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How the Almost 200-Year-Old Clarks Brand Is Reinventing Itself in the US

Clarks is looking to transform itself in the U.S., a key market for the almost 200-year-old British shoe company.

Along with China and the U.K., the U.S. is one of the three key markets for Clarks. And as its business begins to see signs of a rebound from the pandemic, Clarks is going all-in on the U.S. consumer. 

“The U.S. always is a beacon for where the business is heading and where trends are going and how we address those trends from a global position,” said president of Clarks Americas Gary Champion.

Like many retailers across the globe, Clarks was hit hard by pandemic-related headwinds. In May 2020, Clarks laid out a turnaround plan that involved laying off about 900 corporate employees and focusing more deeply on sustainability and digital growth. In November 2020, Clarks inked a deal with LionRock Capital for the firm to take a majority stake in the business, which had been struggling from store closures and liquidity needs. The Clark family has remained a significant shareholder.

According to Champion, Clarks’ U.S. business has seen “explosive” rebounds, with sales growing to between 35% and 40% year-over-year. Sales are on their way to achieving similar levels from 2019, with traffic to stores and e-commerce sites also increasing, especially since March 2021. And while Clarks did downsize its store fleet in 2020, Champion said the company is starting to strategically scout out potential new store locations.

Clarks currently operates 50 full-price stores and 114 outlets in the U.S., down from 214 total U.S. stores a year ago. However, Clarks’ wholesale arm makes up the majority of its U.S. business, through brick-and-mortar stores and associated websites, such as Dsw.com and Macys.com. The most popular styles in the U.S. have been the Desert Boot, which launched in 1950, and the classic Wallabee boots. The company has also seen an uptick in its women’s sandals business throughout spring ’21.

In winning the U.S., Clarks is focusing heavily on younger millennial and Gen Z consumers.

“There’s a huge opportunity for us to unlock the younger generations, this current generation of consumers,” explained Clarks’ chief marketing officer, Tara McRae.

Through its Clarks Originals line, Clarks has launched a series of high-profile collaborations with hot brands and celebrities in recent years, including Supreme, Stüssy and Wu-Tang Clan. In March, Clarks launched a collaboration with Kith founder Ronnie Fieg and announced it would drop a “Jamaica Pack” collection for spring ’21. According to McRae, there’s “a lot more to come,” in regard to drops like these in the future.

Clarks has also made investments in its digital and social capabilities, with new strategies for attracting the digitally connected consumer. Clarks has leaned into social media platforms like TikTok and announced new investments to reach consumers in the gaming category.

Clarks still has a strong following across all age demographics, with a goal to meet consumers from their “first step all the way through your life,” McRae said.

And even as the brand embarks on new collaborations and innovations, the team is holding on to the core values of the decades-old brand.

“We never do anything that is not authentic,” McRae said. “We’ll never partner with somebody who doesn’t have a love for the brand that runs as deep as ours.”

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