5 Questions for Mozo Prez Jeff Bua

Mozo is ready for a food fest. The division of Goleta, Calif.-based Deckers Outdoor Corp. has capitalized on the growing culinary field with a collection of kitchen-friendly looks aimed at professional and amateur chefs. In spring ’13, the brand expanded its core offering of classic clogs and laceups for women with trend-driven looks that can double as everyday casuals.

“We’re positioning ourselves as a lifestyle brand rooted in the culinary industry,” said Mozo’s president, Jeff Bua, noting he anticipates the women’s category will grow 20 percent annually over the next three years. “[Foodies] who want to be at-home chefs are one of our core target markets.”

To reach them, Mozo tapped celebrity chef Cat Cora for two capsule collections: Caviar, a series of 3-inch leather wedges; and Farmers Market, lightweight canvas styles in bright colors such as yellow, red and green. And all stay true to Mozo’s performance ethos, with signature features including slip-resistant outsoles, cushioned footbeds and water-resistant uppers.

According to Bua, the more-fashionable offering is intended to open up distribution opportunities in 2014 outside its current channel of restaurant suppliers. It is targeting department stores, footwear independents and e-tailers, though Zappos.com and Amazon.com have carried the brand, retailing for $75 to $150, since 2012.

“As we learned more about our consumer base [we found] they shop for product like everybody else,” said Bua. “These [consumers] are as comfortable at a DSW as a Restaurant Depot. We can [now] provide a utility product with traction and comfort, and bring it to [mainstream] retail.”

Next, the company aims to move into the lifestyle arena. Mozo is collaborating with Medium Rare, a chef apparel company in Canada, to develop co-branded aprons, T-shirts, caps and accessories.

Here, the brand president discusses new fashion looks, the role of celebrity collaborations and appealing to both professional chefs and soccer moms.

Can Mozo offer more stylish items and still be taken seriously in the culinary industry?
JB:
We don’t want to lose our culinary customer, but we’re not a [hardcore] work shoe. We’re a utility brand. In restaurants today, 18- to 20-year-old waitresses are wearing Toms or Converse. We said, “OK, that’s cool.” If we could provide something that could mirror those looks and [also] provide slip and stain resistance, comfort and durability, that would be good. Soccer moms [also] are looking for something to wear to and away from the field, at the farmer’s market, running around with the kids, because their time is equally as important as a chef’s time. She may be able to find [this type of] product other places, but if ours is well designed, colored the right way and performs well, we have a chance.

How closely does the Mozo team work with professional chefs to create the line?
JB:
We test product in restaurants across the country and are in communication with chefs every day. Part of our staff recently came back from Feast Portland, one of the premier weekend events in the industry. [There], they interacted with chefs about design ideas. We also have a test program with questionnaires [whereby] we get feedback [from chefs] to evolve and improve the shoes from both a styling and functional standpoint.

How important are celebrity chef relationships today?
JB:
We dropped the chefs [we had worked with] except for Cat Cora. [Our original partners], Marcus Samuelsson and Chris Constantino, created a lot of awareness, but since garnering so much celebrity they are far removed from [day-to-day kitchen duties]. So we decided to let them do their thing. They still wear our product but won’t be spokesmen for the brand. [Aarón Sánchez’s Sugar Skull series will continue through spring ’14.] Cat Cora has a different persona and reach. She’s still a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves chef who has a lot of impact on young women and mothers. She will also continue to help us understand how to make product better for women, as well as take our story to retail.

Are men looking for the same types of kitchen shoes as women?
JB:
Absolutely. However, for guys, [the style is] more restrained — gray and brown tones and black trims are important. If you look at some of the [key] athletic brands, the No. 1 colors are black or white. There are some influences we take from the [general] footwear business that help us understand the trends. For example, the No. 1 piece of apparel worn by male chefs today is denim jeans. So it’s pretty easy to conjure up what [coordinates] with denim.

What brands do you consider to be Mozo’s competition?
JB:
From a core [product] standpoint, you have to look at Dansko and what it’s been able to achieve. For women, it has a large franchise. With men, our [competition] is probably Nike and black basketball shoes. And then Converse for both men and women. You see a lot of Chuck Taylors [on restaurant staff].