Birgit Klett spent years designing footwear for labels such as Esprit, Sam Edelman, Kenneth Cole and Reef, but it’s at teen brand Roxy that she’s found her niche.
“As soon as I walked into the [Roxy] building, I felt like I was home,” said Klett, who joined the surf-lifestyle brand, a division of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Quiksilver Inc., in 2004 as senior footwear designer. “Working here allows me to still be young [at heart], and I relish that.”
With Klett at the design helm, Roxy has been making big moves on the footwear front. The business has doubled in the last three years, according to Klett, as the assortment has grown beyond flip-flops and vulcanized sneakers to include canvas skimmers, wedge loafers, peep-toe flats and fashion boots. The shoes, which retail from $12 to $89, are sold in surf and skate stores such as PacSun and Tilly’s, at mid-tier department stores and at Roxy and Quiksilver retail stores in the U.S., Japan, Europe and Australia.
For fall ’09, the footwear offering will expand further with the introduction of Lounge, a $32-to-$70 collection of indoor-outdoor slipper-style shoes in brushed flannel and wool tweeds with faux fur linings and rubber soles.
To keep pace with the fickle, ever-changing teen crowd, Klett has to be up on the latest in pop culture and trends, but she said that her teenage daughter and memories of her own adolescence have helped make the job second nature.
“I was in their shoes at one point,” she said. “And as a designer, anything you can draw from that makes [the product] personal is important.”
Here, Klett talks about Roxy’s tough-to-please target consumer, her creative process and why she’ll never grow up.
1. When designing, how do you balance a beach-casual and more fashion-forward aesthetic?
BK: It’s about the mix. I focus on who the core customer is — the beach girl — as well as the girl who doesn’t spend her time at the beach. Even those customers aspire to live that lifestyle.
2. How has the Roxy customer changed over the years?
BK: It’s the same girl — there are just more of them. For a while, Roxy [styles] were more for active [surfers], but we’ve picked up that aspirational girl and her sister and her mom. The key is to not lose that core girl and what she’s looking for. For instance, I’ll never design dress shoes. We aren’t trying to be everything to everybody.
3. How important is the Huntington Beach location to Roxy as a brand?
BK: It’s really important. Roxy could exist in a lot of places, but it would have to have a separate identity — the [office] aesthetic and vibe wouldn’t be the way they are here. I actually can’t imagine Roxy anywhere other than in the Southern California beach area. A lot would change.
4. What is the hardest part of designing for the juniors’ customer?
BK: Focusing on the comfort aspect. They won’t put anything on that doesn’t immediately feel comfortable. And they have so many influences — music and magazines, for sure, and recently the whole election. They’re on it and they have strong opinions. Roxy has this cool online focus group called the Style Squad, where we tap thousands of girls from across the country. I can post questions and styles and get their reactions, and I gather so much feedback from them.
5. Does designing footwear for an apparel brand limit you?
BK: I see it as the exact opposite. I have so many ideas to feed off, and the shoes have to work with what’s going on in apparel. With all the prints and fabrics, I have so much inspiration and information available to me. It’s only helpful.
6. Does being a woman make it easier to design for girls?
BK: Absolutely. And I have a living, breathing customer — my 14-year-old daughter — in my house, and that helps me a lot, too. Working here allows me to still be young [at heart], and I relish that. I was in their shoes at one point. And as a designer, anything you can draw from that makes [the product] personal is important.
7. Has the economy affected Roxy?
BK: It’s now very important from a business standpoint to make sure the line is focused. We’re definitely watching SKU count more — nobody wants excess inventory right now. And we have to be price conscious and make sure we’re giving the customer value and even multiple uses in some cases.
8. It’s been argued that the shoe has replaced the handbag as the “it” accessory. Do you agree?
BK: It’s always been about shoes for me, but it makes sense that the focus has moved from bags to shoes. Fashion silhouettes have changed with the importance of shorts and cropped pants, with the [rolled-up] boyfriend jean as the key new denim piece. And there is so much more ankle interest with gladiators and ankle-wrap styles. Also, the importance of hardware really draws attention to what you are wearing on your feet. There are so many ways to make a statement with your shoes right now.
9. What are some of your favorite footwear styles?
BK: I wear a lot of Fiorentini and Baker boots. The styles are timeless, have a bit of attitude and last forever. And I do admit to wearing Ugg when it’s cold. I also bought a pair of Frye boots this year. I live in Rainbow and K. Jacques sandals anytime it’s over 60 degrees out. They scream “beach” and put me in a happy mood.
10. What trend could you do without right now?
BK: I really gravitate toward things that are simple and clean. The over-the-top embellishments don’t do it for me. Especially now, when too much excess doesn’t feel right. There is a movement back toward simpler things.