Coach is returning to the women’s shoe business and is getting a little help from its sister company, Stuart Weitzman. Coach Inc. CEO Victor Luis said the company will not renew its women’s footwear license with New York-based Jimlar Corp. next year. Instead, the firm has tapped outgoing Stuart Weitzman CEO Wayne Kulkin to help consult on the project.
“[Footwear] has been the life-blood of Wayne for the past 25-plus years as Stuart’s partner,” Luis said. “He knows the market, the competitive set, the [technical aspects of the] category and has the merchandising [and trend] expertise.”
Luis said while Jimlar had been a great partner, the change was a natural next step for the label.
Kulkin had been at the helm of the Weitzman business for over two decades and helped transform the company from a shoe manufacturer to an iconic American fashion brand with 200 stores globally.
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Kulkin, who started his shoe career as a buyer at Nordstrom, said he was ready for a new challenge. As a consultant, he will offer his expertise and also be a resource for new Weitzman CEO Wendy Kahn as she transitions.
“There is so much opportunity to spread the vision of Stuart Vevers [Coach’s executive creative director] to the footwear industry,” said Kulkin. “With the licensing model, you don’t get 100 percent control of all things brand[-related]. When it comes in-house, you can do the storytelling.”
The move to bring footwear in-house is not an unexpected one. In fact, experts expected more cross-brand synergy when Coach Inc. purchased Weitzman from Sycamore Partners in 2014. The Weitzman brand has consistently been a bright sales spot for Coach too. In 2015, it brought in $345 million in revenue.
Vevers had already made waves on the runway the past few seasons and won accolades for his footwear designs and innovative styling for the heritage brand.
In addition to leveraging Kulkin’s technical expertise for design and fit, Coach hopes it can tap into his experience in marketing, supply chains and global consumer understanding. While the firm is still making decisions about sourcing, design and marketing for its footwear launch next year, Luis said he is confident Coach can take a share of the global footwear sales pie. The company’s footprint already includes 1,000 stores globally and plenty of wholesale partnerships and department store shop-in-shops.
“I love the art of building, and that’s what makes me want to wake up,” said Kulkin. “It doesn’t matter how big the project is — it’s creating something and watching it grow and hopefully turning it into greatness. We spent [two decades] building the [Weitzman] brand from the ground up, and getting to work with a living legend is better than any education you could get.”