Major markdowns, massive bailouts and government stimulus checks failed to jump-start the economy. Could celebrities be the ones to save it?
Probably not. But a few footwear players are banking on some big names to at least give a small lift to sluggish retail sales.
Brown Shoe Co.’s Fergie and lower-price Fergalicious lines will debut this season. As will shoes from trendsetters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, who are beefing up their Elizabeth & James brand through a partnership with Steven Madden.
That follows launches from Kelly Ripa and Reba McEntire, who both uncorked collections last year with Ryka and Brown Shoe, respectively.
“It’s an added advantage in today’s [retail] environment to have celebrity lines in footwear, unlike in other categories,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y. “They can give a new launch the ability to get an extra set of eyes, from the media, from retailers and from consumers. If [a non-celebrity] brand comes into the crowded market now, it might not get noticed.”
Yet brands would be hard pressed to choose a tougher time to launch high-profile, glamour-driven lines. The economic downturn has forced businesses to lay off employees, created spendthrift shoppers and dragged down overall consumer confidence. In January, for instance, the confidence level fell to an historic low due to worries about further job losses and eroding home values.
What’s more, in axing their own staffs, retailers are losing the sales help that once championed celebrity product. At the same time, they are more reluctant to gamble on unproven lines.
Then why is the industry so excited for the latest wave of shoes from celebrities?
Retailers said celebrity ventures could be the bright spot in an otherwise bleak landscape. For starters, they have the ability to draw in consumers. Store owners also said lines backed by stars offer people an escape from their economic hardships. And many consumers, despite having far fewer discretionary dollars, still aspire to emulate the fashions of their favorite stars.
“Celebrity names, without question, help bring customers into the shoe department and help sell the brand,” said Jessica Ulrich, juniors’ and athletic shoe buyer for the 24-store Davenport, Iowa-based Von Maur chain, which carries the Jessica Simpson line and this month will add the Fergie collection.