20 Top Execs on the Inventory Conundrum, Brick-and-Mortar’s Revival and More Hot Topics for 2023

Weeks into the new year, one thing is clear: There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead.

As leaders plot their agendas for the year ahead, they are grappling with right-sizing inventory and keeping up with a rapidly-changing consumer stressed by inflation and economic anxiety. But they also see a lot of opportunity as brick-and-mortar retail continues its revival and interest in sustainable and innovative product surges.

Read on for predictions from 20 top executives in fashion and retail.

Doug Howe, President | DSW | EVP and Incoming CEO | Designer Brands Inc.

Big Opportunity: “In this economic environment, customers are carefully selecting the types of products they want. We must keep pace with where
our customers’ tastes go, have the right options in our stores and online, and help keep them active at home, work and play. That means striking an optimal balance between consumer demand and inventory investment by category. On a practical level we must avoid discounting any one product’s benefits and advantages, and on a strategic level we need the right inventory numbers.”

Top Obstacle: “2022 had significant macroeconomic pressures for consumers, which means our industry must meet their budget and taste preferences, while not running too hot or too lean once we sense an economic rebound.” 

New Initiatives: “We are aggressively focused on building our Owned Brands. That’s critical to DBI controlling our own destiny and reaping the rewards of our category investments. Our powerful customer loyalty program with more than 30 million members provides a sticky channel to deliver the types of products they want. And we’ll continue expanding our delivery, digital and technology capabilities to move products even faster.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “Customers paying too much and getting too little in return!”

Doug Howe, DSW, CEO, Designer Brands, DBI
Doug Howe
CREDIT: Designer Brands Inc.

Todd Krinsky, CEO | Reebok 

Big Opportunity: “When you look at trends for 2023, it is still very much ‘athletic.’ On the runway, fashion brands are showing varsity jackets, game day jerseys and collegiate-inspired sportwear. All signs point to 2023 being another strong year for our industry, where we’ll continue to see the consumer choose athletic footwear for fashion.”

Top Obstacle: “Throughout the industry, brands are experiencing historic inventory levels. It is every brand’s biggest obstacle right now.”

New Initiatives: “We’ve had a great run with a few key silhouettes in recent years, thanks to the focus of our Icons strategy. In 2023, we will continue building upon this strategy, but now have the opportunity to expand our portfolio. We’ll be digging into our archive more and widening our focus on new models, like our cupsole-basketball lifestyle silhouette.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “I’d love to see the return of consumers buying product to wear and not just to collect.”

Autumn Adeigbo, Designer and founder | Autumn Adeigbo

Big Opportunity: “Scaling back, slowing down and using that  time to recalibrate what’s most important for us moving forward.”

Top Obstacle: “The economy, political instability and collective mental health.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “Group think. The lack of critical thinking and people who follow the crowd because they are afraid to be different.”

Autumn Adeigbo
Autumn Adeigbo
CREDIT: Courtesy of Autumn Adeigbo

Matt Baer, Chief Digital and Customer Officer | Macy’s Inc. 

Big Opportunities: “The customer is always at the center. Meeting them where they are will always be a big opportunity, especially as their behavior online and in stores changes. We are investing in our experience to offer style in new ways … through personalization and loyalty. It’s important for the industry, and for us, to increase relevancy for every customer at every touchpoint.”

Top Obstacles: “Macroeconomic headwinds have been ever-changing since early 2020. 2022 brought new challenges with heightened inflation, rising interest rates, rapidly shifting consumer demand and an industrywide glut of inventory. No matter what 2023 may hold, we believe
we are well positioned to compete. Through our Polaris strategy, we have a nimble and talented team that is equipped with the right tools and processes to manage through this uncertain time.”

New Initiatives: “Enhancements to platforms we launched in 2022, such as our third-party seller marketplace on Macys.com that fully integrates products from a variety of sellers into our ecosystem — allowing us to expand categories, brands and products. Through marketplace, we are now in 20+ new or expanded categories, including electronics, games, major appliances and furniture, pets and more.”

Bob Goldman, Founder and CEO | Chinese Laundry

Big Opportunity: “Brick-and-mortar. E-commerce has hit a wall. The challenges around returns, freight costs and online targeting of customers give brick-and-mortar independent stores an opportunity to take back market share and fill the void and lack of independent shoe stores.”

Top Obstacle: “Inventory turn — there are many assortment issues as brands try to meet the diverse needs of customers. One consumer now has many different needs and their closet needs to be more diverse based on their location, occupation and daily activities. It is a huge challenge facing the footwear industry and ready-to-wear.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “False advertising of sustainable footwear. I believe the metric for footwear being sustainable should be more than 70%. Most ‘sustainable’ footwear brands barely scrape by at this minimum and it is misleading to the consumer.”

Susan Itzkowitz, President | Marc Fisher Footwear 

Big Opportunity: “As we look to 2023, right sizing inventories is the biggest opportunity and will be a key component for footwear growth. With controlled inventories, we will again have the opportunity to maximize brand presence, maximize key items, test new items/classifications and reorder.”

Top Obstacle: “The economic outlook for 2023 is defined by decelerating growth and inflation. As everyday necessities continue to increase in price, our consumer has less disposable income to spend on footwear and will have to make important spending decisions.”

Strategy Shift: “As inventories ease and factories have availability and lead times are shortened, we will have the ability to chase in-season — something we have not been able to do in a while. Therefore, we will again be able to maximize key items, emerging styles and categories, fulfill reorders and test new products in-season.”

Gillian Meek, CEO | Kamik

Big Opportunity: “Our biggest opportunity is to re-introduce innovation into the market, whether it be through product design, sustainable materials, or technology.”

Top Obstacle: “Like most industries, the biggest headwind this year will be the state of the global economy as we continue to evolve post-pandemic, inventory levels at retail, and of course – how much a consumer is willing to spend during uncertain times.”

Strategy Shift: “We arefocused on being even more consumer driven than ever before and listening to what our end-consumer wants and expects from our brand. Our target has always been the everyday outdoor enthusiast and we will continue to build our trust with them by offering more styles and eco-friendly materials in 2023.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “’You are on mute!’ We are hopeful to see less online or virtual meetings in 2023.”

Jori Miller Sherer, President | Minnetonka 

Big Opportunity:“Creating footwear that consumers want to wear now. Everyone has changed the way they dress for work and socializing. It’s important for us to understand this shift and help people discover footwear to meet these new needs.”

Top Obstacle: “As we continue to encounter shipping delays and unforeseen challenges through 2022, one of the biggest obstacles is selling through remaining high inventories and helping retailers transition their inventory to new and fresh items.”

Trend I Want to Go Away:“With excessive inventories and production delays in 2022, we saw a business trend of big discounting everywhere. Hopefully the industry can level-set this year.”

Alicia Applegate, DMM of footwear | REI

Big Opportunity: “Celebrating new. Do not underestimate the power of new product launches amid inventory liquidation and sale fatigue. While consumers will be looking for deals, it will be imperative for brands to remain relevant to the customer by leaning into new products and technology.”

Top Obstacle:“Excess inventory. It will be a race to the finish when it comes to competing for customer wallet share. The brands that remain intentional and steadfast to their full-price, promotion and clearance strategies will prevail.”

Trend I Want to Go Away:“Highly reactionary business environments. Our world has been in a constant state of change since COVID hit at the beginning of 2020 and I am hoping we can return to some type of normalcy, in business and in life.” 

Joe Preston, President and CEO | New Balance

Big Opportunities: “To leverage digital technology capabilities and analytics across the consumer journey to help meet consumers where, when and how they want to shop. We’ll continue to make significant investments in 2023 across digital transformation, product innovation, business operations and domestic manufacturing.”

Top Obstacle: “We will continue to face inflationary pressures across the global supply chain, especially related to transportation and labor costs.”

Joe Preston, New Balance, CEO, AAFA, American Image Awards
New Balance president and CEO Joe Preston.
CREDIT: Dan Urbano

Ken Hicks, President and CEO | Academy Sports Outdoors

Big Opportunity: “We have something that not a lot of other retailers have with our expansion plan. We have an underpenetrated dot-com business. That’s a big opportunity for us to look at. Within the merchandise categories, we see softlines with apparel and footwear being opportunities as we get that back in line and continue to develop and pick up share there.”

Top Obstacle: “Inflation. And inflation sounds like it’s a one-item thing, but it’s multiple items — because inflation means the consumer, as prices go up, may not have as much disposable income. Inflation means the consumer will have to make more choices about where they spend
the dollars they have because the dollars won’t go as far as they used to go. If you’ve lived through it, you see all of the things that come out of it. It’s not just ‘OK, prices went up.’ It’s all the decisions and things that it puts the customer through.”

New Strategies: “We will need to watch our inventories and how we selectively use promotions. We had a couple of years where there were basically none, so we need to develop that muscle. We need to watch where the consumer is going with the disposable income they have, and what products, categories and ideas interest and excite them so we can support them.”

Tracy Smith, VP and GM, North America | Timberland 

Big Opportunity: “Circularity. Stemming from the industry’s orientation toward sustainability, there’s a huge opportunity for brands — particularly footwear — to implement circular design into their overall business model and reduce the number of products that end up in landfills. There’s a lot of conversation around it, but still a variety of obstacles to consider. For this to be successful, it requires more education and participation
for both brands and consumers. Last year,
we launched the Timberloop program, which prompts consumers to send their used boots and clothes to be refurbished or upcycled into new products. We also are creating new products that are specifically designed to be disassembled and the parts recycled at the end of their useful life.”

New Initiatives: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of our Original Yellow Boot. Throughout the year, we will be telling the stories about those who made us the brand we are today, and those who will continue to shape our future. We’ll activate in bold ways digitally and physically. Digital transformation is a huge priority for us as we want to meet our consumers where they are. We are launching a new membership program to reward our most loyal customers, and we’ll also be unveiling new retail locations.”

Marina Larroudé, Co-Founder | Larroudé

Big Opportunity: “Opening our own factory in Brazil, which will allows us even faster speed to market.”

Top Obstacle: “Not necessarily an obstacle, but a challenge: We want to triple our business this year.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “Soulless DTC brands with lots of cash behind them but not-so-great product.”

Marina Larroude
Larroudé founder Marina Larroudé
CREDIT: Courtesy of Larroudé

David Kahan, CEO | Birkenstock Americas 

Big Opportunity:“Over the last 12 months, we have seen many merchandising decisions taking a back seat to other internal objectives at many retailers. In 2023, we need creativity and excitement brought back to retail, especially in physical stores. Strong brands need retailers
to become even stronger connectors to their consumer base.”

Top Obstacles: “I don’t see any. Those who focus on the obstacles like the general economy will be challenged. Those who see every situation as an opportunity will succeed. It’s always been the same — if you play to survive, that’s one game; if you play to thrive, it’s another. Any obstacles, like rising overhead in elements like logistics, are hidden to the consumer.”

Strategy Shift:“There are fewer calendar dips, and I expect by the end of 2023, seasonality will be a word we don’t even use.”

Bianca Gates, Co-founder and CEO | Birdies

Big Opportunity: “Running a profitable business is a major opportunity for brands in 2023. Too many companies have grown incredibly fast over the last few years as a result of access to large amounts of capital, but it came at a cost to running healthy, sustainable businesses.” 

Top Obstacle: “Customer acquisition costs continue to rise. Finding a way to connect with customers in a more cost-effective way will be the key to success in 2023.

Bianca Gates
A new perspective will allow women’s issues to become front and center

Joey Pointer, CEO | Fleet Feet 

Big Opportunity: “Continuing to build and foster relationships with communities and people of color. Our DEI efforts emphasize people and partnerships, both of which will further expand in 2023. Identifying, hiring and retaining top talent is a huge opportunity for us. Working with Black Girls Run and Latinos Run, we’ll continue to build and nurture partnerships between their local chapters and our stores to ensure our running communities are truly providing a welcoming and safe environment for anyone who enjoys being outdoors and running.”

Top Obstacles: “The economic headwinds — and their impact to our customers, employees, franchise owners and vendor partners — will need to be closely monitored. Staffing will continue to require thoughtful attention, and we’ll continue to navigate and manage inventory.

Giuseppe Zanotti, Designer and founder | Giuseppe Zanotti

Big Opportunity: “The biggest opportunity will come once restrictions due to the pandemic, ongoing war, economic sanctions and the mental weight due to financial instability are lifted.”

Strategy Shift: “We will focus on our brand heritage and iconic designs, especially for women’s. We will craft with an eye for refined silhouettes and lightness, always staying true to our original DNA.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “Luxury streetwear. I have a kind of love/hate feeling towards it. It’s been such a massive shift in the last 10 years, but in some cases it’s been too much. For my part, I will keep designing sneakers, with my signature elements and materials, but in a less extravagant way.”

Andrew Tastad, EVP | Footwear Unlimited Inc. GM | The Frye Co.  

Big Opportunity: “2022 was a good year for the footwear category of the Frye brand, its first full year under Footwear Unlimited Inc. We have doubled down on being in business on the key patterns and keeping to our growth plan for both retail and wholesale channels. Brands and retailers that remain true to their principals and the consumer always win.

Top Obstacle:“The industry is facing multiples of variables from all angles, (supply chain, logistics, economy, social) that we cannot solve overnight.”

Ankur Amin, CEO | TGS, parent company to Extra Butter, Renarts, Crusoe & Sons and Rooted

Big Opportunity and Top Obstacle: “2023 is looking more and more like a reset year. 2022 saw big swings in consumer thirst, inventory levels due to supply chain corrections and even trend shifts based on the Yeezy news. There are a lot of unknowns going into 2023 for the industry. We’ve taken steps to be more cautious from a buying perspective and more efficient in our processes. The goal for us has always been to build and serve our community of consumers by being authentic and transparent. And that won’t change.”

Trend I Want to Go Away: “I would love to see ‘shock value’ fashion gone. I understand the need to be edgy and buzz-worthy, but at this point, the obnoxiously priced garbage bag purses and the ‘shocking’ BDSM masks are more obvious and annoying than disruptive for me. Maybe I’m showing my age.”

Tina Bhojwani, co-founder & CEO | Aera

Big Opportunity: “Sustainability. We can accelerate the inevitable and take a leadership position in addressing the negative environmental and social impacts created by our industry. This is a huge opportunity as consumer demand for companies to adopt sustainable practices is at an all time high and will likely be table stakes in the future. On top of that, new legislation and increasing regulations are calling for the same.”

Top Obstacle: “Macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges: An increase in inflation and interest rates, ongoing war in Ukraine and subsequent energy and supply chain issues, climate crisis, as well as China slowdown. From an ESG perspective, the lack of transparency remains a huge obstacle for our industry. How can consumers make informed decisions if the information gap isn’t closed?”

Strategy Shift: We will look into  take-back, repair, resale and/or recycle programs. (Closing the loop is something we always intended do and it was just a matter of time), In general, this will be come an increasingly important trend for the industry.

Trend I Want to Go Away: “Seasonality – to move away from the traditional fashion model which is no longer relevant given the shifts in climate as well as the “buy now, wear now” consumer purchasing patterns.”

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