Exclusive: Designer Brands Acquires Keds From Wolverine, Expands Hush Puppies Deal

Further bolstering its strategy to grow sales from owned brands, Designer Brands Inc. (DBI) has snapped up the Keds label from Wolverine Worldwide.

The DSW-parent company will acquire all Keds products, including the Pro-Keds sneaker line, and the brand’s e-commerce business as part of the deal, the terms of which were not disclosed. Prior to the deal, DSW was Keds’ largest wholesale customer.

“It’s a brand that has resonated with our customers very strongly,” said DSW president and incoming DBI CEO Doug Howe. “We see tremendous upside.”

The acquisition follows the recent additions of the Topo Athletic and Le Tigre brands to DBI’s growing owned-brand portfolio, in line with a strategy to double sales from owned brands and Camuto Group national owned and licensed brands to almost one-third of total sales by 2026. (DBI acquired Camuto Group in 2018, which designs and develops the Vince Camuto brand and licenses footwear for Jessica Simpson and Lucky Brand.)

DBI also announced that it is working to finalize a deal to expand its licensing agreement for the Wolverine-owned Hush Puppies brand. DBI has been the exclusive wholesale retailer for all Hush Puppies products in the U.S. since 2022. Under the expanded deal, which would take effect later this year, DBI will become the exclusive licensee for Hush Puppies across all channels in the U.S. as well as Canada, and manage its DTC e-commerce and possible wholesale business.

DBI’s current portfolio of licensed brands includes Crown Vintage, JLO Jennifer Lopez, Mix No. 6 and Kelly & Katie.

‘Adding capabilities’

Wolverine in December said it entered into a process to divest or license its Keds brand. The announcement came as Wolverine, which owns the Saucony, Merrell, Sperry and Sweaty Betty brands, among others, reorganized its internal business structure.

DBI president Bill Jordan says Keds represents an opportunity to fill some white space for the company, which did not own any brands in the athletic or athleisure space until about six months ago.

Keds DBI

“I think we’re adding capabilities,” Jordan said, noting Keds’ strong international and kid’s business. Keds also marks DBI’s first owned brand within the kids footwear sector that it will wholesale to other retailers.

Wolverine CEO Brendan Hoffman said in January that while the Keds brand is beloved, it only did under $100 million in sales, which he felt would be difficult to effectively double or meaningfully grow. Wolverine acquired Keds in 2012.

Hoffman said in a statement that the Keds and Hush Puppies deals will generate more than $90 million for Wolverine, which will be used to pay down debt and “strengthen our capital structure.”

“Selling Keds and licensing the Hush Puppies brand for the United States and Canada is an important step as we continue to advance our strategy to simplify the portfolio and direct resources to our growth brands,” Hofffman said in the statement.

Howe declined to share specific revenue goals for Keds but said he sees potential for the brand to grow within company-owned retail as well as third-party wholesale.

“We know the brand DNA, we know who the customer is,” Jordan said. “And I think we can leverage our learnings, especially with our 30 million rewards members, to hopefully help Keds be even more successful.”

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