Footwear Insight

Footwear Insight March 2011

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THE FOOTWEAR EYE | ANALYSIS Two Iconic Brands are Being Transformed Under New Leadership Sebago’s Artistic Approach TAKING THE LEAD: Clockwise from upper left: Blogger Kimmie Smith is boosting Sebago’s fortunes in the women’s business; shoes designed by Ronnie Fieg, Graffiti artist Stash. Ronnie Fieg (see related story on page 26). Fieg’s collection was an instant hit and he provided the brand with entry to the bloggers and other tastemakers who were extremely influential with the Gen Y consumer Sebago coveted. Working with Fieg, Sebago T created The Nexus Project, which consisted of Fieg’s dream team of influential bloggers Marcus Troy, Joshua Kissi of Street Etiquette, William Yan, Greg Weinsten of Culture Shoq, and video director Jake Davis. Their mission was to redesign and reconstruct the classic boat shoe for Sebago by visiting the company’s plants in the Dominican Republic. The bloggers began working and blogging and within five months The Nexus Project had resulted in more than seven million impressions on the Internet. “Buyers started to hear the buzz and all of a sudden we were no longer viewed as just a boat shoe,” Malamet says. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Urban Outfitters all came on wo years ago, the idea of a graffiti artist, a few bloggers and a major rock band creating footwear collections for Sebago would have been incredibly far-fetched. Sebago was known for its hand-stitched penny loafers and preppy boat shoes, and since its acquisition by Wolverine Worldwide in 2003 the brand had worked to build on those traditional strengths. But over the past two years, Sebago has launched a series of collaborations with the goal of creating footwear that would appeal to younger consumers and in turn make the brand desirable to major retailers. “In the boat shoe business, Sperry had done a wonderful job,” said Gary Malamet, who joined the brand as Group VP & GM 18 months ago after stints with Lacoste, Kenneth Cole, Bally and Stacey Adams. “They had great product and prices and strong retail relationships. We realized that if we wanted to be meaningful to major retailers, we needed to do take a different approach.” That approach began about six months before Malamet joined the company when Sebago collaborated with Vane, a Manhattan-based design collective to create a line of Docksiders for the urban dweller. The collection was well received by retailers, consumers and the press and Malamet set about to negotiating a collaboration with 10 • Footwear Insight ~ March/April 2011 board and Sebago was rolling. Over the past year, Sebago has signed collaboration agreements with New York graphic artist Stash (a protogee of Keith Haring) and The Brothers Bray & Co., the brains behind the BillyKirk leather collection. Late last year, Sebago reached an agreement with Kimmie Smith of Kitten Lounge, a well-known women’s style blog to create a women’s collection for the brand which debuted this past February. Smith also appeared on HSN to hawk Sebago product, 90 percent of which was exclusive to the TV retailer. “That gave us reach into more than 90 million households,” Malamet says. The collaboration with Smith should also boost Sebago’s women’s business, which represents only 25 percent of the brand’s overall revenue. Outside of the Artisan collections, Sebago recently announced an agreement with Filson to create a footwear line that will be a mix of that brand’s materials and outdoor expertise and Sebago’s shoemaking acumen. And the firm is also working on a collaboration with Swedish denim brand WESC. Sebago’s biggest play may be yet to come. Within the next month, the brand is set to announce a collaboration with a major rock group that will result in a new shoe collection and tie in with a music industry charity.

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