Upper Echelon Eyes Growth With Madden

NEW YORK — Upper Echelon Shoes is making big changes in the new year.

The New York-based shoe brand founded by Seth Campbell has entered a partnership with Steven Madden Ltd. in which both parties own a 50 percent stake in the venture.

Last June, Footwear News reported that UES had been bought by Titan Industries Inc. However, Campbell last week characterized the deal as a partnership and not an outright sale.

While Titan CEO Joe Ouaknine could not be reached for comment at press time, a spokesperson for the firm confirmed that Titan is no longer working with the brand.

The new deal will allow Campbell to focus on product while relying on Steven Madden’s resources to increase distribution and grow the business, particularly online and overseas.

“We’re both New Yorkers; we see things the same way,” said Steve Madden, founder and creative chief of his eponymous firm. “I just want to support [Seth’s] vision. God knows I have my hands full with the Steve Madden [brand], but we want to be a part of anything cool, just like all the music [initiatives] we’re involved in.”

Madden said he and Campbell “hit it off immediately” after first meeting through Campbell’s father, BBC International CEO Bob Campbell.

“We want to be a part of cool things, and not everything has to be our brand. We’re in a position now to take more of a nurturing role in things other than Steve Madden,” he said.

Campbell has relocated to the Madden offices in Long Island City, N.Y., and will continue his role as designer. His former partner, Nick Cohen, is no longer working with the brand, said Campbell.

The first joint collection will debut at FFANY next month, with a larger unveiling set for FN Platform on Feb. 16.

Prices will range from $200 to $400 for men’s and women’s sneakers, depending on distribution and materials, which could include higher-priced elements such as snakeskin. The embellishments and jewelry that have been present since the brand launched its buzzed-about Seni white sneaker in 2007 — featuring 18-karat gold chain shoelaces — may come in and out of the collection.

“The UES customer is always looking for something new, so the jewelry might stay or that might change,” said Campbell.

Campbell is hoping the new partnership will help open new doors for the brand, including Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. The brand is currently stocked at independents such as H.Lorenzo and Blue & Cream, and Bloomingdale’s Dubai recently picked up four SKUs, said the designer.

UES retail partner Fraser Ross, owner of Los Angeles-based Kitson, cheered the news last week and noted that it will benefit the Madden portfolio as well.

“It will be a good partnership,” said Ross. “Steven Madden is an expert in boots and shoes … and [working with] a sneaker brand will give the company strong market share in an area they don’t have.”

“We see a big international business,” added Madden. “We have a big network in China, Tokyo, London and Israel.”

E-commerce also will be a priority for growing the line, said Campbell. “People from all across the world e-mail me through our Website asking where they can get the shoes,” he said. “So we’ll definitely be launching e-commerce. We really believe in selling online.”

Ultimately, Madden said he expects UES can dramatically expand its reach. “It could be pretty big,” he said. “If [Seth] makes the right kind of shoes, it could be a very important brand because there’s not a lot out there like it.”

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