5 Questions for Camper’s Miguel Fluxa

Camper ratcheted up its New York retail presence recently with the debut of its fourth location in the city — this time on Fifth Avenue.

Previous locations in Soho and the Upper East Side are still going strong. And earlier this year, the Spanish brand opened stores in Seattle and Santa Monica, Calif., with plans to add more in Philadelphia and Chicago by the end of 2013.

As the door count grows — it now totals about 130 worldwide — CEO Miguel Fluxá said he is confident Camper’s wholesale and retail operations can live side by side. “Our experience has proven that in cities where Camper has maintained a retail business over many years, we’ve had a good wholesale network,” he said. “They don’t compete unless you have a massive [store count].”

Select locations also will preview the brand’s accessories collection, which includes unisex bags retailing for $190 to $240, and the spring ’13 launch of hosiery, retailing at $20. “We’re experimenting with accessories,” said Fluxá. “We need to find our way in bags and socks.”

Today, the U.S. accounts for 10 percent of Camper’s overall sales and is its smallest market, according to Fluxá. But, he added, growth opportunities abound. “We have a good structure to operate the business,” he said. “We’re trying to give some more freedom [to the U.S. team] to become more local and closer to the market.”

Here, the CEO discusses his brand’s retail aesthetic and why comfort remains key.

Since its U.S. launch in the late 1990s, what have been Camper’s greatest challenges?

MF: Dr. Martens started distributing Camper in the U.S., but because it was overdistributed, we had to clean up [the channel]. Since starting from scratch in 2001, we’ve been building the brand step by step. We now have a solid foundation. We’re still not selling huge quantities in the U.S., but it’s getting bigger. We don’t have a big budget for advertising, but the brand is getting more well known [due] to a strong international presence. A lot of people from the U.S. see it in Paris, Milan or Tokyo, where we’re strong.

Most brands have a common store image globally. What is the benefit of making your locations different?

MF: We like to do things differently. But the stores work, [and they all] have a table, are comfortable and [have places where] you can sit and try on [merchandise]. But we thought it was interesting, when we had many stores, to have them all be different. It gives us a strong image. The world is very similar from one place to the other. So we thought it was interesting to add some diversity. We do it because we like it at the end of the day. We’re a family-owned company, and the good thing is we can do whatever we want.

Why are collaborations important to the business?

MF: They bring creativity to the brand. There are a lot of interesting people around the world who have good ideas and are very talented. We have collaborated with some fashion designers as well as industrial designers. We are a bit closer sometimes to industrial design than to fashion, because in the end shoes are objects, although fashion is important and a big part of the collection that changes every few months.

What role does comfort play in the label?

MF: It’s a key part of the brand. It comes from a heritage of my great-grandfather starting the first shoe factory in Spain in 1877, and he bet on making quality shoes. My father in 1975 created the brand and incorporated design and comfort into the heritage. And it’s not just design, because design by itself means nothing. We try to make well-designed shoes that are comfortable and last long. Soft leathers and materials are very important to us. Over the past few years, we’ve also been making lightweight shoes.

What is the five-year plan for Camper in the U.S.?

MF: We need to build the business with independents and through department stores. We need to find a way to get to more consumers through advertising. The stores play an important role for the brand for both sales and communication, but we can’t build it just in our own stores. [In that area], the brand is fitted for [certain] types of cities. You need an international community — big cities that have people who travel, who are interested in design and fashion. But there is a limit to that, so we want to go deeper and find other ways to [reach out].