Seven months after stepping down as president of Performance Lifestyle at Deckers Brands, footwear industry veteran Wendy Yang has been appointed to the Kizik board of directors.
“Wendy’s experience leading well-known, successful footwear brands will be invaluable. She knows what it looks like to build a billion-dollar brand, and her insights already are helping us optimize and execute our plans to do the same,” Kizik CEO Monte Deere said in a statement.
Prior to joining Kizik’s board, Yang’s 20-plus years of footwear industry experience included stints at Deckers Brands, New Balance, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger Footwear. Yang most recently spent seven years at Deckers where she oversaw several brands, including Hoka and Teva. Under her leadership, Hoka became one of the industry’s fastest-growing performance footwear brands, and reported net sales of $891.6 million for fiscal 2022. (In July, Deckers revealed in its Q1 earnings for fiscal 2023 that Hoka broke the $1 billion barrier.)
Aside from Kizik, Yang currently serves on several boards including Cotopaxi and Pressed Juice, and is an advisor at Women in Sports and Tech (WIST).
Below, Yang discusses Kizik’s ceiling with FN and why she stepped away from Deckers Brands in May.
What is it about the footwear industry that keeps you coming back for more?
“It is where I spent my career, I had a lot of success in it and I love it. It’s fast moving and being close to the consumer is really interesting and fun. Specific to Kizik, this is a brand that has over 150 patents and patents pending that are really revolutionizing the product in the industry. When I experienced my first pair of Kizik, it’s a better mousetrap. It’s new, it’s different and in many ways it’s a brand that is just getting started. It’s sort of Hoka-esque, not from a product perspective but Hoka-esque in terms of the stage that the company is at when I’m joining them — although I’m obviously in a very different capacity. I just see a lot of excitement and growth ahead for this brand.”
Kizik’s ads are nothing short of hilarious. How effective are they at selling the brand’s message?
“The brand clearly manifests itself through its product and through its communications. It’s a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time it knows that it’s a serious solution. What Kizik does is it offers a solution to consumers. There is a why. Why does this brand exist? It’s to add convenience and ease, solving that problem. Whether it’s a kid that’s running out the door to play, whether it’s the parent trying to keep up with their kids or for someone much older and tying their shoes has become a nuisance. It’s a real solution. The ads have their own tone and own feel, and I think the consumer is responding to that. They’re also responding to the hands-free nature of the product and the ease and simplicity it brings to your every day, that freedom that it brings. They see themselves in it.”
How is the company dealing with competition?
“The number of patents and patents pending that Kizik has makes it the true leader. It’s not knocking off or following someone else. It’s forging its own path. The technology and these patents are serious. And if you experience the product, it’s a special product. The technology that’s in the heel, it enables you to step in and then it just pops right back into place, and it’s one of those things that when you’re experiencing you go, ‘Oh wow, this is new, this is different, this is special.'”
Would Kizik consider litigation? Or would it rather invest in brand awareness?
“Kizik is investing in themselves, and with over 150 patents and patents pending, it will stand firm behind what is rightfully its own.”
Looking ahead, how will the brand continue to break through and attract more consumers?
“It just crossed the $100 million mark. That is, what I would argue, with relatively low brand awareness. I think getting word out and spreading awareness is going to be instrumental in driving growth. It is the kind of product that once you have it and experienced it, you’re going to tell people about it. Whenever you have a superior product, word of mouth can be your biggest friend. That’s certainly what we found to be true at Hoka. What’s the ceiling? When I tell you there’s over 150 patents and patent pending, all that you’re seeing right now is the tip of the iceberg on those patents. There’s so much great innovation still to come from Kizik that hadn’t yet been shared with the consumer.”
What is Kizik’s ceiling?
“I joined this brand because I see this as the next billion-dollar brand in the footwear industry. I don’t mean it’s the next one that will cross $1 billion. It’s at $100 million now. I see Kizik as having considerable potential. It’s a superior product, there’s a war chest full of patents and patents pending, and the consumer that is just getting to know Kizik is responding very well. They like it, they’re telling their friends about it and they’re coming back for more.”
Why did you step away from Deckers Brands in August?
“It was a great run, and driving the brand to $1 billion dollars was really the highlight of my career. Built an amazing team there, it was $70 million when I started in 2015 and drove it to $1 billion, it just seemed like a good time to step out and step off. The experience that I had at Hoka, and across my whole career really, positioned me really well to be doing a bunch of different things and advising different companies being on different boards and lifting my head up from the day to day.”
Do you ever see yourself in the leading role of another footwear company?
“Never say never, right? I loved every single minute of my career across all brands, and certainly Hoka was a crowning achievement. So I’ll never say never to jumping back into a top job or a big operating role. But honestly, I am really enjoying what I’m doing right now. I’m able to advise and consult with really smart people with cool brands that are at different stages of their maturity. When it comes to giving advice on scaling brands, building teams, repositioning brands, this is stuff that that I love. I love doing it and people seem to want to learn from me and from my experience, so I’m having a heck of a time.”