Lands’ End Shifts Shoe Focus

NEW YORK — Lands’ End will begin 2013 with a fresh approach to footwear.

The 49-year-old, Dodgeville, Wis.-based label is expanding its shoe categories for spring and putting an emphasis on women’s by adding fashion-focused silhouettes and materials to its traditionally outdoor and casual collections, according to CEO and President Edgar Huber.

The fashion footwear will consist of more than 20 new styles such as pumps and smoking slippers in calf hair and leopard print. Prices will be slightly higher, starting at $110 as opposed to $69 for casual items.

The revamped footwear push includes an enhanced social media presence, kicking off with a series of fashion blogger-curated virtual pop-up shops that launched Oct. 30 on the Lands’ End e-commerce site.

The company also is looking at offering outside labels as part of its women’s footwear mix (it already carries Allen Edmonds in the men’s category) in its standalone retail shops and e-commerce site, although Huber declined to list specific labels.

“[The moves] give us the opportunity to look at the possibilities of a more fashion-driven business,” Huber said, noting that Lands’ End began testing updated styles in fall ’12 and received a positive response from customers. “It allows us to make our footwear business, which is already quite sizable, even bigger and become a more serious brand [in the shoe space].”

Lands’ End has been in transition mode for the past year. The label moved the footwear and accessories design team from its Wisconsin headquarters to New York in early 2012.

Key staff also has shifted at the company, as Huber joined in August 2011 and Sara Dennis came aboard as SVP of design this past July. Both executives have extensive fashion backgrounds. Huber previously served as EVP of global business development at Liz Claiborne and was worldwide CEO of Juicy Couture.

Dennis’s prior experience includes brand building and high-level positions at Vera Wang Group, Liz Claiborne and Calvin Klein. In addition, Land’s End recently brought in a design director dedicated to women’s footwear and accessories.

“We are building the design team for sure,” Dennis said. “[The Lands’ End women’s customer] is classic, and she comes to us for classic things, but she still wants to be relevant and up-to-date, so we are expanding into more fashion styles. We take inspiration from vintage [styles], movies and art.”

Added Huber, “[Fashion] accessories and footwear is a big growth opportunity for us. We didn’t have a lot of it before, and we started developing it about a year ago.”

The CEO noted that e-commerce makes up the bulk of sales for Land’s End, which, along with the label’s solid history, has helped the company weather a tough economy.

That’s not to say Lands’ End hasn’t faced its share of challenges. Parent company Sears Holdings Corp. continues to struggle, reporting a net loss of $132 million for the second quarter.

There also is continuing speculation that Sears could sell Lands’ End, although company representatives declined to comment.

Dennis said there are practical challenges, too, when it comes to evolving a heritage brand while maintaining its roots. “We are coming up on our 50-year anniversary [in 2013], so we are looking inward and thinking about possibilities and how we are going to be around another 50 years,” she said. “We want to stay competitive and valid in the marketplace. The challenge is to keep customers coming back — how to innovate and add newness to the landmark products that we are known for.”

Up next on the product front is a rollout of Lands’ End costume jewelry, fashion scarves and handbags, along with more shoes, according to the executives.

“The goal is to grow the business, but to make sure that whatever we launch is launched at the right time and is going to really deliver,” Dennis said.

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