The Sorel footwear brand is preparing to follow its parent into the outerwear business.
Sorel, founded in 1962 as a cold-weather men’s footwear brand for farmers, fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts in Canada, became part of Portland, Ore.-based Columbia Sportswear Co. when its trademark was acquired out of bankruptcy in 2000.
Tim Boyle, chief executive officer of Columbia, outlined objectives for the brand during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call last month, saying Sorel needed to continue to “focus on young, fashion-forward female consumers; evolve purposefully and thoughtfully into a year-round brand,” and continue to earn real estate at specialty footwear boutiques.
Acting on those goals helped the brand expand to a $166.2 million franchise in 2014, 29.1 percent above the $128.7 million sold in the prior year, with much of the growth coming from its ability to combine its traditional protective mission with style and enjoy strong penetration in the women’s fashion footwear market.
“Seven years ago, we were predominantly a utilitarian men’s business, and today it is predominantly a women’s business, and a fashion women’s business, too,” said Mark Nenow, who was named president of Sorel in a realignment of corporate duties earlier this month, after nearly eight years as vice president of global footwear merchandising and design for the Columbia, Sorel and Montrail footwear businesses. “We’ve got some opportunities to take our men’s business in new directions, but we’ve made a steady and serious rotation into a fashion-forward footwear business for fashionable female customers.
“We realized a long time ago that we weren’t going to be able to leverage our collective horsepower if the brand was just going to be about utility and men’s,” he added.
As Sorel prepares to launch a tight collection of fashionable cold-weather outerwear for fall, the company has gained distribution in department stores such as Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor and Dillard’s for its fashion footwear; expanded business with higher-end outdoor and sporting goods chains, and opened its first store, on West 14th Street in New York, to showcase the move beyond its historic origins.
“We were so accustomed to a tight selling season revolving around cold weather that a lot of people referred to the New York store as a pop-up shop,” Nenow points out. “But it wasn’t. We’ve got a long-term lease.”
And now a long-term commitment to the outerwear category as well. The collection consists of 11 pieces — eight for women and three for men — including parkas and bombers, which borrow materials, detailing and even some nomenclature from the footwear group. Borrowing its name from the fashion boot, the Joan of Arctic parka features goose down, metal detailing and coyote fur packaged in a nylon-canvas shell with a long, lean silhouette highlighted by a cinched waist. It’s priced to retail at $875.
With the outerwear introduction just ahead, Nenow is focusing on one of the other elements of the Sorel strategy — making it more of a year-round business. A line of shoes is being planned for spring 2016, while accessories are also being considered.