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Why Aerosoles’ New Parent Company Sees Big Opportunity for Category Expansion

Birthdays can be a watershed moment — a chance to reflect on the past and set a new path for the future. That’s certainly been the case for Aerosoles. The heritage footwear brand kicked off its 35th anniversary in a big way in January, when it was acquired for an undisclosed amount by its licensing partner, American Exchange Group (AX Group).

Now, its new owners tell FN they have forged an ambitious strategy to take Aerosoles into new product categories and reestablish the brand’s dominance as a fashion-based comfort player.

“The post-COVID world really seems to be tailor-made for brands like Aerosoles to bring that core DNA of comfort technology and a sense of style,” said Steve Velasquez, chief strategy officer at AX Group.

Aerosoles was established in 1987 as a standalone brand after a group of investors led by Jules Schneider bought it from Kenneth Cole. Over the next three decades, it grew to be a global phenomenon, selling in its own stores as well as thousands of department and specialty stores. But after changing ownership in 2014, the company fell victim to the decline of malls and filed for bankruptcy in 2017. It was saved from liquidation in early 2018, when New York-based hedge fund Alden Golden Capital LLC acquired the brand’s assets for $26.2 million.

AX Group first linked up with Aerosoles in July 2021, when it signed a deal to develop a women’s collection for the brand targeted to the mass and off-price channels. The New York-based company specializes in the manufacture and distribution of footwear, watches, bags and other fashion accessories, both under private label and for partners such as Adrienne Vittadini, Alexis Bendel, Marc Ecko and Mudd.

When the opportunity arose to buy Aerosoles, AX Group recognized the potential to grow the brand — and its own business.

“This acquisition marks an exciting new chapter in the evolution of American Exchange Group,” said CEO Alen Mamrout at the time of the sale. “We look forward to supporting the future growth of this brand and are excited to welcome Aerosoles into our brand portfolio.”

AX Group’s strategy for Aerosoles hinges on aggressively expanding its product assortment, starting with launching girls’ shoes this winter, and men’s and boys’ collections are slated to launch in early 2023. For the holiday season, it created a line of women’s cold-weather accessories in-house, and it has inked licensing deals for men’s slippers and socks, women’s flip-flops, and roller skates for men, women and youth.

Aerosoles Girls Shoes Winter 2022
Aerosoles will launch girls’ shoes in winter 2022.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Aerosoles

Cynthia Nixon, VP of licensing and brand development at AX Group, believes this is only the beginning for Aerosoles. “I’m in conversation with multiple other companies with expertise in a vast array of product categories, from home to travel to sleepwear and of course apparel,” she said. “We’re really looking to expand, but in a logical thoughtful process.”

Velasquez said a broader assortment will help Aerosoles compete in a fashion-comfort footwear market that has become even more crowded thanks to today’s more-casual hybrid work life. The company also aims to leverage its value proposition (most women’s styles are under $200) and activate its loyal customers to serve as advocates for the brand.

Aerosoles Fall 2022 Boots Accessories
Aerosoles fall 2022 shoes and accessories.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Aerosoles

But Aerosoles’ success ultimately depends on its core women’s business, and AX Group has been hard at work honing its direction. It tapped industry veteran Fabiana Rigamonti as head of design. Her background includes stints at Global Brands Group, Highline United and Schwartz & Benjamin. The spring ’23 Aerosoles line will feature some of her influence, with fall ’23 as her first full collection for the brand.

Velasquez said, “It was important that [Fabiana] not only understood but was very aligned with our strategic vision of paying homage to the heritage of the brand and bringing it forward, and recognizing that Aerosoles is not a fashion brand — it is a comfort brand with a fashion tilt to it, and that’s a very important distinction.”

Aerosoles Fall 2022 Boots Accessories
Aerosoles fall 2022 shoes and accessories.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Aerosoles

As for its distribution plans, AX Group will continue to invest in the Aerosoles direct-to-consumer e-commerce site, which represents more than half to the business. Its wholesale strategy, meanwhile, is focused on department stores, mid-tier and value channels.

Velasquez said there are no plans to revive the brand’s previous brick-and-mortar stores, which were shuttered amid the bankruptcy. However, he noted that a 2019 pop-up at Grand Central Terminal in New York was highly successful and could be a template for future activations.

“The retail landscape has changed so much that you have to be more creative, more innovative, to really attract the consumer,” he said. “We are excited about seeing where that plays out.”

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