A year into her tenure as CEO of The Frye Company, Adrienne Lazarus is moving forward with a fresh agenda for the heritage label.
“We’re one of the oldest footwear companies in America, and every great heritage brand has to continually evolve and excite, while being true to the DNA,” she said of 153- year-old Frye, which is owned by parent company Global Brands Group Holding Ltd.
The label is launching the Modern Icons Collection for fall ’16, taking its U.S. store count up to 12 and diving deeper into digital.
The Modern Icons project reimagines six classics, including combat boots worn during World War II, engineer styles, western looks and the well-known harness boot worn by John Lennon. The Frye originals were redesigned with present-day inspirations for both men’s and women’s looks, according to Lazarus, who was previously president of Intermix and Ann Taylor.
“If you look at the product, it’s still the core,” she said. “That inspires what we do, and this year, it’s been about bringing a focus to the iconic styles that customers have loved for years.”
Part of the research showed that fans of Frye have a personal connection to the brand. Lazarus cited examples of consumers recalling boots they wore on a specific trip or a college experience. Therefore, storytelling will be a big part of the moment.
“It’s more than making a purchase; it’s investing in something that is long-lasting,” she said. “We think if we tell those stories to the consumers, these [new modern styles] will be- come just as well loved as the harness boot that everyone knows and loves.”
The product ideas that Lazarus and her team feel so connected to will also weave their way into a transformation of the store design. The brand has eight U.S. stores and will have four additional locations by the end of the year.
The first stateside boutique opened in New York’s Soho neighborhood five years ago, and an opening in Atlanta late last year marked the first shop featuring the new design.
“We felt it was time for an evolution and for the stores to be more relevant today,” said Lazarus. “Beyond the smell of leather, you will always see and feel like you’re in a Frye store. The new design is a little lighter with wood colors, and it’s more modern for today.”
Later this year, units will open in Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and a yet-to-be-disclosed location. Each shop will also feature product exclusive to the market and location. “Our retail strategy is to find the markets we feel are celebratory and resonate with the brand,” said Lazarus, using Nashville as a prime example.
“To go where that customer is and loves the brand, to create an experiential moment with Frye. A lot of in- credible people in the music business have worn the brand for many years.”
Part of that strategy also includes a personalized e-commerce touch. The brand relaunched its website in August, and it will continue to ag- gressively build the online business to support each store location.
“The plan is to have important stores in important markets that will support e-commerce. The results since the relaunch have been very strong,” said Lazarus. “We think the Modern Icons story will generate even more excitement around our platform from a digital perspective.”
When asked about the tough retail climate and number of store closures within the industry, Lazarus didn’t seem concerned that the same fate would fall upon Frye. “Most of the people
who are closing are overstored and have gone through large growth over 10 years, so they are ‘right sizing.’ We are coming from a totally different place. With only eight stores, you really have an opportunity to create your future and build something today that makes sense.”
Although Frye has an impressive history, Lazarus believes that the brand is still in its infancy from a retail perspective.
Looking ahead, the label plans to open between five to eight additional stores in 2017.
“What’s happening in retail today is an experiential moment, so we have to do interesting things,” she said, adding that the stores will host events and tout artisan collaborations. “When you have a brand that’s new in retail, people are curious and excited.”
Eventually, the retail growth will extend to international markets, according to Lazarus.
“We believe this is a global opportunity,” she said. “We have a small amount of business from a wholesale perspective overseas. We are recogniz- ing that, and we are learning quickly that there is an appetite. Every business has to be paced appropriately.”
Overall, Lazarus is confident about the achievements in her first year.
“The first thing I [focused on] was consumer research so that our whole team could understand and leverage our successes and carve out strategic plans for the future,” the executive said. “To take over a 153-year-old brand, I had to make sure it has legs for another 150 years.”