As Gen Z and Millennial consumers increasingly seek out eco-friendly products, Steven Madden Ltd. is making its first big push into the sustainable fashion market. Today, the company is launching Cool Planet by Steve Madden, a subbrand that aims to make eco-friendly footwear at an affordable price.
Founder Steve Madden said, “We wanted to bring cool sustainable footwear to the younger market and thought it would be great to start with a clean slate, hence Cool Planet.”
The launch is part of the company’s larger corporate social responsibility initiative, which it spelled out in July 2020 in its first CSR report. Among its core goals is striving to democratize sustainable fashion.
“We want to offer consumers an opportunity to participate in the space through fashion footwear [because] typically a sustainable product is priced at a high end,” said Gregg Meyer, vice president of CSR at Steve Madden.
Cool Planet also will serve as an innovation laboratory to help the fashion footwear company improve its material sourcing and manufacturing capabilities across the entire portfolio. And in fact, it already has made an impact, even before its debut.
The brand was initially slated to launch in April 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic. However, Meyer said, “A lot of work and a lot of the learning and internal knowledge [from the project] came to good use during that time. We were able to bring a bunch of new, [sustainable] materials into several different brands — everything from lower-tier product that we’re selling to Target to the product that we’re selling in Macy’s and Nordstrom.”
The Cool Planet women’s brand will launch with 17 styles, including casual sneakers and sandals, each offered in a variety of colors. Prices for the line range from $50 to $80.
Meyer said his team was able to keep prices down by taking advantage of Steve Madden’s operational scale. And for now, he focused on utilizing some of the less expensive eco-friendly materials, such as recycled textiles and rubber to make the uppers, outsoles and shoelaces. “We’re also testing out the more expensive bio-based materials,” he added. “We still have a lot of learning to do about them.”
As part of the initiative, Steve Madden forged a partnership with One Tree Planted, the nonprofit committed to reforestation around the world. For every pair of shoes purchased, Cool Planet will plant a tree to help repopulate forests.
Cool Planet launches today on stevemadden.com, and at Nordstrom, which has a one month exclusive on the line before it rolls out to other major retailers — including Dillard’s Inc., Macy’s Inc., Zappos and Urban Outfitters Inc. — on April 1.
Tacey Powers, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for shoes at Nordstrom, said the department store is so bullish about the brand that it is launching the collection in 40 locations, as well as on nordstrom.com. “We appreciate how Cool Planet aligns with our young customers’ values around sustainability,” she said. “The collection offered us an exciting opportunity to launch a full assortment, across multiple categories, to address all our customer’s needs while also meeting her sustainability standards.”
Powers added that the footwear industry as a whole has a responsibility to address this critical topic. “We know that sustainability is important to many of our customers,” she said. “We want to continue to see more of our partners approaching sustainability with relevant product, across all categories.”
This initiative comes as the Steve Madden organization continues to fight intense headwinds created by COVID-19. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the firm reported that retail sales slid 14.9 percent to $86.1 million, which it attributed to a “significant decline” in its brick-and-mortar business that was partially offset by strength in e-commerce. Wholesale revenue slumped further, falling 16.2 percent to $263 million, including a 19.7 percent drop in footwear and a 5.9 percent decrease in accessories and apparel.
However, chief executive officer Ed Rosenfeld predicts that the business will see an upturn later this year once the virus outbreak is under control and restrictions begin to lift, allowing the public to circulate again. “We are already seeing some of the traditional fashion categories start to improve — not back to pre-pandemic levels, but we’re seeing the consumer demand come back,” he said. “We’re pretty optimistic that as we get into fall and hopefully have vaccines widely distributed that we’ll see those categories really bounce back.”
And despite the additional costs that may be incurred by investing in CSR initiatives, Rosenthal said his company is committed to pushing forward with its goals. “It’s important for us because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s also really important both to our customers and to our employees,” he said. “Our customers want to buy from companies that they believe share their values. And our employees want to work for a company that shares their values and is a good corporate citizen.”
He added, “All the challenges of the last year have really emphasized to all of us the opportunity we have as a company to create positive change for our employees and for our communities. That’s what we’re focused on.”