For Sperry, it’s been 87 years of providing footwear for yachtsman, deckhands and those that just like the casual seafarer look.
Now it’s about updating the image from preppy to modern preppy and broadening the audience.
“Sperry is a brand with a great heritage and feel, but we are making a lot of progress evolving the brand to be more inclusive and to offer more modern styles. We are evolving our visual identity. We’ve introduced a new logo, and updated the website, and have a fresh creative direction,” Katherine Cousins, global brand president of Sperry, told WWD.
Sperry was founded in 1935 by Paul Sperry, who created the first non-slip boat shoe. He noticed his dog was not slipping on his boat, and developed a wave siping based on the physiology of his dog’s paws, that provided some gripping characteristics.
“We are respecting and celebrating the heritage and at the same time becoming more fashion forward and modern. We have a lot of opportunity for some great storytelling to engage with the brand,” said Cousins.
She joined Sperry 10 months ago after serving as vice president and general manager for several outdoor lifestyle and work safety brands at VF Corp. Before that, she worked at Timberland, leading global strategy, consumer research, licensing and accessories and earlier headed up the brand’s investor relations and business development.
While Sperry primarily captures customers in the 25-to-50-year-old range, “We are definitely aiming for a younger customer,” Cousins said, particularly those in the 18-to-34-year-old range, by dialing up collaborations with brands and designers, sustainability efforts and involvement in social and environmental causes.
There’s a new purpose-driven brand platform, “All for Water, Water for All,” conveying efforts at being more environmentally conscious, inclusive and community-oriented. Sperry also launched its first consumer-facing brand campaign since 2018, called “Make Waves.” It was launched at the end of last February.
Sperry’s goal is that by 2024, 50 percent of the footwear models produced will be part of its SeaCycled Collection with sustainable materials in many of styles across all categories — boots, sneakers, boat shoes, loafers and sandals.
Along with the core and iconic Topsider style, Sperry is issuing new models, collaborating with what Cousins describes as “cool” brands such as Pleasures, the Los Angeles-based skateboarding brand, and Rowing Blazers, an apparel and accessories label.
Among the upcoming collaborations in 2022:
- Herschel, with drops in May and holiday incorporating design elements inspired by Herschel bags into Sperry boat shoes and chukkas.
- Warm and Wonderful, with sneakers in a sheep print in four colorways launching this summer. The British knitwear brand’s sheep sweater was worn by Princess Diana.
- Who What Wear, with two limited-edition styles launching in the fall.
Last week, three stock keeping units with Sunspel, the British label for luxury essentials, were released.
Cousins said she sees a big opportunity to grow sandals, currently a relatively small piece of the business. The “EVA Float” slide sandal was launched at the end of last February. It’s lightweight, constructed through a new foam process for a strong exterior skin while keeping the interior soft and comfortable, and provides greater coverage and support than the standard sport slide. The outsole combines a modified version of Paul Sperry’s original 1935 adaptive wave siping mixed with snow tire-like construction to push water away from the foot, increasing traction in wet conditions.
In September 2021, Sperry launched a collaboration with Rebecca Minkoff, blending the designer’s downtown New York City aesthetic with Sperry’s classic styles with a studded black platform boat shoe, and a high-top sneaker in a choice of two animal prints which coordinated with Minkoff’s collection. There will be a second drop this spring featuring the studded platform boat shoe in white and high-top sneakers in three colorways.
Sperry shoes are included in Rowing Blazers’ seasonal campaigns, and Rowing Blazers’ clothing is often seen in Sperry photo shoots. Sperry’s Cloud collection shoes are sold on rowingblazers.com.
John Legend was Sperry’s global brand ambassador in 2020 and in September 2021 Legend collaborated on three styles — a modern interpretation of the Sperry classic boat shoe; a casual suede boot and a tall leather boot.
And Sperry continues to be the sponsor of New York Men’s Day, the biannual menswear event.
Officials at Sperry, a division of Wolverine Worldwide, declined to disclose the brand’s volume, but said revenues rose 25 percent last year. Wolverine acquired Sperry through its 2012 purchase of the PLG group from Collective Brands Inc., which also added Saucony, Stride Rite and Keds to the portfolio.
“There is tremendous momentum in the boat market. We own 70 percent of the boat market. We are getting more consumers to wear boat shoes. It’s been great trying to evolve Sperry to reflect modern sensibilities and recruit new consumers. With boots, boat shoes and sneakers, across those three categories, we have a lot of room to work with.”
Asked if Sperry could go beyond footwear into offering sportswear, Cousins replied, “We don’t have concrete plans but we are talking about it. There’s just a lot of runway with footwear.”