Phillip Lim Builds Bigger Footwear Biz

NEW YORK — Shoes are growing fast for 3.1 Phillip Lim, and the designer plans to explore new categories in the next several seasons.

“It’s a [segment] that Phillip and I are really focused on,” said the firm’s CEO and co-founder, Wen Zhou, who noted that shoes comprise 20 percent of total accessories sales and 10 percent of overall product sales for the label. “[Recently], at our flagship store in Soho, footwear was the No. 2 category,” Zhou said. “That’s amazing to see for a category this new. It means there’s the desire and the demand, and we just have to continue to fuel it. Every single person who walked onto the floor was looking at shoes.”

Spurred by the strong response, 3.1 Phillip Lim is set to expand its women’s footwear offering in a major way over the next few seasons, rolling out sneakers, as well as more types of flats, mid-heels and high heels. “You’ll see a lot more [footwear], in a larger capacity, starting with resort ’15,” Zhou said.

The 9-year-old label officially launched shoes in fall ’12, but Lim dabbled in that territory long before, including collaborating with Birkenstock-owned Tatami on men’s and women’s sandals in 2007. Last year, he worked with Target on a high-profile collaboration.

“We’ve always wanted the whole look, and [shoes] have been trickling in over the seasons,” Zhou said. “Adding footwear [as a complete line] had to do with finding the right suppliers, the right team to support it and the right resources to invest in the category.”

Added Lim, “[Designing shoes] feels like a natural evolution for the brand. It takes us closer to completing our offering. It also makes me think about things in a very different way. I find it challenging on so many levels.”

Retailing at $275 and up, 3.1 Phillip Lim footwear is made in China and, like the ready-to-wear, embraces what the label dubs its signature “girl-boy” style. For example, a leather oxford, one of the brand’s best-selling spring shoes, juxtaposes feminine aspects like a peep-toe construction and ribbon laces with heavier menswear-inspired detailing such as a lug sole. A patent loafer is topped with a pop of pink and a clear PVC upper.

“I always design for the same person [who wears my clothing],” said Lim, whose label has been embraced by famous faces from Beyoncé to Michelle Obama. “Her spirit is always the same, and the shoes are designed to work for her first and foremost. Aesthetically, they do not compromise design for comfort, but they are considered design.”

The shoes are carried in the brand’s own boutiques, as well as 155 retail accounts, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Nordstrom. In comparison, the label’s apparel is in 450 doors, and Zhou said she sees room for footwear to move closer to that number. “The biggest challenge [with footwear] has been getting people on board,” she said. “Like everything, you have to take it one step at a time.”

The CEO was quick to point out that the firm is approaching expansion at a deliberate pace. “It’s about controlling our image and having the right representation — partnering with the right retailers,” Zhou said. “When growth is controlled, it becomes healthy growth instead of what I call hormone-injected growth. There are nuances you have to pay attention to.”

The firm’s flagships also are replicating at a steady clip. The current tally is nine 3.1 Phillip Lim stores, with more set to open throughout the coming months, including a second door in New York, as well as new locations in Los Angeles, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and more.

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