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Heartened Sole

Shoemakers remain optimistic.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD MAGIC issue 02/17/2009

With most retailers carrying plenty of inventory and buyers reluctant to experiment with unconventional styles and new labels, shoe vendors are seeking fresh ways to captivate cash-strapped consumers.

For some, it might be about sticking to a foolproof price point. For others, it might mean scaling back on certain styles and focusing on the ones that work. For others still, streamlining overheads and cost cutting where possible are ways to stay afloat in troubling times.

But vendors are trying to remain optimistic, largely agreeing that there will always be a demand for certain styles at an attractive price point. Many also anticipate a reversal in the economy toward the end of 2009 — so it’s just a question of riding the year out.

“Our overall projections for 2009 are actually positive for our brands,” said Jay Randhawa, brand director for Naughty Monkey and Not Rated Footwear, part of the San Diego-based House of Brands Inc.

Randhawa said that, despite the state of the economy, he does not anticipate a reversal in the double-digit growth he has seen in both brands over the past five years — especially in Not Rated, which, at less than $50 a pair at retail, is the lower-priced line of the stable. “If anything, the slowness in the economy is helping to drive the lower-priced brand,” he said.

At Two Lips Shoes in Sun Valley, Calif., vice president Gary Van Ackeren said that, in this challenging market, it was important to put out just the right look.

“Anybody that comes up with fashionable, casual footwear is going to do OK,” said Van Ackeren, whose collection wholesales in the $30 to $35 range. “Dress shoes in general are not as strong as they used to be, as there is an abundance of inventory of dress shoes in stores.”

He said the strongest looks would be in the “good casuals” category, and said he would be cautious in his outlook until at least the second and third quarters of the year.

Still, Randhawa said it was important for designers and vendors to not abandon all notions of experimentation.

“Vendors are actually becoming more conservative with their design looks because of the slowing economy,” he said. “However, we do not look at it like this. Our core customers depend on us to come up with the next big thing, and that is why we are actually experimenting continuously with updated, fresh, newer looks.”

Vendors largely agree that, in this market, it’s crucial to stand out from the crowd. Other measures, said Randhawa, include “getting sharper in all aspects, from logistics, inventory, pricing, costing and being able to identify the winning items.”

Canadian rain boot maker Kamik, based in Quebec, has a strong and definite following based on function. The boots retail for between $60 and $160 and are made locally of 100 percent recyclable materials. Marketing manager Catherine Cook said the eco-friendly and “green” nature of the line endeared it to shoppers.

“This is just one of those categories that people are always going to need,” she said. “We’ve always been very forward thinking when it comes to production and manufacturing, so we’re optimistic about the year ahead. People are always willing to pay for something that is reasonably priced — and the weather here helps.”

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