Sporto has looked to its past to make progress in today’s congested outdoor space. The brand, which was founded in 1872 as the Gold Seal Rubber Co., will mark the 40th anniversary of its iconic duck boot this fall with a special updated collection of the classic silhouette.
The new capsule line blends Sporto’s design heritage with modern fashion elements and — most importantly — the latest performance technology, including Vibram Icetrek outsoles and Thermolite insulation.
But Sporto’s reworked duck boot is more than just a celebration of its history — it also offers the brand an opportunity to re-enter the men’s outdoor market, after being absent since 2003.
“We wanted to regain the authenticity and the heritage of the brand, to speak about its American roots,” said Brandy McCarty, SVP of global sales and brand strategy at The Eastman Group, which has owned Sporto since 2008 and has been revamping the women’s label with new product designs, branding and marketing.
“We felt this would be a good launching pad to spring back into the men’s heritage business,” he said. “[We created] an upgraded model with the Icetrek bottom, which makes it the most technical duck boot we’ve ever done.”
McCarty added that Sporto’s men’s push is limited to the special duck boot anniversary collection because that is where the brand has the strongest technical authenticity. “That’s the only place Sporto has been,” he said. “We want to perfect that heritage product and focus on our foundation and core product before we get too crazy and expand too far outside of that.”
Retailers applauded the brand’s move into the men’s business.
Chris Galvin, merchandising brand manager at Shoebuy.com, said Sporto has done well historically for the e-tailer. He believes the price points for the anniversary duck boot collection, which range from $110 to $140, will be a key factor in the brand’s success with male consumers.
“There is certainly opportunity here for Sporto, but there is also a lot of competition,” he said. “The Vibram outsole will be an attractive and highly recognizable feature to most male consumers, but smart pricing will be important in this competitive market.”
Catering to men could offer Sporto another opportunity for sales growth, which, according to McCarty, has been in the double digits in recent years. The brand expects a similar rise in 2016.
Aside from its Vibram-enhanced duck boots, Sporto will continue to serve its stable of retail partners — that includes Famous Footwear, Macy’s and DSW — with its main women’s assortment, retailing from $90 to $110.
McCarty believes Sporto will see success this fall with its short bootie styles, which offer technical elements including EcoDry waterproofing.
“With unpredictable weather, we’ve seen a movement away from tall product to low,” he said. “[Our customer] could wear the ankle boot throughout the fall into inclement weather. There’s a thin layer of insulation to give her protection that’s also not uncomfortable on a day where it may rise into the mid-50s.”
Unpredictable weather has been an issue for the entire outdoor industry this past year, and many brands have had to adjust in order to find sales. Sporto’s retail partners cheered the brand for its ability to adapt.
“They are a great cold-weather boot resource,” said Michelle Mackin, VP and DMM for Famous Footwear, “but three years ago, when cold-weather product slowed down, [Sporto SVP of sales] Mark McCormick worked proactively to reposition the brand from solely a fourth-quarter business to a relevant third-quarter brand as well.”
For coming seasons, the label is working to find the right approach for today’s market. McCarty said that while Sporto is excited to celebrate the history of its popular duck boots, the team doesn’t want its identity tied solely to the iconic style.
“We want to capture the duck-boot heritage — which we’ve been doing for the longest time along with L.L. Bean — [but] we don’t want to be known as ‘the duck boot company,’ ” McCarty said. “The challenge going forward is taking the momentum we’ve carried over the past couple of years and expand it to new categories and introduce ourselves to a new market, as with our men’s product.”
To face that challenge, McCarty said the label will focus on utilizing its waterproof capabilities throughout all of its product offerings, from casual to career-oriented silhouettes for men and women.