When it’s time to reimagine a nearly four-decade-old boot with a cultlike following, there’s only one place to start: with the consumers who made it successful.
Dave Powers, president and CEO of Ugg parent company Deckers Brands, said the label’s loyal customer base was the impetus for the biggest launch in Ugg’s 38-year history — the Classic II.
“Consumer insights drove this relaunch,” Powers said. “Knowing that it was time to evolve the brand a little more, I worked with the teams and said, ‘How can we take some of the innovations that we’ve developed with some of our other brands and apply those [lessons] to the Classic?’
“We decided to make the move now,” he added. “We transitioned out of the existing Classic, updated it and put innovation and better functional details into it to please the consumer and better connect with them.”
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The new product launches on July 15 in Ugg stores and online. The CEO, who announced the initiative at the FFANY show last December, told analysts that the company planned to make an aggressive push to remove all remaining Classic Ugg boots from U.S. wholesale after the 2015 winter season, replacing them with the revamped collection.
The Classic II will have the same look and feel as the original Classic but with several key upgrades to address consumer needs, according to Powers.
The new boot, offered in the mini, short and tall silhouettes, will be made of a pretreated sheepskin upper to protect against water and stains. It will feature a Treadlite by Ugg outsole for increased traction, durability and flexibility as well as a new logo and leather heel plate.
The Classic II will retain many of the original Classic design features, including raised whip-stitch seams, the license-plate-shaped heel logo, rounded toe shape, exterior suede heel overlay and fabric binding.
Justin Sigal, president of Pittsburgh-based Littles Shoes, said he believes the modifications to the Classic Ugg will be a boon to business.
“Customers will appreciate the changes in the boot, especially here [in Pittsburgh],” Sigal said. “Most of our customers buy the [Ugg water- and stain-repellant] spray to make it water-resistant, and now it will be pre-done. Customers also will feel the extra cushioning and the softer composite sole, [which] will be a big difference as well.”
Still, Sigal noted, he’s uncertain whether some changes will resonate with younger customers, who haven’t seemed as concerned with the comfort of the Classic. “For grown-ups, where the boot was more functional and [they] didn’t care about the trend, they will like the new sole more,” Sigal added.
Jennifer Somer, VP of women’s and lifestyle at Ugg, said the launch of the Classic II is only the beginning of a major relaunch of the Classics franchise, which will diversify the brand’s offerings in an increasingly targeted way.
One of the forthcoming rollouts, Classic Street, will aim to capture the millennial shopper.
“We now have multiple collections that just broaden the wearing occasions and styling of our shearling boot,” Somer said of the collection, due on Aug. 25. “Street is a cute, tapered, streamlined silhouette that’s aimed at a younger consumer. Forty percent of our consumers are under the age of 24, so this collection specifically speaks to what they’ve been asking for from a style perspective.”
The launches of Classic II and Street will be followed by a series of new styles from the Classic family. Additional releases for the Classic Slim and the Classic Luxe are due in October, while a completely fresh line, the Classic Cuff and Knot, will arrive on Oct. 20.
To support the launches, supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley will serve as the face of the brand’s entire Classics refresh.
Tarek Hassan, co-owner of Boston-based shoe shop The Tannery, doesn’t expect the Classic II upgrades to have a major impact on his clientele but believes that the changes are “positive” overall.
“Obviously, the more [technology] you can add, the better it is,” Hassan said. “They can tell a story now. Today, people want an experience and a story and not just a cool look or [something] trendy.”
Meanwhile, Powers notes that the reimagined Classic II has never been about making a competitive play. Instead, the goal has been to evolve the brand and satisfy its day-one customer.
“It’s more about pleasing the Ugg brand customer through innovation and showing them that we’re continuing to evolve the brand and listen to their desires for what product we bring to market,” said Powers.
For Deckers, the evolution of Ugg comes at a time when the brand is seeing big changes in its “C suite” as well. In April 2015, Connie Rishwain, longtime Ugg chief and president of Deckers fashion and lifestyle brands, announced that she would step down from her post to pursue other interests. This past April, luxury fashion executive Andrea O’Donnell was tapped for the slot. During Deckers Brands’ fourth-quarter earnings announcement in May, the firm also revealed that Angel Martinez — its CEO since April 2005 — would retire, and Powers assumed the post on May 31.
Ugg continues to bring in the lion’s share of Deckers’ revenues, posting a sales gain of 13 percent, to $245.6 million in Q4.
(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July 11, 2016, issue of Footwear News.)