Can New Prez Turn Around Keds Business?

NEW YORK — Keds is starting this week with a new leader at the helm, but the brand’s prospects for a revival are still uncertain — especially amid a challenging economic climate.

Retailers interviewed last week said Kristin Kohler Burrows, who is joining Keds from Camuto Group, has a rocky road ahead within Collective Brands Inc.’s Stride Rite division.

“[Keds] has seen some resurgence in some pockets, but it just hasn’t made a big splash. It hasn’t taken off quite yet,” said Corky Fulton, owner of four Sagesport stores in North and South Carolina. “Particularly the champion oxford — they really can’t make that become a fashion thing [again], except for a little product placement.”

Other retailers said Keds is not the brand that most consumers are gravitating to in a crowded casual canvas market. “Vans is where they [look] first. Then it’s Converse and then Keds,” said Angie Doumitt, co-owner of Doumitt Shoes in Alameda, Calif.

Doumitt said the brand should latch on to current fashion trends — and quickly.

“Purple is hot right now … seasonal colors work in the juniors’ world. It would have been good if they came out with [solid purple laceups]. They will probably miss the trend now, but the peace signs have been hot [as well].”

Analysts declined to comment on Burrows’ appointment, noting they knew little about her work at privately held Camuto Group. There, she served as SVP, overseeing the Jessica Simpson brand. Earlier in her career, Burrows held positions at Fila and Converse.

At Keds, she is hopeful she can reinvigorate the brand despite the tough economy.

“To me, this is an [economic] correction and only the best will survive and only the best will rise, so our goal will be to figure out how to do that,” Burrows told Footwear News last week. “I do think the Keds brand is positioned well because it does have a history, it has authenticity and it’s priced well for the market today.”

Burrows will report to Stride Rite CEO Gregg Ribatt, who said, “We’re going to be continuing to build upon the stategic initiatives we’ve begun.”

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