Exclusive: Bearpaw to Take Two Big Next Steps 

Bearpaw’s footprint is spreading.

The lifestyle brand will debut an apparel line in October and launch its first national TV advertising campaign one month later — highlighting its evolution as a versatile head-to-toe label.

bearpaw apparel
Bearpaw’s fall ’16 apparel line launches in October.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bearpaw.

“We’ve grown our footwear into what we think is mainstream and middle America,” Bearpaw president John Pierce told Footwear News. “We felt that at this time — where our footwear is going — we should do an outerwear line and it’s perfect for the consumer going into the fall and winter season.”

Bearpaw will release a collection of fleeces, padded jackets and hoodies for men and women, with prices ranging from $29.99 (simple fleece styles) to $189 (down jacket styles). The apparel will be available on Bearpaw.com, Amazon.com and at independent retailers.

“Most of it will be (sold at) mom-and-pops around the country,” Pierce explained. “Bearpaw.com will be our main driving force, as well as on Amazon. From there, it’s mostly independent accounts this fall.”

bearpaw footwear apparel
Bearpaw’s fall ’16 apparel line launches in October.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bearpaw.

“We kept it tight and targeted fleece and outerwear as the two components that we’re going to introduce,” Pierce explained. “Short term, we will stick with the outerwear because it transcends what we do on the footwear side. This was a fast-track program for fall ‘16. As we look forward in fall ’17, we will introduce vests and a longer jacket, as well, for the female.”

The fall ’16 line includes seven looks for women and three for men. “Units-wise, it is going to be 1 percent of our total business this fall,” Pierce said. “Based on sales, it’s a large unknown as to where it could go.”

Pierce added that he’s aiming to launch four to six more styles for women and two more for men next year after a challenging start.

bearpaw apparel
Bearpaw’s fall ’16 apparel line launches in October.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bearpaw.

“We’re playing from behind for fall ‘16, but we’re excited from the reaction based on retail partners,” Pierce added.

Initially, Bearpaw intended to license the apparel venture out to a partner, but that relationship ended suddenly — leaving the brand to fill in the gaps.

“They initiated the process, put the samples together and walked away from the partnership in February,” Pierce shared. “But because we already began showing the product to retailers we had to fast-track and find a production partner. Late in February, we found someone to produce and still maintain the pricing and deliver it by Oct. 1.”

For fall ’17, Pierce expects things go smoothly. In fact, the label already has a head start, he said: “We can show the product in a timely manner with other manufacturers to solidify open-to-buy dollars.”

bearpaw apparel
Bearpaw’s fall ’16 apparel line launches in October.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bearpaw.

Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the brand is building off the success of its more fashion-leaning spring footwear line that has been well received by consumers, Pierce said.

“A lot of it goes with natural growth,” he added. “What we’ve seen over the last couple of years has been on the upward swing — more in the fashion items as opposed to the core items that people have to come love.”

bearpaw apparel
Bearpaw’s fall ’16 apparel line launches in October.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Bearpaw.

“With that,” Pierce said, “We put a conscious concentration on the fashion element as opposed to the core items. Everything that we’re doing is more focused on becoming a 12-month business. Introducing spring — it’s the evolution of what Bearpaw means today and what it could mean in the future. Part of that is marketing-spend, reaching that end user and letting them know that there are new options.”

Pierce shared more with FN on what’s ahead for Bearpaw.

How does the apparel venture fit in with Bearpaw’s overall business strategy?
“We hit home with value on footwear with prices from $70 to $100, so on the apparel side, we want to be consistent on the same type of structure. As we continue to evolve, we want to look from head to toe what makes sense with what Bearpaw is. It started with footwear, but we have a hosiery licensee — it’s all based around the footwear component and what you can do with that. Whether it’s headwear, outerwear, hosiery — any extension — that means something to the footwear consumer and that’s how we’re moving forward as a company.”

What is your marketing plan?
“We have a national TV campaign this fall for the first time — we’re at the crossroads that brand awareness is growing, but it’s nowhere near where it could be. We want to educate the consumer that there’s a brand that speaks to mom, daughter and husband. We’re shooting [the campaign] this week with the intent to have it on TV starting Nov. 1 in select markets. It’s about extending our reach and educating customers about what Bearpaw is. We’re going to tell the head-to-toe story of Bearpaw and we will be doing more of that — dedicating dollars toward the marketing front.”

What are some sales expectations?
“Going into this fall of 2016, we know fall-winter 2015 was extremely difficult at retail, so there’s plenty of product in the market place. We just want to get it out into the market and introduce it. The reaction from our core retail base has been positive. It is a test mode. People can buy short and chase it based on sales through the door — we are taking that same approach on the apparel side.”

Did you look into your own footwear customer base to gather data about buying habits or needs?
“When we initially went down the path, we partnered with an apparel company already doing outerwear and signed them as a licensee and did the research on the Bearpaw customer and what was pertinent to the market. We scaled the line back when we took it over [from the licensee] in February. We focused on the reaction from retailers and kept it tight as possible for production. We looked at what was going on in the outerwear market — the important pieces — and what the Bearpaw customer expects from us.”

Will the apparel take inspiration from the shoe line?
“When you’re talking apparel versus footwear, you have to look at trends. A lot of times it doesn’t translate between footwear and apparel, but what we can do is make sure pricing structure and value correlate with the footwear side.”

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