Dr. Martens Gaining Fashion Momentum

LONDON — Dr. Martens is making a recession resurgence, thanks to changing fashion trends and high-profile celebrity endorsements.

Much of the heat surrounding the brand is centered on Europe and Asia, while the U.S. market has been more difficult, CEO David Suddens said in an interview last week.

“The warm wind of fashion is blowing in our direction,” said Suddens. “However, we are coming up against the cold front of the recession, so at this stage, we don’t know which one will win.” He added that the success of Dr. Martens is part of a broader shift toward boots and brown shoes.

The company’s Originals collection, in particular, has been a hot ticket in the U.K., Europe and Asia. For the fiscal year ended March 31, sales in the brand’s namesake store in London’s Covent Garden were up 25 percent year-over-year. In addition, the Asian market was up by 22 percent, and global online sales rose 25 percent.

Trendsetting British celebrities, including Agyness Deyn, Alice Dellal and Daisy Lowe, have helped the brand strengthen its female following. In Europe, sales of women’s product has grown by 30 percent in the past year, and Suddens believes the figure could be even higher because Originals is considered a unisex product.

In addition, Dr. Martens has expanded its consumer following with several high-profile collaborations, originating with the Yohji Yamamoto partnership in fall  ’07.

Suddens said he is confident that the company’s new Desert Boot partnership with Stussy Deluxe will strengthen the business stateside. The waterproof suede boot, which comes in three colorways and retails for $135, is due to hit Stussy stores and a select distribution network of Stussy and Dr. Martens’ accounts in August.

“The Dr. Martens and Stussy Deluxe collaboration is an attempt to mix the British boot culture with the more colorful world of American sneaker culture — two nationally definitive shoe cultures for the first time,” said Nick Bower, Stussy Deluxe’s creative director.

Other new launches for fall ’09 include a collaboration with designer Raf Simmons and the debut of the For Life collection, which comes with a lifetime guarantee and a promise by Dr. Martens to repair the shoes when they wear out. Also, a new partnership with British wallpaper and textile designer Louise Body is aimed at the female customer.

While the designer initiatives are expected to ramp up brand awareness in the U.S., Suddens acknowledged that the market — which accounts for half the company’s revenues — is particularly challenging right now. Sales were off 10 percent during the last fiscal year.

While Dr. Martens has performed well on the U.S. e-commerce site and in East Coast stores, sales on the West Coast and  in middle America have been weaker.
The trend among stateside retailers, Suddens said, is to buy into the mainstream-casual end of the collection and not the fashion-forward Originals product that is driving sales elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the U.K. has been a challenge for a different reason: currency woes.

“There are enormous problems in the U.K. market,” Suddens said, citing the slide of the pound against the euro and U.S. dollar as a major issue for retailers.

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