5 Questions for Ros Hommerson

Ros Hommerson is a fit fanatic.

The designer, whose namesake line is known for its extensive offering of sizes and widths, recently expanded her selection of tailored and dress looks with casuals targeting a younger audience. “This collection is very fresh and comfort-oriented,” Hommerson said about the spring offering. “I like to use different textures and elastic for that extra [element] of comfort, and Velcro for easy closure and adjustability.”

The spring line marked the first under new parent Lancaster, Ohio-based Drew Shoe Co., which last year acquired the brand’s trademarks.

With the new styles, Hommerson said she aimed to offer ageless looks. Included are ballerinas detailed with rhinestones and glittery materials, as well as shoes in buttery-soft leathers — all with plenty of cushioning and rubber soles. “You can practically put them in your pocket,” said Hommerson, who serves as VP of product development.

Although many companies have left the size-and-width market over the past few decades due to the added costs involved in manufacturing and inventory, Hommerson said Drew is committed to building her brand and plans to fully acquire it within the next five years. And to meet the needs of retailers in a tough economy, Drew will stock a range of styles for easy reordering.

Here, Hommerson talks about changing consumer demographics and the challenges in familiarizing young consumers with their size-and-width options.

What are the challenges in designing a size 4 and size 13 in the same style?
RH:
When you’re making a wide range of sizes and widths, you need to be selective about treatments and embellishments. Sizes 4 and 13 and AAA and EE widths [all] need to look attractive. When I look for embellishments, I always keep in mind if they will grade well. Let’s say you have a 4A shoe and you’re trying to use a rosette. It [may] look good in a medium and wide width, but by the time you get to a slim it looks like the shoe is going to be devoured by [the rosette].

What has been the key change in the size-and-width market in your 20 years as a designer?
RH:
First, there’s a lot less competition. Many companies have gone out of business [because] it’s an expensive process. [Because] you need components [sized] according to each width, companies have altered their repertoires by offering fewer widths or just mediums. Every part of the shoe has to be made for a particular width. That’s costly for the factories and for us to inventory it. Most important, people are changing. [Today’s] foods have [caused] people to grow in size and girth, and many retailers are adding large-size clothing to their inventory. [Conversely], there are different ethnic groups that wear smaller-sized shoes. We do have quite a business in size 4s.

Who is your target consumer?
RH:
Our customers are a variety of ages, [with] the majority being working women and baby boomers. I live the same lifestyle as my customers and know the feel, fit and comfort of the [collection]. I’m able to fit test every style and make corrections. Now that I am with Drew, I would like to develop new constructions, including [exploring] whether Drew’s [comfort] technologies can be used in my [collection].

After a good fit, what do you consider to be a shoe’s key comfort features?
RH:
Cushioning under the foot. People living in cities and those working are on their feet all day in the same shoe. So cushioning keeps the feet comfortable, and then they won’t get tired. Widths are important here because they [provide] extra girth so shoes won’t rub the little toe or bunion. Wearing the correct size is important, even with children. Parents need to know it’s not just [about] a cute shoe. They should also give good support. [In this way], when these children grow up, they will [continue] to wear good-fitting shoes.

Why don’t people seek out comfortable shoes earlier in life?
RH:
Usually in high school and college people are on a budget and want to look [fashionable]. They don’t try to look for something more comfortable until they’re forced to. If they’re playing a lot of sports and wearing athletic shoes, their feet spread. If their feet are [wider] than a medium, [they may be] unaware of how to find different widths. [Instead], they’ll buy [shoes] two or more sizes bigger. [Additionally], younger people feel uncomfortable saying they wear a wide or extra-wide width. The difference is only 1/16 of an inch between widths at the sole — almost unnoticeable — but the [added] girth will [offer] more comfort and a better fit.