How a Former Nike Designer Created Sperry’s Most Technology-Advanced Performance Collection to Date

Although many of Sperry’s consumers enjoy its footwear for the fashion appeal, the brand’s roots are in performance. Early next year, Sperry will once again tap into its water sport heritage to deliver its most adventure-ready collection to date.

Launching in March 2022 is Sperry Sport, a range of performance-focused shoes built for the ambitious outdoor enthusiast. The lineup was spearheaded by Sean McDowell, a 22-year Nike veteran who joined Sperry as its SVP of product creation in June 2020.

McDowell explained to FN how the pandemic, which hit stateside just a few months before he assumed his new role, led to the creation of Sperry Sport.

“I love lifestyle, but I feel like collections work well when you’ve got one foot in performance and one foot in lifestyle,” McDowell said. “COVID was starting to ramp up and so many people were participating in outdoor activities. It felt like a nice opportunity for us to reawaken our innovation and performance roots and tap into this trend that’s happening, where people are investing more in fun and adventure and hiking and running and boating.”

After discussing the idea of Sperry Sport with Blake Krueger, president and CEO of Wolverine World Wide Inc., the design veteran quickly got to work. “I sketched all of the shoes for the collection in that first weekend and started identifying who the target consumer was, some of the different activities,” McDowell said. “We wanted to make sure that we had a broad offering with a lot of versatility in each one of the silhouettes.”

Creating a range with something for everyone was possible because of McDowell’s design history. During his 22-year run at Nike, McDowell said he worked on several Nike Running products as well as iconic footwear styles and franchises including Kukini, Pegasus and Tailwind. However, it was his time as Nike’s creative director for Olympic footwear for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 that prepared him the most for Sperry Sport.

“I got to work across all 28 sports, including all of the water sports,” McDowell said. “I was very familiar with the activities. I had done a lot of research, a lot of consumer focus groups, so it was easy to reawaken those roots and talk to new consumers today and then build product for them.”

McDowell admitted getting Sperry Sport off the ground was one of quickest projects he’s ever worked on, though it was not without challenges.

“I’m used to focus groups where you sit around a table or you go on the boat and have an afternoon where you’re experiencing things, but we had to completely shift to Zoom focus groups, which I’ve never done before,” McDowell said. “People are FaceTiming on their boat and walking through their different activities. It was a very different experience.”

He continued, “But there were benefits from that, too. I was able to connect with dozens of people across the world. Normally, focus groups would be in one location and we would invite six to 12 people. Now, I could have 12 to 20 people on a call from Brazil, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, and they were all able to chime in and say, ‘This is a problem that I need someone to solve. Can you help me with this?’ Going forward, we’ll still do in-person focus groups, but I absolutely will do the digital ones too because your reach goes so much farther.”

Sperry Sport Water Strider
Sperry Sport Water Strider.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sperry

Sperry Sport will launch in March 2022 and debut with seven looks. The lineup ranges in price from $55-$120 and will be sold on Sperry.com and at select retailers.

The least-expensive look in the range is the Water Strider, a family-friendly, all-purpose water shoe priced at $55. The lightweight slip-on was created with a size and shape that hugs the foot during all activities. It also features Adaptive Wave Siping for traction and hydrophobic materials that do not absorb water.

From there, Sperry Sport will offer the Sea Kite ($80), a stylish shoe equipped with leather and mesh uppers that are paired with mesh linings to allow it to dry quickly; the molded rubber Cutwater Deck Boot ($90), made to protect against water and rinse clean; and the 7 Seas ($90), a sneaker ideal for both sailing and life around the water, featuring the brand’s 360-degree lacing system and Razor-Cut Wave-Siping tech for optimal fit and grip.

The range also includes shoes above a $100 price point, such as the Eagle Ray Sandal ($110), built to go “from surf to scramble” and described as a tough utility sandal that can hold up “through the rigors and demands of a day on the sea and on the shoreline.” It features molded EVA midsoles to cushion against repeated hull pounding and rocks, engineered straps to lock down the foot and Adaptive Wave Siping for traction on both the deck and slippery rocks.

And the Sea Hiker ($120) is a look the brand said is the “latest in pure performance hiking boots that work for Olympic level as well as high school and collegiate sailors.” To create the style, Sperry said it worked with U.S. National team athletes “to build the right balance of protection, comfort and durability to be at peak performance on the open water.”

Sperry Sport Wave Rocker
Sperry Sport Wave Rocker.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sperry

However, the hero shoe of the range is the Wave Rocker. The look, which will retail for $120, is aesthetically bold and tech-loaded, featuring Adaptive Wave Siping to disperse water for optimal traction, molded EVA midsoles for cushioning, hydrophobic breathable mesh and dynamic sock fit uppers with molded PU support harnesses for a custom fit.

“There are so many activities that happen on a motor boat. Whether it’s wakeboarding or waterskiing, you’re constantly in and out of the boat,” McDowell said. “You can slide these shoes on and off easily, and they’ll dry very quickly. It’s got this great cushioning system, and when you’re on the boat and it’s popping up and down, it feels more comfortable, so there’s less wear and tear on your body during the day. And it has amazing wet traction.”

He continued, “We also wanted this shoe in particular to look great. If you were to go get a beer afterwards, you look great walking right into a pub.”

Beyond the spring ’22 debut, McDowell confirmed that Sperry Sport collections for fall ’22 and spring ’23 are in the works.

Sperry Sport Eagle Ray Sandal
Sperry Sport Eagle Ray Sandal.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sperry

Sperry Sport Cutwater Deck Boot
Sperry Sport Cutwater Deck Boot.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sperry

Sperry Sport Sea HikerSperry Sport Sea Hiker
Sperry Sport Sea Hiker.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sperry

Sperry Sport Harbor Master
Sperry Sport Sea Kite.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sperry

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