The Camuto Group is entering a new era, while paying homage to the past.
Despite 2020 being a year stacked with challenges, the Designer Brands Inc.-owned company is moving full speed ahead. Leading the charge is industry veteran Debbie Ferrée, vice chairman of DBI and president of Camuto Group. Ferrée, who has worked at DSW for more than 20 years, officially took over leadership of the Camuto division in June, although she’s been in the position on an interim basis since last August. In this permanent role, Ferrée is focused on growing its owned brand Vince Camuto and licenses Jessica Simpson and Lucky, while further integrating the business into the parent company. (Camuto Group was acquired in 2018 in partnership with Authentic Brands Group.)
“The first thing I did when I came in was recognize that this company was founded by Vince Camuto,” Ferrée said of the footwear legend who died in 2015. “This was not dissimilar to what happened at Apple, where you had a visionary leader who left the business quite unexpectedly. You have to say to yourself, ‘How do you evolve this company and these wonderful brands to the next chapter?’ That was the big thing that I was facing.”
To accomplish that, Camuto Group trimmed its roster, cutting brands such as ED Ellen Degeneres, 1.State and Mercedes Castillo, among others.
“The biggest opportunity we have is the revitalization of the Vince Camuto brand,” added Ferrée. “The reason we do is because we own that brand, and my objective for this is for it to become a beloved brand.”
This season, the Vince Camuto label kicked off its relaunch with a new marketing campaign, titled “It’s Time,” addressing the new vision. The overhaul, however, is paying homage to the past. “I don’t believe it will look different in the sense that it will be such a departure from when Vince Camuto was here and what the line looked like,” explained Camuto Group SVP and creative director Melissa Lawrence. “It’s going to have more of the hallmarks of that era because he exuded passion in everything he did. I think it will be the modern version. It is about invoking that same emotion and that same feeling.”
While Vince Camuto has been known for success in dress (and it still maintains that focus as the category continues to bounce back amid pandemic recovery), expanding its assortment is key to the relaunch strategy.
“We are looking at where we have traditionally had excellent strength, and that would be boots, booties and some of our great sandal items, but that casual comfort market where we’ve seen the customer is not going to go away,” Lawrence said. “We are asking, ‘How do we give her more comfort in each of our styles?’ We’re looking at the details of how we’re materializing the shoes and using comfortable materials that are going to show up in a fashion way to solidify us into this category.”
With a more well-rounded offering, Vince Camuto will be able to attract a new, younger consumer while still keeping its loyal audience happy, added Ferrée.
A good example comes from Vince Camuto’s Brelanie woven-strap mule that has been a bestseller and out of stock several times this year across multiple retailers. Ferrée said 100,000 pairs of this style alone has been sold.
Although, a major challenge the firm faces is supply chain issues. Like the rest of the footwear industry, pandemic-related material shortages, shipping slowdowns, factory shutdowns and clogged ports have made it diffcult to receive inventory. “There’s just not a lot of pivoting you can do when it’s out of your control,” said Camuto’s SVP of sales, Geralyn Lyman. “And then beyond that, it’s just keeping up with demand.”
Another hurdle, Lyman added, is bringing business back to health with Camuto Group’s existing partners in order to grab the market share that was lost during the height of the pandemic.
This includes a focus on its largest wholesale customers, including DBI-owned DSW and other major retailers.
“Nordstrom is really important to our business,” said Lyman, “so is Dillard’s, Macy’s, Amazon and Zappos. We are a wholesale company that works with a lot of people, and that happens to also have a unique partner in DSW. We are focused on building their business as well as building our other partners’ businesses.” Camuto Group currently designs and sources DSW-exclusive brands Kelly & Katie, Crown Vintage, Mix No. 6 and JLO Jennifer Lopez. The latter debuted last February with the objective to acquire more customers to DSW for a long-term value.
In terms of wholesale strategy, both brick-and-mortar as well as e-commerce is top of mind, said Lyman, who is focused on developing merchandise that is appropriate for stores, as well as an expanded assortment for their partners’ e-commerce sites.
Camuto Group’s ability to adapt and respond to consumer shifts is paying off. For Q2, the company announced retail sales across key partners improved with sales up 140% compared to 2020 and down only 4% compared to 2019.
In addition to Vince Camuto, licenses Jessica Simpson and Lucky also remain an opportunity. Sales of Jessica Simpson in Q2 rose 92% over the same period in 2020 and 9% compared with 2019, for instance. Ferrée credits that success to the return of dressing up again and the brand’s ability to garner an emotional reaction from shoppers.
“Jessica Simpson is on fire right now. It’s like a freight train and I don’t see it stopping,” she said.
Camuto Group works closes with Jessica and her mother, Tina Simpson, who currently own 37.5% of the brand and are reportedly negotiating to buy back the remaining 62.5% of the business from Sequential Brands Group Inc. Camuto’s licensing deal remains intact regardless of who owns the brand, the company said.
Going forward, Camuto Group is working more closely with Lucky’s apparel team in order to zero in on their customer and produce shoes that match their vision. Said Ferrée, “Lucky sits squarely in the middle of the casual world. There’s an opportunity to offer different kinds of products and categories that appeal to that casual girl that we haven’t offered before. So the design team is singularly focused on that. We put a lot of new talent against it, both from design and sales, and we’ll start to see the benefits of that very soon.”