Women’s Designers Spin Off

Having options is a good thing.

And it’s a mantra that footwear brands, from Steve Madden to Salvatore Ferragamo, are embracing as they branch further into categories that don’t have anything to do with feet.

Even as an unstable economy rocked the retail market this past year, Steve Madden developed a line of bedding targeted to college-age girls, and Ferragamo expanded its fragrance collection to include home offerings such as candles and room spray. For spring ’10, Shane and Shawn Ward are tackling timepieces, while Tory Burch continues to build her lifestyle empire, with eyewear for fall. And designers Elizabeth Brady and Matt Bernson have spun out into handbags and jewelry, respectively.

“Brands are trying to find an opportunity to sustain their volume and keep the cachet of their brand alive,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group. “But stretching out into other categories doesn’t always mean a home run.”

While the risks include diluting the brand message and tainting relationships with retailers that expect a focused story, Cohen said, product expansion could boost sales, particularly among consumers already buying into the brand. “That’s where most of the growth will come from,” he said. “You’ve already convinced them you are the brand for them.”

That bodes well for brands like Tory Burch, Steve Madden and Salvatore Ferragamo, which have a large and loyal following.

Burch, who has enjoyed a rapid rise since the launch of her namesake company five years ago, has been growing her clothing brand into a lifestyle offering with shoes, handbags, costume jewelry and, now, sunglasses. “It’s a natural extension and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Burch said, noting she is also developing a line of ophthalmic frames slated to debut next year. The sunglasses, made by Luxottica Group SpA as part of a six-year licensing agreement, hit stores in November and will retail from $135 to $195. Burch also plans to expand into home décor, but said that project is on hold until the economy stabilizes. “It’s a tough time to start in the home business,” she said. “People aren’t renovating their
homes right now or shopping much [for décor].”

Steve Madden, meanwhile, has moved into a different division of the home sector with bedding priced between $100 and $195, said the company’s licensing and fashion director, Zina Zargens. The collection launched in June in about 150 Bed, Bath & Beyond stores. “We’ve had a very loyal following, and a lot of women have grown up in our shoes,” Zargens said. “Girls look through the magazines and see what the celebrities are wearing and want that in shoes, clothing and every other category, including bedding.”

Beyond fall, Zargens said, Steve Madden — which already offers hosiery and handbags — is looking to add apparel and fragrance.

Salvatore Ferragamo, too, has made the move into home for fall ’09. “Basically, we consider this a nice little side business,” said Ferragamo Parfums CEO Luciano Bertinelli. “Our core business will always be shoes and fashion, but this builds brand awareness and offers a little more of the lifestyle concept and attitude.”

The collection, an offshoot of the brand’s Tuscan Soul fragrance line, includes handmade, Italian candles, scented sachets and room spray, retailing from $50 to $120. Meant to expand the Tuscan Soul line, which is sold at high-end stores including Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, the home collection is being positioned as a long-term addition to the brand’s portfolio, Bertinelli said.

“If there’s an opportunity, we don’t want to lose that,” he said. “The home business is a small business, but it’s a high-quality business that tells the story around our lifestyle and master brand.”

While Cohen noted that larger companies with thicker pocketbooks may be at an advantage when entering new categories, smaller brands are also finding ways to capture a broader audience. For example, Shane and Shawn Ward’s spring ’10 collection of eight men’s and women’s watches will retail for $105 and $250, and the company is in talks to launch intimates. “We’re setting ourselves up so that when the economy [gets better], we’ll be here with some hot product,” said Shawn Ward, brand president and co-founder. “Shoes and accessories go hand-in-hand.”

Elizabeth Brady, who debuted her namesake footwear brand in 2006, launched a capsule handbag collection
for spring ’09 and has been gradually expanding the offering. The bags, priced between $550 and $895, have attracted retailers that might not have otherwise considered carrying the Elizabeth Brady name. “It’s afforded me the opportunity to get into more doors,” she said. “It’s important [to offer retailers] a portfolio of things to choose from.”

Brady is approaching expansion slowly and is using the collection to garner more attention for the brand overall. “We’re relatively new, and there’s still a curiosity about who we are. I’d rather grow at a slower pace and let things take their course.” Likewise, Matt Bernson, known for his Brazilian-made sandals, has started creating jewelry inspired by elements from the footwear line. “It wasn’t too strategically planned out,” said Bernson. “It was something that evolved naturally.”

While Bernson doesn’t plan to make jewelry a major part of his business, he said he hopes the bracelets, which retail for $ 45 to $65, will draw in new customers. “It’s a way to open people’s eyes to what we do,” he said. “Like every company, we’re trying to figure out the best way forward. As long as there’s a good idea, it makes sense to do it.”

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