Blundstone offers both lifestyle and utility looks. How do you balance these segments?
Currently, the two are about 50-50. Since we’ve always been both, it’s natural for us. The comfort components in our leisure looks are the direct result of the research and development done in utility. We have a strong work presence in Canada, Scandinavia and Australasia, which is a big part of the story.
In Italy, it’s almost exclusively leisurewear. [The connection] between lifestyle and utility is one we’re happy to acknowledge, but I don’t believe it is terribly relevant to [consumers]. It’s a subtle message.
How far can you take the brand fashion-wise without losing its DNA?
Blundstone isn’t only about Chelsea boots. Our first boots produced 150 years ago were lace-up work styles. In the early 1990s, a mix of Chelsea and lace-up boots did well in the U.K. and U.S. The brand will go as far as consumers allow it. While it’s always been a unisex line, these days we’re developing styles for women with gender-specific lasts and shapes.
Where does the U.S. business rank for you globally?
We’ve been working on it for 10 years, but it isn’t large. It’s been achieving an annual growth rate of 50 percent over the past five years. Some [consumers] had heard of the brand in the leisure space, so there was a little brand awareness, but in the work sector, people had not heard of it.
However, they were interested since the boots looked a little different, and they got the heritage story. It’s always going to be at the premium end of the market, but the footwear has performed well, and retailers wanted to take it on.
How can you expand distribution without losing your sense of cool?
There are large areas of the U.S. where we may have only one or two retailers, but there should be room for 20 or 30. So we’re looking to open more doors because there are lots of people who — outside of shopping online — [still] find it hard to find the brand.
We’re being very careful, though, about who we deal with. We want retail partners who understand where the brand fits. When people walk into a store, we want them to say, “Yeah, the brand belongs here.”
Who is the Blundstone customer today?
It’s broad. It may sound cliché, but we sell to consumers from 4 to 84. I don’t intend to stop wearing them at 84. It’s also much more female-based today, and we’re selling more to younger people. But we’re not getting carried away with defining [our audience] to the point of restricting ourselves.
There are common links in the way people live their lives and the brands they want [to wear].