Footwear Plus | The Source for Retailers | 2011 • December

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DECEMBER 2011 đƫ$10.00





Daniblack peep-toe pump.


Caroline Diaco Publisher

12 Keeping up with the Big Dogs

Independent retailers find creative ways to compete with the Amazons of e-commerce. By Audrey Goodson

Greg Dutter Editorial Director Jennifer Craig Associate Publisher

14 Q&A: Primigi USA

Bill LaRossa, president of Primigi USA, shares his candid take on the sputtering economy and the luxury kids’ brand’s plan for weathering the storm. By Greg Dutter




20 Stock Options

Angela Velasquez Fashion Editor

Looking for immediate sales? These styles can land on shelves in the next 60 days.

Audrey Goodson Meagan Walker Mary Avant Associate Editors

23 Style Hall of Fame

Tecnica’s Moon Boot and Sperry Top-Sider’s Authentic Original boat shoe join our roster of esteemed styles. By Angela Velasquez and Meagan Walker

28 Bright Wedding

Brides go for bold color on the big day. By Angela Velasquez

30 Hot Lunch

Spring’s designer dress styles meet the matriarchs of the school cafeteria. By Angela Velasquez

6 Editor’s Note 8 This Just In


Nancy Campbell Trevett McCandliss Creative Directors

Michel Onofrio Style Director Laurie Guptill Production Manager Kathy Passero Editor at Large Tim Jones Senior Designer Melissa D’Agnese Editorial Intern

10 Scene & Heard 42 Shoe Salon


44 Street

Alexandra Marinacci Operations Manager

46 What’s Selling

Melanie Prescott Circulation Manager

48 Last Word This page: Abel Muñoz platform stiletto. On the cover: Ryan Haber Collection peep-toe bootie. Wardrobe from American Apparel. Photography by Michael Brian.

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

FOOTWEAR PLUS ™ (ISSN#1054-898X) Vol. 22 issue #10 The fashion magazine of the footwear industry is published monthly (except for bimonthly April/May and October/November editions) by 9Threads, 36 Cooper Square, 4th fl., New York, NY, 10003-7118. The publishers of this magazine do not accept responsibility for statements made by their advertisers in business competition. Periodicals postage is paid in New York, NY, and additional mailing offices. Subscription price for one year: $48.00 in the U.S. Rates oustide the U.S. are available upon request. Single copy price: $10.00. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to FOOTWEAR PLUS, P.O. Box 8548, Lowell, MA 01853-8548. Publisher not responsible for unsolicited articles or photos. Any photographs, artwork, manuscripts, editorial samples or merchandise sent for editorial consideration are sent at the sole risk of the sender. Symphony Publishing NY, LLC, will assume no responsibility for loss or damage. No portion of this issue may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. ©2011 by Symphony Publishing NY, LLC. Printed in the United States.


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WOMEN’S COMFORT F Dansko F Earthies F Naot F Gentle Souls

CHILDREN’S F Primigi F Crocs F Skechers F Native

WOMEN’S STREET F Toms F Jeffrey Campbell F Minnetonka F Jessica Simpson

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COMPANY OF THE YEAR F VF Corporation F Deckers Outdoor F Wolverine World Wide

editor’s note the color purple

Pre-occupied I MUST ADMIT I’ve had an internal protest raging for the past several months. On one hand, I sympathize with many of the 99 percenters who have been occupying parks around the country. Too many can’t find a job, are up to their ears in college loan debt and feel that their hopes of living out the American dream are more unattainable than ever. In fact, the dream from where they were encamped—shivering in tents, scrounging for handouts, battling anarchic and criminal interlopers, and foregoing the basic rules of hygiene—looked like a living nightmare. Moreover, with news reports about the top 20 CEO pay raises of 2011—$9 million to $50 million—one can understand how such shocking levels of excess would drive people into the streets in protest. Making matters worse, several of these well-heeled execs laid off employees this year. And they want to know why the average American lucky enough to still have a job—yet is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet—and, worse, those who are unemployed and falling below the poverty line at alarming levels are outraged. Well, duh! On the other hand, part of me—albeit a smaller part—wants to tell some of those young people to get off their butts and find a job—any job—just like I did at that age, as did my parents and their parents and so on. It’s tough to sympathize with a bunch of bratty young adults wielding expensive laptops and smartphones and voicing their outrage at corporate America, especially when many of them still live with their parents. In fact, a recent study by the Census Bureau shows nearly one in five adult males in their late 20s and early 30s is living with his parents—an increase of 5 percent over the past 6 years. Yes, times are tough, but maybe choosing philosophy or English literature as a major wasn’t a wise decision. Perhaps an engineering or computerrelated degree would have been a better way to spend that college loan money. It was the late 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney who said in an essay about looking for a job: “We need people who can actually do things…. More college graduates ought to become plumbers or electricians, then go home at night and read Shakespeare.” Along those lines, maybe young people today need to accept starting at the bottom before griping and demanding more of what they have yet to earn. I’m torn because, as a journalist, my duty is to report on both sides of a story. And after two decades working in this business, I’ve learned that rarely 6 • december 2011

is one side completely right about anything. On top of that, I’m just not strictly a red or blue state kind of guy. I’m purple, which I believe many fellow Americans are too. Unfortunately, our media has been hijacked by extremist elements, and so have our two major political parties. The purple party is largely without a voice in this raging debate over what’s best for our country. I say it’s time for the middle to rise up in protest. The purple people need to take to the streets and airwaves, championing the spirit of compromise and willingness to work together to move forward as one nation. It’s about fighting the good fight to stop this endless red versus blue civil war. Sadly, compromise does not ignite passion the way extremism does. And there’s the rub for the middle ground: How do you get extreme about not being extreme? Perhaps that conundrum is best for philosophers to solve. In the meantime, our industry continues to roll with the punches as best it can. We are not decidedly red, blue or even purple, but we are a bit black and blue from the blows of too many consumers still scared to spend. And as long as unemployment chugs along at 9 percent, one really can’t expect much pain relief. Then there are the body blows inflicted by Chinese sourcing woes. With no quick fixes in sight, for many it’s a matter of absorbing the hits without going down for the count. Regrettably, that does not set the stage for a great deal of risk-taking. This year will go down in the books as not so hot, but not too terrible. The scars of 2008 and 2009 have yet to heal and, optimistically speaking, serve as a stark reminder that it could be worse. But time marches on and another year is upon us. And as always, there will be plenty of new styles, brands, trends, store formats, etc. to feature in our pages. We here at Footwear Plus look forward to covering it all with the same fervor our industry delivers year-in and year-out. Hope springs eternal because the need and love for shoes still burns brightly, despite the occasional flicker.

Greg Dutter Editorial Director


Protesting might be the new black, but that doesn’t mean it’s wearing well.


Caroline Bregman, 30 Profession: Social Worker Hometown: Boston Shoes by: BCBG Cape by: J. Crew What shoes go best with your cape? I love to wear my booties with it. What does your cape say about you? I care just enough. The best thing about wearing a cape is it keeps you warm, its versatility or it makes you feel like a superhero? Definitely the versatility. It’s easy but stylish and very comfortable. I love the slouchy style of it and the biggest benefit is that it hides my baby bump. Who is your favorite superhero? Mighty Mouse.

Caped Crusaders Not just for superheroes anymore, the chic, versatile cape has made a sweeping comeback this season. By Dorothy Hong

8 • december 2011

My favorite season? ara!

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¡+¢ scene and heard Plus Awards Nominees Announced FOOTWEAR PLUS MAGAZINE has announced the nominees for its 13th annual Plus Awards in recognition of design excellence in 2011. The Plus Awards are the footwear industry’s only awards determined by the votes of thousands of retailers nationwide. Winners will be selected by voters in 21 distinguished categories spanning the breadth of the footwear market, including athletic, comfort, dress, outdoor, children’s, work, wellness and street styles. This year’s ballot features the addition of two new write-in only categories for “Best New Brand” and “Best Customer Service.” Another new category recognizes “Corporate Goodwill.” The nominees are Dansko, Kenneth Cole, Nine West and New Balance. The coveted “Brand of the Year” honor will be decided between Ugg Australia, Vibram FiveFingers, Toms and Nike, while the nominees vying for “Company of the Year” are VF Corporation, Deckers Outdoor and Wolverine World Wide. “Congratulations to all of the Plus Award nominees—they are all lucky number 13s,” says Caroline Diaco, publisher of Footwear Plus. “Once again our industry has put its best collective foot forward. There are plenty of stellar styles and stand-out brands represented on our ballot.” The 2011 Plus Awards ballot appears on page three of this issue. Retailers are encouraged to vote online at The 2011 Plus Award winners will be announced Feb. 1 in New York.

What’s the Rush? NORDSTROM OPTED TO once again stick with its tradition and not rush the holidays when it came to breaking out the tinsel and other festive decorations. As is customary, the retailer waited until Black Friday to decorate and begin promoting its holiday sales, while many major retailers—including Macy’s, Khol’s and Target—got their promotional jollies on well before Thanksgiving. Signage from a Nordstrom’s window last year went viral on social media—in an approving way. It read: “Well, we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.” A Nordstrom spokesperson said the chain decided not to tinker with the positive vibe its holiday season schedule generated. Nevertheless, it was obvious most major retailers went with the rush-the-season approach this year. But when it came to select independent shoe stores, the decision leaned more to the “why rush” angle. Scott Cohen, president of FootPrints in Newington, CT, says the shop’s winter holiday decorations don’t see the light of day until Black Friday. And while Cohen says the superstore has moved up its winter boot and Christmas clearance sales by about a week, the goal is to maintain its regular-priced selling season as long as possible—and to live more in the moment. “I think time flies by when we’re not living in the present, and I personally enjoy giving each holiday its due celebration,” he says. “It’s interesting how retail margins correspond favorably to that approach—the industry could use a little Zen.” Saxon Shoes in Richmond, VA, broke out the holiday décor on Nov. 11, which has been about the same time for years. And while President Gary Weiner says its two stores promoted product and service on TV and radio up to Nov. 20 this year, the holiday sales effort was focused much more on after Thanksgiving. “On Black Friday we offered some deals, but just a few so we could say we are in the game,” Weiner says. “We can’t and will not play the Macy’s/ Kmart game.” 10 • december 2011

Clothes Up New York is a bottomless melting pot when it comes to fashion. Around any corner at any time of day, you can stumble across a look worthy of conversation. Case in point: Our creative director recently ran into Holden (above) making his way into the building where our editorial offices are based. The 25-year-old software developer (a.k.a. “search monkey”) was heading into a meeting at Foursquare. The San Francisco native was more than happy to oblige us for a brief fashion-inspiration Q&A. How would you describe your style? A mixture of raves/burner culture. Are those homemade bracelets? Most of them are; there is a tradition of trading them at raves. Where did you buy your Docs? Off of eBay—used. But I believe the 1B99 style is still being produced by Dr. Martens. [Editor’s note: Holden is correct.] What is your greatest fashion pet peeve? Nice looking Sporrans (kilts) are never produced at a high enough quality for daily wear. Alternatively, there are not enough comfortable, fuzzy clothes.




Keeping up with the Big Dogs With the Internet poised to become the holiday’s most popular shopping destination, independent retailers are finding creative ways to compete with Zappos and Shoebuy. By Audrey Goodson JOHN MCCLAIN MAY own a small footwear shop in a suburb of Kansas City, Habitat Shoe Boutique, but he sells shoes on a daily basis to customers in New York and California. That’s because McClain decided in 2005 to launch an e-commerce site, Habitat Shoes, offering up the shop’s unique mix of fashion brands—like Coclico, Leifsdottir and Chie Mihara— that can’t be found on outsize e-tailer Zappos. “The reason why we have a lot of out-of-state business is because people will go to their local boutique, and it’s sold out of the style they want,” McClain says. It’s that must-have-now mentality, retailers say, that’s driving many consumers online for their footwear purchases, especially in an era of fashion blogs and social media sites that bring new brands to shoppers’ attention on a daily basis. “Nowadays, savvy customers are coming to our site specifically for a certain brand,” confirms Lori Andre, owner of Chicago chain Lori’s Shoes. “Depending on what the fashion is at the moment, that’s what people are searching for,” she says, noting that Frye and Jeffrey Campbell have been big searches on her site in recent months. “There’s a lot more democracy in fashion now,” affirms Joah Spearman, owner of Sneak Attack, an e-commerce site and occasional pop-up shop offering sneakers, apparel and accessories. “It speaks to a desire to help the little guys and shop local,” he adds, noting that means now is the time for niche retailers to make sure their e-commerce site is shipshape—especially as consumers continue to go online for purchases. According to a sur-


vey of more than 5,000 consumers conducted by Deloitte, almost half of shoppers say they plan to pick up holiday gifts online this year—a doubledigit increase from last year and a tie, with discount stores, for the most popular shopping destination. But for many small- to mid-tier retailers, competing with the vast array of online footwear companies—including Zappos, Shoebuy, Piperlime and Endless, just to name a few—can be a daunting prospect. The key, experienced e-tailers say, is ensuring that the main strength of traditional brick-and-mortars—good, old-fashioned customer service—translates on the web. “Listen to your consumers,” advises John Kalinich, vice president of consumer direct for Deckers Outdoor, which picked up awards from e-commerce monitoring firm Bizrate for the online shopping experience on the company’s Ugg and Teva websites. That means making it easy for visitors to report problems on the site and promptly fixing glitches, as well as soliciting and responding to feedback on the site’s returns and shipping process, Kalinich adds. “Make sure you have direct feedback from your consumer to your leadership team,” he suggests. Of course, companies like Zappos have a crucial advantage when it comes to keeping customers happy: free shipping and free returns. “That’s probably the biggest challenges we face—we can’t afford to be so promotional,” Andre says of Lori’s Shoes. “We only offer free shipping if it’s above a certain dollar amount, and we don’t offer free returns. We’re not doing what everyone else is >45



Times are tough, yet Bill LaRossa, president of Primigi USA, believes sticking to the guiding principles that have built the luxury kids’ brand into a category leader will enable the company to weather the storm. By Greg Dutter

PERHAPS IT TAKES a person who sells kids’ shoes to tell it like a man. Rather than give the knee-jerk corporate assessment that business is just fine and dandy, it is refreshing to hear Bill LaRossa refuse to pull any punches in his assessment of how both his company and the market in general have been impacted by the worst economy in more than 60 years. Far too often we hear leading politicians, corporate executives and economic wonks try to spin what is clearly and painfully obvious to the average American: the economy stinks. And as long as the unemployment rate remains at 9 percent, saying it is any way on the mend is insulting to the intelligence of millions of Americans who are currently out of work and the many millions more who live in constant fear that they may suffer a similar fate. “The constant stream of negative news that hits consumers on a nearnightly basis has a tremendous impact,” LaRossa says. “Whether it’s the rising price of gas or another story about massive layoffs, whenever it seems like it might be getting close to back to normal something comes along that scares them all over again.” LaRossa says this recurring cycle of bad news has negatively impacted Primigi’s business and pretty much everybody else’s. How could it not? “The fact is that no economy works when people aren’t spending. Of course, you have to be rational and logical and say you can’t spend more than you make, but some people have reached a point where their pocketbooks have just closed,” he says. “We definitely hear that sentiment from some of our key independent retailers as well as some of our bigger customers.” Like any company faced with a radically different consumer landscape, one must adapt in order to survive. The challenge for Primigi, specifically, has been to maintain its hard-earned luxury position while also addressing the concerns of consumers who are more price-conscious. “One of the ways we have had to adjust to the realities of the new market has been to deliver a more moderately priced part of the collection, but without sacrificing the quality that we are known for,” LaRossa offers. “We have also been running some promotional sales to help our core customers with key styles that typically we would never discount.” LaRossa adds, however, that he didn’t “go crazy” with the sales promotions because, as a rule, Primigi doesn’t believe in discounting. “The promotions were very concentrated and targeted, and were done only after listening to our customers in areas where the help was particularly needed,” he says.

14 • december 2011

The way LaRossa sees it: Maintaining sales in such a weak climate, which Primigi has done and then some, is a victory. But achieving that success requires a balance of holding onto the core values that has made the company a leader in the kids’ market over the past decade while also being flexible to its loyal customers when necessary. “Everyone is watching the bottom line more carefully than ever and asking for discounts. And some things you can do and some things you can’t,” LaRossa says candidly. “It can definitely lead to a domino effect, but I still believe we have been able to navigate it well and still look at the future positively.” He adds, “While we haven’t been getting the increases of a few years ago, we aren’t getting decreases either. So it’s a big victory if we are up a few percentage points when conditions have been so difficult.” Like any true entrepreneur, LaRossa is an eternal optimist. Business may be tough now, but it was much better a few years back and he expects conditions will eventually improve. Philosophically speaking, he muses: “Day follows night and this could actually end up being a good thing for our country, where people realize that bad things can happen and one needs to be financially prepared for them.” In the meantime, LaRossa cites

Alesandra by Boutique 9


O&A some bright spots of late for Primigi in New York, New Jersey and in areas of New England where key independents are reporting positive results—albeit it’s still the exception and not the rule. In addition, LaRossa is encouraged by other European kids’ footwear brands getting back into the U.S. market. “Honestly, that’s good for all of us because if everyone around you is doing poorly then eventually your number might be up,” he says with a laugh. As 2011 fades to black, LaRossa remains focused as ever on doing what Primigi has always done: delivering the finest collection of European-made kids’ footwear to its loyal customer base. Specifically, for Fall ’12, it will feature a broad selection that includes more price-sensitive options as well as an expanded selection of its successful Gore-Tex licensed boots program. In addition, the company’s push into boys and girls sportswear continues, offering its existing customer base additional sales opportunities and expanding Primigi’s retail base. “It’s been only two seasons, but we have done really well,” LaRossa says of the apparel launch. “We’ve had a few bumps, which is to be expected. But we are excited about next season: The styling is amazing and the [European-made] construction is great—it’s not the duplication of product that you often see in this market.” While LaRossa believes product will always be king, it’s also Primigi’s exceptional customer service that continues to separate the company from the competition, he says. A state-of-theart warehouse with Saturday hours and rapid delivery capabilities are standard Primigi offerings when many others have cut back on such overhead expenses. “I think you’ve got to have the goods in more ways than one today,” LaRossa offers. “We’ve seen high-flying companies fall to the ground quickly because, even though they may have had really good product, they couldn’t keep up with the demand or they treated their customers poorly.” Failure to deliver in all areas of this business is ultimately a recipe for trouble. Call it a nokidding-around approach to running a business because not doing so, LaRossa warns, “means someone can always take your place.”

16 • december 2011

How would you grade 2011 for Primigi USA? I’d say pretty good with certain ramifications. Our sales were slightly better than last year and the ability to maintain sales in this climate is an achievement. Unfortunately, if [Federal Reserve Chairman] Ben Bernanke’s recent

OFF THE CUFF What are you reading? I just finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and I’m now reading The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. What are your three most-frequented web sites? Google, iTunes and Grantland, which is a site offering the inside scoop on Boston’s pro sports teams. What is your favorite movie of all time? That’s easy: The Godfather. What one word best describes you? Loyal.

to the fullest. I’ve learned so many valuable life lessons from them. For example? A favorite saying of my father’s was, “Remember that you are as good as anybody else but no better.” He said it to me a lot when I was a kid. Who is your favorite designer? Steve Jobs and Ferrari designer Sergio Scaglietti. While neither is a clothing designer, both have an incredibly distinct and beautiful sense of design.

How do you define happiness? Any downtime I get to spend with my family.

What might people be surprised to know about you? That I have no ability to dress casually. I’m always in a jacket and tie.

Who is inspiring you most right now? My parents. They are both in their mid 80s, and they continue to live their lives

What is your top New Year’s resolution? To be more patient with my teenage daughter and with work in general.

without having to take a lot more risk right now. Along those lines, we always try to work with good partners—the most credit-worthy customers. But consumers are simply not shopping as much, and trying to increase sales through broader distribution has its inherent risks when many of those retailers are on shaky ground. The 9-percent unemployment rate is the ultimate wet blanket. That’s exactly it. People are looking at all these Wall Street-related protests, but it is so much bigger than that. For example, several of my neighbors have been out of work now for a long time. Some are 50-plus years old and have kids in college, but it’s been very difficult to find another job—any job. I look at my house and say, “There, but for the grace of God, that could be me.” I think a lot of people are feeling the same way even if their finances are still OK. They are looking at all the people around them that were fairly well off and mainstays of the economy—part of the solidly middle and upper-middle class that no longer are. On top of that, many of those people have been our customers. Primigi is a luxury product for children, and while a lot of celebrities and professional athletes buy our brand, it’s still reasonably priced enough that people who like quality products for their children buy it as well. A lot of those people are not in the same financial shape as they were a few years ago and don’t know when they will be. That’s tough.

statement about expecting at least another two years of 9 percent unemployment comes true, then it will surely remain just as tough trying to grow sales under those conditions.

What are you doing to address this issue? We’ve been really creative in figuring out how to find new markets as well as expanding a few product offerings. And we’ve certainly absorbed some of the punishment that comes with a bad economy with lower margins. In addition, we continue to advertise aggressively and believe in our brand. We also try to give the absolute best service that we can on a daily basis.

Flat continues to be the new growth. The initial goal is to maintain, with an eye to grow when conditions improve. But it’s really hard to look at any type of large increase in sales

What are some of the new products? We’ve brought in a larger selection of slightly lower-priced product. You might say that translates into lower margins—and in some cases it





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does—but margins don’t mean a thing if people aren’t buying at all. So we definitely came in with a more reasonably priced line and we brought some prices down in our key product. But we didn’t discount our mainstays at all. Our Gore-Tex line of boots, for example, is selling as well as ever. And that is priced at retail from $100, for the smaller sizes, to $170.

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Does the success of the Gore-Tex collection surprise you in light of the economy? Not really. That collection has had a really good track record for the past five years. It’s also why we have been able to add stores that weren’t part of our traditional customer base—outlets that sell to outdoorsmen and winter-sport enthusiasts. Those types of retailers demand the best products. Their customer is more likely to spend extra on what they know is reliable product and is going to last. I also believe customers often feel taken advantage of when they buy a product that is supposed to be waterproof or hold up well but fails to deliver. There’s a lot of shoddy product on the market claiming to have the technical features but don’t. Will you be exhibiting at the Outdoor Retailer show? We are going to OR for the first time this January. We actually have expanded our Gore-Tex selection for Fall ’12, which is still made in Italy and we believe is the best product that you can buy. The quality and the styling are fantastic. In fact, we had a phone call from a dad asking if we made a boot in his size because his son’s version was so light and easy to pack. He said his son has worn them for two seasons, and the boots have held up beautifully. That’s a great testimonial. Overall, we are offering some new programs in an effort to be as innovative as we can. We think we have put enough research into them that we believe they will bear fruit. Our fashion boots, for example, continue to be another bright spot for us. We make very high-quality boots at fairly reasonable prices. While our collection is always enormous, now there is more product at price points we didn’t carry before. I believe we are well equipped for the coming season. What is the lower price range? It’s in the $50 to $60 retail range, which is about $10 to $20 less than our traditional prices. While the product definitely requires a little different mindset from a manufacturing standpoint, we have been able to make it without sacrificing quality wherever we can. On some of the fashion items, in fact, it has brought us closer to our competition. This year that collection sold very well. Amid this current economic climate, is it good to be a luxury brand? I think it’s actually been the best position for us to be in. If we were a middle-of-the-road or a lower-end brand, we might be having more trouble right now. Where Primigi is made (Italy and a few surrounding European Union countries), the quality of our materials and our price point definitely make us a luxury brand but also make us stand out. I was just in Brooklyn, NY, visiting 15 or so of our top independent dealers, and we are always presented as the “finest children’s brand� that they carry. While we are a few dollars more than 90 percent of their other brands, that sets us apart from all the rest. That’s the message we have always driven through our advertising, and it has been our philosophy in how we do business. In the end, we believe our product is more affordable than buying something that falls apart for 40 percent less cost. Well put. Personally, I think luxury has become too accessible and hasn’t always represented the finest products like it used to. Do you see luxury heading back to its core values? I think so. But, in our case, we are not talking luxury with respect to a private jet or priceless jewelry. Primigi is luxury, but you don’t have to make $1 million a year in order to afford our shoes. By spending a little

bit more money you can get, in the long run, a much better product. It’s not out of the reach of most people. When I go on the mommy blogs and countless other social media sites, it’s encouraging to see tons of people continue to write great things about our products—how they still look new after six months and that they can be passed down to younger siblings. We often hear of people who sell their Primigis to consignment stores once their kids have grown out of them. What does ‘made in Italy’ really mean to consumers today? Well, 99 percent of footwear today is made elsewhere, which we think is a point of clear distinction. We still make a lot of shoes in Italy and the rest we make in surrounding EU countries. In the case of the latter, it is made with Italian management and technicians overseeing the production. I think history and tradition mean a lot. I believe our product stands out— the way few things do today—in terms of the quality, craftsmanship, construction and style. And I actually think that more products will be made in Italy in the coming years as it gets tougher to produce shoes in other countries and the value of the Euro goes down a little bit. That’s certainly a goal of our parent company. You mentioned visiting key stores in Brooklyn recently. What was the mood of those retailers? Actually, that experience was a light at the end of the tunnel. Some of our key stores are starting to buy more product from us again. In general, our strong stores are leading the way, but it’s the next tier that is still having some difficulties. The really established and well-financed names will be the first to come out of this. They are the bell-weathers. What is it about those stores you visited that really set them apart? First, they have a long history of being very successful. And when I

dropped in, the owners were present and either behind the cash register or on the floor interacting with their customers. That’s all part of a successful business mindset, which stands in stark contrast to the approach by a lot of other executives today. Take, for example, the European leaders who recently came in from their various vacation homes to have a meeting about the debt crisis, and all that was achieved was a photo-op. Two weeks later the crisis only got worse. Along those lines, retailers who are not willing to put the time in and really work at it are probably going to find it difficult to succeed. If you think you can run a store by proxy or from a distance while vacationing all of the time, it’s a recipe for financial disaster. If you had a direct line to those European leaders, what might you say to them? It really hasn’t played out entirely, but if I did have a direct line, I’d say that some of the values exhibited in my parents’ generation—what Tom Brokaw labeled the greatest generation—has been lost with the baby boomers. And it appears it’s the same situation around the world where people have to realize that you can’t continue to spend more than you make and you must come to terms with the fact that you are not going to be able to retire at age 45 with a 90-percent pension. Life just isn’t that easy and hard work is what really pays off. In the U.S., it was Wall Street greed that took all these short cuts and made everything so difficult, as well as people buying homes that they shouldn’t have. I don’t buy into the fact that just one end of the spectrum [was responsible]. There were a lot of people smart enough to realize they couldn’t afford [those homes], but what really scares me are the ones who believe “I deserve this� without working for it. That mindset doesn’t bode well for the future prospects of any country. In contrast, my father worked around the clock. He did everything he could to always provide for his family and he never gave up—like most of the people in his generation. I don’t know if that’s so much the case >47

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Vogue Blossom







White Mountain


Stock Options Get ’em while they’re hot: These styles are in stock and ready to land on store shelves within the next 60 days.

20 • december 2011



Essence by Aetrex

Bella Vita Earthies


Berries by Aetrex Cliffs by White Mountain Easy Street

Primigi Gotta Flurt


2011 december • 21





2011 december • 23


Top Dog

By tackling the age-old conundrum of fashion and function, Sperry Top-Sider’s Authentic Original boat shoe has remained captain’s—and prepster’s—choice for more than 75 years. By Angela Velasquez

24 • december 2011

AS LEGEND HAS it, on a frigid day in 1935, Paul Sperry and his cocker spaniel, Prince, trekked across the icy Connecticut terrain. Despite the slippery surface, Prince ran with ease. Sperry, an avid sailor, took note and turned over Prince’s paw, discovering hundreds of tiny cracks and cuts going in all directions. Shortly thereafter, the Authentic Original Sperry Top-Sider, the world’s first-ever boat shoe (also known as the A/O), was introduced—complete with Princeinspired non-slip grooves on the soles. Fast-forward to 2011 and ‘Top-Sider’ is a household term to describe boat shoes—Sperry-made or not. “It’s almost a generic term. The name stuck,” says Biz Snyder, owner of Snyders Bootery in Annapolis, MD, a 100-year-old business that has sold Sperry Top-Sider shoes since the 1940s. Even so, Snyder says Sperry holds the golden umbrella as the best-selling boat shoe, thanks in part to its chameleon-like ability to adapt to current trends, while ensuring the Authentic Originals’ grip, waterproof construction and comfort—not to mention the style’s signature light color sole—remain intact. “It’s a whole different ball game these days,” he points out. “Anyone who has lived in a boating community knows Authentic Originals are essential, but now people, some who have never stepped onto a dock, wear them religiously.”


“A new generation of consumers has discovered Sperry Top-Sider for themselves, while past generations have never left us,” says Craig Reingold, president of Sperry Top-Sider, a division of Stride Rite Corporation. From a young collegiate girl or guy to a streetwise trendsetter, Reingold says the A/O is a terrific canvas for consumers to personalize their own look. “Our brand is unique in that it spans generations and means such different things to different people. It can look retro, modern, preppy, classic, edgy, feminine, macho, rugged or sleek—all depending on how it is styled,” he adds. Recently, reports Barry Rasmussen, owner of Silen’s Shoes and Beachwear, interest in the women’s line has picked up at his Wildwood, NJ, store. Many of his customers start with one pair, but end up collecting all of the colors and fabrications. Bradley O’Brien, vice

president of women’s designs and trends for Sperry, says novelty and emotional materials tend to work really well, adding, “Our girl loves sparkle and pink.” Whether it’s touches of embroidered raffia or madras patchwork, O’Brien says he looks at each season as a chance to excite customers with creative combinations of nautical prints and patterns. On the men’s front, David Nau, vice president of men’s designs, says relaxed materials and constructions, mixed with fun details and color pops, resonate with customers living a “relaxed and fun” lifestyle. Collaborations with up-and-coming designers like Penfield, Jeffery and Band of Outsiders have proven to be particularly effective at appealing to male consumers. Meg Link, editor of the blog The Preppy Life, points out the men’s Band of Outsiders’ green nylon boat shoe as one of the most memorable and fashion-forward designs in recent seasons. “It’s a great twist on a classic shoe,” she adds. Those twists and spins on materials, details, colors and finishes inspired by the trends in the marketplace have been one way the brand is reeling in a new audience, Reingold says. “For instance, metallics have been trending strongly in the market and our customer has responded well to the A/O in a soft platinum leather,” he explains. Link, a big fan of the latest silver leather A/O, confirms: “They look great with rolled up jeans and a polo,” adding she’d wear them for a day of sailing or to a tailgate before a football game. Part of the shoe’s charm, Link notes, is how the A/O remains shamelessly preppy. “Khakis, cords, a polo or button up—it’s a no brainer,” she says of the Top-Sider uniform. “A Sperry Top-Sider wearer projects a clean-cut, easygoing and outdoorsy image,” Link describes. Furthermore, she says the shoe is one of those rare wardrobe staples that speaks to the young and old.


Sperry Top-Sider, Rasmussen says, has managed to be fashionable without losing its mainstream boating business and, in some ways, his own business’ trajectory mirrors Sperry’s. A fourth-generation family business, Silen’s opened in 1919 as a strictly fishing supply shop and gradually added more fashionable product as the surrounding Jersey Shore community became a tourist, beach and shopping destination. To this day, the A/O is a best seller for his boater clientele as well as a “casual, knock-around shoe,” he reports. Still, with its popularity amongst trendsetters, hipsters and prepsters, Sperry could have smoothly shifted gears, but Rasmussen points out that a recent crop of ads and product placement in fashion and boating magazines confirms that the brand is open to helping all of its retail partners introduce and re-introduce customers to the shoe, while still respecting its roots and supporting its core boating base. It’s that supportive relationship between manufacturer and retailer that has kept Authentic Originals stocked on the shelves of S.T. Preston’s & Sons for more than 35 years. In fact, owner Andrew Rowsom says, at least one of the Greenport, NY, store’s windows is regularly devoted to Sperry product. Coming from a boating town, Rowsom says he uses TopSiders for what they’re intended to do. “I wear them during summer sailboat races,” he says. “There’s been a lot of expansion on the fashion side, like adding a bit of shearling lining or patents, but the shoe still delivers on performance and grip.” Next fall’s collection promises to be an assortment of iconic boats shoes with fun accents, brogue leathers and tailored materials. “Menswear haberdashery,” O’Brien calls it. Nevertheless, the out-of-the-archives classics in brown and tan remain the company’s best-selling styles, especially as the market appeal for pre-loved, well-worn product has grown. “The great thing about this shoe is that although it is always evolving, its classic lines, construction and universal appeal all remain constant,” Reingold explains. “When a style is truly a classic, it has the ability to span generations.” •

Clockwise: George Clooney kicks back in his A/Os on the set of The Descendants; a boot version is Daniel Radcliff’s A/O of choice; a summery Hamptons-ready style for Blake Lively.

2011 december • 25



Over the Moon Twenty-five million pairs later, the Moon Boot walks on. By Meagan Walker

IN 1969, APOLLO 11 carried Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin to the moon while the world watched in amazement from parlors, bars and newsrooms. Not long thereafter, and with somewhat less communal excitement, Giancarlo Zanatta, an entrepreneur from Montebelluna, Italy, walked through New York’s Penn Station, where he noticed a giant and vibrant depiction of the lunar landing. Traditionally trained as a footwear modelista, a technical craftsman of lasts and patterns, he was taken by what sat at the very bottom of the image’s frame—the astronauts’ boots. Upon returning to Italy, he composed the first sketch of what would rather quickly become the original Moon Boot. Not one to waste any time, he and his team finished the prototype in June of 1970. Zanatta, who is now the owner, chairman and general manager of the Tecnica Group, Moon Boot’s parent company, was personally peddling the first Moon Boot sample at shows come September 1970. In a pre-Nike era, the Moon Boot, with its super-foamy liner, nylon upper, synthetic insulation and interchangeable lefts and rights, was a 26 • december 2011

revolutionary and shocking departure from the norm. Often made of leather and fur, 1970s ski boots were bulky and didn’t fit the sexiness of skiing, as depicted in the era’s James Bond films. “We see it now as a fashion classic, but at the time it was a leap frog forward,” says Tom Berry, vice president of global sales, marketing and merchandising at Tecnica USA. “We can look at the Moon Boot as an object that’s more than 40 years old, but if we put ourselves back in the mindset of that time, it was entirely new.” Berry names the years between 1977 and 1986 as “Moon Boot Mania,” a time when the style “swept the world,” he says. “Everyone was wearing them.” In fact, in 2000, the Louvre Museum selected the Moon Boot as one of the 100 most significant symbols of the 20th century’s design landscape. Fast-forward to today and Tecnica reports that sales have surged in the past three years, nearly doubling, but the sales roster still races to catch Zanatta’s best days. “The current sales team says they will beat my record soon—but they haven’t yet,” Zanatta says in jest. Much of the newfound success can be attributed to a two-part re-launch spearheaded by Berry. “When I came in, it was clear to me that [the Moon Boot] was the best asset we had as a group,” Berry explains. “We weren’t putting enough energy into exploiting what we had. Everyone I spoke with had an affinity for this brand—it brought a smile to their faces. Our message was powerful, but under-communicated.” To change that, the Moon Boot got a fancy new website at, which put greater emphasis on the Classic collection, rather than the more cosmopolitan West East. “In the U.S., the Moon Boot had become a stand-alone brand, so we’re treating it that way,” Berry says, also noting that due to its global popularity, the site now reads in five different languages. But whether that customer speaks English, Italian or French, Sal Vespa, owner of Shaw’s in Stowe, VT, says the people shopping for Moon Boots are consistently happy-go-lucky folks. “When people come in to buy a winter boot and they’re considering a Moon Boot, they really seem to be a certain type of person—always laughing and having fun,” Vespa says. Despite not owning a pair himself (he estimates Moon Boot wearers break into a 98-to-2 split of women and men), Vespa seems to have an affinity for the shoe, and since 1975, his 116-year-old store has been carrying a variety of styles. “If someone is trying on a Baffin, Merrell or an Ugg and having a little giggle about the Moon Boot, I always say, ‘Hey, slip this on your foot,’” he says. “They start walking around, and then all I hear is, ‘Oh my gosh. It’s so comfortable. Oh my gosh.’” Vespa adds that on the shelf, the Moon Boot may inspire amusement. “But when customers actually put it on their feet, it’s the real deal,” he says. Kathy Burke, a buyer at Cole Sport in Park City, UT—one of the most beloved ski destinations in the country—agrees that the Moon Boot is tops in après ski, probably due, in part, to Berry’s observation: “The consumer can see it from 20 meters away. It’s fun, campy and lighthearted,” he says. “If everyone wore Moon Boots, there would be no more war,” Berry offers. “You can’t help but be happy in a Moon Boot.” •

WIN A TRIP TO ITALY Contest for best Moon Boot window display Attention all retailers: It’s time to sharpen your visual merchandising skills. Tecnica is challenging retailers with the task of creating an out of this world Moon Boot window display. A panel of Moon Boot aficionados, including the father of the Moon Boot, Giancarlo Zanatta, will judge each display, ultimately choosing the top three. Those winners will receive a trip to Giavera del Montello, Italy, to meet Zanatta, tour the Moon Boot factory and relax in the Moon Boot Lounge in nearby Switzerland. Retailers must send photos of their display to leslie@tecnicausa. com. Display must be up for a minimum of two weeks. Deadline for entries is Jan. 31, 2012.

Many moons ago: vintage Moon Boot ad campaigns and (at left) the legendary “Rainbow” style.

2011 december • 27

Something blue, coral, purple, pink and red—modern brides say “I do” to color.

IT’S A NICE DAY FOR A BRIGHT WEDDING Chinese Laundry satin sandal; peep-toe pump by Nina; Ryan Haber Collection satin pump; Aruna Seth butterfly-embellished stiletto; Luichiny crystal peep-toe stiletto; Something Bleu wedge. Fashion Editor: Angela Velasquez Photography by McCandliss & Campbell 28

THE CLASSIC LUNCH LADY Doris hunts for antiques on the weekends and any other time she is not on lunch duty at Maplewood Elementary School. Many of her friends are into scouring junkyards and flea markets too, searching mostly for dainty old tea cups, doilies and Shaker chairs. Doris, however, is on the hunt for bigger finds—like the industrial mixer she scored recently. She had to have it. Doris and her husband Bob moved the great cast iron giant into their basement, where it went alongside dozens of other vintage lunchroom appliances. Legend has it that her steam trays warmed the food of George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War. Ruthie Davis crystal-and spike-embellished stiletto.


THE MILITARY LUNCH LADY Ten hut! Sgt.Major Helen Washington (ret.) has served 17 tours of lunchroom duty at Palmwood Grove Elementary School and has yet to lose a single child to hunger. Even during The Great Green Jello Revolt of ‘74, Helen valiantly fed all-comers, large and small. Before becoming a cafeteria commander along the frontlines in suburban Tallahassee, FL, Helen loyally fed our nation’s troops on five continents through many deadly conflicts. The soldiers under her mighty ladle were always well-nourished and ready for valor. Once, after one of her hearty All-American meals, Lance Corporal Pete Peterson ran 25 miles wearing a loaded rucksack, then swam across an icy river and single-handedly saved the U.S.A. from a rogue band of militant vegetarians.

Opposite, from top: crystal pump by Aruna Seth; Eric Rutberg Transparent metallic stiletto; Chelsea Paris suede platform with crystal-embellished heel.



THE NEW AGE LUNCH LADY Joy wondered about a butterfly that recently passed by the Woodstock Alternative High School cafeteria window. Would the very flutter of its wings influence the course of human history, the structure of the universe or the texture of the tapioca pudding she had made for lunch that day? Joy arrived at the school two years prior, having just returned from an ashram in the most remote corner of the Himalayas. Wearing only a backpack, organic cotton dress, several Native American dream catchers and Birkenstocks, her resume (scratched into a piece of bark) was chock-full of health food preparation and serving experience. Zero animal by-products or evil food additives ever find their way into one of her loving recipes. Her school lunches provide nourishment to the mind, body and soul. Rumor has it she swaps recipes with the Dalai Lama. Opposite, from top: Guissepe Zanotti platform stiletto; python peep-toe by Ugg Collection; zipper back stiletto by Tania Spinelli; Kate Spade floral embellished sandal.


Tulle-covered platform heel by Gio Diev.

Ruthy Mae Newton’s diner served up the hottest chili in all of Sassafras County. But it all came to a fiery end one fateful day when a jealous hussy from across town accused Ruthy Mae of stealing her man. In a fitful rage, the woman burnt Ruthy Mae’s beloved diner to the ground. Ruthy Mae pleads innocence. She claims only to have a big heart—and a husband of 23 years that she married right out of high school, to boot. Townsfolk say the only thing Ruthy Mae could be guilty of is being the most charming gal in all the county. Men, boys and even tom cats have an instant connection to Ruthy Mae. Maybe it’s her attentive service that always comes with a warm smile, or perhaps it’s her mouth-watering comfort cooking that sends male hearts aflutter. While saving to open a new diner some day, Ruthy Mae has been serving lunches at Sassafras County Middle School. Coincidently, for the first time on school record, every single boy has enrolled in the school’s hot lunch program.



MARY O’BRIEN REMEMBERS the first time she saw “the uniform.” Her grandmother had just worked a double shift at the Shrewsbury Elementary School. Even through the ketchup stains, it gleamed with a subtle grandeur. She knew right then that one day she would join the family tradition of keeping the town’s school children well-fed. For two decades, Mary’s mother worked alongside her grandmother. The duo sculpted a landscape of wax beans and strained tomatoes and served towering mountains of mashed potatoes—the gravy cascading down like waterfalls. They worked in choreographed concert, pouring steaming cans of beef broth into bottomless cauldrons and managing the deep fryer with aplomb. Mary had the pleasure to work one semester with the intrepid duo. It was an unforgettable experience and, to this day, when she presides over a new week’s menu she often looks down at the locket around her neck that contains the pictures of her mother and grandmother—representing three generations of O’Briens that have faithfully manned this cafeteria, dishing out healthy lunches with servings of love. Opposite, from top: Chie Mihara rosette-embellished sandal; ruby peep toe by Strenesse Blue.





BETTY FREQUENTLY DROVE past Langley Military Academy in her government-issued, white Buick Regal and what she saw deeply disturbed her: The children sluggishly walked out to recess following mess hall. Instead of trying to master the school’s U.S. Marine Corps replica obstacle course, they drifted aimlessly about its firing range. It called for an extensive undercover investigation where Betty—having graduated first in her class (’68) at the FBI Academy in Quantico—quickly gleaned that the nutritional content of the school’s lunches was being sabotaged. Turned out it might not be a nuclear attack that America needed to be most concerned about, but rather the degenerative effects of bad cafeteria food. A steady diet of tainted meals could cause our great nation’s children to fall behind in math and science. But thanks to Betty’s covert efforts, this diabolical plot was stopped in its tracks. She went undercover for months, fortifying the academy’s food supply with all the essential performance-enhancing ingredients. While a few cadets had to be airlifted to a secret government hospital for nutritional transfusions, Betty’s heroic efforts paid off. A year later, the academy’s paintball team was undefeated and headed to the state championships. In addition, not a single cadet has slipped into a meatloaf coma since. Opposite from left: Princess London leopardprint platform pump; bootie by Laurence Dacade.


Leisure Class

The preppy staple earns street-cred with wild color, prints and sparkle.


Julian Hakes

42 • december 2011


sports car and snowboard binding,” the shoe’s smooth texture and sheen heightens color intensity. “It’s very sculptural and organic. I call it poetic radicalism, beautiful but different,” Hakes explains, but most of all this jack-of-alltrades calls his first stab at footwear “comfortable.” “Despite its appearance, it is very easy to wear. Even I can stand on this heel,” he laughs. —Angela Velasquez What’s been your first impression of the footwear industry? I’ve realized how big the world is outside of architecture. It’s been a lovely process and I have been showered with support from the U.K. trade industry, in particular. I’m really surprised and grateful for how everyone has been eager to support a new designer like me. How has your architectural background influenced your footwear design? With shoe

Clockwise from top left: men’s leopard print slipper by Del Toro; Steve Madden purple slipper; paisley flat by Candela; French Sole striped slipper; Mia crystal-embellished slipper.

design, there’s too much focus on the outside. Architects start in the center and work their way out. I think that approach has been in key in designing a shoe that is functional and comfortable. What do you have planned for Fall ’12? I’m working on a boot, some funky wedges, a shoe with a mid-height heel and a lower bootie. I would also like to introduce a men’s style with a sporty look. Where do you see your line in five years? By looking at a new range of materials, I think we will move into different price points. For example, you might see bamboo, wood or pure carbon fibers for a super-light shoe. What else would you like to design? I see some eyewear down the pipeline and maybe a small collection of jewelry and handbags. •


HOW DOES AN award-winning architect specializing in bridges crossover to shoes? By happy accident, says designer Julian Hakes. After participating in a series of design competitions, including placing second in a major U.K. retail re-design project, Hakes decided to switch gears and invest in projects of his own. He recalls staying late at his studio one night in 2006: “The rest of the design team had left and I started to wrap drafting paper and scotch tape around my foot. I drew around the paper and realized that as soon as the heel is lifted off the ground, there is no need for a middle.” Many sketches later, the ‘Mojito’ was born. A 3-D visual of the heel— often compared to a ribbon or lemon peel— made its debut in 2009 on the blog Gizmodo and became an overnight success, registering more than 100,000 hits and comments and attracting global attention from techies, designers and models. “I could put my name in Google and find no mention of my bridges or teaching, but plenty came up for the Mojito,” Hakes says, bemused. “I don’t think the shoe would exist today if it weren’t for the attention it received on blogs.” The shoe, which retails for $195, made its official trade show debut at the August edition of FN Platform in Las Vegas and has since been scooped up by U.S. and international dealers. Hakes reports black with pewter, silver or gold lining as a best-seller, while London’s Harvey Nichols took a liking to black with pops of neon lemon and fuchsia. Bright royal blue and lime green are capturing the eyes of U.S. retailers. Made from a composite of many materials, which Hakes describes as “a cross between a


Male Call Sheepskin boot brand Bearpaw heeds customer requests for more men’s styles. WITH EVERYONE FROM tween girls to Grammy Award-winning country crooners like Gretchen Wilson sporting Bearpaws nowadays, it may seem like the brand has tapped the market. But as Bearpaw devotees repeatedly posted on Facebook and Twitter, the company was missing out on one major chunk of the footwear industry: men. “We started hearing from all of our consumers on our social sites: ‘Hey, do you make shoes for men? These are so warm and comfortable, and I want to get some for my husband,’” says Randy McKinley, vice president of global marketing for the brand. Not to mention, McKinley adds, the male portion of the sales staff at Bearpaw had been jonesin’ for some styles to sport at trade shows. “We wanted to have boots to wear ourselves,” he says. “A lot of us are from athletic sales backgrounds, and we’re use to wearing what we’re selling.” It all added up to one conclusion: It was time for the brand to dive deeper into the men’s market. Available for Fall ’11, Bearpaw is introducing four new styles, in addition to carrying over two classic sheepskin boots for men, the Stowe and Dream. Featuring tumble leathers and oily-pressed suede for a rougher texture, McKinley says the new collection, which retails for $110 to $140, will stick to classic colors like black, dark brown and cognac and will appeal to guys looking for timeless style and rugged appeal. “Our target isn’t necessarily that fashion guy who’s looking to be the leader,” he explains. The brand also expects the men’s shoppers to skew a little older than Bearpaw’s female demographic, in the 24 to 35 age range. Seeing this season as a way to alert retailers to the collection, Bearpaw plans to expand in Fall ’12, with a chukka boot, a slip-on boot and a redesigned Chelsea boot style, similar to this season’s “Larkin.” McKinley says the brand plans to promote the collection organically, through social media and product placements—unlike competitor Ugg, who enlisted New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as a spokesman for its men’s collection. “I’m not going to pay Tom Brady,” McKinley says. “Those guys are an amazing brand and they’re a marketing machine,” he adds of Ugg, adding, “They’re Coke and we’re Pepsi, and we’re OK with that.” —Audrey Goodson

44 • december 2011

Thinking Outside the Bag Classic accessory company Sondra Roberts launches a footwear line. THIRTY YEARS AGO, Sandra Camche walked into every upscale accessory store on Madison Avenue, carrying a collection of handbags crafted using the same luxury materials as the purses lining the shops’ shelves—but at half the price. Coined Sondra Roberts, the collection quickly caught on, and is now carried everywhere from specialty boutiques to Bloomingdale’s. So it’s fitting that in honor of the brand’s 30th anniversary, Camche’s sons Robert and Glenn are carrying on the company tradition, and their mother’s memory, by launching a shoe line committed to the same high-quality, low-price combination. Available beginning Spring ’12, the collection of wedges, heels, sandals and flats will feature high-end materials, like Italian leathers, jute from Spain and embossed exotics, at an affordable retail price range of $45 for sandals to $198 for snakeskin-printed leather heels. With many styles crafted to coordinate with the brand’s bags and stand out on retail displays, Glen Camche, the company’s president and creative director, sees the progression into footwear as a natural next step. “We have sold our handbags at hundreds of shoe stores for many years, and we already have an established customer base,” he notes. For spring, Hillary Latos, footwear designer for Sondra Roberts, says the collection’s inspiration was “very nautical,” with lots of navy, raffia and stripes. “We wanted to create a range of shoes where women could go from day to night and from vacation to the city,” she explains. For Fall ’12, the brand is planning a 70s-inspired collection of closed-toe booties and chunky heels, featuring tonal textures and rich brocades and velvets. “I think the trend is getting away from the super skinny stilettos and toward something more balanced,” she says. “We were just trying to go back to the heritage of the brand,” Latos adds of the brand’s inspiration for fall, which involved looking at vintage Sondra Roberts designs, as well as Glen’s “carefully curated and archived” collection of his mother’s classic Judith Leiber bags. “Some of the craftsmanship on those vintage designer bags you just don’t see today,” Latos says. —A.G.

continued from 12 doing, simply because we can’t afford to,” she adds. McClain at Habitat Shoes shopping experience is going to be like and what your brand stands for, so also forgoes free shipping, but he’s found a way to keep his customers happy it’s really important to get that right.” Of course, conveying the store’s theme throughout the site is also key, by offering free returns and exchanges. His secret to keeping costs down? An accurate fit description for every pair the store sells. “Our return rate is really and Wehmann suggests using templated pages for consistency. McClain at low for the industry, at 10 percent, because we actually fit test every shoe,” he Habitat Shoes says his goal was to maintain the site’s clean, simple design throughout the entire site, while making it as easy as possible for customers explains. And thanks to innovations in virtual try-on technology using web cams, to go from the home page to the shopping cart. “If you click on ‘women’s,’ it Spearman says, ensuring the proper fit is becoming easier every day. “That just goes straight to the product,” he notes. “My No. 1 rule now is just get rid technology is going to significantly transform e-commerce. Right now, the of pages. Nobody cares about your ‘about’ page—they just want to see the biggest impediment to e-commerce is the high return rate, so that’s where product.” And they want to see the product in very fine detail, he adds. “We take a optimization is going to happen.” Spearman points to new eyewear brand Tortoise and Blonde’s virtual try-on technology, which allows shoppers to use lot of pride and we spend a lot of money on product images,” he says, noting a webcam to drag and drop the company’s frames onto their faces on screen. that all of the site’s photography is shot in a studio in Kansas City. Wehmann at Digital River agrees that quality photography The company’s COO, Evan Weisfeld, acknowlis crucial. “Here’s the bottom line and the rule of edges the technology is still improving, but says thumb: Customers can’t touch the product and “it gives you the basic idea of what it looks like they can’t try it on. The more images, the betwith your hair color and skin tone.” ter the copy and the more detail, the better you In fact, the trend is moving into the footwear are going to do.” Thankfully, Fulman at Happy arena, by way of tech start-up Shoefitr, which ofFeet Plus notes that vendor-supplied product fers software for e-commerce retailers looking to shots are getting increasingly better—and that provide their customers with the perfect fit. Usthe zoom-in capabilities offered on many e-coming scans of hundreds of running shoes, Shoefitr merce platforms nowadays usually satisfy a conasks shoppers to provide the size of a well-fitting sumer who wants to see a shoe in greater detail. style they already own, and suggests the right But getting those crucial capabilities means size to order for the shoe they are contemplating choosing the right platform and deciding purchasing. Running Warehouse already uses whether to take a DIY approach or pay for expert the service. —John McClain, owner, help—which doesn’t come cheap. “It’s expensive, For retailers that can afford it, though, free it’s labor intensive and it’s definitely challengshipping and free returns certainly encourages Habitat Shoes ing,” says Andre of the Lori’s Shoes site. Andre customers to click ‘buy.’ Dave Fulmer, supervisor employs a creative director, marketing manager, of e-commerce for Florida comfort chain Happy customer service support, processors to process Feet Plus, says offering free shipping provided orders, a merchandise manager and a photograa big boost to the company’s e-commerce sales. Even though Happy Feet Plus had previously offered free shipping for orders pher—all for the website alone. McClain agrees that e-commerce is pricey, over $100, which included most of the shoes on the site, switching to “free” but says it’s worth every penny. “Don’t hire a friend of a friend to try and freechanged the perception of the site in shoppers’ eyes, Fulmer says. “They don’t lance your site. Actually go with a development firm, and spend the money see a disclaimer. They just see ‘free shipping.’ It’s a subconscious, subliminal to do it right the first time,” he says, adding, “It’s going to be a hard check to write, but at the end of the day, you’re going to make your money back so kind of thing,” he explains. Fulmer acknowledges, however, that free shipping isn’t for everyone. much faster than if you had some rickety website.” McClain points out that he paid a lot of money to ensure that the site is “Sometimes you can skip the free shipping if you offer extra value somewhere else,” he points out. Rich Lyons, founder and CEO of Lyons Consult- optimized for search engines—consequently, a majority of the site’s traffic is ing Group, an e-commerce design, development and support firm, suggests driven by Google searches for specific brands the shop carries. That optimismaller retailers “pick a niche or have a look and feel to your site that’s differ- zation is built into many e-commerce platforms nowadays, like the Magento ent” to stand out from the Amazons of the Internet. “Because you are smaller, platform Lyons Consulting Group uses, Lyons notes. But the work isn’t finished after all the nuts and bolts are in place, Lyons you can be much more nimble and much more aggressive with your design, and you can create an experience that’s actually different from the big box notes. “If you build it, they won’t necessarily come,” he points out, adding that his firm also provides e-mail marketing capabilities, to help increase trafretailers.” For Spearman at Sneak Attack, that meant creating a “cool, unique ex- fic. Spearman advises sending a follow-up email post-sale to solicit feedback perience people would talk about.” Visitors to the site are greeted with a and information that can be used to drive future purchases. “If you have 13 cartoon cityscape of Austin, TX, where Spearman is based, which shifts to girls that say they like purple shoes in the last month, when you get a pair of an animated boutique, with apparel and accessories on one side and foot- purple shoes in, you email those girls,” he suggests. In addition, give customers something to talk about, Spearman says. Andre wear on the other (and a turntable in the middle, of course). For Fulmer at Happy Feet Plus, it means using high-quality images that the retailer’s core at Lori’s Shoes added a Style and Shoe of the Week blog, as well as posts from demographic—women ages 35 to 60—find enticing, like a recent photo fea- celebrity guest bloggers loaded with “sophisticated, playful content,” which turing a woman sipping from a mug by a fireplace. “For our home page, has helped create buzz for the site and ratcheted the store’s profile across the I always try to have something that is appealing to that age group and is globe. For McClain, staying social on Facebook has provided a boost. “Make it consistent with the audience,” he explains. Jim Wehmann, vice president social,” Spearman agrees. “If you’re small, and you’re trying to look like Zapof marketing at e-commerce firm Digital River, agrees that a visitor’s first pos, you’re going to fail, because they can do it better,” he notes. “There has to glimpse is crucial. “The home page really sets the overall tone for what the be word of mouth value in something you’re creating.” •

“Nobody cares about your ‘about’ page—they just want to see the product.”

2011 december • 45

what’s selling

designer bout iques



Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that’s certainly the case at Gregory’s, a 5,800-square-foot shop carrying a vast array of designer shoes, clothing and accessories for men and women. Opened in Dallas in 1989, Gregory’s has expanded to include locations in Houston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles (via acquisition of Fred Segal Feet this year), with an Atlanta outpost set to open next year. Thanks to unique labels like Amaranti, Massimo Dogana and Diego Dolcini, the shop’s owner, Jon Harris, says the store has “cultivated a cult following.”

Located in Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood, owner Karen Fabbri opened her 750-square-foot boutique in 2001. Along with manager and co-buyer Kristen Caldon, Fabbri aims to fill Moxie with women’s shoes, bags and accessories that she “genuinely adores.” Recognized with a “Best of” award by Boston Magazine for several years running, Moxie stocks a stylish mix of designer labels, including Loeffler Randall, Pour La Victoire, Bernardo and Diane von Furstenberg.

Top-selling styles for fall: All of our crystal shoes and a variety of boots.

Top-selling styles for fall: Tory Burch flats and riding boots, Delman wedges, B Brian Atwood pumps, Pajar snow/rain boots and Bloch luxury ballet flats. Best new label added to your mix this season: B Brian Atwood. What is your store’s go-to designer brand year-in and year-out? Tory Burch has remained our topselling brand since the invention of the Reva flat. We also do well with Jack Rogers, Bloch, Delman, BCBG and See By Chloé.


B Brian Atwood

Best new shoe added to your mix this season: The Baldan “Black Swan” ballerina flat.

Le Silla

What is your store’s go-to designer brand year-in and year-out? This question really depends on our customers’ needs. For crystal shoes, Gianmarco Lorenzi and Le Silla. For men’s loafers, Rodney P. Hunt and Fonzworth Bentley. What are your top-selling accessories? Our handbag business has been doing very well, especially our designer exclusives. There is a waiting list for some styles of Sylvia Toledo’s crystal evening bags and python clutches. How would you describe your approach to buying? We always want the newest and freshest designers who pride themselves on quality craftsmanship. Has your customer base “recovered” more so than the overall economy? As a luxury retailer, we have always been optimistic about our business. Luckily, we have not been affected by the economy’s financial status quo.


What one word best describes your customer? I just made up a word: trend-jetsetter. What has been the biggest change in their shopping and buying behavior this year? Nothing. Our clients are pretty consistent. When they want something, they get it.


What’s more important to your customers: label, style or price? Style with quality craftsmanship is very important. How are your online sales? We have seen a healthy growth in our online sales this year. We just launched our new site yesterday and already have three overseas orders from new clients.

46 • december 2011


How would you describe your approach to buying? We definitely gravitate toward styles that are feminine and flirty while still being wearable for real women. Has your customer base “recovered” more so than the overall economy? We are certainly lucky to have stores in affluent areas filled with loyal customers who appreciate their small businesses and do what they can to support us. What has been the biggest change in their shopping and buying behavior this year? Given the tough economy the last few years, our customers have started to shift their shopping habits to look for items on sale. Unfortunately, many of the department stores have trained them to wait for friends and family specials, so even those customers who can afford to buy full-price are hesitant to do so if there isn’t a promotion. What’s more important to your customers: label, style or price? Style is definitely the most important, followed by label for the trust factor associated with knowing a brand is good quality. Do you predict business to be better or worse next year? I anticipate that it will be better. Our sales at the end of this year are much stronger than they were at the beginning, and I think that will continue. —Melissa D’Agnese

continued from 19

now. It’s a cultural problem. There’s plenty of blame to go around. People want to work less and earn more and still have their vacations. But none of that is guaranteed to you.




Yet when a CEO gives himself a $50-million raise, that is enormously upsetting. Absolutely. It’s like how Jon Corzine said he wouldn’t ask for severance pay even though the investment company [MF Global] he oversaw imploded and can’t account for $500 million or so. It makes me want to explode. “Gee, thank you so much for not asking for $20 million on the way out the door of a company that lost hundreds of millions under your leadership and just put another 1,000 people on the unemployment line.” That’s the sort of statement that make people take to the streets. It’s crazy. No question, there is reason for anger. Specifically, how is the European debt crisis impacting your parent company? It’s kind of TBD. Certainly, we have a lot of empathy for our parent company. If it’s hurting them, it hurts us. Thankfully, Primigi is a very strong company that is well organized, with a long history and a solid reputation. It’s very similar to our situation in the U.S., where we have been hurt a lot less than many of our competitors. Looking around, I am gratified to realize that the foundation we have worked so hard to build with our customers certainly has helped in this regard. Is Primigi USA an anomaly today with respect to its approach to doing business? I don’t see a lot of people doing what we are in our space. If it were easy, then everyone else would be doing it. I’m going to be here seven days this week and then I’ll be leaving for Italy for a week on business. There’s not a ton of free time. So you’ve got to love what you do and, thankfully, I do. I admire companies like New Balance and, likewise, we try and do everything the right way. We put our reputation, hearts and souls behind our company. Our warehouse is immaculate and incredibly well organized. All the retailers I visited on the last road trip said our service is the best—we are still open on Saturdays, which no one else is. It’s hugely gratifying that people notice and appreciate our efforts. At least, on occasion it is noticed. It’s not like I look for that everyday because that’s like trying to be appreciated by a teenager; there’s no prize at the end of that rainbow. You know that they love you, but you are not going to hear it every day. Well, your dedication appears to be paying off. There’s no question it has, because we are still doing well and a lot of our competitors have had trouble. We could be doing a lot better, but I’m not complaining. We just need some help from external forces with regard to the overall economic health of the market in order to really grow again. Is there plenty of growth opportunity left in this market? We are at a temporary crossroad because of external factors. But we don’t think three months in advance. We certainly did not lay the groundwork here and build this facility to be in business for a few years. I plan to be doing this business for a long time, and I expect this market to get better and we will get back to our earlier growth rates. We were just hitting our stride in 2008 when President Bush went on TV and said the economy is about to fall off a cliff. Nothing has really been the same since. In the meantime, we haven’t changed the way we do things. We continue to work extremely hard and are fortunate to have a small, incredibly dedicated, hard-working group of people that I enjoy seeing every day. •


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“THERE IS A PRECIOUS VERSION OF ALMOST EVERYTHING– WHY NOT SHOELACES?” into shoelaces and they said they could,” he recalls. “Later that night all I could think about was gold shoelaces.” Hart quickly searched for something like it on the Internet and nothing came up. The next day he went back to the jewelers and had the laces made. So far, Hart reports that his precious laces (which weigh slightly heavier than traditional laces) are generating buzz via social media. He believes the juxtaposition of an everyday commodity against the value of gold and silver makes for an intriguing combination. “I suppose not many people have thought about shoelaces as anything other than a functional item,” he says. “We have challenged this notion, and our laces are getting a great reaction.” Hart adds, “There is a precious version of almost everything—why not shoelaces?” The laces are for sale at Purchasers of a gold pair will have them delivered by security and laced personally. Wholesale opportunities are also available. As for the type of shoes that pair well with gold or silver laces, Hart recommends a style that doesn’t compete. “These laces are going to be subtle, so I think an understated pair of shoes may go well with them,” he suggests. —Meagan Walker

A Golden Opportunity Meet the man behind the $19K shoelaces. COLIN HART HAS a knack for out-of-the-box ideas. The entrepreneur and designer owns and populates TheCheeky. com with off-the-wall products that “mock convention and challenge pointlessness.” One of the Irishman’s more recent eureka moments met at the crossroads of mundane shoelaces and precious metals, equating to limited-edition, gold and silver shoelaces priced at, get this, $19,000 and $3,000 per pair, respectively. With only 10 sets of 24 karat gold and 30 sets of silver available, get ’em while they’re hot—as they just might be a safer bet than investing in the stock market these days. Hart was on a business trip in Columbia when he came across jewelers making beautiful bracelets that looked like short shoelaces. “I jokingly asked if you could make them

48 • december 2011

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