After working outside of footwear for five years, industry veteran Kristin Burrows has returned to lead at OrthoLite — and has plans to make the company a “need to have” for leading shoe brands.
In April, OrthoLite tapped Burrows to fill its newly-created chief brand officer role. The exec’s resume prior to OrthoLite features some of the industry’s biggest names including Converse, Fila, Adidas, Asics and others.
Aside from making OrthoLite a need to have rather than a nice to have for footwear brands, Burrows is focused on making the company a household name like other component manufacturers, such as Gore-Tex and Vibram.
Below, Burrows outlines her vision for OrthoLite to FN and why she returned to footwear.
What made OrthoLite an attractive destination for you?
“I spent the first 20-plus years of my career in athletic footwear, and then the past five years I was in management consulting. I really missed a few things. I really missed making decisions, being a part of a team that was working toward one goal, I missed shoes. This is a special place. It’s an industry that has a different energy. And then OrthoLite itself. [Founder and CEO] Glenn [Barrett] is a tremendous person in terms of his generosity, how he treats his team. It’s a great story and I love the fact that there’s a big sustainability angle. This brand is at an inflection point. We’ve been manufacturing-driven, and now we really need to open that up a bit. We’re 25 years old. What’s going to be the big growth over the next 3 to 5 years as we think about enhancing and building upon being an insole solution provider to really a footwear solution provider to our brand partners?”
Specific to the footwear industry, what did you miss the most in your time away?
“I’ve been in sportswear, apparel and consulting. I think footwear just has great people. It’s a work hard, play hard [industry], I feel like people are transparent, I feel like people are fairly direct. I find it overall very refreshing.”
What can you take from your experiences at Converse, Adidas and other former employers and apply it to your role at OrthoLite?
“One of the huge pluses is I understand footwear, and as a former product line manager/merchant, I understand how decisions are made in terms of the creation of a product, from the design to development to partnering with your factories and your other suppliers. I think that’s been a huge help. Secondly, what’s really interesting to me is sitting on the other side now being with an ingredient brand that’s more B2B versus B2C, what’s the mix of communication, marketing, brand building that’s best to the different stakeholders? The product line manager versus the developer versus the materials person — and nowadays you have all these sustainability leads and heads — versus the end consumer. How much do we want the end consumer to understand about OrthoLite and what should the marketing mix be or not be? I was really intrigued to work with [OrthoLite director of marketing] Dan [Legor] on solving for that problem, for that opportunity.”
What made being B2B vs B2C attractive to you?
“You look at the top [component] brands out there — Gore-Tex, for example, Vibram, Intel inside as a non-footwear example — I think back like, ‘How do I know about them?’ As an end consumer, something with Gore-Tex in it, I’m going to be more apt to buy it. So what do we have to do to be a need to have versus a nice to have? I think that’s a really interesting challenge.”
Why isn’t OrthoLite more of a household name than it is today? And how do you get it there?
“Our hypothesis is some of it is in the messaging and the communication, I wouldn’t say strategy but the output to date. And just looking at the different mediums that we’re using and how to leverage them possibly differently, like do we want to do anything on TikTok, for example? Does that make sense? Does it not make sense? When we’re on LinkedIn, should we look the same way as we look on Instagram? How are our consumers consuming media, and do we need to change or tweak our messaging depending on what that medium is? We know that a customer is not going to go to Nike and say, ‘I demand you have OrthoLite in your shoes.’ But we need to get to the point where they feel like, ‘Oh my God, if we take it out it’s not going to sell through as well.’”
What is your vision for OrthoLite?
“We’re about building comfort and performance and sustainable solutions to our footwear partners, not just insoles. For example, how can we play a bigger role in helping them deliver against their sustainability goals that we know are coming from board level to legislation? Two years from now, the landscape is going to be very different in terms of what brands need to deliver to hit those goals.”
What are the greatest areas of opportunity for OrthoLite?
“On the innovation side, a real opportunity is to continue to innovate across good, better, best price points so we can service our brand partners across even more product categories. Also, what’s really exciting is we’re going to be sitting down over the next 6 to 8 weeks to outline our growth strategy for the next 3 to 5 years. Think classically of how companies figure out how to grow. It’s either I’m going to sell more of what I sell to existing customers, I’m going to sell new things to existing customers, I’m going to make new things and sell them to new customers. Which one of those areas are going to define us for the next phase of OrthoLite’s life?”
How have industry-wide issues such as inflation and supply chain impacted OrthoLite?
“Inflation cost increases are impacting everyone. We have to figure out what part of that we’re going to take the hit on and what part we can or can’t pass on to our partners. On the supply chain side, surprisingly, we’ve been able to maintain delivery and quality expectations despite all the challenges, largely because we’re vertically integrated. We own our own factories. Strategically, one of the smart moves that Glenn and team did was we built our factories right next to the T1 factories in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Spain that the brand uses so we’re not shipping it to another country. We’re walking it across the street, so to speak, to be able to deliver on time. We haven’t been impacted by the transportation supply chain issues like so many others.”