Amid an industrywide shift to prioritize direct-to-consumer sales channels, shearling brand Emu Australia says it isn’t abandoning its retail partners.
“First and foremost, we’re a wholesale company with an e-commerce channel as secondary,” said Keith Barnett, the brand’s president of North America. “We are a family-run business, and we treat our partners and customers that way as well. We work with some great retailers that have been with us for several years and we don’t want to pull the rug from under them and go it on our own because we’ve actually built the business together.”
Barnett noted that 2020 certainly brought a “big boom” for Emu’s e-commerce sales, but that was followed by major rebound in its wholesale business in 2021. “So going [deeper] into 2022, based on our forecasts, we still are relying on and supporting our wholesale channel,” he said.
Over the past two years, several major shoe brands have slashed their lists of retail partners, most notably Nike and Crocs. But a recent report from The NPD Group showed that the DTC trend is having an even wider impact on the footwear industry, as four of the top five athletic footwear brands (according to dollar rank) are now their own best retailers.
For Emu, Barnett said the company not only prioritizes wholesale, but strives to preserve existing relationships — even at the cost of potential sales.
“Last year, we knew that things were going to be even more challenging with logistics and supply chains. So early in the year, when we had some big-box retailers that we’re looking to take us on, we turned them down because we needed to stay true to our current retail partners,” he recalled.
Some of Emu biggest U.S. retail accounts include Anthropologie, Free People, Sundance and Urban Outfitters.
Barnett said the brand’s U.S. business is performing well, with double-digit increases expected for 2022 on top double-digit gains last year in the U.S. “Fortunately, prior to the new year, we’ve received a very high percentage of our fall pre-book from the wholesale side, so we have a good idea where we’re going to land for 2022,” he explained.
For the fall ’22 season, the brand is getting into the wedding business. After seeing demand for its Mayberry slippers among brides, the shearling shoe brand is launching a small bridal collection consisting of two versions of the Mayberry and a new plush look: the Corella. All the slippers are made from Australian sheepskin and feature crystal embellishments and decorative charms. They will debut on July 15 and retail for $80 to $90.
Also new for fall, Emu is bringing its men’s Platinum Collection to the States for the first time, after seeing increased demand from retailers. The Platinum Collection is made in Australia, in Emu’s workshop in South Geelong, Victoria, and is viewed as a significant growth opportunity by the brand, which already sells the women’s line in the U.S.
“Last fall, we tripled our sales over previous seasons [for our Platinum Collection],” said Barnett. “So we’ve invested heavily into our current capacity. We’ve doubled our team of skilled artisans and expanded factory capacity, adding new machinery and space as well.”
Additionally, Emu is unveiling new sustainable innovations this fall, including a version of its Sharky outsole made with repurposed rubber. And its kids Adventure Collection will feature repurposed EVA outsoles.
“We’re continuing to evolve and find new creative ways to eventually make our products 100% biodegradable or 100% renewable,” said Barnett.