Wolverine Speeds Up Cushe Expansion

Wolverine Speeds Up Cushe Expansion
The Cushe shop-in-shop at City Soles in Chicago.

NEW YORK — Growth has been anything but soft for Cushe.

Since being acquired by Wolverine World Wide Inc. in 2009, the British brand has grown sales fivefold and is now sold in more than 50 international markets, up from one in 2004.

“[Wolverine] plugged us into their existing infrastructure and allowed us to focus on what we’re good at, which is designing product,” said Martin Dean, founder and creative director.

Most notably, the label has ramped up its business in the North American market, where it had no presence prior to the acquisition. “It’s an area where we’ve grown and we expect to see growth continuing,” said Cushe VP Guillermo Perez, who has been with Wolverine for 15 years and joined Cushe after the deal.

As distribution starts to build momentum, U.S. sales director Patrick McNulty said the brand has been cautious in its retail strategy in the region.

“In the early days, we stayed away from a lot of the big-box players,” he said. “There’s a level of patience that needs to happen when you’re launching a brand, and we’ve had to say no to several prominent people in the marketplace.”

The brand’s current retail doors are a mix of action-based sports accounts, outdoor specialty stores and brown shoe independents, including REI, City Soles in Chicago and The Tannery in Boston.

“We’ve carried [Cushe] for about a year, and it’s been doing very well,” said City Soles co-owner Scott Starbuck. “We’re a fashion retailer, and they do a good job of crossing over with their performance products because they’re hip and trendy looking.”

City Soles was also the first retailer to use the brand’s shop-in-shop concept, a wall display of products that runs a brand video on a 12-minute loop inside the store. “It gets a lot of attention and it has helped both the brand and us sell product,” Starbuck said.

Boston-based retailer The Tannery is also in talks for an in-store Cushe shop.

Co-owner Tarek Hassan said Cushe’s price point of $80 to $135 has worked well for customers looking for athleisure styles. “They took over the young sport business that we used to have with Diesel and other brands that we used to carry,” Hassan said. “We have a lot of faith and respect in this brand, and we think we can take it to the next level.”

Cushe also is carried at Nordstrom, where McNulty said it is seeing double-digit sell-throughs on a weekly basis. “Our goal is to grow intelligently and at a reasonable rate,” he said.

On the product front, Dean said that because of Wolverine’s added support, Cushe has been able to finally move forward with its mission to be more sustainable. “I’ve always wanted to develop the brand in an environmental way, which is very difficult to do as a small company when you don’t have the resources,” he said.

For spring ’11, the brand introduced the C.L.I.M.A.T.E. line, a small range of products made of completely recycled materials, which will be expanded for spring ’12.

“We used that as the blueprint and we’ve already dialed in what we’ve learned into a lot of the new collections we’re making,” Dean said. “We’re going to make a big push toward [using environmental materials in product].”

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