Kumfs Makes a Fashion Statement

After more than 60 years in the comfort business, Kumfs is adding fashion product to its mix.

This spring, the New Zealand-based brand is reaching out to another generation of customers with the launch of Ziera, a collection of trend-driven looks with a designer point of view. Created by industry veteran Chantal Pilon, whose credits include work at Kenneth Cole and Clarks, the line targets women ages 35 and older.

“It’s younger, fresher and has more character [than the Kumfs core collection],” said Pilon. “[It will have] zestful, playful looks with zing.”

Since its U.S. launch 15 years ago, Kumfs has developed a loyal following in the therapeutic market with size-and-width footwear with removable footbeds. While it hopes to expand its customer base with more fashionable product, Kumfs has no intention of forgetting that heritage, said company execs.

“We will not abandon our core offering of orthotic-friendly shoes,” said Craig Taylor, VP of sales. “However, our big push will be Ziera going forward in our quest to develop the most stylish comfort [looks] in the market. Retailers want orthotic comfort companies to make trend-right shoes. People are crying out for something new in comfort.”

Ziera offers a variety of looks, including the Everyday series of tailored styles; the High Life sandals on covered and cork wedges; and Summer Flats, a collection of flat sandals and slides — all retailing from $140 to $180. The entire line features the new Soft Journey removable footbed, designed with Poron, gel in the forepart and a contoured cradle base. And like the core Kumfs offering, Ziera shoes are available in European sizes 35 to 44 in widths from medium to XX. Heels are also part of the mix, with heights up to 2 1/2 inches.

The company is bullish on Ziera, Taylor said, estimating it could represent half of overall sales within five years.

“Now is the time to invest in the future, when the market is down,” said Andrew Robertson, managing director. “We’re putting ourselves in a position to grow.”

Plans are already in the works to roll out Ziera globally.

Kumfs currently is sold in about 10 countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, China and Australia. Going forward, the focus for the core brand will be on growing the U.S. business. Today, 10 percent of Kumfs’ sales are in the States, with that business expected to hit 60 percent within five years.

“We have an opportunity for growth in other markets, but our focus now is on the U.S.,” said Robertson.

In addition to the range of better comfort independents that carry Kumfs in the States, the company also has a three-year-old retail location in Fresno, Calif. (It also operates 43 stores in New Zealand and Australia.) “We wanted to get our feet in the door in the U.S.,” said David Baccus, sales manager for the U.S. office in Eldorado Hills, Calif., noting that Fresno was selected because it lacked a broad choice of shoe stores.

So far, store sales are tracking well. September was up 6.8 percent from the previous year, according to the company. Kumfs plans to open more locations in the States, but right now it is counting on retail partners for support with its growth initiatives.

Karen Pittard, buyer for The Shoe Market in Greensboro, N.C., has been on board with the brand since 2006. Her store initially introduced Kumfs as a resource for extra-depth styles in wide widths, but soon found its built-in arch support and adjustability features, such as buckles and Velcro, were added bonuses. Pittard said the $175 price has been a sweet spot for the store, and she has placed orders with Ziera for 15 styles for spring.

Karavel Shoes Comfort Center in Austin, Texas, also will take a chance on Ziera. “It has the comfort features, more fashion and is reasonably priced,” said Karavel President Rick Ravel, noting that there is a void in the market for more trend-right shoes in the $125-to-$200 range. Ravel expects the line to resonate with women ages 35 to 55. However, he added, even older customers want to look good.

While Ziera offers a range of updated looks, the company said it realizes getting new accounts on board may take time. To support its efforts, Kumfs has created new packaging for Ziera and a co-op advertising campaign for retailers. Baccus said, “The challenge is finding new customers who realize the message [about] where we came from and where we’re going.”

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