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In today’s crowded market, it isn’t easy to build a powerful brand.
But Patrik Frisk, Ivanka Trump and Sam Edelman are creating formidable businesses by staying laser-focused on their consumers.
“First and foremost, the customer we have in mind is the millennial. They are incredibly powerful and they’re going to be more so going forward,” said Trump, EVP of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, and founder of Ivanka Trump Collection.
“We’re looking through digital to create a platform where we can speak to this woman,” she said. “It’s a mixture of content and commerce.”
(Trump boasts about 1.6 million followers on Twitter, 335,000 on Instagram and more than 800,000 on Facebook.)
She explained that a strong online platform allows her company to capture a larger consumer age range. “My mother’s generation is the first generation that actually buys what their daughters are wearing, not what their mothers are wearing,” Trump said.
Noting that her target shoppers tend to be more influenced by peers than traditional advertising, the designer was quick to point out that her digital strategy is carefully tailored to each platform. Instagram serves as a curated, intimate experience; Twitter — her first foray into social media — underlines the brand’s authenticity; and Facebook is a voice for Trump Collection.
Trump said she ventured into footwear after noticing an underserved area of the market, for chic and sophisticated shoes — and comfortable shoes — at an affordable price.
“One of the biggest surprises is the complexity of making a great shoe,” she said. “So few can do it. Even with some of the great designer brands that nail it on the aesthetic side, the shoes aren’t wearable.”
Trump credited her business partner, Marc Fisher, founder and CEO of Marc Fisher Footwear, with translating and executing her vision. “It’s so key to find the right partner,” she explained. “Marc and I met each other and, two weeks later, we had a deal. He understood my aesthetic and he was able to translate and execute it.”
The polished entrepreneur noted it was her father, Donald Trump, who shared the best career advice: Love what you do.
Still, she admitted her public profile is markedly different from his: “I admire [my father’s] candor and honesty ... but for me, [social media] is about reinforcing the message of what I’m doing, what I’m building.”
While Trump created a brand from scratch, Frisk — president of the Outdoor Americas Coalition at VF Corp. — took on a different kind of challenge when he was charged with overhauling Timberland.
“We focused our brand strategies and decided to grow our men’s casual footwear division and develop men’s apparel,” Frisk said, noting that he adopted a pragmatic timeline for the brand’s realignment to get things right.
“We needed to slow down to speed up. ... We also decided to build a solid foundation in women’s footwear and realign our entire product structure to better portray how the consumer saw our footwear,” added Frisk, who was promoted to his current position earlier this year after a stint as Timberland president.
To ramp up awareness, the brand — which uses the tagline “Best Then, Better Now” — started engaging with bloggers and stylists, began hosting more customer events and became more active in the social media arena.
On the lessons learned during the image overhaul, Frisk said, “We have to lead with the consumer and do our homework, set the plan through formulating a vision, strategy, structure and process, with a focus on collaboration and culture. Next, we have to stay the course.”
Staying the course also has been important for Sam Edelman, founder and president of his namesake brand.
The footwear veteran, who returned to the industry when he launched the business 11 years ago, said he remains true to his original vision: to create affordable, trend-right shoes.
“My [bright green, square] business card is a little introduction to my whole thought process — it’s different, it’s unique, it stands out,” said Edelman, who works alongside his wife, Libby, and son, Jesse.
After many years in the business, Edelman and his team still draw inspiration from the same sources.
“We are influenced by the runway,” he said. “But I don’t look at the shoes. I look at the clothes, the hair, the makeup. I believe shoes are the accessory to fashion.”
Edelman’s trend-spotting abilities have been a big asset for his parent company, Brown Shoe Co., which first took a stake in the label in 2007 and acquired the brand fully in 2010.
“Diane Sullivan has become one of my closest friends, even though she hates when I call her my boss,” Edelman joked.
But the designer and Sullivan are serious about growth: Edelman will open an L.A. store by the end of the year, and 50 to 100 branded locations are slated to roll out over the next few years.
The label also will launch an apparel line for fall. “Today, Sam Edelman has a lot more potential than just shoes,” said the founder.
The New Class
They are the future of footwear.
The creative talent behind Aquazzura, René Caovilla, Louis Leeman Paris and Paul Andrew sounded off on topics ranging from social media and celebrity placements to competition in the market and battling copycats.
They started by expounding on the virtues of innovative digital strategies.
“Access to designers was limited years ago, but with social media [that has changed],” said Edgardo Osorio, president and creative director of Aquazzura, who said he operates the label’s Instagram account himself. “It’s an amazing tool. It becomes something so much more personal.”
But can it affect sales? “When a celebrity wears the shoes [and it goes online], customers will ask where to buy them,” said Erica Pelosini, co-creative director of Louis Leeman Paris.
Things got heated when the conversation turned to companies that imitate their designs. Osorio said he is working to get patents and has even initiated a couple of lawsuits.
But Edoardo Caovilla, COO and creative director of René Caovilla, was more pragmatic.
“The soles are part of the recognition of our shoes, but there is no way to protect [ourselves] from this kind of copying,” he said. “The shoe designer must be very fast-moving with his creativity and change every season.”
For now, carving time in their busy schedules is the biggest problem facing these designers, they said.
Paul Andrew, president and chief creative officer of his namesake label, also runs a consulting business. “It has been ingrained in me how to build a calendar and stick to it,” the designer said, alluding to his past work at Donna Karan and other fashion labels. He noted he crisscrossed the globe during the last month, and visits his Italian factory sometimes three times in a month.
Expansion — especially in branded retail — is the next step for many of the designers. Louis Leeman will soon open a store on Madison Avenue in New York. Construction starts next month, Leeman said.
For his part, Osorio will debut his first store and a company headquarters in Florence, while René Caovilla will continue to develop its chain of shops.
And Andrew said Leeman might soon have competition in the men’s market, as he is considering expanding his collection, as well as adding accessories.
Key sponsors of the FN Summit included 24Seven, First Insight, American Apparel & Footwear Association, Shoefitr, Castanea Partners, TSG Consumer Partners, Cohn Reznick and Two Ten Footwear Foundation.