Footwear News FN Summit – Lead the way

Today’s Footwear News’ FN Summit event was one of the most compelling industry events I’ve had the pleasure to participate in.  As mentioned in our last post, Stylesight was invited as an official blogger for the occasion, and if you follow us on Twitter, you’ve already gotten the highlights from the different panels and presentations, but here we bring you the rundown of all the valuable information and presentations that took place this morning at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City.

Before the first sessions, all attendees had the opportunity to partake in a Silent Auction to benefit Soles4Souls.  Some of the items up for grabs at the auction included Presh Jewelry by Nicole Apostoli, a Two-night stay in Antigua and my favorites, Aperlai Nude or Pink Leather Spokette sandals.

Kevin Plank of Under Armour started things off with a presentation of his brand’s foray into shoes: “Our customers demanded it”.  Through many NFL and NBA endorsements and official sponsorships, Under Armour gained such a following in the performance world that their consumer actually opened the market for a footwear category from the brand, which was launched seven years ago.  “Our future is filled with great product and compelling innovation,” said Plank, who is passionate about finding the best solution through innovation and technology for his core customer.  “Our mission statement remains the same after 17 years: to make better athletes.”

Following Kevin Plank was Blake Mycoskie, Founder and “Chief Shoe Giver” of TOMS Shoes.   With a discussion titled “What’s worked, what hasn’t,” Blake mentioned the aspects that helped him drive the brand to its current must-have status.  “A brand needs a strong, simple and authentic story.” Of that, TOMS has plenty.  He also discussed the benefits of “MBA”: management by absence.  In the first year of his company, Blake personally did close to 80 trunk shoes within a 94 day period.  His absence in-office pushed his employees to find solutions to their problems on their own, helping them become indispensable players within the organization while preparing them for managerial roles.

Industry leader and, well, legend really, Stuart Weitzman then sat with Michael Atmore from Footwear News for an easy-going conversation about all things emcompassed in his world.  “I don’t see myself working in the shoe business, it’s a hobby.”  Yes, we’re jealous too.  Mr. Weitzman discussed the balance of business, manufacturing and creativity: “It all kind of flows together.”  During the conversation celebrity culture came into discussion, and we were excited to learn Mr. Weitzman contributed to bringing the attention down to the feet on the red carpet with the launch of his “Million Dollar Shoe” ten years ago.

The Women to Watch panel included three rising stars in the footwear industry (and all three are some of my favorite designers in the luxury market right now): Tabitha Simmons, Laurence Dacade and Alessandra Lanvin of Aperlai.  The ladies discussed the challenges, as well as conquers, of being in the luxury footwear industry which for many years was dominated by male designers.  “I wanted to design from the female perspective” said Alessandra, who also is a painter.  One of the key things all three of these women strive for in their collection in comfort, which was comforting to hear (couldn’t help it!), because as we know, a hefty price tag doesn’t always mean comfy heels.

The next two presentations were incredibly wealthy in information for designers and manufacturers alike.  First, Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association discussed new strategies and models for the global market.  With the three largest opportunities in China, Brazil and India, a strong economy isn’t enough to help an American brand break into such markets, and the expected challenge to arise over the next few years are government regulations.  The second presentation by John Jonas of The Jonas Group examined the new digital marketing platform and how/what footwear companies are doing to keep up with this new channel.  Of all companies surveyed, 84% have at least one position on staff dedicated to social media, and budgets continue to grow every year to accommodate the demand for brands’ online presence.

Social media was looked further into with a panel consisting of today’s top social media figures: Leandra Medine of ManRepeller, Rebecca and Uri Minkoff and Leah Roberts of the Camuto Group.  Minkoff’s chosen platform for social media has been Instagram, which has helped propel sales and consumer interaction, as well as serve as inspiration for campaigns and new line developments.  Camuto Group’s desire to break into their non-core consumer base led to a “campus invasion” with viral online campaigns which included “Closet Confessionals”, campus scavenger hunts and flash mobs.  Leandra’s story is one very well known at this point as she was one of the catalysts of the fashion blogger-turned celebrity phenomenon (Rebecca Minkoff followed the Man Repeller blog before actually meeting Leandra Medine), but her character is just as charming and funny in person as it is on the blog.  She mentioned the launch of a book due out in September (yay!) and let us know what she is wearing on her wedding day: Superga Sneakers.  Steve Madden was in the audience and I’m sure, incredibly pleased to hear.

Debbie Ferree of DSW continued the discussion with their strategy for engaging their shoe lovers.  “Clustomers” as they have named them, are an intense following of customers who post constantly on DSW’s Facebook page, and account for 9% of their customer base and 33% of their revenue.  Clustomers are so involved with DSW’s online efforts, they answer each other’s posts on Facebook.

The day closed with a conversation between Neil Weilheimer, Executive Editor of Footwear News, and Ken C. Hicks, Chairman, President and CEO of Foot Locker Inc. A great insight into the performance side of the footwear industry, Mr. Hicks stated that athletic footwear is not a cycle, but rather a continuous stream.  And though he also openly admitted “the economy sucks,” the three legs of their business perform steadily and include Running, Basketball and Casual categories.

An incredible day of discussion, information and conversation, Footwear News’ FN Summit 2012 was a successful event for all who attended.  Congratulations to WWD Summits team for putting an inspiring event together, and we look forward to next year’s edition! -Jenn Tello


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