Inside Vida Group’s Ambitious Expansion Plans

Vida Group is tackling new territory.

In addition to landing the Stride Rite license in May, the New York-based firm is busy prepping to launch a health-and-wellness division this year. The company also continues to mine opportunities within its existing portfolio of brands, including André Assous, Nanette Lepore, Jambu, Carter’s and OshKosh B’Gosh.

“We’ve been fortunate to see significant top-line growth over the past five years as we’ve focused on becoming experts in our core categories, which are women’s fashion, outdoor comfort and children’s,” said VP Gabriel Safdeye. “And we’re developing something innovative on the [yoga] side of athletic that will roll out for holiday.”

Safdeye credits a bigger push to capture key trends as they emerge, as well as the introduction of a speed-to-market program, for helping the company better execute across its brands. “We’re testing new product with key retailers, and as items are working well, we’re able to react and catch the next production run and roll out product much sooner,” he said.

Safdeye noted that the company’s fashion-focused André Assous women’s label, acquired in 2012, is a great barometer for what’s trending in retail. To step up the brand’s appeal among millennial consumers, Vida has tapped Spanish designer Manuel Barceló of Paloma Barceló to collaborate on a collection that will launch in the fourth quarter.

In the outdoor-comfort category, Vida’s proprietary brand Jambu, launched in 2010, continues to drive sales. To reach a broader audience, Jambu has diversified in the past year with the addition of more moderate price offerings under the JBU and JSport labels.

Vida Group’s Jambu brand, launched in 2010, offers outdoor-comfort looks for adults and kids.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

Under the kids’ banner, Vida is extremely bullish about its newest addition, Stride Rite. Over the last two months, the company has worked closely with brand owner Wolverine World Wide Inc. to transition the business from sales and marketing to design and product development.

So far, the process has been seamless, according to Bornie del Priore, VP and GM of Wolverine Children’s Group. “We have been pleased with the partnership. Our teams are coming together to collaborate and work diligently to ensure a smooth transition,” she said. “We are confident that Vida is the partner to capitalize on potential growth opportunities for Stride Rite. [It] presented a compelling perspective and plan to drive the next chapter in the long and successful history of the brand.”

Brian McManus, who oversees Vida’s children’s division, said Wolverine has worked hard to address issues that have challenged the brand in recent years. “They’ve done a great deal of work to better position the brand for long-term growth,” he said.

That work included reducing promotional activity on the Stride Rite e-commerce site and shuttering the remainder of the brand’s more than 200 corporate-owned stores, which were dragging down the bottom line. “Consumer behavior and shopping preferences have changed dramatically in the last five years,” del Priore said. “As moms and dads increasingly shop online and at their favorite multicategory retailers, the opportunity and outlook for stand-alone Stride Rite stores became more challenging.”

Thirty-seven licensed Stride Rite stores remain in operation, run by a network of independent retailers McManus described as “the heart and soul” of the brand. “During challenging economic times, these people have been able to navigate those waters and survive,” he explained. “And many of them are poised for growth — we’re even talking to some about adding additional doors. These retailers bring a lot of value to the brand.”

On the product side, Vida plans to build on an already strong foundation laid by Wolverine, focusing on successful big-kid concepts such as Made2Play, Leepz and Phibian, while also putting a bigger spotlight on first-walker technology stories such as Soft Motion.

“Stride Rite is a brand that has an opportunity to capture its customers as babies and hold on to them for five or six years,” McManus explained. “So we want to put a lot more focus on [baby and toddler] technologies like SR Tech and Soft Motion as a way to introduce parents to the brand when their child first starts walking.”

While Vida intends to explore new retail channels for Stride Rite, the company is focusing on maximizing business with existing accounts. “Dillard’s is doing a great job with the product, so we want to expand with them. We’re online with Nordstrom, but being in their stores would be a huge opportunity. Also, the family channel still has a lot more room for growth,” McManus said.

Vida also believes there is potential to take the Stride Rite name beyond footwear. “We’re looking to create a lifestyle brand across many other categories,” Safdeye said, citing examples such as girls’ accessories and outerwear.

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