3 Questions for Merrell’s Martin Dean

The designers ignited a controversy after making remarks about IVF and "synthetic" babies in an Italian publication.

Martin Dean has a vision for a new Merrell.

The creative director started last June with the brand, a division of Rockford, Mich.-based Wolverine World Wide Inc., and has spent the past six months working on a new, cohesive design language — one that will help unite its footwear, apparel and accessories businesses, and maybe even shake up the industry, too.

“Merrell has a very strong DNA already,” he said. “My role is [to be] that umbrella person who makes sure we’re all following the same vision and that [the results] hang together as a brand.”

Dean first connected with Merrell as a freelancer through a contract design company more than a decade ago, and has worked with the brand, among others in the portfolio, ever since. (In 2009, Wolverine acquired the Cushe brand, which he founded in 2005.)

Here, Dean talks about his new role, how he wants to reshape Merrell and what he anticipates for the outdoor world.

1. How do you see the product creation process changing at Merrell?
MD:
All along there’s been this series of products along the line — provocative shoes that turned into staple parts of our collection. We’ve always been based on product. We have to be careful that we don’t lose sight of that, but going forward, we’re going to be telling more-focused stories. In the past, we’ve built icons, but we’re not going to be about [that] now. We’re going to be telling bigger-picture stories and building around that.

2. Wolverine has flagged apparel as a potential growth driver for Merrell. What will your role be in that arena?
MD:
Apparel is a newer area for us. We’ve been doing it for about seven years, but we’re known as a footwear company, and a key thing for us going forward is building stories and connecting with our consumers from head to toe. [Apparel and footwear] are a little bit separated, and I want to bring them together and make sure the technology, the story, the materials and the colors are aligned. There’s a hell of a lot of thought and detail that goes into our product, especially our footwear. We need to get that same element of attention to detail and uniqueness in the apparel piece.

3. How is the outdoor market evolving?
MD:
The outdoor industry is in a bit of a lull at the moment. It’s crucial we seek out new opportunities to reimagine our product. Consumers are looking for faster and lighter all the time, and we have to embrace that. It doesn’t have to be athletic inspired — although there is that element — but it does have to feel and perform that way. There’s a younger audience that is outdoors, but they’re not buying traditional outdoor product. They’re using other products, and that’s an exciting opportunity for us. We’re going to be spending a lot of calories reimagining a very fresh new look for outdoor.