In today’s tech-driven world, shoe companies are increasingly leaving their footprint with technologies that deliver on performance and comfort. Brands such as Cole Haan have managed to find a balance between fashion and technology in trend-driven styles that incorporate proprietary cushioning systems and lightweight outsoles.
Here, Scott Patt, Cole Haan’s VP of innovation and design, talks about tapping the expertise of product developers with experience in car design to animation, to create a state-of-the-art comfort collection.
Who is the modern Cole Haan customer?
“The customer is of a mindset, not an age. They’re very much interested in innovation. They’re educated, professional, affluent, but care about value. They demand stylish, quality product that can take them from work to weekend. It’s also important to educate consumers. Our website spells out the benefits of our Grand.OS performance system [introduced in July 2014]. And it’s in all our company stores and communications with our wholesalers.”
There are lots of brands in the athleisure space. How does the brand compete?
“We pioneered the equation of elegance meeting innovation. Our combination of craft, style and engineering is uniquely Cole Haan, whether it’s the inside-out invention of our men’s and women’s ZeroGrand Stitchlite wingtip oxford or the reinvention of our classic men’s whole-cut oxford, the Washington Grand. We’re also continually validating the functionality of our products through our partnerships with biomechanists.”
How do you balance the line’s fashion and technical aspects?
“Depending on what a person’s needs are, we tune that product to be more cushioned, flexible or lightweight. That’s where our Grand.OS platform comes in. For example, our men’s Washington Grand oxford is the reinvention of a classic — a beautifully crafted whole-cut oxford, but when you try it on, it performs like a sneaker. And our GrandPro tennis shoe is built around a classic silhouette that’s super lightweight and comfortable. It’s about the intel inside.”
Do you watch the runways or the streets for inspiration?
“It’s important to separate inspiration from relevancy and trend. Staying informed and educated is imperative because the marketplace is changing so rapidly. What’s relevant one minute is not the next. At Cole Haan, there’s diverse talent from across multiple industries. We have designers from fashion backgrounds, technical designers from sport-performance brands and those who’ve worked in automotive design, as well as 3-D designers from the animation space. It’s the collision of the skill sets with the brand’s DNA that makes the products relevant, stylish, original and functional.”
With Cole Haan’s emphasis on technology, how much of the development happens in-house?
“We built an innovation studio in New Hampshire where we [address] our needs. We’re proud of the fact we’ve created proprietary technologies and hold an extensive amount of patents. It’s a shoe’s use occasion that ultimately drives the component needs. Each is built from a 360-degree design, where we consider every part.”