Milestone: Via’s United Front

When Jay Schmidt joined Brown Shoe Co. two years ago as SVP and GM of image brands, he immediately recognized that Via Spiga’s products were generally strong, but didn’t tell a consistent brand story. His mission was to unify the brand, while positioning it as a lifestyle label that could appeal to a variety of customers.

“We required a branded approach to our product line — one vision and one voice,” said Schmidt. “Also, I did believe that the price of the shoes had gotten a little high, at around $300, so I wanted to get that back to around $200.”

To make that happen, Schmidt sought out designer Paola Venturi, who, as the brand’s creative director, has worked to incorporate common design themes across categories. For example, material treatments now often span product classifications, styles and heel heights. “We might use a particular wood construction in both clogs and wedges, and use some of it in boots, as well,” Schmidt said.

The collection is currently divided into three core categories: work/career, work to play and sophisticated casual. The bulk of sales — 60 percent — fall in the work-to-play arena. “This is where women are really shopping, and it’s how they live,” said Schmidt. About 30 percent of sales are in sophisticated casual styles, while true work/career shoes account for the remaining 10 percent.

Schmidt noted that the line also has been winnowed down to about 200 to 300 styles per year, as the brand has homed in on the needs of its core customer: a 20- to 50-year-old sophisticated woman. “It has become more focused over time as we’ve gotten behind some of our big styles,” he explained.

To help reduce prices, Via Spiga has taken advantage of Brown’s buying power. “We’ve been working a lot on sourcing, and Brown has really helped with that,” Schmidt said. “Our [brand] message is about an all-leather product. So we source leather in Italy, but [the product] is manufactured in China. We think we bring an unbeatable combination to the brand and that we’re doing something different.”

Via Spiga’s combination of affordability and quality is certainly something retailers have noted, as affordable luxury has become a market driver. “[The brand is] very well positioned for the fall season, with some great boots and great prices that offer value for the customer, and with some real fashion edge,” said Debbie King, VP and DMM of women’s shoes for Bloomingdale’s. “It’s accessible and wearable. It’s not over-the-edge fashion, so it speaks to a broad customer base. It’s a great business for us. It’s been performing very, very well, and it has been for a couple of seasons.”

The brand also offers men’s shoes, produced by licensee Eastman Footwear Group.And while men’s is still a small business, Schmidt said he hopes the successful women’s formula will translate to the men’s market. “The goal is to get the same kind of sophisticated element into the men’s product,” he said. “We’re trying some different product in our retail stores this fall that should appeal to that sophisticated male consumer.”

While two-thirds of Via Spiga’s sales are in women’s footwear, the label has made headway into other accessories categories, including handbags, outerwear, belts, sunglasses and legwear. Rather than add new categories, Schmidt said, the plan is to focus on building each of these individual businesses.

“Those are the clear [categories] we’d like to have. We’d like to expand the product offering in each of them, and the volume,” he said. “The customer really likes to shop across categories, and she likes our brand and is very loyal to it.”

Even as Via Spiga expands beyond shoes, Schmidt said the brand will remain focused on its foundation. “Clearly, the footwear business drives the whole brand, and that’s why we’re making sure it stays with its current message,” he said. “It will always be attainable fashion for the modern customer.”

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