THE SOURCE FOR RETAILERS • SEPTEMBER 2010 • $10.00
Buzz Worthy Trade Shows Round-Up
Titan Talent Daughters on the Rise
Basking in ’70s nostalgia for spring
This Just In Jersey Shore
Trend Spotting Two-Tones
Caroline Diaco Publisher Greg Dutter Editorial Director Nancy Campbell Creative Director EDITORIAL Leslie Shiers Managing Editor Angela Velasquez Audrey Goodson Associate Editors Christine Bove Editorial Intern
4 Editor’s Note
Smoky gray Cordani heel; pink wedge by Mea Shadow.
6 Op-Ped 20 What’s Selling
8 What’s Abuzz
16 Designing Women
22 This Just In
Cautious optimism dominated the show floors of WSA, FFANY, TASM, Outdoor Retailer and FN Platform. By the Editors
Celine Ouaknine-Soto and Jessica Palermo have followed their dads to Titan Industries, but their talent and passion prove nepotism is not at work. By Angela Velasquez
23 Trend Spotting
18 What’s In a Name?
Advice on finding a solid store moniker— plus, retailers discuss how they found the perfect fit. By Leslie Shiers
10 Q&A: Bearpaw CEO Tom Romeo explains the importance of his company’s family values and how he has managed to make a mark in the sheepskin category and beyond. By Greg Dutter
34 Shoe Salon 35 Trend Spotting
40 Made You Look
Hard wooden soles update street fashions with a feminine ’70s vibe. Pura Lopez chunky wedge. Ali Ro dress; Winter Kate tunic; plaid shirt by Rebecca Taylor; Trina Turk sleeveless jacket. ON THE COVER: Union Bay heeled clog. Ali Ro burnout tee; Araks blouse; Leroy and Perry vest; Dallin Chase skirt; socks by J.Crew. Photography by Candace Meyer.
FOOTWEAR PLUS ™ (ISSN#1054-898X) Vol. 21 issue #8 The fashion magazine of the footwear industry is published monthly (except for bimonthly April/May and October/November editions) by 9Threads, 8 West 38th Street, Suite 201, New York, NY, 10018-0150. 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. 9Threads will assume no responsibility for loss or damage. No portion of this issue may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. ©2010 by 9Threads. Printed in the United States.
CREATIVE Trevett McCandliss Art Director Jessica Ziccardi Art Assistant CONTRIBUTORS Michel Onofrio Fashion Stylist Dorothy Hong Photojournalist Kathy Passero Editor at Large Jamie Wetherbe West Coast Editor ADVERTISING Jennifer Craig Advertising Director Erwin Pearl Special Accounts Laurie Guptill Production Manager ADMINISTRATION Alexandra Marinacci Operations Manager Melanie Prescott Circulation Manager Julie Gibson Webmaster Theodore Hoffman Special Projects Director CONTACT INFO Sales/Editorial Offices 8 West 38th Street, Ste. 201 New York, NY 10018 Tel: (646) 278-1550 Fax: (646) 278-1553 editorialrequests@ 9threads.com Circulation Office 21 Highland Circle Needham, MA 02494 Tel: (800) 964-5150 Fax: (781) 453-9389 firstname.lastname@example.org CORPORATE 9Threads 26202 Detroit Road, #300 Westlake, OH 44145 Tel: (440) 871-1300 Xen Zapis, Chairman Lee Zapis, President Rich Bongorno, CFO Rita O’Brien VP Business Development David Sutula VP Technology Leslie Sutula VP Account Services Phong Q. Nguyen, Brad Istnick, Lenny Vella Art Directors
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editor’s note getting our groove back 7
Blue Jeans Blues COMING OFF THE recent round of trade shows, where an industry divided among venues stands weaker, I did my best to get a read on our beloved footwear market. Its current health: on the mend—hopefully. Mood: cautious at best. Prospects: optimistic, as always, but those rose-colored glasses appear to be shattered. Sure, the usual hunger for the latest buzz—what’s new, hot and trending—coursed through the showrooms and the show ﬂoors. But the overall mood still seemed dampened by the dark economic clouds that continue to hang over our collective conscience. They refuse to lift enough for even the most optimistic types to clearly see their way to brighter days ahead. One need only check the recent unemployment ﬁgures to know that this isn’t a real recovery. While many corporations are reporting their best proﬁts in years, it appears to be at the expense of rehiring workers in meaningful numbers. If that’s the “new normal” pundits have been discussing, then it doesn’t bode well for consumers or our industry, in particular. The fact that the 100-year-old
Mott’s applesauce company recently reported record proﬁts yet still asked its workers to take signiﬁcant salary cuts and froze pensions this year shines a cold light on what’s really happening. Consumers consume discretionary goods when they have the income to do so. Otherwise, there’s a tourniquet on people’s wallets. It’s a pretty simple economic principle. There seemed to be something beyond macro economic trends dampening the bullish spirit I’ve grown to expect at the shows. I’ve always found that spirit of optimism, anticipation and hope rejuvenating, but it was lacking beneath the reﬂexive “business-is-great” cheer exhibitors profess. Why? My theory is that footwear has lost some of its mojo, as Austin Powers would put it. What is arguably the most powerful and versatile fashion statement in any wardrobe has been overshadowed by denim of late. Designer jeans have taken center stage and stolen a chunk of footwear thunder. I may be biased, but jeans are far more generic than shoes will ever be. There is no excuse for footwear to cede the spotlight to such a fashion basic. In fact, when it comes to wearing denim, shoes make the outﬁt. So I call upon our industry to stand up and take back what is rightfully our place on fashion’s center stage. A little dose of Austin Powers-like swagger just might help lift us out of this funk. Yeah, baby!!!
Greg Dutter, Editorial Director
. s s e n l l e w ated. v e l e Experience the season’s hottest collection of seriously healthy footwear! Contact your Earthies® Sales Representative to learn more today. 781.893.7474 | email@example.com | earthiesusa.com Earthies® (earthiesusa.com) is a trademark of Meynard Designs, Inc. licensed to Earth, Inc. (Waltham, MA). earthbrands.com. 781.893.7474. © 2010 Earth, Inc.
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Ladies Who Launch Two Ten adds network to elevate women in the industry.
AT A RECENT press preview, designer Ce Ce Chin of 80%20 voiced a mild beef with the industry: There are so few female leaders in the footwear industry, she mused—and that’s a pretty astonishing fact given the number of women in fashion overall. A resilient businesswoman who has built up her own brand from scratch, Chin said she’d love to see more women leave impressions as lasting as men like Kenneth Cole or Steve Madden. The Two Ten Footwear Foundation may be answering her call. At last month’s FFANY show, it launched Women In the Footwear Industry (WIFI), an initiative to support women in the trade. “Just as Two Ten has served for 60-plus years as a crutch for shoepeople in need, WIFI seeks to promote women and foster collaboration throughout all sectors of footwear,” committee co-chairs Carol Baiocchi, vice president and DMM of Kohl’s Department Stores, and Diane Sullivan, president and COO of Brown Shoe Co., said in a statement. Through mentorships, conferences, workshops and more, Two Ten hopes to foster deeper ties between industry women, looking to create a robust generation of conﬁdent business leaders. The effort can be traced back to 2008, when members of the industry asked Two Ten to address speciﬁc market sectors. It responded by introducing the Young Professionals and Human Resource Leadership communities, as well as the Women in Footwear group. That group began holding informal gatherings in Boston, where local professional women networked and discussed topics such as the emergence of social media and achieving work/life balance. A feeling of unity developed, and this spirit was something Two Ten wanted to harness, Baiocchi and Sullivan noted. The initiative landed in New York with successful market week meetings ﬁlling to capacity. According to Baiocchi and Sullivan, the huge interest made the need for an ofﬁcigal group even more apparent. Last year, Two Ten asked 25 women to hammer out a mission and goals, structure a mentoring program and plan a launch event. At WIFI’s ofﬁcial kick-off party in July, Two Ten President Peggy Kim Meill welcomed the crowd, the co-chairs laid out its plans for the future, and Susan Lyne, CEO of Gilt Groupe, gave a highly anticipated keynote speech, reminding everyone in the room the importance of taking time out for herself. “We encourage every woman working in the footwear industry to become involved with Two Ten WIFI, as it is meant to be your organization and can be molded and changed as needs dictate,” Baiocchi and Sullivan said. The co-chairs noted that WIFI plans to form an advisory board and are hoping individuals will volunteer to become ambassadors, holding regional gatherings to spread WIFI’s work beyond the Northeast. Anyone interested in becoming a mentor or mentee is encouraged to participate in WIFI’s program, which is helping to form meaningful relationships that will advance the careers of women leaders. The group is also planning a half-day conference, with hopes of including a full program of speakers and a host of networking opportunities. “With your help, Two Ten WIFI will become the premier group for women in footwear, working together to strengthen our industry as a whole,” Baiocchi and Sullivan said. To ﬁnd out more about WIFI or learn how to get involved, visit Twoten.org or search for “Two Ten WIFI” on the groups section of LinkedIn. —Leslie Shiers
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Murmurs and musings from the latest trade show circuit. By the Editors
FFANY, WSA, The Atlanta Shoe Market (TASM), FN Platform, Outdoor Retailer (OR), TRU Show and a handful of regional shows that transpired over the past month allowed retailers to pick and choose which venues to shop based on market segment, show mojo, travel time and budget. Depending on which booth, showroom or hotel room you dropped into, the assessment on show trafﬁc varied: It was up, down and ﬂat, exhibitors said—often in reference to the same show. Verdicts of the overall mood also wavered, but for the most part attendees were cautiously optimistic. “Although still guarded, there is no denying the industry’s genuine enthusiasm and improved morale at this year’s Summer Market,” reports Kenji Haroutunian, show director for OR in Salt Lake City. Tom Berry, Technica’s vice president of sales, marketing and merchandising, agreed that attendees were in good spirits. “I think the strength of retail [this past year] was a surprise,” he muses. “Everyone was optimistic about it going in, but I don’t think anyone was as optimistic as the reality.” Economic improvement may have contributed to the show’s attendance rate: OR saw nearly record exhibitor participation along with a double-digit increase in the percent of attending buyers and represented stores. Dan Legor, senior brand manager of Ecco USA, found trafﬁc to be notably greater than the previous year’s. “The number of sports-, performance- and outdoor-specific retailers has grown signiﬁcantly, and we’re seeing more brown shoe retailers coming to OR who speciﬁcally want to meet with us there,” he says. Trafﬁc was equally strong at TASM. The Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association (SESTA), which runs the show, also reported record numbers 8 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
regarding its exhibitors (up 30 percent), product lines (1,680, which TASM claims makes it the nation’s largest shoe market) and retailers (pre-show registration was up 15 percent). The numbers are in step with a decade-long growth curve for the show, according to Laura Conwell-O’Brien, a 27-year industry veteran and SESTA’s executive director. In fact, she ranks the August show as “the best ever.” It was like the “good old days in the shoe industry,” she explains, with the main exhibit hall humming with activity and showcasing a signiﬁcantly longer roster of ﬁrst-time exhibitors. ConwellO’Brien adds that a particular highlight was the new Fashion Collection segment dedicated to fashion-forward brands. The space sold out two months prior and garnered great reviews from both retailers and vendors. Longtime Atlanta exhibitors like Steven Grubart, owner of Veggies Footwear, said TASM’s growth was obvious: “It’s so busy here that I’d say the show could beneﬁt from an additional day,” he noted on the show ﬂoor. And although he lauds the show’s new section and single location, Grubart maintains that Atlanta’s expansion is telling proof that the industry craves a single national show. Tim Patwell, North American sales manager for Camper, says TASM was a great place to reconnect with retailers, and he had great appointments with some of the South’s best stores. “All the major retailers were there,” adds George Mustafa, a sales representative for Trimfoot. In New York, the mood at FFANY, which was housed in the Hilton and Flatotel as well as local showrooms, was generally positive. Most vendors reported trafﬁc—particularly from the majors—to be up over the February edition. “Our department store buyers were deﬁnitely looking to position themselves for Q1,” says Amy Hester, vice president of sales for Caressa, adding that new independents that came through mainly wrote fall orders whereas existing customers booked spring merchandise. Matt Dragos, president of Rialto, says he saw roughly 90 percent of his brand’s customers at FFANY, but he reports the buyers’ mood was “mixed.” Many retailers experienced solid spring sales, he explains, but they saw the pace cool off in the summer. Fortunately, Rialto’s combination of trend-right fashion at entry-level pricing has fueled record sales for the brand and, Dragos says, orders are up for Spring ’11. Dennis Comeau, president of Bernardo Footwear, reports that FFANY had “very few browsers,” and most people left spring orders. “We even got some Fall ’10 reorders on boots already,” he adds. While that left Comeau bullish about the prospects for next spring, he did voice one big concern: the double-dip recession that some economists are fearing. While the economy was also a topic of discussion at the WSA show in Las Vegas, it didn’t prevent Earth Footwear from experiencing a solid show, according to David Aznarvorian, vice president of marketing. “We booked more appointments at this show than any previous version of WSA,” he says, noting the new Earthies brand captured attention. “It’s the ideal marriage of comfort and fashion, which is what many buyers are seeking to focus on in their merchandise mixes.” Comfort was deﬁnitely the driving theme at WSA, where wellness brands took center stage. Aetrex Footwear unveiled its Bodyworks collection—men’s and women’s toning shoes featuring a double rocker sole construction that promises physical beneﬁts—and CEO Larry Schwartz was pleased with the reactions. “Our customers look to us to deliver the latest in wellness footwear,” Schwartz says. “The response has been very encouraging.” Despite vendors’ sunny reports, Tom Nastos, president of ENK International, organizers of WSA, reports that many retailers were still feeling cautious. “If you were in the toning area, [the mood] was really good. If you were in some of the other areas, it was a little bit more challenging,” he says. Turnout at WSA was on pace with its February numbers and the list of exhibiting brands grew 20 percent. Looking ahead to WSA’s fall market, Nastos sees the sluggish economy continuing to be a speed bump, but the show aims >37
ILLUSTRATION BY NANCY CAMPBELL
A L L
T H E
A born storyteller, Tom Romeo, CEO of Bearpaw, spins a career yarn rivaling any American Dream-like tale of success, complete with stories of ﬁerce loyalty and never-say-die passion, with a few wild tales just for laughs. By Greg Dutter
HOW DID TOM Romeo, CEO of the rapidly growing Bearpaw comfort brand (which is barreling toward the $100 million annual sales mark this year) launch the business back in 2001? You probably wouldn’t guess the story in a million years, because it was completely unexpected, unplanned for and ranks as one of the most ﬁnancially fortuitous “right place at the right time” moments in footwear industry lore. It all started with an outof-the-blue phone call Romeo received from a friend of his Chinese manufacturing partner, who was looking to unload 50,000 pairs of sheepskin boots. Romeo, who had started his own manufacturing company about six years earlier—ﬁrst making Riddell athletic shoes and then later private label collections and his own Attix brand of entry-level court sneakers (or, as he describes them, “barbecue shoes”) was completely caught off-guard by the sheepskin proposition. “I told him I honestly didn’t know if I could sell them, but he then added that his friend vouched for me as the man who could make it happen,’” Romeo says. So Romeo took some samples back to America and said he’d have an answer for him in a week. He then called his buddy, a buyer at Big 5 Sporting Goods, to see if he was interested, quickly realizing he didn’t even know the wholesale price of the boots. But before Romeo could get a price quote, his buddy told him that he knew he would be fair and Big 5 would buy them all. It was a done deal: $750,000. “I didn’t expect anything, so it was a real good deal for me,” Romeo says. But then his Big 5 contact said the product needed a name and asked Romeo to come up with one ASAP. As fate would 10 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
FA M I LY
have it, Romeo’s ex-wife was a good friend with an American Indian artist. “I paid him $500 to come up with a name and logo,” Romeo says, adding that his ﬁrst suggestion was Bearclaw, but it couldn’t be registered. “He then came up with Bearpaw and drew our claw logo. I liked it.” Adds Romeo, “To this day, it’s the best $500 I have ever spent.” Romeo thought that the newly minted Bearpaw brand was going to be a one-and-done deal. But Big 5 called after the debut collection sold out, noting customers liked the name and the product, and they wanted to buy more—125,000 pairs, to be exact. Soon after, Romeo decided to set up shop at the WSA show to expand distribution. “All of a sudden, I started selling to more and more retailers,” he says. Soon after that, Frank Imperial, then sales manager for Emu Footwear, called Romeo—again, out of the blue— and asked to work with him. It proved an ideal match: Imperial and Romeo exclusively distributed Bearpaw from 2003 to 2007, eventually hitting 1 million pairs in annual sales. Then the duo hired a sales force, shortly af-
O&A unique in the marketplace.” And Romeo, ﬁercely terward bringing in industry veteran John Larloyal, remembers the factory owner who started kin to handle international sales. (Bearpaw has it all with that initial 50,000-pairs: “That man’s 24 distributors to date.) Next came the addition factory will make more than 1 million pairs for of Randy McKinley to lead the brand’s global us this year, and totaled we will make more than marketing efforts and, as Romeo describes it, 4 million pairs in 2010,” he says. Bearpaw’s tight-knit nuclear family came into Over the past couple of seasons, Bearpaw has full existence. “Randy’s the bomb,” Romeo offers. “He’s got us communicating to our customer across so many mediums, it’s incredible.” The family-like workplace is a reﬂection of Romeo’s upbringing. Zen? I like to cycle. That What is the last movie Romeo’s father, an Italian immicould mean mountain you saw? “Cars” with my grant, came to America unable to biking with my son on the 2-year-old son (on DVD) speak English but eventually beback seat or taking a spin while ﬂying to Hawaii. I came a doctor. He instilled in his class. really enjoyed it. son a tremendous work ethic as well as the importance of family. In fact, What are your three most Do you have a motto? his father wrote a book about his “Exceed the expectations of frequented Web sites? life, “The Son of a Molder,” which your customers.” Bearpaw.com, followed by provided Romeo with inspiration at ESPN because I’m a sports a recent company sales meeting. “I Who is the most inﬂufreak and then probably told our team, ‘You probably won’t Zappos because they have a ential person in fashion read the whole thing, but this book today? Strictly related to great selection of shoes. is about family. If you stay together, the shoe business, I would you can conquer a lot.’” Romeo adds, say [Skechers CEO] Robert Who is inspiring to you? “That’s what’s so remarkable about Greenberg. My parents. My father, in our team: We eat, play and work toparticular. He is of Italian gether, and that closeness has been What is your favorite descent and came to this key to our success.” hometown memory? I country with nothing. In addition to strong ties and grew in Millbrae, CA, a He couldn’t even speak quality products, Romeo attributes small town outside of San English, yet he became the Bearpaw’s rapid growth to its willFrancisco. There were ﬁrst in our family to go to ingness to gamble. Along these six kids in our family and high school, college, medilines, Romeo recalls one of the best every Sunday, as a part of cal school and then went compliments he has ever received. Italian tradition, we would on to become a doctor. He It was from a DSW buyer, who told have big dinners with our instilled in me the work him that the reason the chain buys whole extended family. Beethic that I have today. from Bearpaw is not only because ing around all that family the merchandise sells (because evmade for a very memorable What helps you ﬁnd your erything DSW buys better sell, he experience. own personal moment of noted). It’s also because Bearpaw carries inventory that the chain can then re-order. The buyer noted most brands don’t take that invenexpanded beyond its sheepskin boot roots, with tory risk. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur the introduction of a sandal collection last year and a gambler, and I’ll put my money where and new wellies and canvas styles for Spring my mouth is,” Romeo maintains. “At any given ’11. Romeo describes the brand now as “comfort time, we have 500,000 to 1 million pairs in our fashion” answering consumers’ desire for three warehouse.” Romeo says it’s worth the risk if a essential qualities: shoes that are natural, comparticular style or collection gets hot. “When fortable and sensible. “That’s our mission stateyou are strictly manufacturing by order amount, ment,” he says, deﬁning “sensibility” as affordyou can be caught short,” he explains. “That has ably priced styles that are highly wearable. “I been our recurring problem—[no one’s] been look at us as a comfort brand ﬁrst and a fashion buying enough. So I keep going back to our brand second,” Romeo adds, noting that Bearfactories asking for more to meet this growing paw’s appeal to young consumers is a bonus. demand. This inventory risk is what makes us
OFF THE CUFF
12 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
“We reach a much younger audience than a lot of the traditional comfort brands.” Romeo credits an impromptu tour of his son’s high school campus a few years back for enlightening him on what today’s youth really want—in addition to affordability—when it comes to fashion and footwear. “I noticed the kids were all basically wearing pajamas and slippers,” he says. “So I told our design team, ‘the youth of today want comfort.’ It’s a far cry from when I grew up, when it was all about big hair and uncomfortable shoes.” Romeo believes the sky is the limit for Bearpaw’s growth. Asked where he sees the brand in three years, his reply is honest: “If you asked me that same question three years ago, I would have been way off… As Bearpaw grows it will give us the opportunity to launch or acquire additional brands and enable us to reach further into the marketplace.” Romeo projects Bearpaw’s full potential to be $500 million in annual sales globally, citing the brand’s success in Korea as a benchmark. “We are that country’s No. 1 sheepskin brand, having already opened 42 concept stores there, and we’ll sell anywhere from 750,000 to 1 million pairs this year,” he says. “We are now opening concept stores in China, and I believe our international sales could be as big as our domestic sales within ﬁve years.” Right now, it’s all good at Bearpaw, and Romeo is the ﬁrst to credit his corporate family for the brand’s success. “That’s why I can see our business continuing to grow, because we have such a great group,” he says, adding that he considers himself the furthest thing from a dictator. “It’s all about family.” Bearpaw appears to be one of those rare recession-proof brands. What do you attribute that resiliency to most? Our value-added attributes. We offer so much value within our quality products. There’s no middle man—we work directly with our factories. So we don’t pass costs on to our retailers and then on to consumers. It’s the same in our corporate ofﬁces: We do a lot of business with few personnel. [The company employs 12 at its Citrus Heights, CA, headquarters; its rep forces and design department bring the total to 40]. We get the best people who want to work hard. Describe your business philosophy. The No. 1 thing about me is my passion. I will
A kangaroo, Jerry Rice and a Ford Taurus—key ﬁgures in three classic Tom Romeo tales.
KANGAROO COURT: Tom Romeo got his start in the shoe business in the mid ’80s working in the marketing department for KangaRoos. It didn’t take long for the young exec to make an indelible mark, kicked off by a live kangaroo. Freshly into his ﬁrst job, Romeo called the company president with a marketing idea. “We had a kangaroo mascot, so I suggested having the animal make a halftime appearance at the California-USC college football game.” This would be combined with a plane ﬂying a banner stating: “KangaRoos: the shoes with the pockets.” Romeo planned to have the marsupial make a second halftime appearance at the California-Australian national team exhibition basketball game later that night. Romeo’s boss gave the promotion the green light. Well, Romeo had no way of predicting the animal’s temperamental nature (he was downright nasty, the exec recalls), nor an unexpected run-in with the California Golden Bears’ mascot, Oski (a student dressed in a puffy bear costume), which caused the ’roo to freak out. But rather than diffuse the situation, Romeo decided to take it up a notch and have the two stage a faux tussle during halftime. Romeo failed to take into account Oski’s unﬂagging school pride and the kangaroo’s willingness to duke it out, so the face off came to legitimate blows. The crowd went wild as the banner ﬂew
overhead. Mission accomplished. At the basketball game, the ’roo was on hand for the halftime potato sack races between two sororities and two fraternities. The winners received a bunch of KangaRoos memorabilia with the grand prize being a mini, brandsponsored NASCAR go-cart, driven onto center court by the animal. Another “I’ve never seen that before” moment—check. “Our president said he only heard great things about the events,” Romeo recalls, admitting PETA wouldn’t let such an act ﬂy today. As to whether it increased sales, Romeo doesn’t know for sure. But, he notes, the thousands of people who attended those two sporting events deﬁnitely knew about KangaRoos by the time the games were over. COOKING WITH RICE: Romeo’s second claim to fame while at KangaRoos was his instrumental involvement in the signing of football player Jerry Rice to an endorsement deal. A lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan, Romeo witnessed Rice’s ﬁrst practice and just knew he would be a special player. Again, he called his company president and said the brand needed to sign the kid. The boss again agreed, and told Romeo to give Rice some free shoes. Back then, that’s all it really took. Romeo decided to add some “sweetness” to the pitch and got permission to have Kanga-
Roos endorser Walter Payton personally ask Rice to endorse the brand. Payton called Rice later that afternoon, working off a scripted pitch saying he would be honored if Rice came aboard. Not surprisingly, when one of the NFL’s greatest players asks a rookie to wear the same shoes that he wears on the ﬁeld, the answer will be an emphatic yes. “We had Rice wearing KangaRoos for two years, and we didn’t pay him a dime,” Romeo says. WHAT A TRIP: Romeo took the road—or perhaps the car—less traveled when it came to hiring John Larkin, now Bearpaw’s head of international sales. Larkin had originally called Romeo to inquire about a position with the company. Romeo was in his car, driving to Nevada’s Lake Havasu, for vacation and said he would call him back upon his return. Six months passed, and Larkin called again, dryly asking, “How was your trip?” Romeo apologized and then said, “I’m going to make this job offer simple. One question—and if you get it right, you’re hired.” Romeo asked Larkin what type of car he drove. After a long pause, Larkin answered, “a Ford Taurus.” He was hired. When Larkin asked why, Romeo said anyone who drives a Taurus is a person he could trust with his money. (Although it didn’t hurt that Romeo, at the time, drove the same model.) —G.D.
never give up. It’s just not in my makeup. And I’m really passionate about our products—I love the smell of the leathers and how they feel. No. 2 would have to be my loyalty. I try to be fair with everybody, and I believe that as long as I do my job right, everything else will fall into place. I never really worry about money. Money is not why I got into this business. You don’t come across too corporate—which is a compliment. It goes back to my baseball playing days. I approach my business as a game that I really want to win. I don’t run it as a business; I run it as a family—and it’s all about winning. When a ﬁnance guy runs a company, there are good and bad aspects. Personally, I think there’s more bad, because that individual is going to watch out for the numbers more than anything else. But when a salesperson like myself runs a company, we are not afraid to take chances. Now, I do have my ﬁ nancial guy sitting over my shoulder whispering for me to be careful at times—and I do listen—but when you’re hot, you have to ask yourself, how many chances do you get to be hot? We have to take advantage of it while we can. Sometimes people make the business much more complicated than it needs to be. Any guesses on how long Bearpaw’s hot streak might last? In 2003, I thought, “Wow, this is fun, and I’m making some money now. But it’s gotta slow down.” Then in 2005, we landed Famous Footwear and it has since become a destination for our brand. But again, I expected growth to slow. Yet we kept on growing, and this year we landed Macy’s and our international growth will be up 10 times. So how do you accurately project future growth? In addition to the fact that we offer a hot look, people want the brand now as well. And sheepskin boots, speciﬁcally, have become a style staple. People know that in the winter it gets cold, and if they’re attending, say, a football game, then they are going to be wearing Bearpaw. What is the main difference between Bearpaw and other sheepskin brands? I think one the best analogies of the difference between Ugg and Bearpaw consumers was revealed at a high school football game I attended with my son about three years ago. One of the schools was from an afﬂuent town, and its fans were primarily Ugg wearers; the other, more middle-class town’s fans mostly wore Bearpaw. That summed it up best: Ugg sells the elite and we sell the masses. That snapshot told me what direction to head with our brand. And it also taught me to keep my eyes open and let the consumers guide me. And there’s room for a handful of sheepskin-based brands? Absolutely. We still have challenges meeting our growing demand. And let me just say, I consider Ugg a great brand and a category creator. While there’s an old saying, “Don’t tug at Superman’s cape,” we did and got away with it. We recognized the potential of this category at the mass level right away. Emu Australia was there at the time, but they had internal problems. No one has truly committed to this market segment like we have at the mass level, and we’ve since surpassed the competition. There are always opportunities for brands to succeed. In the case of sheepskin footwear, the premise appears to be pretty simple: comfortable shoes sell—and sell well. Once you get into shoes that are comfortable, you’ll never want to take your feet out. That’s the most important aspect to me. Kids today feel the same way, and that’s one of the main reasons why Bearpaw appeals to a younger demographic. Bearpaw’s broad distribution also reﬂects how sheepskin’s >39
Celine OuaknineSoto (left) and Jessica Palermo.
DE SIGN I NG WOME N Having both followed their fathers into the family business, Celine Ouaknine-Soto and Jessica Palermo of Titan Industries are shining examples of what it takes to become a success in the world of high-fashion shoe design— and nepotism has nothing to do with it. By Angela Velasquez
16 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
IN AN INDUSTRY where family businesses are regularly inherited by sons, the trendsetting and business-savvy daughters behind Titan Industries are shattering the proverbial glass ceiling. Titan CEOs Joe Ouaknine and Sal Palermo rely on their designer daughters Celine Ouaknine-Soto and Jessica Palermo to bring today’s fashion and trends to powerhouse lines such as Badgley Mischka, Betsey Johnson, Charles Jourdan, L.A.M.B. and Harajuku Lovers—a feat Ouaknine says he and his business partner could never do. “They bring the art and design,” the exec explains. Both daughters admit they feared accusations of nepotism and worried that they wouldn’t be taken seriously when they started working for the company about three years ago, but Palermo says what seemed to be drawbacks in the beginning have actually proved to be advantages. “I was given an opportunity many people would kill for, so I obviously have the desire to prove my own legitimacy. That extra kick in the behind only made me work harder and, in doing so, made me more conﬁdent in my own abilities,” she explains. The father-daughter teams are having plenty of fun along the way. “I get to see my dad a lot more than I would if I were doing something else,” OuaknineSoto notes. “We get to hang out in China together. He makes me feel safe,” she adds. Both jokesters and self-described “smart-asses,” Ouaknine-Soto says
she and her dad are natural people persons. “The best lesson my father has taught me is the importance of good relationships,” she says, noting that her father’s genuine kindness is greatly respected in the business. “I try to be the same.” “My daughter reminds me of myself,” Ouaknine says. “She’s funny and has a lot of energy, and talks until you have to ask her to quit. Jess, on the other hand, is more quiet, but so talented. Beware of a sleeping giant.” Palermo calls her father a man of action. “If something is not working, he gets it changed, and I admire that,” she explains. That’s been an invaluable lesson for Palermo, who says both she and her dad are similar in their preference for working behind the scenes. “Our relationship has grown based on a mutual respect that I don’t think would have come to be without my working for him. It is a special and rare thing for a father and daughter to experience,” she says.
the industry—enough to scare most away—but I loved the work.” It was particularly hard for her father, who she says didn’t want people to think he gave her a designer position without the education and talent to back it up. “He wanted me to earn a place in the company,” she says. Ouaknine-Soto then left California to learn formal shoe design at the Ars Sutoria institute in Milan, Italy. On her return, she became an assistant designer for Titan’s licensed Bebe collection, then completed projects for the company’s former J.LO and Laundry by Shelli Segal lines. “I was also working on a lot of junior labels with lower price points, like Playboy and Zinc,” she says. Getting the Betsey Johnson job was a turning point. “She’s such an iconic designer. Everyone knows her and her designs, and since I am a girly girl myself, it was just the perfect ﬁt,” she explains. Ouaknine-Soto admits it can be difﬁcult designing for two different lines—particularly when they have a similar feel. “For example, Harajuku Lovers and Betsey Johnson are both youthful and have a lot of energy. But I have good instincts. And usually the shoes I’m most happy about do well. It helps that I’m emotionally connected to these labels because I am their customer.”
Growing up, the idea of a career in shoe design never crossed Ouaknine-Soto’s mind, despite her obsession with fashion. She remembers asking her father to bring shoes home from his store so she could play “shoe show.” “I’d always heard my dad talk about trade shows and I didn’t know what ARTISTIC EYE went on at one, so I made up my own version where Palermo never dreamed of working for her father I’d clear shelves and display shoes,” she says. in the shoe business. “I felt the desire for indepenBut then rebellion kicked in and Ouakninedence at a young age, which is ironically someSoto began ﬁghting her adoration for footwear. “I thing my dad instilled in my sisters and I from wanted to be my own person,” she explains, notthe beginning. I don’t believe he ever predicted ing that led to her decision to focus on clothing. that I would be where I am today at Titan,” she “I wasn’t very scholarly, but I liked to sketch and reports. In fact, any hope for Palermo to one day doodle and I thought fashion design was a place work in the family business seemed lost when she where I could excel,” she recalls. Ouaknine-Soto enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, enrolled at the Academy of Art and Fashion Deand majored in art and gender studies. sign in San Francisco, but a year or so into the Yet Palermo’s love for visuals and presentation program, she realized it wasn’t the right ﬁt for led her to a visual merchandising internship at her. “I didn’t click with clothes the same way I do Macy’s West, where she was encouraged to examwith footwear,” she says. ine the consumer shopping experience. “That inConscious of people who may think she could ternship laid great groundwork for me,” she says, jump hurdles because of who her father was, noting it sparked her ﬁrst thoughts about purOuaknine-Soto started from the bottom, taking a suing a career in fashion. After graduating from customer service job at Titan college, she went on to work Industries’ Southern Califorwith Macy’s West fashion diOne of Palermo’s favorite Badgley Mischka designs. nia headquarters—a job she rectors, focusing on seasonal hated but knew she needed color and trend forecasting, to do well. “I had to pay my merchandise marketing camdues, even though I hate cuspaigns and special events. It tomer service. I don’t have the was then that Palermo acpatience for math and I hate knowledged her lifelong love typing,” she laughs. “But I’m for shoes. She says her superthe oldest child. I need to feel visor, Bill Bigler, nurtured like I’ve proved myself.” Evenher passion, allowing her to tually, Ouaknine-Soto moved attend the WSA show to work into production and began to with footwear buyers, plan work closely with a designer style-outs and formulate seaof four lines. “We had 18-hour sonal footwear trend reports. days in China for months at “This experience in fashion a time,” she remembers. “It retail and my creative afﬁnwas a crazy introduction to ity made my move into >37
Jessica Palermo’s and Celine OuaknineSoto’s enthusiasm for shoes is contagious. Here, the designers dish on their favorite labels, most memorable shoes, what inspired their Spring ’11 collections and more. Who are your favorite designers? Palermo: Gianvito Rossi for classiness, Martin Margiela for playfulness, Cesare Paciotti for sexiness and Valentino Garavani for perfectionism. Ouaknine-Soto: Pierre Hardy and Christian Louboutin, whose heels are so high and beautiful and make women feel instantly sexy. I also love Camilla Skovgaard’s cool asymmetrical work. And Balenciaga’s masterpieces—those shoes are artwork, which explains the $3,000 price tags. What are your all-time favorite shoes? Palermo: My favorites bring me back to a certain time and place: Saddle shoes to go with a private school uniform; vinyl Stuart Weitzman Cinderella slippers I would never take off when visiting my dad’s stores; and the Badgley Mischka Randee heels I wore on my wedding day. Ouaknine-Soto: Balenciaga’s Birkenstockinspired heels and super-high Christian Louboutin platform wedges. I’m also in love with DSquared’s spine-like heel. I love seeing things I’ve never even dreamed of before. What shoes could you do without? Palermo: Casual bridal ﬂip-ﬂops. Yikes! Ouaknine-Soto: I have a problem with this fall’s clogs. The closed-toe styles are dowdy. But my No. 1 nemesis is Crocs. I think it’s socially irresponsible to wear them. What best deﬁnes your design aesthetic? Palermo: A balancing act between the feminine and the eccentric. Ouaknine-Soto: Girly girl. What’s inspiring you the most right now? Palermo: It’s hard to say. I don’t like to be aware of the single thing that triggers the light bulb to turn on. But I deﬁnitely need music to design. It takes me to another place. Ouaknine-Soto: Fashion blogs. There are so many stylish girls catching on to trends or creating their own. I like to see what they’re wearing. What do you see as the top spring trends? Palermo: Two extremes: pared-down simplicity and playful, textural opulence. OuaknineSoto: Softer, feminine details and lots of color. I like how fashion is transitioning from seasons of heavy ’80s inﬂuences back to the ’70s. The look is just plain pretty. —A.V. september 2010 • footwearplusmagazine.com 17
WHAT’S IN A
A branding statement, a consumer hook and maybe even a dash of humor, that’s what. Here, experts spell out what makes for a great moniker, while retailers dish on what led them to their identities. BY LESLIE SHIERS
GIVING BIRTH TO a business is not unlike having a child, and christening it can be as big of a decision. There are legal issues and domain-name availability to consider—not to mention whether it’s cool and catchy enough to make a mark in the retail world. (Think about it: Would Zappos be Zappos if it hadn’t been “Zappos”?) “Even if a business is not ﬁrst in its category, a strong brand name can create interest, increase recall and underscore a company’s positioning in the marketplace,” says Phil Davis, president of Tungsten Branding, a businessnaming consultancy. “The goal of branding is to own a space in the consumer’s mind. The brand name should work towards that end.” Likewise, a killer tagline can help drive customers through your door. New stores have banked on this idea, developing a one-two punch from the get-go, but even centuriesold businesses can spark new interest by coining a new catchphrase. Still, experts warn against being too cute, too clever or too over the top. When it comes to branding your business, keep these factors in mind:
M A K E I T I N F O R M AT I V E | Find a way to tell people clearly and unequivocally what you do or sell, advises Bob Negen, CEO of the retail advisory ﬁrm WhizBang! Training. Shoebuy, for example, drives the message home, as does The Shoe Parlor. Smithville Family Shoes might seem bland, but it succeeds in terms of deﬁning the place (the town) and end customer (it’s clearly catering to the young and old) it is hoping to attract. For those looking for something catchier, take note of retailers who’ve found ways to stake a claim on a speciﬁc market. New York’s Shoegasm boutiques are an oft-cited consumer favorite, and Negen says the name works because it manages to deﬁne two key points: It speaks to a certain style sensibility (hip and edgy) along with the demographic—or at least the psychographic—it aims to serve.
like CompUSA deﬁnes the product it offers (however, that could possibly change over time) and geography (also a potentially limiting factor) but not much else, Davis explains. Best Buy, on the other hand, implies affordability (and the alliteration helps it stick in people’s minds). Sometimes coining a new word can work: Just look at Zappos, which struck a branding homerun with its twist on the Spanish word for shoes (“zapatos”). When successful, such an distinctive choice can help a company “own” its particular category—Davis pinpoints Xerox and Rollerblades as two brands that, between their novel products and unique names, did just that. It’s advisable, however, to stick with words that will be easy to pronounce. Otherwise, your word-of-mouth advertising might hit a wall. Likewise, stay away from inside jokes that won’t have meaning to outsiders. “Humorous names can be a double-edged sword,” Davis adds. “Just like in real life, jokes are funny the ﬁrst time you hear them, then wear off quickly.” Negen also suggests retailers stay away from anything that’s “too cute.” (The words “Ye,” “Olde” or “Shoppe” are common offenders.)
A L L O W R O O M F O R G R O W T H | Incorporating your city, town or region into the name could cause future issues—if your business takes off, leveraging its success for another locale could face a setback. Similarly, if the store’s online sales should blow up, ensure you have the opportunity to stretch its popularity across city lines. In addition, “keep the door open to possible brand extensions outside of one category of products,” Davis suggests. (It worked for Amazon.com.) Online extensions can be a branding issue all their own. If you think you’ve come up with a great name, but the domain name is already taken, don’t stress. There are ways around this dilemma, Negen says. Well Shod could become WellShodOnline.com, for example, or WellShodStore.com. But, be sure to thoroughly research any trademarks and investigate your local market to circumvent any legal squabbles over naming rights.
K E E P D E S I G N I N M I N D | Always picture your name in print—in the
C H O O S E S O M E T H I N G M E M O R A B L E | Another major mistake is
local paper, on the front awning, atop letterhead paper or as a web page’s header. Your brand doesn’t stop with a word; it’s a multifaceted representation—and aesthetics count. “You could have a really good name, but if you spend no money on a logo or graphic presentation, it loses a lot,” Negen says. Consider how a name will appear and experiment with different graphic usages that will convey the message you want to project with maximum impact. “All of your branding must be seen holistically,” Negen adds.
choosing an overly common, descriptive name. Ambiguous names can create confusion and then require expensive advertising to overcome, Davis says. However, a too-literal name can be forgettable. “Calling a business ‘The Shoe Store’ tells what you do but does little to create a unique identity or answer the more important question of how you do what you do,” he notes. A name
These are just a few pointers to get the juices ﬂowing. “The best advice is to look for a name that can start a conversation and segue into a deeper discussion of the company,” Davis says. Read on to learn how several unique retail stores found their brand identity. > > >
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Bus Stop Owner and U.K. native Elena Brennan brings her cosmopolitan sensibility to Philadelphia via hard-to-ﬁnd styles from international brands. Since 2007, her store has been a resource for funky, edgy, colorful and urban looks from brands such as Irregular Choice, J Shoes, Esska and Olinda. What’s the story behind your store’s name? In my early 20s in London, I’d take the Tube to Kensington High Street, where one of my favorite shops was called Bus Stop. The owner chose the name because it was so identiﬁably British, and made the logo red to reﬂect London’s telephone kiosks, mail boxes and the city buses. I would spend hours inside Bus Stop and loved its ambience and fashion so much that I always told myself that if I opened a shop one day, I’d call it Bus Stop. Do you think the name draws people in? Deﬁnitely. Every day, people tell me how much they love the name. It’s short, catchy, easy to remember and unique. It also stirs people’s curiosity. It helps from a marketing perspective, too, as the name and logo have a very British vibe. What’s your biggest marketing challenge? As a small business owner, you have to constantly think of creative ways to build your business. I like to collaborate with other businesses and organizations—for example, by participating in silent auctions for nonproﬁts, collaborating with fashion designers, hosting fashion shows or having pop-up shops in area clothing boutiques.
The Fall Line
Air Traffic Control
Steve Nelson opened a ski shop 10 years ago, but over the years he’s moved away from hard goods, repositioning to address the soup-to-nuts Colorado lifestyle. Now with two locations—one in Denver and one in Breckenridge— he offers everything from Patagonia outerwear to cocktail attire. The storeowner cites Dansko as his No. 1 shoe line but notes he’s grown his selection to include Pikolinos, Ahnu, Sorel, Born, Söfft, Ariat and Arcopedico—brands consumers won’t ﬁnd at the local big box. What’s the story behind your store’s name? It’s a ski term: If you let a ball run down a mountain from the peak, the ball’s natural path of travel is called “the fall line.” The name just came to me one day and stuck. I’ve been skiing since I was 3 and launched the business as a ski shop, so it was a natural ﬁt. Do you think the name draws people in? When I ﬁrst opened, it caused some confusion. If someone’s not a skier, they might not know what it means. And some people were under the impression that our store only carried product for the fall season. The name does pique interest, but we also put our brand names on our store windows to help draw people in. What’s your biggest business challenge? Big-box competition, plus the Internet. People will come in with their iPhones and Google prices, then expect us to match the lowest they ﬁnd. Now I try to ﬁnd brands they won’t ﬁnd elsewhere. I just picked up a new Italian brand called Khiro that lets each retailer pick their own leathers to build the exact shoes they want. Our Khiro products will be unique to our store.
Product is the star at this Philly sneaker shop, where owner John Lee says the unique setting is designed to “give it the respect it deserves.” Located on a ritzy street, the massive store houses an ultra-modern footwear room; an apparel wing styled as a gentleman’s parlor; and an upstairs event space. UBIQ stocks slip-ons and work boots but specializes in limited-edition kicks, such as Nike Tier Zeroes and Converse First Strings. Vans, Sebago and the house label also sell well, Lee reports. What’s the story behind your store’s name? 1) It’s short for “ubiquitous,” meaning the culture of our customers is everywhere. 2) It represents the idea of a “U” generation: people who don’t want to be tied down to one particular job or ﬁeld but have many skills that separate them from their peers. We try to apply this notion to our retail experience. 3) It draws from the sci-ﬁ book “UBIK” by Philip K. Dick, which addresses inclusivity. Did you have any backup names? Yes—Public and Kicks. We went with UBIQ because it stood out as unique and we thought it would speak to today’s generation. Also, my wife liked it the best! Do you think the name draws people in? Absolutely. It resonates with customers in the culture but also average passers-by, who may ﬁnd it unique and mysterious. What’s your biggest marketing challenge? Creating excitement for our customers. We’re constantly working to create special products and events they can’t get elsewhere.
Located in Miami, ATC works a unique consignment angle, reselling pristine kicks previously hoarded by a pool of approximately 500 collectors. Owner Greg Lewis says up to 85 percent of sales (from which the store keeps a 20-percent commission) come from Nike labels, and while many sneaker vendors have been hoping to land ATC as an account, he’d only entertain the possibility of bringing in new product from lesser-known lines, like the Japanese brand Madfoot. What’s the story behind your store’s name? It’s a play on words: “Air” is because the majority of the shoes we resell are Air Force, Air Max or Air Jordan brand. “Traffic” refers to both “foot traffic” and the trafficking of illicit substances that built this city. And “control” is about having a real grip on the game we’re in—sneaker sales. Did you have any backup names? I used to own the web domain for Kickaholics, but some friends said that sounded a little juvenile and I should ﬁnd something more timeless. I deﬁnitely agree—it’s night and day with what we went with. Do you think the name draws people in? Once we chose the motif, it directed our store design. We went with a baggage claim theme and have a conveyor belt, airport terminal seating, and arrival and departure screens by the checkout counter. We get a lot of air traffic controllers walking by, dumbfounded. How else does it help from a marketing perspective? Our logo incorporates the theme, and we have a decal of it plus our longitude and latitude on our back wall and in the center of our ﬂoor. The name isn’t initially easy to decipher, but once we explain it we usually get a great response. What’s your biggest branding challenge? We launched our website in early 2010. Trying to creating the awareness for the site and investing in the right marketing tools and banner ads has been a challenge. •
Yuba Blue Originally opened as a gift shop in 1995, this Grass Valley, CA, store—which carries apparel and accessories—expanded in 2009 and added a shoe department. Co-owned by Sarah Lazard and her daughter, Lillie Piland, Yuba Blue stocks more than 100 styles for adults and children from 30 brands, such as Crocs, Nine West, Blowﬁsh and Gee WaWa. Piland gave us the lowdown. What’s the story behind your store’s name? Yuba Blue is a granite-like rock with blue undertones that is found only in our area. The nearby Yuba River is a huge draw for our town, and Yuba Blue rocks can be found along its path. Who came up with it? My mother. She is the true mastermind behind our success. Do you think the name draws people in? Sure. It’s fun to say and gives an indication of our fun atmosphere. What makes your store unique? We’re not a traditional shoe store. Most shoe stores don’t also have more than 100 French soaps to choose from! How much has your footwear selection grown? We started with whatever lines we could get, but we’ve reﬁned our selection based on what sells—which is mostly comfort shoes with a boutique quality. Naturalizer and Miz Mooz are our bestsellers, with Simple a close third. What’s been the biggest challenge in adding footwear? What to do with sale shoes! It seems that if you bomb with a style, you really bomb and have to unload a ton. That’s easier to do with gifts than product that has to ﬁt.
september 2010 • footwearplusmagazine.com 19
w h at ’s s e l l i n g
20 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
back to school
Dow Shoe Store
Brooks Shoes for Kids
Specializing in hard-to-ﬁnd sizes, Dow Shoe Store has been offering shoes for the entire family since 1958. Stocking everything from work boots to ballet slippers, the kids’ buying team begins its fall planning as early as January. “There are a few schools in the area that have dress codes,” manager Bruce Vickery says, noting there are certain style guidelines that must be followed. As for the back-toschool selling season, “It’s becoming less important as a selling event,” he explains. “We used to have people lined up, but now kids start school in whatever they have.”
Starting with one store in 1956, Brooks Shoes for Kids has expanded throughout California and now has 10 stores under its ﬂag. Company president Roger Brooks promises “high-quality children’s footwear brands with classic ﬁt.” When preparing for the back-toschool shopping season, Brooks places orders with vendors ﬁve to six months in advance so he can cultivate the shoe selection in time. He feels this B-to-S season will be “very challenging” in terms of addressing consumers’ differing needs amid a difﬁcult economy.
Top-selling brands/styles: Tsukihoshi, Keen, Merrell and Jumping Jacks. Eighty-percent of kids want sneakers, so we’re also doing well with New Balance because they offer a better ﬁt. Average price point: $20 to $50. Is there a “gotta have it” brand or style this year? There isn’t one brand customers are coming in asking for, but we’re able to guide them. Are sales outpacing last year’s B-to-S season? Yes, but it’s still early. We’re ﬁnding people becoming more loyal because there are plenty of places to buy [shoes] from, but few places to be ﬁt for shoes. Even the kids have their favorite ﬁtters. In what ways has the B-to-S shopping season changed most, in terms of customer behavior, since the recession kicked in? Parents are much more careful. We’re thinking in shorter merchandising cycle times. Are parents more apt to be buying single or multiple pairs for their children this season? Most parents are buying just one pair. We’re ﬁnding it’s the grandparents that are buying multiple pairs. Biggest surprise in kids’ this year? I’m becoming less surprised. The industry is ﬂattening out in terms of suppliers with well-ﬁtting shoes. I’m disappointed in the industry’s lack of concern. In order of importance, rank the biggest factors in the purchasing decision with respect to price, ﬁt and style: It depends on the person. For kids, it’s typically style. For parents, it’s price more than style. I’d eliminate ﬁt, because we only bring our customers shoes that will ﬁt their feet. Top-selling B-to-S accessories: Socks. Parents are having a hard time ﬁnding them, so we try to give them choices. Who has more say in what gets bought: parents or kids? Parents allow children to lead the decisions, but then that’s where I come in, to make sure they have the right ﬁt.
Santa Monica, CA
Top-selling brands/styles: Stride Rite’s Star Wars collection, Skechers’ Twinkle Toes and Groovy Baby collections, Nike’s 6.0 series, Tsukihoshi, Crocs and Converse. Average price point: $35 to $65. Best new brand added to the kids’ segment this year? There isn’t anything on ﬁre at the moment. It’s more of the same, like Converse, Adidas and Nike. Is there a “gotta have it” brand/style this year? The Skechers Twinkle Toes and Groovy Baby collections are doing well. Biggest disappointment in kids’ fotwear this year? The lack of mass appeal in any particular brand. And there is nothing at the forefront. Are parents more apt to be buying single or multiple pairs for their children this season? Parents buy one pair at a time. Are sales outpacing last year’s B-to-S season? Absolutely not. We’re ﬁnding that consumers are buying down. They’re looking for less-expensive brands. In what ways has the B-to-S shopping season changed most, in terms of customer behavior, since the recession kicked in? Consumers are more stressed over prices and their wallets. What is the percentage breakdown between goods purchased full price versus on sale? The split is 85-percent full price and 15percent on sale. Rank, in order of importance, the biggest factors in the purchasing decision with respect to price, ﬁt and style: Typically, it’s price, ﬁt, then style. Although—and I hate to say it—sometimes style overshadows ﬁt. Top-selling B-to-S accessories: All of our hosieries. Who has more say in what gets bought: parents or kids? It’s deﬁnitely the kids. —Christine Bove
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY YANA TOYBER
THIS JUST IN
Shore Thing Get your spray tan, hair gel and sky-high heels— it’s time to party Jersey Shore style. 22 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEAL BRISTON. FASHION EDITOR: ANGELA VELASQUEZ
Double or Nothing Designers hedge their bets on two-tone styles for men.
Clockwise from top left: Hush Puppies suede oxford; Wolverine 1000 Mile Collection oxford; boot by Dragan Mrdja; Charles David chukka. Center: Florsheim by Duckie Brown lace-up. september 2010 â&#x20AC;˘ footwearplusmagazine.com 23
HAND-LETTERING BY TREVETT MCCANDLISS
NATURAL HEELS AND SOFT COLORS ILLUMINATE SPRING’S ’70S REVIVAL. Opposite page: Reed Evins sculpted heel. Checked dress by Ali Ro; Patmos jacket; vintage belt from Star Struck Vintage; Madewell socks.
From left: 80%20 cuffed cork wedge. Mango denim and floral dress; Dallin Chase jacket; Inhabit chunky scarf; American Apparel thigh highs. Blanket by Roberta Freeman. Buckled clog by Charles David. Rachel Comey ruffled blouse; Winter Kate vest; Leroy and Perry skirt; Belt by Vintage Madewell; Vintage hat from Star Struck Vintage. 26
Left: rope-detail wedge by Chinese Laundry. Inhabit paper tee; Patmos cardigan; fringed vest by Winter Kate; Mango skirt; J.Crew socks. Right: buckled clog by Charles David. Rachel Comey blouse; Winter Kate vest; Leroy and Perry skirt; vintage belt by Madewell; hat from Star Struck Vintage. 27
Dansko cut-out open-toe clogs. Loomstate hoodie; Tiger Lilly tunic; Rebecca Taylor vest; Tiger Lilly skirt; J.Crew socks.
STYLING BY MICHEL ONOFRIO; HAIR BY ROBERT LYON OF ATELIER MANAGEMENT; MAKEUP BY JORDY POON. FASHION EDITOR: ANGELA VELASQUEZ
Left: Klub Nico twotone slingback clog. Inhabit hat; Patmos cardigan; vest by Winter Kate; Mango skirt; J.Crew socks. Right: 80%20 cuffed cork wedge. Mango denim and floral dress; Dallin Chase jacket; Inhabit scarf; American Apparel thigh-highs. Blanket by Roberta Freeman. 31
Left: Koolaburra lavender heel. Stylistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own romper; Leifsdottir cardigan; American Apparel socks. Right: Slingback clog by Sanita. Madewell dress; Inhabit cardigan; Roberta Freeman blanket (worn as skirt); American Apparel socks; Madewell vintage belt.
Designer Chat: Theresa Ebagua
What are some of your favorite labels and designers? For shoes, Giuseppe Zannotti, Casadei and Christian Louboutin—he has that French thing going on. Outside footwear, I love Alexander 34 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
From top: Pour La Victoire, Zoe Kratzmann, Charles David, 7 For All Mankind.
All That Jazz
E D I T O R’ S P I C K S
McQueen for their prints, and the bold, risktaking colors and patterns of old Versace. What inspires you? Vintage books from the 1920s or the 18th century. I also like to learn about the Old World through art and museums, plus I love seeing cabaret and Broadway shows. Each time I’m in New York, London or Paris, I try to ﬁt in a show or two. Which shoe in your debut line is your favorite? I love the Madeleine, which was [modeled after turn-of-the-century French footwear] and the comfortably sexy Rouge cage bootie in metallic pink.
Razzle dazzle them with ’20s-era soft-soles.
What can we expect to see from you next season? Fewer styles, because the debut line was very large. But I’d really like to create a signature high-heel boot. What won’t we see in your line? I doubt I’ll ever do towering platform wedges. I want my shoes to be elegant, to have a ﬁnesse to them with clean lines. It’s that very classic French style I’m addressing. What shoes should every woman have in her closet? A pair of comfortable, go-to pumps, and some killer heels to wear out dancing. —Leslie Shiers
EDITOR’S PICKS PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEAL BRISTON
NIGERIAN-BORN THERESA Ebagua has long fostered a love for footwear, and high-end styles have always made her heart beat faster—she can still recall the moment she stepped out in her ﬁrst pair of Casadeis at the age of 22. But she didn’t throw herself into the ﬁeld right off the bat, instead studying computer science in college. Four years ago, however, she decided to pursue her passion, and created a custom program through Milan’s Ars Sutoria school to learn the ins and outs of footwear design and manufacturing in just three weeks. “I learned in the factory,” she says, noting the crash course taught her how to create proprietary lasts, soles and comfort constructions that could set her apart in the market. Ebagua is unveiling her luxury brand, Chelsea Paris, for Spring ’11 with a line that mixes her African heritage, British sensibility and love of historical French fashion. Her 25 designs include heels, booties and two sandals featuring luxurious leathers and suedes, exotic animal prints, rhinestone and pearl details, and unique embroideries inspired by a print found in a Senagalese market. “My brand delivers style and design but also functionality,” Ebagua says, noting she’s aiming for timeless style. And while Chelsea Paris shoes are manufactured alongside Louboutin, Bally and Gucci shoes in Italy, the line retails for $325 to $825—lower than the brands Ebagua views as her competition.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEAL BRISTON. FASHION EDITOR: ANGELA VELASQUEZ
Architectural Digest Sculpted, molded and bold—unique wedges take shape in Spring ’11 collections. Clockwise from top left: Chinese Laundry jelly, Two Lips platform, bootie by Mea Shadow, Reed Evins peep-toe.
september 2010 • footwearplusmagazine.com 35
ATHLETIC COMFORT GREEN KIDS OUTDOOR STREET
Fit for the Outdoors TrekSta elevates mountain footwear by addressing foot shape. TREKSTA LAUNCHED THREE seasons ago with a mission to provide trail shoes that would let runners run on icy, snowy or rocky roads without wiping out. Its IceLock traction technology, which incorporates micro-glass ﬁlaments in the rubber compound of the soles, results in a non-slip outsole—one of the brand’s main points of differentiation. But as the line grows, TrekSta is becoming known for another novel approach: the NestFit system, a new layered construction meant to deliver unrivaled support and comfort by mirroring the shape of the foot. Most trail shoes are built on a generic, overly rounded last that doesn’t do much for most individuals, explains marketing director David Blue. TrekSta’s development team scanned 20,000 feet to come up with its unique design, which is more accurately contoured to the foot. The resulting NestFit system runs from the upper to the sole: The upper curves along the toes and is indented at the arch and instep; the insole follows the curve of the bottom of the foot, eliminating gaps, and the midsole complements this shape; and the outsole ﬁts the overall proﬁle, with a very slight heel rise and forefoot “rocker” that will cushion the foot’s strike and help guide a natural roll-through motion. From above, the shape of the toes may look a little odd, but the company is conﬁdent the science behind it will create a better running experience. NestFit is now found in the brand’s entire line ($110 to $150 retail), which includes mountain trail running styles—including its marquee product, the lightweight Evolution neutral shoe—as well as several new casual options. Customers requested the après-sport category, Blue says, because thanks to the NestFit system, “our shoes are so comfortable that they want them for everyday wear.” —Leslie Shiers
36 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
Pure & Simple
PUR launches with deconstructed, eco-friendly comfort styles. THE MAKERS OF Bafﬁn footwear are going out on an eco limb with the new brand PUR. “We wanted to do something different, something ‘fashion,’” explains marketing coordinator Jeff Wellwood. But these aren’t just stylish comfort shoes. While president Paul Hubner shies away from the term “green,” he notes that the brand took pains to make production as ecologically responsible as possible. That means using vegetable-tanned leathers, natural crepe rubber soles, latex rubber foam cushioning, recycled midsole boards and waterbased adhesives. Hubner says attending a string of “conscious capitalism” seminars inspired him to create this brand. While Bafﬁn shoes incorporate high technologies so they can withstand extreme polar conditions, he notes that with PUR, “we wanted to simplify and go as basic and elemental as we possibly could.” That describes the aesthetic in addition to the materials used. The six men’s styles and eight women’s styles all present the relaxed, deconstructed look that seems to fall in line with current footwear trends, like ﬂoppy moccasins and TOMS’s ubiquitous slip-on alpargatas. “This is the ﬁrst time my kids have looked at one of our shoes and said, ‘Wow! I want that!” Hubner laughs. PUR promises superb comfort as well. “There are no toe boxes, no heels. These shoes will conform to your foot,” the exec says, noting he expects them to be worn without socks. Reception thus far has been “unreal,” Hubner reports. “We tried to go as far as we could with the ‘natural’ element. This product is very basic, but it’s hard to argue with the comfort.” The initial line, which retails for $99 to $160, includes slip-ons, mules, desert boots, chelsea boots, tall pull-on boots, closed- and open-toe ﬂats, and Mary Janes. The men’s shoes (sizes 7 to 14) come in several shades of taupe, tan and brown, while the women’s collection (sizes 6 to 11) adds a rich azalea red and a fresh mint green. Hubner hopes to start introducing the line to consumers through Bafﬁn’s existing outdoor retailers. “PUR is an attitude,” Wellwood adds, noting the line should pique the interest of any shoe shopper interested in making conscientious purchases. —L.S.
Special Report • continued from page 8
Designing Women • continued from page 17
to keep assembling more and more brands. “I think there’s generally a desire to have one show under one roof, so I’m optimistic about that,” Nastos says. “I think that’s the key.” FN Platform exhibitors in Las Vegas felt retailers had their buys for the Spring ’11 season well-formulated. “Lots of orders were written and retailer growth was signiﬁcant,” asserts Leslie Gallin, vice president of FN Platform. Exhibitors reported steady foot trafﬁc and, according to Stephanie Unwin, global sales director for Leifsdottir (which debuted its collection of women’s designer shoes), the caliber of retailers at the show was impressive. Jim McCabe, vice president for Bass Wholesale, agrees: “Trafﬁc was up, as was the enthusiasm of the buyers.” Regardless of which show they shopped, retailers were presented plenty of fresh trends for spring. The halls at OR reverberated the wellness message at WSA, with the explosion of minimalist constructions and barefoot running at the forefront. These ideas have moved beyond technical trail shoes into outdoor casual styles, and retailers said they’re thrilled to have this new story to tell their customers. “I was not smart or fast enough to pick up on Vibram’s FiveFingers early, but we’re ordering it big-time now,” said Lillie Gilbert, co-owner of Wild River Outﬁtters in Virginia Beach, VA. Major launches of pared-down product, like the new Minimus collection from New Balance, should help elevate the minimalist message of earlier entries, said Ben Cooke, general manager of The Running Company based in Ardmore, PA. “I hope it’s a category that can sustain itself,” he added. OR also showed vendors concentrating on core hiking and backpacking shoes for Spring ’11, proving the resilience of these categories as consumers look for affordable ways to enjoy the outdoors. Overall, the recession has helped the outdoor business, noted Brian Moore, vice president of global men’s footwear for Timberland. “When the economy goes bad, people ﬂock to [brands and styles] they’re comfortable with, and that gave us a deﬁnite bump.” If outdoor and wellness cover the utilitarian bases, the more fashionoriented markets set the stage for a slew of new directions for spring. TASM buyers were hot for nude. In Daniblack’s suite, for example, silhouette didn’t matter as long as the shoes came in natural hues. Feminine styling—by way of laser-cut details at Doc Martens, Rieker’s collection of gem-embellished sandals, Claudia Ciuti’s dress shoes inspired by candy wrapper foils and a bevy of shoes accented with three-dimensional ﬂowers—blanketed women’s categories. FFANY highlighted similar trends. Hester cited laser-cut ﬂorals; dusty earth tones; nautical stripes and bright patents; soft feminine pastels and ﬂat sandals with ruching as important spring trends. In addition, she reports that wedges, kitten heels and ﬂat sandals with a cork insole construction are “going great.” Dragos says Rialto is striking the right chord with ornamentation, including jewels, beads and sequins. Gemstones are also inﬂuencing color, as Comeau pinpoints turquoise and coral as popular colors in addition to the neutrals. At FN Platform, many designers bet on spring staples like wedges, espadrilles and platforms. However, exhibitors with new interpretations of these familiar silhouettes shone. Standouts included exposed platform heels from Marc Jacobs and a Jean-Michel Cazabat espadrille with jute rope creeping up from the heel to the upper. “Retailers are gravitating to natural linens, crocheted panels, rafﬁa and neutrals,” says Maggie Finneran, brand manager for Unleashed by Rocket Dog. Leifsdottir’s Unwin and Nancy Espaillat, an account executive for Fossil Footwear, also reported positive reactions to chic neutrals and mixed materials, while other manufacturers saw an uptick of interest in tried-and true hi-tops for men, women and children dotting the Las Vegas Convention Center. Along such classic lines, McCabe says G.H. Bass Heritage products—from penny loafers to saddle shoes—caught the attention of both domestic and international buyers. The lace-up and oxford trends don’t appear to be letting up anytime soon, he adds, with the latest styles featuring woven leather or canvas accents. •
the wholesale world a natural next step,” she explains. “And, thankfully, Joe was ready to take a gamble on me.” In 2007 Titan acquired the Badgley Mischka Platinum license. It was the perfect opportunity for Palermo to follow a brand from its inception. “I was missing the feeling of creating something from scratch. That is something I loved from my days as an art student. I love that sense of not knowing what’s going to happen in the middle of that very personal experience,” she explains. Palermo left Macy’s West in the fall of 2007 and moved to Southern California, where she became the assistant designer for the new label. Leaving Macy’s West, however, was a difﬁcult decision. “I saw the trajectory of my career in a very clear way,” she explains. “Yet with all the layoffs that happened shortly after I Betsey Johnson left, it proved to be a great decision.” pump by Palermo jumped right into an accelerated eduOuaknine-Soto cation in shoemaking and development. “I traveled to China with the lead designers and learned about making shoes in a very hands-on way. We were in the sample room, the last and heel factories, leather markets—you name it,” she recalls. The trip was a career benchmark, despite is difﬁculties. The ﬁrst lead designer was let go. A second came on board, but was unable to hone in on the Badgley Mischka aesthetic. “Regardless, I watched and learned,” she says, noting it was a blessing in disguise that her mentors failed because the experience made her conscious of what makes for a solid brand identity. Titan was going to have to gamble on a third designer. “Our merchandiser knew I could draw and asked me to sketch some of my own ideas for the brand, so that when interviewing for the new lead designer, he or she could get an idea of what the brand meant,” Palermo explains. “I am still unaware of how the decision was made to hire me as the lead designer, but I can gather that my sketches were promising,” she jokes. Today, Palermo continues to try to keep each brand centered on a signature look. “I have to be in the right mood and mindset to work on a particular label. You just sort of know what kind of day it’s going to be when you wake up and you take advantage of that,” she adds.
FAMILY PRIDE As with all family businesses, conversation quickly turns to who will take over the Titan reins. According to Ouaknine, there is no timetable. “It depends on their progress,” he says. “It won’t be tomorrow, that’s for sure.” Both women choose to not think about it too much. “Running a company takes an unbelievable amount of knowledge regarding all areas of the business,” Palermo says. “Right now, we are totally immersed in designing and development. I think [a CEO candidate] would need to be hands-on in each department in order to understand how everything and everyone works together to function and grow.” Ouaknine-Soto says it is difﬁcult for her to imagine doing what her father and Sal do each day. “[That day] seems so far away. They’ll be running Titan until the very end,” she says, smiling. In the meantime, the two women turn to one another for support. Palermo notes they don’t get to work together as much as they’d like. Unlike their fathers, who she describes as “attached at the hip” and “yin and yang,” Palermo says she and Ouaknine-Soto are lucky just to have a coinciding trip overseas. Still, they advise and support each other every step of the way. “We think differently, but we trust one another’s opinions,” Ouaknine-Soto says. “I’ve known Jess for so long. Even though we’re working at the same level and doing the same things, I’m so proud of her. I feel like I’ve watched my little sister accomplish amazing things.” Whatever the future may hold for the Titan daughters, their fathers have their backs. “We will always be there for free advice,” Ouaknine says. “And I’m sure we’ll be advising frequently, though over time that will fade, too.” He adds, “I can speak for Sal and say we are both proud of our daughters—proud with a capital ‘P.’ I believe being able to pass on a company to the next generation is a dream come true for any father.” • footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010 37
ATHLETIC COMFORT GREEN KIDS OUTDOOR STREET
Maxing Out the Minimal
Ecco expands its street-style golf line and introduces a wellness version.
CAPITALIZING ON THE success of Ecco’s Street golf shoe—a hybrid sneaker that transitions easily between the green and the city—the company is releasing a luxury camel leather version ($160 retail) for Spring ’11. “The camel leather ensures ﬂexibility, breathability and durability,” says C.B. Tuite, general sales manager of the golf division at Ecco USA. “It’s perfect for everything you experience while playing golf, from water to sand to grass.” Even better, the shoe’s sophisticated look lets golfers squeeze in a round over lunch and return to the ofﬁce without ever changing shoes. “It’s all about versatility,” Tuite says. Pro-golfer Fred Couples brought the Street instant course-cred when he became the ﬁrst player to win a major event wearing the shoes instead of traditional golf cleats. So it bodes well for the brand that he’s also given a thumbs-up to its newest endeavor, the BIOM Golf ($225)—featuring the brand’s natural walking technology. With wellness all the rage, BIOM Golf brings the concept to the fairways: “A lot of people are aware of barefoot running and the health beneﬁts of natural motion, but they don’t realize that you take 6,000 steps while playing golf,” Tuite says. Furthermore, BIOM Golf just might improve your game. “The design gets you closer to the ground, so it will give you more balance for your golf swing,” Tuite maintains. “It also has a wider heel and stabilizer balls between the cleats, which helps improve balance without compromising the natural comfort of the shoe.” Made of breathable yak leather—three times stronger than traditional cowhide—and constructed using lightweight polyurethane, the BIOM Golf ’s design aims to guide the foot along its natural motion path, strengthen the muscles of the foot and lower leg, increase athletic performance and decrease the potential for injury. It’s a tall order, but studies have shown the beneﬁts of natural running—so why not natural golf? It seems Couples is convinced: “The feedback from him is that it has a tremendous feel,” Tuite reports. —Audrey Goodson
38 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010
New Balance unveils the barefoot-inspired NB Minimus collection. “LIGHT AND RIGHT”: this has been New Balance’s modus operandi throughout the development of its new line, NB Minimus—a trio of running and walking shoes built to foster the barefoot mechanics that have been taking the industry by storm. “The consumer is demanding more of this type of product, and retailers are looking for it,” says strategic business unit manager Katherine Petrecca, who is leading the Minimus effort. “We’re getting it to market as quickly as we can.” But don’t think the company is rushing the process. That “light and right” philosophy boils down to careful construction and a well thoughtout design process. “For a shoe to be ‘better than barefoot,’ it must offer speciﬁc features that make it not only lightweight and minimal but also right for the end user,” Petrecca says. And on that note, consumers eager to jump into barefoot running shouldn’t dive in headﬁrst, either—a premise the vendor wants to stress. According to Sean Murphy, the biomechanist heading up New Balance’s Sports Research Lab, most people have a tough time switching from a traditional shoe, which has a roughly 12.5 mm difference in height between the heel and forefoot, to one with no slant at all. Similarly, the company believes most runners still prefer wearing shoes for the protection aspect, rather than going completely bare. New Balance is easing the process with styles that offer just enough cushioning and sole coverage for a smooth transition, along with an anatomical ﬁt. All of the shoes are designed to encourage a forefoot landing rather than a heel-ﬁrst gait, explains designer Chris Wawrousek. The road runner is geared toward runners of all levels, while the trail shoe caters to those doing more mileage and features a Vibram outsole to handle rough terrain. The lightweight walking shoe can be worn for recovery or as a casual option. “The consumer is deﬁnitely ahead of retailers [regarding the barefoot movement]. Retailers are understandably and necessarily cautious,” she adds, noting that if a consumer buys a minimalistic shoe and winds up unhappy, it stands to hurt the retailer, the brand and the barefoot category as a whole. New Balance is recommending people transition slowly to avoid injury, and wants to educate its retailers on how runners can best make the switch. Wawrousek believes minimal design will steer the future of athletic footwear. “We’re looking at taking [our] learnings into our mainstream running products for 2012,” he says. Cross trainers and kids’ shoes won’t be far behind. Petrecca notes that New Balance introduced pared-down trail shoes in the past, but the concept didn’t take off among mainstream runners until recently. “It’s gratifying for us to see this trend pop up,” she says. “We’ve spent a lot of time and energy [researching minimal design] and couldn’t be happier that it’s paying off now.” —Leslie Shiers
Q&A • continued from page 14
appeal stretches far beyond boutique or comfort specialty dealers. Sheepskin crosses far and wide—from sporting goods stores to family shoe stores to department stores and comfort and outdoor specialty dealers. The web is huge, and that’s why our growth has been so enormous. But there is still a lot more growth to be had, because as a true “natural, comfortable and sensible” footwear brand, we can go far beyond our traditional thirdand fourth-quarter selling periods. What are some highlights of the Spring ’11 collection? Our design team has worked their tails off. We are coming out with a canvas upper and cork wedge package that’s very “natural, comfortable and sensible.” And our new wellies collection has been well received. We really want to focus wellies on the next back-to-school sell-in period, but the spring launch gets us into the category. In addition, our comfort sandals did well this year, but there’s a lot of competition in that segment—brands that have done sandals for a long time and are very good at it. So we face a few challenges in that category, but we have introduced a crochet group that plays off of our crochet boots, and that has been doing well. Overall, our designers have their pulse on comfort fashion. Just how easy has it been to expand beyond your sheepskin roots? It’s always a struggle to introduce new categories because retailers tend to pigeonhole us as a fall/winter brand. But I always tell them that our customer doesn’t go into hibernation during the summer. It’s our job to give our customers what they want. We have been working hard on developing and designing warm-weather products and—this year more than ever—we have been driving home that hibernation warning to our retailers. We are determined to get that message out because that is the key to major growth for us.
added value—not the ones that are basically a foot covering with a huge markup. Beyond that, you’ve just got to be smarter as well as know what your store stands for. If you do that, consumers are going to keep buying. It’s not like no one is buying. Consumers still shop—they are just shopping more selectively. Does a company’s ‘green’ factor matter to consumers when it comes to their footwear purchases? I think it’s starting to matter more. We did a promo recently with Lady Foot Locker where every pair came in a biodegradable box that featured embedded plant seeds. It was a tremendous success. And then John Larkin asked if we could transform the roof at our headquarters into an eco-friendly living space. He really lives the green life, and now he’s browbeating me into converting some of our land for growing vegetables... But back to your question—yes, consumers are more cognizant of a brand’s eco-friendliness, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to pay more. Where does sustainability rank within Bearpaw’s brand identity? When Randy McKinley asked to introduce a number of sustainability initiatives, I was skeptical at ﬁrst about what the efforts would entail and wondered what the reward might be. I told him to quantify it. He came back with ﬁgures on the tonnage of paper we were wasting through our packaging as well as how much glue and ink was going to waste. I was blown away by the amounts. We decided we could make a difference, but it’s not about overtly marketing our efforts to consumers like some other brands are doing. It’s more about being stewards of the environment. It’s our responsibility—it’s not to try to make more money. In fact, some of our efforts cause us to lose money. But we do it because it’s the right thing to do.
“We know the kill zone. Between $59 and $79, consumers don’t debate the purchase nearly as much.”
Have you instituted any big changes due to the so-called ‘new normal’ when it comes to doing business? Not really. For example, we informed our retailers that, while we understand that they may be reluctant to write more orders, they should give us an idea of what they would write if they had no restrictions, and we will back it up in our warehouse. It’s like an unwritten rule: They bought it, but they didn’t. We have a lot of customers that take advantage of that. And it has made us so much more relevant in the marketplace. Now, if things were doom and gloom, I might cut back. But I don’t see that happening as of yet. I always look for that plateau, and I haven’t seen the line on the chart go straight yet. Nor has it made any hints at a U-turn (laughs). As an industry veteran, not to mention an optimist and a risk-taker— many retailer-like qualities—do you have any advice for storeowners about surviving these tough times? Get to know your customers better than ever. You have got to know their buying habits, their fashion and brand preferences, store preferences, social media habits, etc. Because you have to buy the brands that they expect you to carry, at the price they expect to pay. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what we’ve been able to achieve. We know the kill zone when it comes to pricing. When you get over $100, that’s nosebleed. It gets tough for most consumers to justify that expense. But when the cost is between $59 and $79, they don’t debate it nearly as much. The fact is consumers are increasingly looking at price and added-value aspects when it comes to making a purchase decision. So I would advise retailers to buy brands that have
Bearpaw hit $10 million in sales a few years into the game, then $25 million shortly after and now is approaching $100 million. Any more concerns that it might slow? No. We just keep on going. What never ceases to amaze me about this business is the potential for tremendous success—often out of nowhere, it seems. It’s really unlimited. In the case of Bearpaw, the brand has taken on its own life and now we’re just steering it in the right direction. My wife often marvels how I get up in the morning, get on the phone—sometimes the conversation is intense and sometimes it’s calm—and then after a day at work, I’ll come home and play with my kids and deal with a few more work calls. Then I forget about everything. She asks, “How do you do it?” I tell her every time, it’s by having great people around me. You’ve got to have that or this business will totally consume you. Bigger doesn’t always mean better. In fact, it often means more stress. But how you sleep at night depends a lot on your ability to delegate to those who do their jobs well. What do you love most about your job? I have an unbelievable amount of fun. I love coming to work. Some days are more stressful than others, but you have the power to make it fun. That’s how I live my life, which is what my mom taught me: You get more with honey than with vinegar. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between. Both my parents were great role models in this regard, and I thank them dearly for that. •
made you look kayland’s grip on everest
What to wear 29,035 feet up. An extreme undertaking requires extreme footwear. Just ask Jordan Romero, who at age 13 recently became the youngest climber Jordan Romero to summit Mount Everest. His choice for trekking to 29,035 feet above sea level? Kayland’s 8001 highaltitude expedition boots. On May 22, Jordan, his father, Paul, and now-stepmom Karen Lundgren became the ﬁrst family to stand atop the world’s highest mountain, and the eighth-grader was able to cross No. 6 off his list of the Seven Summits, the tallest point on each continent. The trio (with three sherpas’ help) spent 25 hours on their ﬁnal push to Everest’s peak, where they watched a pink-orange sunrise throw light onto the summit ridge. “We took that ﬁnal step, and it was like touching the top of the world,” Jordan recalls. “There we were, looking out at the Earth’s curve.” Jordan said the Kayland boots were “amazing” during his 50-day trek along the mountain’s less-traversed Tibetan approach. Paul was also pleased with the boots, which are made to ward off the elements with gaiters made of Kevlar, felt, aluminum and neoprene; Primaloft insulation; insoles that incorporate ﬁberglass for lightweight stability; and a rugged Vibram outsole (although ultra-sharp crampons are a must for gripping the ice and rock). “Once we got onboard with the brand, it was like we were in a Ferrari,” Paul says, noting that “the respect the brand has [among climbers] is impressive.” Kayland CEO Luca Businaro says the Italian shoemaker, which is best known for its great ﬁt, is gaining steam in the U.S. market. The Romeros have no qualms, and will be wearing 8001s again when they head off to tackle peak No. 7—Antarctica’s Mount Vinson—after the holidays. “What they’ve accomplished is incredible, and I’m convinced it’s just the tip of the iceberg for what Jordan can achieve,” says Kayland’s U.S. VP/GM Brent Merriam. “[We’re] honored to be a part of Jordan’s success.” The brand will get good feedback from the team’s next expedition, as they put the boots to the test in temperatures as low as 60 below zero. “It’s tough out there,” Jordan notes. “You can’t make any mistakes.” —Leslie Shiers 40 footwearplusmagazine.com • september 2010