FN Summit Speakers Hint at Hot Topics

As the footwear industry continues to shift, its top executives will come together June 2, at the Asia Society in New York to discuss the outlook for their businesses in 2014.

Brand leaders, retailers and designers will talk strategy, reveal behind-the-scenes details about their growth plans and map out geographical targets in regions such as Asia and the Middle East.

Executives also will weigh in on digital and new media strategies and what put them on a path to success, in addition to sharing tips for navigating the tough retail environment both in the U.S. and abroad.

Below, select speakers offer a glimpse of what’s to come, from the big opportunities to potential road blocks facing their businesses for the back half of the year. (Comments appear in the order of executives’ appearances on stage.)

Patrik Frisk
President, Timberland; Outdoor Americas Coalition president, VF Corp.

Big opportunity: “As we close out 2014, our biggest opportunity is to continue gaining relevance and traction with our core consumer target. This past fall, we introduced Timberland to a new generation of consumers — a generation that loved our heritage but wanted more style, more energy, more newness from us. We unveiled head-to-toe collections [with] a new look and feel, new partnerships and wrapped it all in a global lifestyle campaign called ‘Best Then. Better Now.’ Though this work has been in the making for nearly three years, we’re only two seasons in from a consumer perspective.”
Big challenge: “I’d say the biggest challenge facing Timberland for the remainder of 2014 … relates to supply chain. It’s an exciting time for us as a brand as we return to profitable growth … but it’s also a little unnerving when things like skyrocketing leather prices and labor issues in China — things we don’t always have control over — can have such a profound impact on our business. We’re fortunate to have such strong relationships with our suppliers and factories.”

Ivanka Trump
EVP of development & acquisitions, Trump Organization; founder, Ivanka Trump Collection
Big opportunity:
“We are looking forward to the fall ’14 assortment of boots and booties, as both casual and dress categories are incredibly strong. For spring ’15, we are looking to expand the business through broadening our casual offerings to include espadrilles, wedges and flats.”
Big challenge: “Given the current challenging retail landscape and unpredictable weather patterns, we continue to find great opportunities with our online business, through new digital initiatives and utilizing our social properties to support our retail partners.”

Peter Harris
President, Pedder Group

Big opportunity: “The luxury market in greater China has matured, and we are perfectly positioned to take advantage of the customer’s hunger for new brands and product that differentiates them from the more widely distributed luxury brands. At the same time, we’re also seeing opportunity in the affluent middle class who subscribe to a luxury lifestyle and whose point of entry will be through international brands that are accessible in terms of product and price. Our integrated business model provides a high degree of flexibility, so we can anticipate and react to the market’s movements and trends.”
Big challenge: “Some are related to increasing operating costs, especially real estate, which is at a premium, particularly in the first-tier cities in China. This can force up startup costs and defer payback. In this respect, e-commerce and an omnichannel strategy is very important.”

Rick Ausick
President, Famous Footwear
Big opportunity:
“Making the experience easier for [the customer] to do business with us by meeting her needs [in a speedy fashion].”
Big challenge: “Separating ourselves from the competition by breaking through the clutter to have a meaningful customer experience.”

Rob DeMartini
President & CEO, New Balance; vice chairman, American Apparel & Footwear Association
Big opportunity:
“Representing a million U.S. workers, the U.S. footwear industry has the opportunity to step up its game with policy makers. With a unified voice, constant engagement and focused advocacy, we can create markets, protect intellectual property, reduce costs and minimize regulatory burdens.”
Big challenge: “As a dynamic and innovative industry … we can positively impact major areas, including jobs and the environment. We need to continue to recognize the power of our collaborative voice to make sure our best interests as an industry are put forward.”

Edoardo Caovilla
Designer & COO, René Caovilla
Big opportunity:
“One of the greatest opportunities we have ahead is to strengthen our mono-brand store network internationally — through franchising and retail — as we are getting an increasing demand for our products. Our eyes are especially on the Asia Pacific region and the U.S. In Asia Pacific, we already have three mono-brand stores, and a new location will be inaugurated in Macau this fall. Another great opportunity is represented by the digital universe.”
Big challenge: “This year marked the brand’s 80th anniversary. Our challenge and ambition is to offer to the customers hard-luxury shoes for every day, and I think this is also the essence of luxury.”

Louis Leeman
Co-creative director, Louis Leeman
Big opportunity
: “Winning the Footwear News Vivian Infantino Emerging Talent Award was for us a huge honor. It is an amazing achievement and hopefully has boosted some of the brand awareness in the U.S.”
Big challenge: “The biggest challenge for the year has been the work behind the upcoming grand opening of our first flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York. After organizing the location, lease, architects, administrative procedures, etc., we are now finally set to start construction. Right now, the grand opening is set for October 2014. This has been a huge milestone for the brand and a wonderful, but stressful experience.”

Edgardo Osorio
Founder & designer, Aquazzura

Big opportunity: “Taking advantage of the momentum we have had in less than three years — becoming available in 42 countries in the top retailers of the world — and applying that growth in the U.S. to increase our wholesale distribution within our current accounts. We have great partners in the U.S. and expect to grow within them as our collection and offerings grow as well. For resort ’15, we are launching a collection of espadrilles, along with expanding into sneakers. Our online business is also a big opportunity that we will explore very soon.”
Big challenge: “This year, it is keeping up with production to meet the tremendous increase in our sales. We have opened new production offices, doubled our production team and received new computer systems to streamline our production capacity. Next October, we will open our new headquarters and flagship store in Palazzo Corsini in Florence, Italy.”

Sam Edelman
President & founder, Sam Edelman
Big opportunity:
“We have a lot of international opportunity. We have the chance to do 10 times what we’re doing now. China and Europe are really important to us, and we’re not [yet] in Japan but see potential there. We want to focus on our freestanding stores in the U.S. The new Beverly Hills, Calif., store will be a bit cathartic for the brand. In Soho, our success is largely driven by tourists. Los Angeles is more of a home for Sam Edelman on the West Coast. [My wife] Libby and I also want to focus on a better balance of our private and public lives.”
Big challenge: “For us, it is to continue to grow as a company and remain true to who we are. The retail market has welcomed us with open arms, and we have had many international opportunities, but we want more growth. We need to maintain our prestigious distribution system, continue a business that doesn’t rely on promotions and continue to grow as a brand we believe in. I don’t believe in roadblocks [to] success.”

Rania Masri
GM, Level Shoe District
Big challenge:
“The men’s footwear business is underestimated, and we see the potential here to present a first-of-its-kind offer that will duly curate the trends of today. [We have] lots of plans to develop this segment.”
Big challenge: “Keeping the momentum and the energy of the store as our customers [have come] to expect a lot from our collaborations, events and constant new happenings. We have a full team driven to keep the experience going.”