Hired last September to head up Rockport’s women’s business — a new position that includes overseeing product, marketing, sales and distribution — Hahn is working to give the Canton, Mass.-based brand a stronger fashion focus.
“[Rockport CEO and President] Michael Rupp said [the brand] wasn’t sexy and [that the women’s styling] had become redundant,” said Hahn, most recently creative director for Fast Forward Trending, a consulting firm with expertise in the soft and hard goods markets. “Sales had dipped, and the image was confusing.”
Spring ’10 will be the first season to bear Hahn’s creative stamp. Although she is giving the women’s line a modern point of view, she remains committed to keeping the brand’s heritage intact. “Rockport has always been a New England brown shoe company, and it does that very well,” she said. “I’m trying to add a women’s image to complement the men’s.” In addition to stepping up the styling, Hahn plans to make spring the most performance-driven collection yet, borrowing technologies from German parent company Adidas.
According to Hahn, Rockport is optimistic that these efforts will grow the women’s business over the next three years to 50 percent of sales from its current 30 percent.
Here, Hahn talks about reinventing Rockport classics and catching up with the competition.
1. How is Rockport distinguishing itself in the crowded comfort category?
HH: We have invested heavily to make sure our fit is correct — it’s the first thing we tackled. It’s the integrity of being able to say you’re a comfort brand. We have enough engineering and technology that can get us the best fit. But when I see the use of technologies in a way that doesn’t necessarily enhance a woman’s comfort, that’s just technology for the sake of technology.
2. Who is Rockport’s competition?
HH: I have worked hard most of last year so that we can compete on technical comfort with a [company like] Geox. From a styling standpoint, we needed to address the femininity and charm we see in lines such as Nine West, Calvin Klein and Anne Klein. Rockport is now swimming in fashion waters with other brands that do Americana [styling].
3. How closely do you work with the men’s team?
HH: I don’t think women’s has a chance if we don’t work tightly with men’s. Dave Pompel, [head of the men’s business], and I discuss colors, materials and themes before we present them to the [design team]. For example, [to illustrate our brand’s seafaring roots] we’re focusing on nautical for spring ’10. It’s authentic for us. We wanted to show the different ways to approach traditional American looks.
4. In this tough economy, are you playing it safe or taking chances?
HH: We have to do both. We have styles people are accustomed to: travel shoes and washable footwear. It’s best not to [tinker] too much with those. But then we also have to introduce more stylish and modern things. That way, there’s a chance for people used to our basics to warm up to the fashion, and for the stylish people to understand what the heritage stuff is about. I’m encouraged when I see 20-year-olds looking at heritage, as much as I’m inspired by women in their 80s who say, “Of course I wear heels.”
5. What are the key looks for spring?
HH: We’ve brought our boat shoe back, but we modernized it. Next, we looked at the [professional] woman and her career shoes. There are ways to do heels without challenging her. We kept the pitch quite low, but [made the shoes] modern. The third — my favorite — is a rain boot. We built our non-skid technology into the bottom and added AdiPrene [cushioning] and a [temperature regulating] lining.
6. Are there specific colors women are drawn to?
HH: Women are always intrigued by pink. It’s no surprise it’s the most enduring color in the last 20 years. In footwear, we’ve also seen tons of red. It’s like the Dorothy shoe — everyone loves the idea of it. When we talk about sexy shoes, we always talk in terms of red.
7. What celebrity do you envision as Rockport’s poster girl?
HH: We imagine the Rockport woman has children, a husband or lover, and is working and living a full life. I’d love to get Julia Roberts. And Kate Moss — people forget she’s over 30 and a mother. Also, Jennifer Garner: She’s [the perfect example] of what we think that Rockport lifestyle should be.
8. How is Rockport evolving its accessories offering?
HH: We brought accessories in-house for the first time with the philosophy of engineering function into [the category]. We made sure the handbags have practical details, such as phone pockets in the right sizes and places. We’ve also created a system that contains all of one’s paraphernalia in a [separate inside] bag, so it can easily be switched from bag to bag. And we have a bag with two separate compartments for a woman’s work life and real life.
9. How important is connecting with consumers one-on-one?
HH: We go out and talk to women all the time. We have a system for foot sampling, getting shoes out to the public and hearing their [feedback]. We already organize [focus] groups in Asia Pacific, Europe and the U.S. who will not only fit our shoes but take them home and see what it’s like to live in them.
10. You’ve lived in Korea, Africa and the U.S. What part of the world most influences you?
HH: New York. It’s [a city about] women. Women dress for women. We like each other, like stories about one another. In New York, you see so many styles. And we tolerate every one. It’s not like other cities where people would stare at you.