3 Questions for Cushe’s Martin Dean

Surf’s up for Cushe. 

The outdoor lifestyle brand, a division of Rockford, Mich.-based Wolverine World Wide Inc., will debut its first collaboration for spring ’14, with surf legend Hoffman California Fabrics.

Delivering in February, the nine styles, priced between $50 and $65 for both men and women, put Hoffman’s summery Hawaiian prints on both new and core Cushe styles.

“They’re incredibly beautiful colorful prints, and they’re very much on-trend,” said brand founder Martin Dean. And because the uppers are fabric, he added, “It brings our design to life and lets us still be very competitive on price.”

And, Dean said, Cushe is paying more attention to the basics. It has refocused the line around such best-selling styles as the Cushe slipper, cut down on superfluous SKUs, concentrated on value and rededicated itself to women’s with a new team.

Here, Dean talks about the TV favorite that sealed the Hoffman deal, what women want and knocking himself off.

1. Why did you want to do a collaboration now?
I started Cushe back in 2004, so it’s been quite a while to go without a collaboration. But we were so focused on our own design language and building a consistent brand DNA we hadn’t looked outside. [But I was introduced to Hoffman], and it’s quite a fascinating story. The shirt Tom Selleck wore in “Magnum, P.I.” was a Hoffman shirt, and I was a massive Magnum fan as a kid, so that’s the bit that did it for me. They make these very traditional Hawaiian prints with an archive that goes back to the 1960s. And it’s the first time they’ve collaborated with a shoe company.

2. What changes have you made recently to your women’s business?
We’ve been guilty in the past of not treating [the women’s business] as a separate entity, but we completely scrapped that last summer and sourced women’s-[specific] design talent. For the [spring] line, we have two collections: the Weekender, a hybrid shoe that basically mixes a vulcanized look with an espadrille; and the Sunset Collection, a deconstructed run of skimmers that are skinny and sexy on the foot. And we are the closest to getting it right that we’ve ever [been].

3. What other line changes have you made for the brand going forward?
[After turning our focus to the Surf Slipper, which now accounts for half of the business, we asked], ‘What the hell are we doing with the rest of the line?’ It has become more fine-tuned as a result. It’s a very tight line, not a range anywhere near the size we’ve had in the past. [The Cushe slipper] is very deconstructed, lightweight, easy to wear and laid back. It’s the perfect signature shoe, and from that design there are lots of elements we can take — a sole tred or a profile or a stitch detail — and we’re [expanding] it. It’s the epitome of what the brand is about.

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