The footwear industry veteran was a leader in two eras of the brand: its successful late 1980’s run and its resurgence years later in the competitive North American market. After serving as Fila’s president and CEO from 1998 to 2003, he returned as president of its North American business in 2007.
Upon his return, Epstein righted the ship, leading the company back to profitability and securing significant retail and brand partnerships with heavyweights including Fendi, Urban Outfitters and Barneys New York. In 2018, under Epstein’s watch, the brand’s classic Disruptor 2 sneaker became a hit, winning over retro enthusiasts and the fashion-focused alike. Its comeback led FN to select the style as its “Shoe of the Year.”
“I would say that we owe a lot to the success of the Disruptor, and the Disruptor in some ways owes a lot to the people who believe in it,” Epstein told FN in December 2018. “It’s quintessential Fila.”
Also under Epstein, the brand continued to double-down on its heritage styles by signing NBA legend Grant Hill — the face of its basketball business in the ’90s — to a lifetime deal last year.
“In Jon Epstein, Fila has lost a great friend, leader and champion of the brand, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. His entrepreneurial spirit was a perfect match for our vision of growth, and his passion for both our heritage of authenticity and our potential as a brand innovator drove Fila’s resurgence over the past decade,” Fila chairman Gene Yoon said in a statement. “Jon and I worked together for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Carol, have been like family to me. His presence in the Fila family and in my personal life is impossible to quantify. I have lost a trusted ally and lifelong friend.”
Epstein died a week after having heart surgery near his home in St. Louis.
The company said Jennifer Estabrook, chief operating officer of Fila North America and manager of Fila Luxembourg, would assume Epstein’s role as acting president. She joined the athletic firm in 2005.
Before Fila, Epstein spent 21 years at Adidas America in a variety of roles including national sales manager, helping its revenue grow to more than $1 billion, from $190 million.
But his career was not without controversy.
In 2003, Epstein was caught up in the Department of Justice’s investigation of Just For Feet Inc. As part of a plea agreement, he helped bring to a conclusion the Department’s ongoing three-year investigation, which ultimately revealed that executives of Just For Feet had engaged in a widespread scheme to inflate earnings.
The Hartford, Conn., native graduated Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, where he also played Division I soccer. He and his wife, Carol, also engaged in philanthropic causes and were significant contributors to Washington University.
Epstein is survived by his wife and his mother, Norma Fishman.
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