Two years since the start of the pandemic and the shift to remote work, at-home footwear is still having a breakout moment.
For 2021, for instance, The NPD Group Inc. reported that slippers sales increased 12% by dollar amount — on top of the 30% growth in the category in 2020.
As one of the oldest names in slippers, Dearfoams is benefiting from that wave of popularity. It’s been the No. 1 slipper brand (in terms of units sold) for the past three years, according to NPD, and has gained share.
Dearfoams president Jocelyn Thornton told FN, “We’re seeing that customers are still opting to wear their slippers at home, refresh their slippers, and we’re seeing that they’re wearing their slippers outside the house — to places we may not have seen them wearing them before.”
An industry veteran, Thornton was named president of Dearfoams in June 2021 after stints at Sperry, Clarks and most recently Earth Shoes. She’s leading the brand at a unique moment. This year marks Dearfoams’ 75th anniversary, when it will be celebrating its history and visionary founder Florence Melton. At the same time, the team is looking ahead to the future and making the most of its opportunities.
How do you continue the momentum of the past two years?
Jocelyn Thornton: “That’s a big question that we constantly want to pay attention to. But because culturally we were founded on innovation, that has always stayed with us as a company. By remaining true to that path and not getting distracted is definitely how we see the path forward. We want to stay true to innovation and provide the highest quality and best value to our customers — and continue to have the attributes that our customers have always liked, like washability. But having said that, we’re in a different time and 75 years later and there’s a lot of new technology that we’ve decided to put into our slippers.”
What are some innovations you’re introducing?
JT: “The biggest thing that we’re most excited about this year is we’ve launched a new insole with energy return technology. It’s really providing the comfort of a slipper on the inside with the functionality of a sneaker. That is taking the comfort story to a whole new level.”
Is this a way to enter the recovery market?
JT: “It’s basically the same type of technology in that it does provide recovery. But it’s also meant for long daily use. When slippers are made with memory foam or certain things like that, it wasn’t intended for as much use as the slippers are now getting. So we went back to the drawing board and said, ‘You know what? I’m wearing these more than I’m wearing my sneakers or I’m wearing the shoes I would wear to work, so we should be putting that type of technology or better into our slippers.’”
How do you communicate with the younger consumers who have discovered Dearfoams in the past couple of years?
JT: “We’ve certainly found that we have to communicate with these new consumers differently — definitely through social media — and even by communicating our brand attributes differently. We’re talking to them more about what is the benefit that you’re getting from buying a slipper versus what are the features. And you can do fun things through social with different types of posts or stories that are quick bits that connect with the customer.”
Which social channels perform best for you?
JT: “It’s between Instagram and Facebook. But our Instagram has been growing in our followers and engagement significantly. That really does point to the fact that the younger customers are paying attention to the brand. Facebook tends to get an older demographic, and we have success there as well. But I do see that we’re getting more organic engagement with social.”
A lot more brands have entered the slipper category. How much do you pay attention to the competition?
JT: “We always are paying attention to what’s going on. And we’re looking at that across all categories. But our focus, though, is really on the consumer. We want to know where they’re taking their slippers and what they’re doing with them. So we’re watching consumer shifts and trends the most, but definitely looking at the competition in the market and what’s coming. And our focus is on making sure that we are always rooted in innovation, comfort, cozy and the attributes that set us apart.”
What does separate Dearfoams from other slipper brands now?
JT: “Our 75 years in business and being the largest slipper manufacturer in America certainly sets us apart. We also have a very big focus on what we call ‘comfy together.’ That is those moments where our consumers have invited us into their holiday traditions. We definitely have a huge business there — families send notes all the time saying they look forward to when they can all put on their Mama Bear and Papa Bear family collection slippers. And we’re seeing that with the younger demographic who have discovered us during COVID is now taking us into their big life moments, which are very different, like their weddings. Wedding slippers have been a great new venture for us [and a chance to] see where we can take the brand into other novelty categories.”
Are slippers still a seasonal item?
JT: “One positive [of the supply chain backlog] is it has given us an opportunity to not be put in a bucket in terms of timing. It’s really opened up our eyes. We all thought this to be the case, but it really gives the opportunity to prove it out. It’s been a great case study because the consumer is buying slippers outside of the normal window that we’ve put the slipper business in.”
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for growth?
JT: “Something that’s been very exciting for the brand is the growth that we’ve seen with our license partners. We’ve expanded into home [and] have seen great success within that category. And then a natural extension for us is growing into a pajama and loungewear option. For me, growth is really making sure we’re providing the right products for our existing partners that extends the story, which is making our customers more comfortable at home and in their every day.”