Jamie Chung, Jenna Bush Hager and Padma Lakshmi were among the celebrities in the audience as models Martha Hunt and Hilary Rhoda hit the catwalk for Veronica Beard’s runway debut last week.
The advanced contemporary brand — led by sisters-in-law who are both aptly named Veronica Beard — presented its first fashion show, which played up versatile classics from dickey jackets to tailored jeans during New York Fashion Week.
This season, Veronica Beard also expanded its footwear collection under a new partnership with Caleres, which debuted for spring ’20.
“We have long admired the remarkable women behind the brand,” Jay Schmidt, president of Caleres’ brand portfolio, said of the business partners who launched their label in 2010. “We’ll be leveraging all the capabilities in sourcing, speed fulfillment and most important, fit, to build a powerful footwear collection that we are all proud of.”
As the brand expands deeper into footwear, it’s also marking 10 years. During a tumultuous time in retail, the company has emerged as a winner in the high contemporary space, so much so that investors have reportedly been swarming. Veronica Beard executives, though, denied that the company is considering a sale.
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Here, the designers discuss their authentic consumer connection, steady expansion and what the future holds for footwear.
The footwear market is getting more and more crowded. How will you win?
Veronica Swanson Beard: “We’ve slowly been building the uniform which is the crux of Veronica Beard. We started with the top half, the jackets, then jeans, and footwear is sort of the end of that. We both love shoes so much, we are big shoe consumers. We felt that we had a lot to say in the market and wanted to be a brand that was a resource for all shoes — not just being known for evening shoes or being a boot brand or a sneaker brand. We saw a big opportunity. The fall line will probably be three times bigger [than previous collections].”
Why was Caleres the right partner to fuel expansion?
Veronica Miele Beard: “This partnership enables us to try a lot of shoes that we wouldn’t have been able to before because they have enormous capability. We can experiment and try different lasts. We have a specific way we design and collaborate — and Caleres has adopted the way that we do it. We learned from each other. They know what sells. Veronica and I speak about reality and what it’s like walking in these shoes and where we’re going in these shoes. We’ve given them other things to think about. It’s been a fabulous experience.”
VSB: “We are like-minded companies and our values align. It’s been a collaborative partnership, and they need us as much as we need them. Our first season is spring, which is delivering [now]. And by the time fall ships, we will have gotten into the groove. Fall for us, we love, because there’s so much to work with.”
How will the design aesthetic stand out?
VSB: “We are doing a lot of great elevated utilitarian boots. You’ll see different heel heights, and [styling] that dresses up your boots in interesting ways.”
VMB: “They are the kind of shoes that can get you from morning to night.”
How would you describe the past decade in business?
VSB: “It’s been so much fun and such a learning opportunity. In the last 10 years, the industry has changed so much. We’ve been nimble and able to shift gears. That’s been a great thing to look back on. Where retail has been challenged and category expansion has been challenged, we’ve been growing. That’s a testament to speaking to our customer and going after this white space in the market.”
Why do you think your consumer has connected so strongly to the Veronica Beard brand and remained loyal over the past 10 years?
VSB: “We design for reality. Every step of our design process is looking at our lifestyle, her lifestyle and what she needs. If we are designing in fall, [we ask[ what is she actually doing in September and October, what are the pieces she’s going to want, what are the trends that are going on? Women designing for women is a bit of an advantage just knowing how to walk in her shoes every day. Being connected to our customer has been our success. We get out there so much and meet them and talk about what the daily play is and design after that. It’s not about art; it’s about reality.”
VMB: “We started this [because] we wanted to make clothes that didn’t really exist in our closet. Or we had our favorites and thought, ‘We can make this better.’ Our clothes are so thoughtfully made; we pine over them. We are road testing them. We are in every fitting. We have a checklist that we go through on each piece, and if it passes then it’s going to be a winner.”
You have nine stores. What is the key to being successful in brick-and-mortar retail today?
VSB: “We’ve been successful with our approach because it’s been the most amazing source of information on our customer. When you’re online, you get customer feedback or questions or complaints. At the wholesale level, you learn about your customer through sales reports or comments from your buyers. When you have your own stores, you’re getting a continual loop of what’s working and what’s not. Also, the customer is really absorbing the brand and understanding what our interiors look like, what candles we burn, what music we’re into. It’s a much more sensory experience that seeps into the customer. If she likes it, then she connects to it on another level.”
VMB: “We’ve taken a stance in the market which has been [about] inclusivity — for all women, all ages, all sizes. We’ve also been so particular and strategic on where we open stores and where we are carried. It’s always been organically grown and about supply and demand.”
Where does e-commerce fit?
VSB: “E-commerce is a huge focus for us. That said, our wholesale business is outpacing our direct business because of the demand. We wouldn’t be where we are today with our direct business if we didn’t have our wholesale business. That was just the most incredible marketing and eyeballs we could have ever had.”
Have you faced any challenges in the industry as female entrepreneurs?
VSB: “I don’t think it’s because we are women. Starting a business is really hard. It’s hard to break in.”
VMB: “And you can’t get a business loan no matter who you are. Or we couldn’t back in 2010. It was like pulling teeth.”
What are some of the other obstacles you’ve faced through the years?
VSB: “Being on trend, having integrity and authenticity in our brand, and designing what [we] want every season — that’s the hardest part. But having a clear vision and executing it is what sets brands apart.”
VMB: “You have to stay true to who you are. As soon as you try to do something else that’s not literally from your gut, that’s where it goes wrong for a lot of companies. You have to evolve with the customer, with the trends and with the times. Don’t think for [the customer]. Let them tell you what they want.”
What has been the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
VMB: “Don’t build a stadium before you have the fans. Have the demand, have the research and build one brick at a time. We’ve built this thing one store at time, one category at a time.”
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