There have been fashion revivals from Crocs, Birkenstock and Hoka — and now Aerosoles is looking to be the next utilitarian comfort shoe company to increase its style quotient.
Today, the company reveals a strategic collaboration with Laura Ashley and an online pop-up shop devoted to vintage cottagecore-type styles — playing to a recent viral trend in which women dress as if they’re about to meander through a Cotswolds wildflower field in the midcentury.
“I think it’s less about entering the fashion space and more about tweaking the language and awareness that Aerosoles makes comfortable shoes rather than being a comfort shoe brand. That gives us certain limitations,” said chief executive officer Alison Bergen of her plans to increase the company’s visibility. “We used to strictly be in comfort departments, but at more modern department stores now — because customers expect comfort in almost everything aside from designer shoes — those departments are disappearing. As people now wear sneakers to work there is a different expectation about what comfort means.”
Bergen, who has held previous roles at Louis Vuitton and NBC Universal, seems astutely aware of high-end fashion trends and how that could be translated into reviving a bit of Aerosoles’ previous success. “We used to be chic in an Anne Klein classic kind of way and what happened after — what was very fashion-forward and part of our DNA — became a little frozen in time and didn’t change with the environment and world around it. I came in wanting to keep price points the same and consider how we could offer sophistication and relevance at simple price points,” she said.
Through the Laura Ashley collaboration, platform clogs, lace-up sandals and flats and sneakers — all covered in archival Laura Ashley prints and priced from $99 to $185 — will begin to rewrite some of the foregone sophistication and wider cultural relevancy that Bergen noted.
“I think Laura Ashley is really fun to help us animate our presence and goals. It’s a more sustainable brand with the floral history of living the cottage life. It helps us articulate what we want to do and puts into focus how we want to be a more fashion-forward company and ultimately make more changes,” said Bergen.
The vintage wares that will be available in Aerosoles’ online cottagecore-themed pop-up speak to the company’s refreshed focus on its past hits.
“I’m very lucky my design team largely comes from a luxury universe that understands the expectations of the business but can challenge themselves. We are often inspired by vintage Aerosoles — they buy a lot on Etsy or eBay and are really inspired by that, whether it’s a fisherman sandal or a slide. That’s an important part of our process that is helping us do a better job at storytelling and how to bring it to a consumer. That’s an ongoing effort, particularly when we don’t have our own physical stores,” Bergen said.
But she noted that Aerosoles will not rely on collaborations in a business model similar to Crocs or Birkenstocks, which produce a consistent churn of partnerships to grow sales. It’s forecasted that Aerosoles’ Laura Ashley collaboration account for about 10 percent of general seasonal sales. Bergen sees these special projects as a case-by-case situation, rather than a general global strategy.
Summer sandals already on Aerosoles’ site show a new kind of refinement for the label, with on-trend platform thong designs evoking minimal styles from fashion labels like The Row, albeit these with cushy soles and an affordable $110 price tag.
Bigger to the company’s bottom line is elevating its main collection with new designs and retail partners at stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s. Bergen is also intent on growing the brand’s off-price channel distribution at stores like TJ Maxx with products that are still on-brand but produced with a better margin.
“We can have a sandal that has leather upper with Velcro straps or lace-ups and a substantial robber sole [at higher-end retail] and then a similar style with canvas straps a softer foam sole that might not look that different,” she said of product assortment for the off-price category, adamant that it’s more of a mass market play than a diffusion line, per say.
“We can double this business in three years. I’m hesitant to share yearly figures, but this is a big headline for us, a big volume business,” said Bergen.