Why This Former Stuart Weitzman CEO Wants to Disrupt the Sneaker Market

wayne-kulkin
Former Stuart Weitzman CEO Wayne Kulkin has launched a venture focused on sneakers.
George Chinsee

For his latest venture, industry veteran Wayne Kulkin is going against the grain.

The former Stuart Weitzman CEO has launched StreetTrend, a company on a mission to disrupt the luxury sneaker market with a series of niche, Italian-made collections that will be distinguished by more down-to-earth prices, quick reaction times and limited product runs.

“We want StreetTrend to be a laboratory for shoes where we can experiment with new ideas and concepts, and create a collaborative relationship with retailers,” said Kulkin, who is partnering in the venture with Jeffrey Hecktman, chairman and CEO of Hilco Global, which owns several fashion brands, including Halston and Le Tigre.

In addition to distribution partnerships with Italian brands P448 and Meline, StreetTrend is introducing its own collection, PS821, at retail in May. Priced from $295 to $495, the streetwear-inspired line for men and women will feature limited quantities of between 250 and 500 pairs per style, which will be spread between only a small handful of retailers globally, as well as the brand’s own website. New styles will drop every month, and none will ever be repeated.

Each pair of shoes (and their box) will be numbered, giving the consumer a feeling of having something special and exclusive. “They’ll know there will be only 500 pairs of that style out there, and they’ll be able to go online and see exactly which stores around the world have it,” Kulkin explained. “We want to tell a story and create an element of social commerce to the brand.” To oversee the creative direction of the collection, the company has hired Simone Pezzuolo, former men’s designer for Salvatore Ferragamo.

p448-shoes A selection of looks from the P448 collection, shipping to stores now. George Chinsee

In an industry where long lead times are the norm, StreetTrend’s goal is to get new product into retailers’ hands in under 12 weeks. “We aim to change the buying cycle and keep a steady flow of fresh styles out there. It will allow us to react quickly to trends and ideas before they’ve run their course.”

To make his untraditional production model a reality, Kulkin is partnering with a string of factories across Italy willing to take on smaller orders and capable of speedy turnarounds. “Italy makes some of the best footwear in the world, and the level of quality and craftsmanship these factories are able to deliver is incredible. There is nothing else like this at these price points — I’m proud to say that. And we’re able to do this with the kind of margins that retailers need to have.”

All three of StreetTrend’s collections feature simple sneaker silhouettes with unexpected mixes of trims, colors and materials such as leather, suede, fur, calf hair and novelty textiles. “We’re tapping into a very exciting consumer need for sneakers that look and feel fantastic,” Kulkin said.

Deliveries of P448 adult shoes — priced from $235 to $285 — are currently underway, bound for retailers including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Shopbop and The Shoe Box NYC. A kids’ offering is in the works.

“We love the [P448] brand because it offers us the chance to showcase a unique point of view by offering exclusive colorways,” said Anne Egan, VP and DMM for salon and designer shoes at Nordstrom. “The quick turnaround time is ideal for being able to react to what the customer is responding to at retail.”

Separately, the Meline collection, priced from $165 to $245, will begin shipping to stores this month. StreetTrend also is exploring the idea of reintroducing a sneaker line under Hilco’s retro-inspired Le Tigre sportswear brand (previously owned by Kenneth Cole Productions).

meline-shoes Embellished styles from the Meline collection. George Chinsee

Kulkin said he hopes his company’s unique, more nimble approach and focus on scarcity rather than high-volume distribution will resonate with retailers and consumers.

“Small is good, and we embrace that,” he noted. “If you look at the market today, it’s a lot of these smaller brands that are really dictating fashion. Our goal is to create a group of ‘big little’ brands under the StreetTrend banner and bring something to consumers that exceeds their expectations.”