mind. “We know what work, dedication and education. “My father instilled in us that educaour strong suits are, and we have a great sales and merchandising team tion came first,” she says. “Educate yourself and you can do whatever you behind us now, as well,” Rodriguez says. “Rommel’s putting an incredwant, and you can become successful.” ible team together.” Rodriguez has done just that, defying the odds and breaking barriers For his part, Vega says he would have been dumb not to hire Rodriguez, every step of the way. She worked in the tannery by day and attended whose official title is cofounder and president. That’s exactly what he told community college at night. She went on to earn her master’s degree in venture capitalists during a recent call. He cited Rodriguez’s 18 years of management the same way. It wasn’t easy—and it took 13 years. “I felt experience in international operations and learning how a shoe is made like I was going to school forever,” Rodriguez recalls. “I was working a working in the tannery as proof of her credentials. “Somebody else was full-time corporate job and going to school in the evenings until 10 p.m. going to hire her if I didn’t,” he says. with homework every weekend. It’s just what I had to do.” Rodriguez is now officially Team Holo. She’s off and running the comRodriguez also had to blaze her own trail. From day one of entering pany from its new Grand Rapids, MI, headquarters. (Holo will maintain a the tannery to her latest position, she has never fit the traditional profile. satellite office in Portland, OR.) Her immediate agenda includes launch“When I started in the industry, nobody looked like me. There were very ing a DTC site by year’s end and getting the marketing and sales teams few women of leadership, in general,” she says. But Rodriguez sees that aligned behind Holo’s expanded selection of outdoor styles. Looking a as both an advantage and an inspiration for others. “Having started couple of years out, Rodriguez plans to tap her international experience from the bottom in manufacturing and working my way up, I feel like to extend Holo’s reach, as well as possible kids’ and apparel extensions. I bring something to the table that you don’t see with many executives “We’re really excited about what’s to come,” she says, adding that leadin the industry. I also hope to inspire young girls to dream, especially ing a brand is a dream come true for her and Vega. “To finally have the young minorities. Hopefully, they see more people who look like them opportunity to drive strategy and decision-making—to have the success and who have similar backgrounds, and they’ll be inspired to work hard of a brand in our own hands—is very exciting.” and realize that it’s possible.” Rodriguez believes she’s up to the challenge. “Everything I’ve had to go Rodriguez also jumped at the Holo opportunity because of its enormous through—from having to learn English at the age of nine to overcoming potential. The combination of affordability, sustainability and diversity barriers in the industry—has prepared me for this job,” she says. presents a unique and promising platform, she believes. “The white space

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Q&A BY GREG

DUTTER

METHOD MAN

Ja s o n B r o o k s , C E O o f R o c ky B ra n d s , l o o k s t o a bright future, guiding a company that has doubled in size and is setting its sights on the $1 billion sales mark.

WHEW! The heavy lifting is finally done. It took about three years for Rocky Brands to acquire Honeywell Intl.’s footwear division (The Original Muck Boot Company, Xtratuf, Servus, NEOS and Ranger) and fully integrate the business into the Nelsonville, OH–based company. Now, along with Rocky, Georgia Boot, Durango, Lehigh and licensed Michelin brands, the company is one bigger and happier family zeroing in on the growing work, western and outdoor markets. Rocky Brands CEO Jason Brooks believes it is better positioned to meet the needs of the niches within those three segments with a portfolio of established and dynamic brands. In short, the new Rocky Brands has all leather, fabric and rubber boots and shoes needs covered. “I think these brands have a lot of room for growth,” Brooks says. “I won’t give a timeline, but for us to hit $1 billion is very doable. We’re going to take our time, do it methodically and build brand reputations to sustain that growth. I’m not looking for huge growth year over year. We’re going to do it in a steady way.” On the surface, the acquisition seems smart and doable enough. But Brooks says the process—one that nearly doubled the size of the company, turning it into a $400 million-plus conglomerate—was longer, more complex and arduous than expected. First, there were pandemic-induced delays and disruptions that almost pulled the plug on the auction deal entirely. Then there was the size of the acquisition relative to Rocky Brands. At times Brooks feared the company had bitten off more than it could swallow. Acquiring a $205 million business is one thing, but actually integrating five brands into Rocky Brands’ operating systems and warehouses has been a heavy and complicated lift, he says. It took 15 months from when the acquisition was announced for Brooks to feel confident enough to take advantage of synergies and eliminate some redundancies last month. Those cost-saving moves, about $3 million to $4 million annually, included closing an office in Boston and one in China, as well as reducing the division’s non-manufacturing head count by about 13 percent. “Our company went from basically a $280 million business to one that the Street [projects] doing almost $640 million this year,” Brooks says. “So, things went really fast from a sales standpoint, and we just need to fine tune

our operations to make sure we’re the most efficient company we can be.” Despite the obstacles and hard work, Brooks believes it’s all been—and will be— worth it. The Honeywell portfolio is just too good a fit and growth opportunity to pass up. First, it’s a business Rocky Brands understands well. In fact, that was the first box Brooks needed checked when the board came to him in early 2019 looking for ways to grow the company beyond the low single-digit percentage rates it had been doing for several years. “I wanted to take a half a step away from what we know,” Brooks says. “I didn’t want to buy a backpack company—I don’t know anything about backpacks. I didn’t want to buy a gun company, either. We felt like the first acquisi-

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Q&A tion needed to be closer to what we understand, and these brands just really fit well with us.” Brooks notes that the customers of these brands are already Rocky Brands customers—both retailers and consumers. “We understand them,” he says. “Tractor Supply was their largest customer, and they’re our second-largest. We also both sell to Bass Pro Shops, Granger, etc. So, the customer base made a lot of sense. It wasn’t a big stretch.” Nor are the products. Brooks says if Rocky Brands understands one thing, it’s how to “put boots in a box.” And the fact that these primarily rubber- and PVC-based products don’t overlap checked off the second criterion for Brooks. “The products don’t compete with our existing portfolio, so I wasn’t worried about losing any shelf space,” he says. “They aren’t going to take the Rocky off the shelf and replace it with Muck.” Speaking of that, Muck is a jewel Brooks had long coveted. “I’ve been a huge advocate of Muck since my rep days in Georgia and Florida,” he says. “The brand came out of nowhere. It’s just a really neat story, and I love the product.” Specifically, Brooks says Muck appeals to the farm and ranch customer as well as hunters. It has also scored recently by focusing on the gardening segment— one of the hot “new normal” markets given rise by the pandemic. Brooks says Xtratuf is another winner that has caught serious traction of late, notably in the college kids’ market. Why an Alaska-born, performance and utility fishing brand has hooks in that influential demographic Brooks doesn’t really know. But when his son came home from Wake Forest University for the holidays in 2020 requesting Xtratuf ’s Ankle Deck Boot as a gift, that was his first clue. “His friend, who comes from a fishing family in South Carolina, wears that rubber boot all the time,” Brooks says. “It’s comfortable, versatile, durable…the product is just spot-on, and the brand is expanding its reach.” Even better, he notes, Muck and Xtratuf complement each other well. “Muck is a little bit more weighted toward colder weather, whereas Xtratuf is targeted more toward spring and summer,” Brooks says. Overall, Brooks really likes his current brand lineup and is excited for Rocky Brands’ future. The company’s first quarter results reinforce his enthusiasm: Net sales increased 90.5 percent to $167 million, including $64 million from the acquisition. Demand across the portfolio was strong and is expected to continue as the primary markets of work, western and outdoor show no signs of cooling off. Now, Brooks says, the focus is on just continuing to execute what Rocky Brands knows and does best: putting boots in boxes. It helps, of course, that the company’s portfolio is resonating strongly in the marketplace. “Our customer is pretty repetitive,” Brooks says. “If he/she finds something they like, they’ll come back and buy the same pair. So, we’re getting fill-in business and holding onto shelf space.

“We build good, quality products. These aren’t second class, price-point type brands,” Brooks adds. “Lastly, we continue to service our customers. Ninety percent of this is just showing up. We gotta be there. If we can do that, then we’ll win.” Did you expect the entire acquisition process to take this long? No. I thought we’d be able to accomplish it quicker, but lesson learned. In hindsight, I might have done a little smaller one. But I’m very pleased with the one we’ve made. I know the brands are great. I’ll admit, though, there were times I had to reassure myself. Like, we can do this, right? It’s just footwear. It’s boots in a box. It may sound funny now, but maybe I was a little naive. And while I don’t think you’re ever fully done with an integration, we’re completely out of Honeywell, we’re on our systems and in our warehouses. But we have a lot more work to do. We opened a new DC in Reno, NV, last year and we have a new factory that came with the acquisition in Rock Island, IL. We are still fine-tuning things. What prompted you to want to do take on such an enormous challenge in the first place? In 2019, our balance sheet was in a good place such that we were being challenged by our board

to grow the business more than the single-digit growth of the prior couple years. There are multiple ways to do that. One is an acquisition. Muck was already on my radar, and we started poking around Honeywell and asking questions. Finally, we were able to find a banker that got us in touch. We started the conversation in April of 2020, but then it went cold quick. Everyone pretty much put a hold on selling or buying anything and focused on their businesses as we waited to see if the world was coming to an end. Then, in July, Honeywell reached out to us again and said they were going to sell the division. They did an auction process, and we were fortunate enough to win. We signed the deal March 15, 2021. When you were named CEO, did your plans include tripling the size of the company in five years? Originally, I didn’t care about being a $500 million company, or whatever. What I wanted to do first was get our culture right. People weren’t happy working here. We had great brands, but we had pissed off the industry. We weren’t taking good care of our customer relationships. My goal was to fix that first. I wanted to get back to basics, define what our brands meant in the marketplace and provide that. That’s what we started on in

O F F TH E C UF F What are you reading? Over the past year and a half of our acquisition, a lot of legal documents. What was the last movie you saw? Maverick, which is phenomenal. I’m 51 this year and it really brought back to mind Top Gun. What might people be surprised to know about you? That I can get very sentimental. I shed a tear quite often. What brings it on? This company, often. Being fourth generation is very important to me. And the fact that we’re in this little community in southeast Ohio and our people have worked hard to make this business the success that it is. I don’t want to screw it up. So, I have a tendency to get emotional during directional meetings. I just want to make sure that I’m not stepping all over it.

What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was young, I wanted to be a professional golfer. But I learned, in about the eighth grade, that wasn’t going to happen. Then I became interested in psychology, and I thought about becoming a child psychologist during college. Then I ended up managing a bunch of sales guys as my first job and I figured it was the same damn thing, really. What is your favorite hometown memory? I grew up in Nelsonville, OH. My grandparents lived downtown and they had a swimming pool that my family would go to pretty much every Sunday in the summers for BBQs. My dad had four brother and sisters, and they all had kids, so it was just a big family event. What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever

received? Be humble and kind. It came from my dad. What is your favorite word? I’m not really big on certain words, but when we started this acquisition process at the beginning of 2021, the word that I kept using was patience. That has been really important to me and our company. What is inspiring you right now? Our people. This acquisition was very large. It almost doubled us in size, and the carve out from a very large company in Honeywell has been very complicated. I have stressed our people, and they’ve responded amazingly. We stumbled a bit last year, but everybody keeps standing up and working their butts off. What are five words to describe your life? Busy, loved, appreciative, humble and kind.

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Q&A like they have some ownership in the company, right? Before, our team didn’t feel like they had any. If we said it seemed like a bad idea, it was done anyway. So, people basically came to work, did their jobs and went home. Now, people come to work early, stay late and work at home. They want to be a part of this company. It’s not about one person. It’s not about me. It’s about the company, and we’re either going to succeed or fail together.

2017: Who do we want to be when we grow up? And I told the board upfront that we wouldn’t be growing 20 percent. If you can’t deal with two to four percent sales growth right now, then you’ve got the wrong guy. But I did say that we would be profitable, and we were. We got some stuff cleaned up, which included divesting of the Creative Rec skate brand that didn’t fit with us and shutting down Rocky 4EurSole nursing and Rocky SV2 outdoor brands that weren’t working. We just got back to focusing on our core brands of Rocky, Georgia Boot, Durango and Lehigh. We focused on supporting the customer, building great products, creating good marketing and servicing our people in a better way. We did that slowly from 2017-19. We just kept getting a little bit better each year. We added more money to the bottom line.

It sounds like you’ve utilized some of your psychology studies in this cultural transformation. Absolutely. That was my first order of business: To define what and who we want to be as a company. I met with a couple of other businesses that had done this kind of transformation to learn from them. A few months later, we created our new corporate values built around three core pillars of integrity, responsibility and humility. Bullet points include “be honest,” “own your own mistakes,” “seek input from others,” “support decisions,” and “courageously undertake difficult, tedious or unglamorous tasks.”

How did you get employees to rally around your new culture efforts? We created the Rocky Brands Values, which reset what we wanted to do as a company. Basically, we changed to listening to the people working here. The old regime didn’t take that into consideration. And while I understand that if you listen to too many people, you’ll be pulled in 500 different directions, it’s important to at least listen to your leadership team and take what they have that’s valuable and make that into a direction. Those people then feel

What’s the hardest aspects of your job now? The economy is really challenging. Logistics are still a challenge. Sourcing product from around the world is complicated. I also think continuing to focus on our core business and the culture of our company now as a $600 million entity presents a

new challenge. It’s one thing to do it at $280 million, but as we grow, we’ve got to find ways to keep our culture in a way that can sustain that kind of growth. We can start in Nelsonville and our existing factory base, and we’ll figure out if we need to change as we grow. You’ve got to evolve. You can’t stay status quo. What are your goals for the rest of this year? To execute on the plan that we’ve laid out. We have got to hit topline sales, make the bottom line happen and reduce our debt. We’ve got to get our balance sheet back in order a little bit. I don’t mind debt, but this one is pretty big. Reducing it would be helpful for our company in moving forward. Also, while some say I oversimplify, we’ve got great brands that we need to methodically stoke over the next three to five years to see which have the most growth potential. Then we need to really get behind them and strive for more market share. We’ve also got a big growth opportunity internationally. We don’t really do anything from a Rocky, Georgia Boot and Durango standpoint yet. Muck is doing some pretty good business in Europe, so I think there is some good opportunity there. And these current brands can collectively reach $1 billion? I think these brands can easily do $1 billion. I don’t

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6/24/22 2:39 PM


BORN TO RUN… ROCKY BRANDS Jason Brooks, the fourth generation to lead the company, is fulfilling his shoe destiny. JASON BROOKS HAD no intentions of working in the shoe business, never mind desires to take on the enormous pressure of serving as fourth-generation CEO of the company founded in 1932. Early on, Brooks had dreams of becoming a pro golfer, followed by thoughts, during college, of being a child psychologist. He even tended bar—much to the delight (not) of his father—for a stint post college. But a life in the shoe biz? Nah. Yet now, nearly 30 years into a happy and successful shoe career, Brooks finds himself as CEO (2017) and Chairman (2021) of Rocky Brands, and loving all of it. Was it destiny? Was it in his blood to take the baton from his father, Mike Brooks? Did Dad secretly nudge him on this path all along? “While I’m sure my dad thought it’d be nice, I never felt any pressure from him to be the next CEO of the company,” Brooks says, noting that after Rocky went public in the early ’90s such generational succession lessened in significance. “I think he always wanted me to make my own decisions, but maybe he guided me more than I’d ever realized.” Brooks’ first taste of working in the shoe business was the summer between junior and senior years of high school. Dad decided to teach son, who had suggested college might not be for him, a lesson. Brooks had proposed working in Rocky’s then Ohio-based factory as a career path. So, his father sent him off to the company’s Dominican Republic–based factory to see if the job suited him. “I lived with the plant manager and worked in the factory for three months learning how to make shoes,” Brooks recalls. “When I came back, my dad gave me my paycheck—$612! He paid me their factory wages, which he added was a supervisor’s hourly rate.” Message received. “I learned that I was going to go to college,” Brooks says. Brooks’ first job out of college was as a rep for Rock River in San

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Francisco. That lasted for about eight months before the outdoor brand went under. He then moved home, where he briefly took up bartending. At the time, Rocky used independent rep organizations, and it just so happens that Brooks was introduced to the man who oversaw some of the brand’s Southeast territory. Brooks was soon hired as a rep, moving to Atlanta where, over the next four years, he covered Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. He then returned to Ohio, taking a position in the corporate office as show manager. A little over a year later a sales territory opened in Florida and Brooks went back on the road. “I’d gotten married, had a newborn son and we moved to Tampa for about four years and then to Atlanta for about a year and a half before returning to Ohio in 2001 to become the national sales manager for Rocky,” he says. Brooks worked his way up to vice president of Rocky and then, following the acquisition of EJ Footwear in 2005, oversaw its Georgia Boot brand. Then, around 2010, Mike Brooks stepped down as CEO and David Sharp took over, while Brooks became president of wholesale, marketing and product development. In 2016, the board decided to go in another leadership direction. “My dad came back as interim CEO at the end of 2016, and that’s when I threw my hat into the ring, saying I’d like to take a shot at the position,” he says. Brooks had been amassing skills and experience for the CEO job for nearly two decades. One might even suggest he was being groomed for the position all along. Dads can move in mysterious ways. Brooks says his ambition to take on more responsibility began in 2001. “I really enjoyed my job as a rep, but I knew I was done,” he says. “I had to come back to the corporate office if I wanted more. That was always the big question for me: Do I want to do more in this business? And the answer is yes.” —G.D.

6/24/22 2:41 PM


Q&A see any reason for another acquisition any time soon. But possibly.

Strategy + Content + Design

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We specialize in award-winning custom content and marketing programs tailored to grow your business. www.footwearplusstudio.com

The fact that Rocky Brands plays in the largely pandemic-proof markets of western, work and outdoor should help, no? That’s definitely part of it. Those markets are performing extremely well. Our work business is our largest category among our brands combined, but Durango is just killing it right now. A lot of that is because of Boot Barn’s and farm & ranch category’s overall success. People are moving out of the big cities into rural areas, where they are getting into farming and gardening, or at least looking the part. On that note, Xtratuf is another brand that’s extremely hot right now. That’s hitting on that outdoor lifestyle, as is Muck. All our bands are doing well, but Durango and Xtratuf are just on a different trajectory. Is Xtratuf becoming a college fashion brand? We’ll continue to drive the business from an authentic performance work fishing brand. If other stores/consumers pick it up because they like it from a functional and style standpoint, that’s great. But we’re not going to chase fashion. And we’re definitely not going to chase a college student, because they’ll change their mind next week. Overall, we’ll stay truthful to all our brands and drive them from an authentic standpoint. How much is the popularity of shows like Yellowstone having an impact on western sales? We’d be naive to think it wasn’t a piece of it. In Yellowstone, the characters frequent a Murdoch’s store quite often. Our business with them is doing quite well. Like I mentioned, we’ll stay focused on our core business and if, by chance, Nordstrom wants to buy Durango and we have inventory, we’ll certainly consider it. But I’ve got to be able to provide inventory to Boot Barn first. That’s just who we are as a company. We don’t chase fads anymore. Beyond that, we have to be there, we have to have inventory, we have to have good branding and marketing, and we have to have good product. People won’t buy crap. If the boots don’t perform, then they’re going to move onto to something else. And Rocky Brands has been able to keep up with inventory demands despite supply chain issues? For the most part, yes. Going into 2020, our

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balance sheet was in an excellent position, so we continued to buy inventory. We slowed down a little, but we didn’t slam on the brakes like a lot of companies did. And they had to do what was right for their businesses based on their balance sheets. Today, I’d probably have to do something different, too. But, back then, that approach allowed us to steal some shelf space. Once we got through the first couple of months of, ‘Oh my God the world is coming to an end…’ and realizing that Tractor Supply didn’t close their doors because they were essential and that people were still going into those stores to buy boots, we were one of the few companies that had inventory. Now, we had a bit of a stumble in Q3 of 2021 because we just weren’t able to ship enough product. That has put us now in a little bit of Durango and an over-inventoried position, Xtratuf are the which normally people would current portfolio darlings of freak out about. But we priRocky Brands. marily sell black and brown boots that never really go out of style. So, I think we’re in a pretty good place overall. We’ll have inventory going into fall, and we’ll be able to provide a good service to our retailers and consumers. Might a future acquisition be outside of shoes? I would be remiss to say we never look outside of shoes. But that’s a little tougher. People often make mistakes when they do that. Like, I’m doing shoes, so I can do clothing, as well. But that’s a very different business. People laugh when I say Nike is a $40 billion business, but it does about $35 billion in footwear. Relatively speaking, Nike is a shoe company. In the meantime, I think we’re in a pretty good place and can continue to find places to grow our business and, again, steal some shelf space. It has to be a combination of both to really grow. I’ve got to steal shelf space from someone, as well as create some new pockets of growth. Like Muck, for example, has found with women’s gardening. Picking up little things like that can be really good. Why not launch a brand from scratch? Man, that may be the single, most difficult thing to do. To be perfectly frank, I don’t know if I have that passion. While I think I have enough passion to run this company and help these brands get bigger, creating a brand and making it successful…that’s another whole level of crazy, in my opinion. That’s a level of passion where you can’t tell them no. They’re >39

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4/28/22 5:18 3:47 PM PM 6/24/22


Running Tally

Central Park runners share their shoe and shopping preferences, as well as why the urban oasis is an ideal place to keep fit and escape New York. By Carrie Berk

THE PERKS OF CENTRAL PARK ARE MANY: greenery, no cars, abundant wildlife (including birds, turtles, raccoons, dogs, frogs and the occasional coyote), quiet trails, people-watching and incredible skyline views, to cite a few. It’s like giant lungs in the middle of Manhattan. People come here to breathe, physically and mentally. Not surprisingly, the park is a mecca for runners. Athletes of all levels enjoy its widely varied terrain, from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir Running Path to the hilly, paved six-mile loop circling the park to the many paths and trails crisscrossing in between. “It’s an oasis from the grit of urban living,” says park running regular George Lederman. “For a few moments of the day, you can partake in nature.” Here, Lederman and a smattering of weekend runners expound on what the park means to them, their running shoe styles and their shopping preferences.

GEORGE Wearing: Asics Nimbus. Next pair? Soon. I ordered them online. But I’m a bit upset because I learned that they stopped making the new models in the wide widths. I’m wondering what I’m going to do next. Do you prefer shopping online? I have wide feet, so my options are limited. It doesn’t make sense for me to shop in a store when I can get what I need

online with the few options I have. How often do you run in the park? Five to six miles each time, three to four times a week. Are you training for a race? No, I’m just trying to fend off old age. Why running? I’m addicted to it. You’re basically moving by using your own steam. No offense to those who ride bikes. [Biking] is great exercise, but I just think I’ve gauged my own performance based on my own physical state. How long have you been running? I’m not sure I want to admit how long it’s been. I ran in high school. I used to run competitively, but now I just do it for health.

LIS Wearing: Asics. I have skinny flipper feet and they fit me perfectly. Where did you purchase your shoes? Fleet Feet in Hartford, CT. I knew I wanted Asics, but I went to the store and tried them on. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? Fleet Feet had a running program that was free, so I thought it was important to spend money at the store. Next pair? I buy the same sneakers all the time. What do you love about running in Central Park? It’s beautiful. There are different terrains, lots of loops, lots of variations. You can mix and match. It’s also nice to run with other people. It

motivates me to keep going. How often do you run in the park? Two to three times a week.

DAVID Wearing: Brooks Glycerin GTS. This is a long-run shoe, and I like the cushioning and stability. Where did you purchase them? Online. I do a huge amount of online research. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? People in the stores tend not to be that helpful. Although sometimes I feel obligated to purchase [in store]. But if I have the knowledge, it’s usually simpler and less expensive to shop online. What do you love about running in Central Park? It’s a beautiful place, and it has hills. I also have friends here who I love to see. It keeps me younger. It gets me out of the house—apologies to my wife. It just makes me happy. How often do you run in the park? I do the loop once a week. How long did you run today in these shoes? 13 miles. Not super long. Next pair? I’m looking for a medium-distance tempo running style. I’m going to research and probably try a new brand.

APRIL Wearing: Hoka. I’ve seen a lot of other people wearing them, so I knew it was a good brand.

Dave Lis

Francesco

George

Amanda Lucy Ed

April Edward

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They’re cushy and comfortable. They’re also really easy to walk in. Where did you buy them? At Buffalo Exchange, a used clothing store. They were nice and cheap, so I was like, “Heck, yeah.” Do you prefer shopping in person or online? I have big feet, so I usually have to go online. It’s less frequent that I’ll find my size in a store, but I’d rather shop in person. Next pair? I just got these, so I guess in the winter. They’re still in pretty good shape. What do you love about running in Central Park? I really like people-watching. I always run the opposite way as the bikers so that I can just look at everyone. It’s very much a community. I like that it’s everyone’s backyard. How often do you run in the park? A couple of times a week.

LUCY Wearing: Asics. I have pairs in different colors. Ever since I’ve been running, I’ve worn these. They’re comfortable and have good support. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? I like trying the shoes on in store, but if I need something and don’t have the time to go get it in a store, then I shop online. What do you love about running in Central Park? The exercise, the people-watching, the scenery. How long have you been running in the park? Since I moved here about four years ago. How many miles do you run? Sometimes, I go around the loop twice, which is 12 miles, or I’ll go around once. Why running? I used to run when I was younger. It’s embedded in me. I have health issues—diabetes. Exercise is good for me. I run to stay healthy.

AMANDA Wearing: Nike Pegasus 38. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? I prefer shopping in store to try them on, but some-

Lindsay

times the sales are better online. How many miles per week do you run? Right now, about 15, but I’m training for the marathon. I run this loop twice a week. Will these Pegasus 38s be your marathon shoes? I like these a lot. I also have Saucony Endorphin Speeds, which I’ve worn in races before. The plate is soft. It’s nylon instead of carbon. I like the rocker shape and wide footbed. What do you love about running in Central Park? The greenery and the people-watching. I’ve seen some weirdos here. How long have you been running in the park? Since I moved here last August.

ALEX Wearing: Brooks Ghost. They’re the only shoes that don’t hurt my feet. Where did you purchase them? JackRabbit on 14th Street. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? Online. I’m a size 14, so it’s really hard for me to find shoes in a store. Next pair? Probably the same, unless they have a new version. Usually, I buy two of the same pair, and I’ll alternate them every other run. After about 400 miles, I switch them out. How many miles per week do you run? About 20. What do you love about running in Central Park? The crowds. There’s always something to look at. Also, being in as much nature as you can be for living in New York City. How often do you run in the park? Once a week. How long have you been running? It’s been 20 years. I feel like crap, sometimes. On the inside, I’ve been crying the whole way up the hill here.

EDWARD Wearing: Asics GEL-Cumulus 20. It’s a very stable and reliable shoe. It’s the only shoe that works for me. It’s the only shoe I buy. I’ve been wearing them for 20 years. Where did you purchase them? Online. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? I only shop online. Most of the people in stores don’t know what they’re talking about, unless you go to a specialty store. A lot of the generic stores have no idea. What do you love about running in Central Park? It’s relaxing to run in the park. I see people I know. You can run a long distance on a soft, dirt surface. How often do you run in the park? Five times a week.

ANNA

Anna

Alex

Wearing: Brooks Ghost. I like that they’re even-cushioned. They don’t hurt my knees. I don’t feel like they’re too high, but they’re also not too low to the ground. Did you purchase the shoes online or in person? Online at Brooks. Do you prefer shopping online? I usually shop online because I know that I like this pair. I just Alex

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buy a couple of pairs at a time and rotate. If I was looking for a new style, I would go into a store. What do you love about running in Central Park? The hills. I live downtown, so my morning run is very flat. It’s nice to come up here on the weekends to have the hills and trees. How long have you been running? About 10 years. How many miles per week do you run? 35 to 40 miles. LINDSAY Wearing: Brooks. I have really high arches, and these offer a lot of support. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? Online. They never have my size in stores. But if it’s my first time trying a new shoe, then I prefer to go in a store. Next pair? I want to try Hoka. My best friend tried the new Lululemon sneakers. She seems to like them. But I think she has more of a flat foot, so I don’t take her sneakers recommendations. I buy a new pair about every six months. I know it’s time when my feet start to hurt. What do you love about running in Central Park? The freedom. There’s no traffic, and there’s great dog-watching. How long have you been running in the park? Two years. How many miles per week do you run? I usually do three-and-a-half to five miles in one stretch, three to four days a week.

ED Wearing: I only wear New Balance because I have very wide feet. They’re lightweight, cushioned and neutral. I’ve had about five or six pairs. Where did you buy them? Online at Joe’s New Balance Clearance Outlet. Do you prefer shopping online or in person? If I go to the store, it’s because I’m looking to try a new model. But most stores don’t have the width I need. New Balance Clearance is also usually cheaper. How long before buying a new pair? 400 miles. Next pair? I bought four pairs of sneakers the other day, four different styles of New Balance. One that I know I like was the last pair left on clearance. The other three are styles I want to try. What do you love about running in Central Park? It gives me freedom. How often do you run in the park? About four or five times a week.

FRANCESCO Wearing: Saucony. I like the cushioning. For races, it’s usually Nike or Asics. Where did you purchase them? Online. Next pair? I think Nike VaporFlys for the London Marathon. What do you love about running in Central Park? The nature and people. I like being with other runners. I’m a member of the New York Flyers running club. We have several group runs. How often do you run in the park? Almost every day. 19

6/25/22 1:22 PM


SCENE & HEARD

New Menswear Show THE TIMING, SETTING and format are spot-on for Society for International Menswear, a new trade event at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion (July 17-18) by Wainscot Media, publishers of Footwear Plus. Coleman McCartan, vice president of International Business Development for Wainscot Media, says the show fills a void in the New York market caused by the pandemic. “With little appetite for large shows, we knew Society for International Menswear needed to be a highly-curated show with a significantly focused exhibitor feed that is accessible,” McCartan says. “Society brings together a global community of elevated menswear brands during the key buying season in New York. We’re connecting a curated group of domestic and international footwear, apparel and accessory brands with the most important retailers in North America.” Curation is key. It’s about quality over quantity. “We believe it’s incumbent on any show to add value through a very specific point of view, something we’ve accomplished by curating a group of high-end menswear brands ranging from sartorial to contemporary,” McCartan

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explains. “And our easy-to-shop showroom format will put the focus on the product and ensures a simple set-up that lowers the financial barrier for brands, especially those newly on the rise.” He adds that Society’s location,

Coleman McCartan, director, Society for International Menswear

the centrally located Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th St., makes it an “easy destination for retailers seeking new collections.” As for footwear, McCartan says there will be plenty of brands and styles on display, including Edward Green, Naadam, Serge Blanco and first-timers to the U.S., Stilnology from Italy, Martin Pescador of Colombia and Portugal’s JEF. “Footwear buyers will be exposed to

brands that include noteworthy shoes within their collections, but who may not attend footwear-exclusive events,” he says, noting the added sartorial benefits of seeing collections merchandised head-to-toe. Along those lines, Society sponsor, Blacks Retail Consulting, will present “The Secrets to Strong Retailer/Vendor Relationships” seminar. In addition, industry veteran, Michael Macko, will present Society Picks, a still-life presentation showcasing select exhibitors. The opening night also aligns with the annual MR Awards, hosted by MR magazine in partnership with parent company, Wainscot Media. This year’s honorees include Louis DiGiacomo, senior vice president Men’s for Saks Fifth Avenue; Shannon Stewart, chief product officer for Harry Rosen; JL Shaia, co-owner of Shaia’s and Jeff Halberstadt, owner of Halberstadt’s Men’s Clothing. McCartan expects a strong turnout for Society’s debut. There’s a demand and a need. “Buyer registration indicates that it’ll be a healthy market with key retailers from across the U.S. and Canada returning to New York after a prolonged absence due to the pandemic,” he reports.

6/24/22 1:42 PM


SCENE & HEARD

IR Show Ready for Round Two THE DEBUT IR SHOW in San Diego early last February went off pretty much without a hitch, which is really saying something. Recall that the new show, in a new city and a new format took place amid Covid’s raging Omicron variant. A lot could have gone wrong. Despite the obstacles, however, brands and buyers showed up, and business got done. What’s more, nearly all attendees said they’d return for the second edition, which takes place (Aug. 2-4), at the San Diego Convention Center. Gary Hauss, show director, is building off the solid foundation that made the first IR Show a success. That includes the 10-minute ride from the airport to the convention center and the fact that many of the hotels in the city’s historic Gas Lamp District are in walking distance. There’s also the sunny, but not blazing hot, weather. And, most of all, Hauss cites the show’s affordability. “Our show is all about keeping costs down and having the best brands under one roof showing their latest collections,” Hauss says, citing a 96 percent returning brands rate, as well as many new ones joining the mix.

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“It’s about keeping it simple; making it about the product and the people. It’s for retailers to be able to meet with heads of state at a time when many of them aren’t attending as many shows. It’s about giving quality networking time after the show each night with a cocktail party and (this time) a San Diego Padres baseball game.” The game is Aug. 2, vs. the Colorado Rockies. Discounted tickets (grouped together) can be purchased for $12 each at theirshow.com registration link. Petco Park is across the street from the convention center. Day two of the show will kick off with an NSRA seminar from 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. The IR Show will also host a cocktail party with open bar on the show floor that evening. All attendees are invited. Overall, Hauss is sticking to the IR Show playbook of keep it simple. Less cost and hubbub are more, he believes. “When we met Gary Hauss, director, IR Show about what we should do for our second show, there wasn’t much we had to change,” he says, noting that retailer attendance (as of mid June) spans 20 states and two countries. “Just keep doing what worked, and let the growth come naturally from brands and buyers.” Hauss adds, “We already have an incredible line up on the comfort side, and we’re getting more on the fashion side, as well as a great line up of work boot brands.”

6/24/22 1:43 PM


A N OT E T O M Y Y OU N G E R S E L F

T U R N T H E PA G E Jo h n P i e r c e , v i c e p r e s i d e n t o f s a l e s f o r L a m o , r e f l e c t s o n a r o a d to success, complete with speedbumps and surprises. young, energetic basketball junkies. While you’re much older than DEAR JP, I’m delivering this note to you via Marty McFly’s almost everyone, you learn from them as much as they learn from DeLorean. It’s July 2022. You have no idea what lies ahead, but I’m you. Teamwork is always a winning formula! Keith Daly, And1’s writing to tell you everything will be ok. The ups and downs that executive VP, then gives you your first opportunity to sell. You jump you’ve encountered thus far have prepared you for a life filled with at the chance to become a key account rep, relying on the golden rules many ups, some downs and a few twists and turns. Take the road learned working on the floor and in the buying office: listen to your as it comes, and always be willing to turn the page and embrace customers, build meaningful relationships and always be truthful. new adventures. And while And1 rockets in popularity only to then struggle under Your love of sports guides you into an industry that you’re still involved such sustained expectations, you stay even keeled. That steadiness in today! I’m sure you never thought that’d be possible when you first enables you to rise the ranks to director of walked into Foot Locker’s Dallas offices to apply sales and learn how product is built and for its manager program. But the training and priced. Life is good. demands of that job lay the foundation for a But then American Sporting Goods acquires rewarding career in the footwear industry. And1 and you hit a speedbump: layoff #1. Right away, you love the interaction with the Happy 40th birthday—not! But, to paraphrase customers and mentoring staff. You learn that Bob Seger’s Turn the Page, “Here I am/On the teamwork is the key to success. You make sure road again/There I go/Turn the page.” You everyone knows what needs to be done each do just that, joining Pony Intl. as East Coast day. Sales growth drives you to work long hours Sales Manager, helping bring that brand to and weekends, which is just a fact of retail life. life. This stop also opens the door to your next It’s also how you’re wired. You love the chase. adventure—a move into casual footwear. You You love to win. meet the owner of Bearpaw on a golf course. After huge success managing your first store, He asks you to join his team. You jump at the you’re offered an opportunity to turn around chance to become a regional sales manager. another, bigger store in Texarkana, of all east Sheepskin boots are all the rage, and you help Texas places. Don’t be afraid, however, to turn the team score large sales increases. the page. Focus on the playbook that got you Hard work, tenacity and leadership skills here. The same retail fundamentals apply in a lead you to becoming Bearpaw’s VP of Sales. bigger store. But you quickly learn, living in a A few years later, you become President. You small town, that relationships matter. As such, help bring hosiery and loungewear licensees you develop strong ones with neighboring retail into the portfolio while expanding the brand managers and customers. Many customers beyond sheepskin styles. But just when you keep coming back, believing in you. Your hard think you can press cruise control, you’re hit work pays off: new location, same successful Career kickoff: John Pierce, sports the with another speedbump: layoff #2. Don’t freak results. The in-store hours, however, are long Foot Locker uniform, working the out, though. Your industry reputation will allow and grueling. Soon, it’s time to turn the page NFL Experience at the 1997 Super Bowl. you, as Seger sings, to get “Up on that stage/ to find your next adventure. Playin’ star again/Turn the page.” Next stop: Dallas and buying footwear for Heads up, though. It’s a two-year search before you’re singing that JCPenney. You now have a young family to support. The new gig gets tune again. That’s when you land back on your (sheepskin) feet, as VP you out of working long, in-store hours. Over the next four years, you of sales for Lamo. You know the market well. You know what it takes buy men’s, women’s and children’s athletic footwear. You meet all kinds to build a powerful brand. Life is good—again. of new and interesting people from the vendor world. Thoughts creep Hey, Marty wants his DeLorean back. Before I go, though, know into your mind of making the jump to the other side of the table as you that your turn the page stops are all worth it! They’ve molded you into create strong relationships. When you add hot and hip And1 to the mix, something to be proud of and lead you to a great place. And remember, you sense huge potential. You push to join their team. When they offer when life gets rough, at the end of the day, it’s just shoes! you a position as product marketing manager, definitely turn the page! See you down the road, Put retail in your rear view mirror, but take with you all the valuable lessons you’ve learned along the way. They’ll come in handy! JP And1 brings a move to Philadelphia and working with a bunch of

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All That

COMFORT

Rubber outsole for unsurpassed

Style FUSARO

High quality leather upper coupled with fine artisanal hand stitched construction for maximum

F L EXIB ILI T Y

D URABILITY

Soft leather vegetable dye upper, with leather lining and insoles for extra

SUPPO R T

BREATHABILITY

springfootwear.com | 800.962.0030

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Well padded removable insole for additional balance and

/Springfootwear

6/24/22 5:19 PM


HOTTO TROT Retro to modern silhouettes set the pace for guys this spring.

Ambitious

Geox

BY ANN LOYND BURTON PHOTOGRAPHY BY TREVETT MCCANDLISS

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Naot

Gola

Clarks

Minnetonka

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Dearfoams slip-ons feature form-fitting knit uppers. 27

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Cougar jogger features a waterproof nylon upper. Opposite: Sneaker with chunky outsole by Dansko. 28

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J/Slides slip-ons with breathable knit upper. Opposite: Vulcanized sneakers with asymmetrical lacing by Jambu.

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Lamo deck sneakers with lightweight EVA outsole and breathable knit upper. Minnetonka sneaker features a 100 percent mesh lining and a 70 percent sugarcane EVA outsole.

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Naot sneakers feature breathable knit upper and removeable cork and latex footbed. Opposite: Knit and suede retro jogger with chunky outsole by OTBT. 34

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Photography by Justin Bridges; Styling by Melina Kemph; Fashion editor: Ann Loynd Burton; Model: Lauren Forge/ The Industry Model Mgmt.; Hair and Makeup: Lindsay Cullen; Prop stylist/set design: Diana Bianchi; Casting by Eric Cano; Photo assistant: Tyler Kufs.

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S H O W C A S E S P R I NG ’ 2 3

Aetrex is a leader in foot scanning technology, orthotics and comfort footwear. Aetrex uses learnings from over 40 million foot scans to help inform the development of its footwear and orthotic lines, making products that truly fit and anatomically support the feet. The IR Show: Aug. 2-4 The Atlanta Shoe Market: Aug. 13-15 Dallas Apparel & Accessories Show: Aug. 23-26

Founded in the Black Forest region of Southern Germany in 1874, Rieker’s philosophy has always been to provide not just a better product, but the best people can buy. Rieker produces high quality leisure products that not only look good, but enhance the wearer’s lifestyle. Rieker shoes are famous for their longevity. In today’s lifestyle-driven market, Rieker is unique in being able to quickly respond to the fashion trends that men and women desire. Come see us at all major and regional shows!

Twisted X creates comfortable, handcrafted footwear for men, women and kids across the lifestyle, western, work and outdoor categories. In addition to producing innovative products for its customers, Twisted X is known for its cutting-edge comfort technologies, sustainability mindset and philanthropic roots. To learn more about Twisted X footwear and contributions to the community: www.twistedx.com Each pair of Harborsides features genuine vegan uppers and proprietary plush memory foam insole technology to offer comfort in every step. Together with our passion for sleek aesthetics, we have developed a uniquely chic footwear brand that enables women everywhere to wander comfortably — wherever your next adventure takes you.

FFANY: Aug. 1-5 The Atlanta Shoe Market: Aug. 13-15

Floafers is modernizing the foam footwear space with a collection of waterproof loafers — fun, family-friendly styles that are instant wardrobe essentials. Fashionable and comfortable, Floafers feature enhanced arch support and massage pods while keeping feet safely on the ground with slip-resistant outsoles. Crafted of antimicrobial EVA, they clean up easily with soap and water.

www.floafers.com Magic: Aug. 8-10 The Atlanta Shoe Market: Aug. 13-15

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The IR Show: Aug. 2-4 The Atlanta Shoe Market: Aug. 13-15 Mid-States Rendezvous: Aug. 18-21 Nation’s Best Sports: Aug. 23-25 WESA: Aug. 25-28 Worldwide Show: Aug. 30-Sept. 1

SECRET CELEBRITY proudly presents fashion, comfort, quality and value. Built with extra padded insoles and flexible outsoles for ultimate comfort and fit, our sassy, city chic and on-trend designs offer a dressy flair.

www.secrecelebrityshoes.com/enjoiyagroup.com

6/26/22 4:43 PM


Founded in Seattle in 1891, Western Chief began making boots to hold up against the tough weather conditions of the Alaska Gold Rush. Today, Western Chief ’s collection spans lovable character rain boots for kids, whimsical and cozy boots for women, and durable work boots for men. Whether for play, trudging through muddy fields, gardening or navigating city streets, Western Chief has you covered with affordable, functional boots and shoes to fit your lifestyle.

Westernchief.com

Magic: Aug. 8-10 The Atlanta Shoe Market: Aug. 13-15

www.enjoiya.com/enjoiyagroup.com

Soft Comfort merges the ultimate combination of fashion, comfort, quality and fit in women’s footwear. From summer sandals and comfy slippers to casual flats and boots, Soft Comfort delivers great value “on-trend” footwear to consumers. A soft, comfortable and satisfying journey is our pledge!

www.softcomfortshoes.com

At Naot, we are passionate about creating a better world by making people feel comfortable. Crafted by hand through the combined efforts of people from different cultures and backgrounds, Naot shoes are ethically made using sustainable methods with materials of the highest quality. Fine Italian leathers combined with our signature cork insoles, make for an unparalleled combination of quality, fashion and comfort. The IR Show: Aug. 2-4 The Atlanta Shoe Market: Aug. 13-15 BSTA: Aug. 21-22 Dallas Apparel & Accessories Show: Aug. 23-26

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ENJOIYA features classic/contemporary Euro-style designs in exquisite colors and materials. Ultra comfort and superb fit are the cornerstones. From dress, sport casuals, boots, sandals and slippers, the collection is captivating.

800.435.3577 www.naot.com

Join us at Spring Footwear in celebrating over 30 years in the creation, design and development of comfortable, gorgeous and Euro-inspired footwear. Our passion, growth and evolution is unsurpassed in the industry, and all started by twin teenagers, David and Avi Ben Zikry, coming to America and wondering why the women in New York City were all wearing sneakers and carrying their pumps in their bags! Having grown up in the shoe business their entire lives, they knew they could reinvent the comfort shoe business to be beautiful and comfortable!

Remonte, under the Rieker umbrella, is distributed widely in the U.S. and internationally. Remonte is committed to a young and modern design style with high-quality materials using its tradition of craftsmanship dating back more than 100 years. Remonte’s cool, hip, fashionable look is accompanied by maximum comfort. Come see us at all major and regional shows!

6/27/22 9:57 AM


Passion Play

The trio behind Culture of Brave on how the luxury brand lives up to its name in mind, body and sneakers. By Greg Dutter

CULTURE OF BRAVE is a catchy name. The luxury sneaker label’s “wings” logo is equally attentiongrabbing. Since launching in 2020, the Italian- and Portuguese-made brand has gained decent traction, despite hurdles brought on by the pandemic and being a newbie in a market of established behemoths. Just how is that possible? It starts with the divide-andconquer capabilities of the three founding partners, Jaco Buitendag, Custodian; Michelle Wray, Chief Evangelist; and Lead Designer Roberta Grillo. “We bring together all the skills needed to grow a business, to produce great designs with impeccable and consistent production, and to manage the supply chain to meet our customer’s needs,” Wray says. “We listen to our retailers on what works and what the pain points are, and we listen to our customers about any design and comfort improvements.” Then there’s the added key ingredient: being nice. “People like to do business with nice people, and we are super nice to work with,” Wray offers. “If something’s wrong, we want to know and fix it. We invest and nurture our relationships because we’re just nice like that, and it’s the right way to do business.” Buitendag, an engineer by trade, hails from the mining industry, where he created a global OEM brand. He left to chase his “ultimate passions” of fashion and sneakers. “Using my skills as an engineer, I bring a unique perspective to our product design, merging function and beauty,” he says. “Being the Custodian of the brand means the buck stops with me. I’m always up for that challenge. Culture of Brave reflects the individual courage, bravery and resilience I’ve shown throughout my personal journey to get to where I am today.” Wray, a multi-skilled entrepreneur and seasoned marketing professional, is a lover of sneakers. “And I love brands that stand for something,” she says. “Culture of Brave feels like my life story, stepping in courage at every turn, living with my whole-heart and knowing that, no matter what, everything will be ok. Success and failure are only separated by how many times you are prepared to risk.” Wray feels lucky to have a job that breathes life into a brand that she believes belongs to everyone. “We all have a story to share, and courage is our human attribute tying our collective stories together in Culture of Brave,” she says. Grillo is a self-taught designer and shoemaker who has refined her skills over the past 25 years. She has designed performance and luxury lifestyle sneakers, working with small artisans and huge factories. “I remain fascinated

by the artisan creation process and how, through hours of hard work, you can transform your idea into a shoe,” she says. “I’m in love with hybrids, which I believe are a celebration of evolution. Nature keeps combining complex concepts with clear and clean lines, which offer little resistance to change.” Grillo’s designs crossbreed ancient artisan techniques with modern lines and volumes to create a product that has “roots in traditions but looks to the future.” In what ways is COB unique? Wray: We focus on classic silhouettes and quality leathers to create a timeless sneaker. We’re well-priced for our quality. (SRP: $285-$325; $695 for the 280 pairs only Individual Courage collection.) Whilst there’s a huge market for fast fashion at a lower-price point, we don’t want to be a part of that downside of being less durable and trending out quickly.

Jaco Buitendag, Michelle Wray and Roberta Grillo are team Culture of Brave.

What are some of COB’s signature design elements? Wray: All our sneakers have Culture of Brave wings on the upper. Their shape is designed to mirror your feet on the ground. Wings are a metaphor of freedom, and when you step in courage, you create your freedom and conquer your fears. Our sneaker collections are named Courage, Resilient, Prepared to Risk, Free Soul and Individual Courage, which is silkscreened on the respective inner tongues. Literally, you’re reminded what attribute to embrace in your steps for the day.

How has the pandemic impacted the launch? Wray: Actually, it’s been relatively good for us. We brought stock into the U.S. and were able to offer retailers open sizing and no minimums. It was a lot easier to grow relationships with stores by being able to immediately ship orders, and a lot of customers appreciated that we had stock and were willing to take small orders to allow them to explore our sneakers and see how their customers responded. Every customer that tried us, has placed repeat orders. They love our quality, brand, pricing and design. We also invested in our systems. Our B2B customers can access a digital portal, view what stock we have, track orders and pre-order for replacement shipments and new releases. We want our retail customers to have better certainty in managing stock. Another upside of the pandemic is our DTC channel took off. But we will never, ever

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Q&A discount on our site. How could we demonstrate the value in our sneakers if our online store is discounted? What are your current goals? Wray: We’re focused on growing our retail customer base. Ideally, we want to be in the top one or two stores in every major town and city. We don’t want to be the brand that’s in every store. That said, the journey is at least 3,000 days long. It takes a decade to build a brand that’s recognized and loved. We’re in for the long-haul to build a brand that lives in the hearts and minds of our customers. So, one customer at a time, be that B2B and direct. What’s the theme of the Spring ’23 collection? Grillo: We’re peeling back the layers of winter to shine and get fresh! For women, we’re featuring “Shine Courage” and “Shine Free Soul,” using gorgeous combinations of soft maya, glitter and suede leathers. The silhouettes are low cuts, classic and sporty. Shine complements the fresh and creamy white leathers in our Courage and Free Soul collections. For men, we’re introducing “Natural Courage” in three shades of natural vegetable tanned leathers with fire embossed features alongside the fresh and creamy white leathers in our Courage and Free Soul collections. Where do you look for design inspiration? Grillo: Design inspiration is in everything and everywhere in the world around us. Sometimes, it’s in the curve of a chin, the colors of leaves, the way rubber wears against stone and seeing tear-filled eyes. Wray: It’s also the not-so-lucid thinking while recovering from shoulder and bunion surgery! Design is driven by our sensitivity and response of all our senses. It’s hard to say where it comes from but, as a team, we constantly marvel at the strangest things that sets off the next idea for design. We throw crazy things at Roberta, and she gives Jaco and I, who are both South African, her Italian tsk-tsks but somehow makes sense of our chaos. What was the best piece of design advice you’ve ever received? Buitendag: It’s from me. If it doesn’t add unbelievable value to the customer, then it serves no purpose. Grillo: Less is more and no compromises. Wray: It’s actually cooking advice: an exquisite dish only needs five ingredients. Sneakers are the same. More than what’s essential destroys perfect simplicity. Who are designers you admire? Grillo: It goes without saying, the classic sneaker designers Peter Moore and Tinker Hatfield, who pioneered the way for all sneaker designers. And, of course, Virgil Abloh for all of his work in the luxury brands he exemplified, created and designed for. His work created legacy.

continued from page 16 never going to quit. They’ll figure a way out to make that brand a reality. People who have the vision and drive to grow a new brand to $15 or $20 million and then, after an acquisition, stay on a few more years to help it get to around $50 million…I love those guys, but they’re crazy. Might the outdoor performance and lifestyle market present the greatest growth potential? That outdoor hiking and casual footwear segment is probably the largest and fastest growing category right now. But that category is an interesting challenge for us, because when we talk about outdoor, it’s more toward the hunting lifestyle. Rocky has got a little bit of a stigmatism with regard to blood sports. So, while we’ve been able to dabble in hiking, REI won’t even give us a look. I think if and when we do another acquisition, that would be a good one for us to find. A brand doing $20 million to $40 million, which is what Wolverine did with Merrell. It’s refreshing hearing about a company in a strong growth mode when much of the last two years has been about the opposite. Still, how do you remain optimistic in the face of record inflation, looming recession, pandemic, wars, supply chain disruptions, etc., etc.? All in the Durango family: the western brand is on fire. You don’t have a choice. If I wasn’t optimistic, I’d fail. Coming into the office only to sit in a corner and cry isn’t an option. You have to be optimistic in this business. I had a teacher once draw a little circle and said inside that is what you have control over. So just get it done. Then he drew another circle around it and said that’s all the stuff that you can have influence on, so you better be nice. Then he drew a big-ass circle around those two circles and said this is the stuff you have no control over, so you better get over it. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that lesson. I don’t have any control over what’s going on in Ukraine, or how our president is addressing inflation. I listen and try to understand how it might affect our business so we can try and react. But the reality is, I don’t have any control over that. I’ve got to pay attention, but I’ve also got to get over it.

What is your first shoe memory? Wray: I was four and got black patent leather shoes for a wedding. They were probably fake leather, but they looked like shiny ballet shoes, with a little heel, round toe and a strap across the front! I wouldn’t take those shoes off for months. I felt like everyone could see me when I wore them! I discovered then how shoes can transform how you felt about yourself!

What do you love most about your job? I love this business and all of our brands. I love helping our company get better and more profitable. But what I love most is helping people with jobs. I love hearing when one of our employees tells me they took their family to Disneyland. Rocky Brands helped make that happen, because they have a great job. I don’t need fame and fortune, or to be viewed as some great CEO. I just don’t want to screw this company up. Similarly, I don’t need our brands to be the sexiest ones in the marketplace. I just need them to be successful. And in trying to do that as a public company, I have to deal with demands for continued growth. That’s ok. That’s the deal. That may involve acquisitions, which require me to make sure they are right for the company and keep our investors happy with our growth.

What do you love most about designing? Buitendag: The way shoes will make people feel! Grillo: Seeing an idea that you draw become something real that people will wear! Wray: Knowing that leather will go through this amazing process and when people own our sneakers, they become the set of intangibles that live in their hearts and minds.

How much growth is enough? If we are get this company to $1 billion, I think I’d say, “Hey, you did ok, Jason. That’s not bad.” And if we can just perform, it’ll work out. We don’t have to be brilliant. We just have to show up and do ok. The investors will be fine, they’ll make a little money on the stock and they won’t bug us too much. We just have to execute on the plan that we say we’re going to do. • 2022 july • footwearplusmagazine.com 39

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L A S T S HO T

Mine Craft

Metallic—Ah! All that glitters is bold.

J/Slides

Naot

All Black

NASA

Gabor

P H OTO G R A P H Y BY T R E V E T T M CC A N D L I SS

Culture of Brave

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Featur ing Aetr ex or thotic suppor t and me mor y foam cushioning for supe r ior comfor t

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