Sperry CMO Explains How the Brand Is Balancing ‘Preppy’ Heritage With a New Inclusive Identity

Sperry is known for its boat shoes and coastal brand identity. However, the Wolverine Worldwide-owned footwear brand is on a mission to expand its appeal beyond its waterside, preppy heritage.

“The goal is to recruit a new and younger consumer, and to become more culturally and fashion relevant,” Sperry’s chief marketing officer Elizabeth Drori told FN.

To achieve this goal, Drori — who joined the company in November 2020 — is working alongside Sperry’s global brand president Katherine Cousins. Though the president only joined Sperry in May 2021, she has already outlined an ambitious plan to evolve and modernize the near-century-old brand.

Part of this evolution, Drori explained, involves changing parts of the company’s visual identity. For example, the company in recent years has updated its logo, onboarded a new creative agency, hired a new creative director in Allison McCarthy and rolled out new brand campaign featuring diverse and more relatable consumers.

“You’ll find us eating hot dogs by the beach or folding boxes of pizza,” Drori said of the new marketing campaign. “We were trying to dispel the Sperry from days of yore which is much more associated with boat clubs.”

But the almost 90-year-old brand isn’t abandoning the culture that gave it its success.

“Preppy fashion is very relevant today,” Drori said. “But we have a position that internally we call the ‘New Coastal,’ where we own this heritage of being a New England brand, but we also want to appeal more broadly.”

In recent months, coastal styles have soared in popularity due to a “coastal grandmother” look trending across social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, which centers around a mature, beach-adjacent look partly inspired by Diane Keaton in “As Good As It Gets.” Sperry is well aware of the trend, and even posted a “coastal grandmother starter pack” on Instagram to capitalize on the momentum.

Given the rise in preppy fashion, Drori said she and her team are constantly keeping tabs on the latest trends to “be part of the cultural conversation.”

Sperry is also expanding its own storytelling capabilities to connect more broadly with new audiences. The brand recently partnered with Claima, a podcast and creative content company, to launch a three-part docuseries directed by filmmaker Faith Briggs. The series, entitled  “Reclaim Your Water,” spotlights three Black and brown entrepreneurs who are connected to, and inspired by water.

The partnership falls in line with Sperry’s broader “All For Water. Water For All” platform, which focuses on protecting waterways and the idea that all people should have access to water. Similarly, Sperry has pushed for a stronger focus on sustainability, most recently though its SeaCycled footwear range made with recycled and eco-friendly materials.

This idea of storytelling is one of the key factors driving the brand’s strategy when it comes to collaborations.

“We look for partners that allow us to reach a new audience, but also that have a really special story or history with the brand,” Drori said. For example, the brand is partnering with Los Angeles-based streetwear brand Pleasures for a collection inspired by designer Alex James’ childhood. He grew up in New Jersey, where boat shoes were a fashion staple. The collaboration launches in September on Sperry.com.

“It’s about tapping into the right audience and creating a lot of energy and excitement,” Drori said.

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