5 Questions for Jump’s Victor Hsu

Jump is leaping across the globe these days.

The contemporary men’s footwear brand, which operates a flagship in New York’s Soho neighborhood, has recently expanded its retail presence in Tokyo and this year will bow a store in Paris.

Launched as a sneaker brand in the 1970s out of Asia, the label today encompasses Jump Deluxe, a high-end, athletic-inspired collection; and J75, a more mainstream line sold exclusively in the U.S.

VP Victor Hsu serves as design director for Jump Deluxe, which launched in 2009. He joined the company in 2007 (when the brand was Jump for the People) as it was making its stateside debut.

“Fashion sneakers from brands such as Creative Recreation and high-end names like Gucci and YSL were becoming the new uniform [at that time],” said Hsu, recalling that Deluxe soon landed top-notch retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. “[The trend] also paved the way for a series of collaborations with Taboo of The Black Eyed Peas in fall ’09 and with surrealist pop artist Ron English in fall ’11.”

Today, roughly 60 percent of New York-based Jump USA’s business is devoted to Deluxe, which also is distributed in 200 independents and specialty stores. The remainder of the business is focused on J75, which debuted in 2010 and is overseen by line builder Keven Greene. That line retails for less than $100 (compared with Deluxe’s $150-to-$250 price range) at Finish Line and Journeys stores. In addition, Jump plans to launch a concise women’s offering in spring ’13 through a collaboration with Japanese photographer Yonehara Yasumasa.

Here, Hsu weighs in on the challenges of carving a niche in today’s sneaker space.

How does a smaller brand like Jump compete against established athletic players?
The advantage of being an indie men’s line is you can be flexible and agile. We have less red tape. If we decide on a direction or new initiative, we can move on it and actualize it relatively quickly. Jump has experienced quite a bit of acceptance in the fashion sneaker space, though we recognize the importance of offering a full range of footwear to accommodate the lifestyle of our customer. With this in mind, we’ve begun to explore a hybrid of athletic-inspired casual shoes in the last few seasons. Sometimes getting too comfortable can be dangerous, so we always try to keep our minds open to changes in what our customers [want].

How do you balance offering innovative product while staying within a guy’s comfort zone ?
[That’s] always the most interesting challenge of being a directional brand. Guys want to be individuals, but they don’t want to stick out like sore thumbs. We make our point of difference in subtle details. It might be an unexpected material combination or hidden eyelets on a classic brogue wingtip, but we always strive for familiar classics with a contemporary twist.

What are the differences in designing for the American, European and Asian markets?
The markets are interconnected and seem to become increasingly so with the speed of the information [dissemination] today. Nevertheless, it’s important for us to understand the cultural differences and varying tastes of each market. We invite our agents and licensees from each market to help us create designs and even shop the material markets. [This way], the resulting collection consists of components that capture the nuances of each market’s idiosyncratic trends. And by opening a store in Japan, we’ve increased our level of attention to quality because the Japanese consumer places a very high value on this.

Has landing higher-end retailers helped the Jump Deluxe label?
It’s propelled the brand to a new strata of luxury, and that has made a significant impact in our existing global markets. It allowed old customers to view the brand in a new light while opening the doors to new channels of distribution. They’ve been wonderful partnerships from which we’ve been able to do some very exciting [collaborations].

What have Jump’s collaborations meant for the brand?
We collaborated with Taboo at the pinnacle of the Black Eyed Peas’ fame as they were putting out hits like “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” and it effectively catapulted Jump into the entertainment spotlight. Ironically, the entire collaboration was very organic and happened [as a result of] a simple chance meeting Taboo and I had in Soho. From there, the collaboration took us all over the world, essentially anywhere the Black Eyed Peas have recognition. The collaboration with Ron English took an entirely different direction. It allowed Jump to pervade a different genre, a subversive style of pop art that reaches a more culturally inclined individual.

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