For a dependable footwear company known for its comfortable work shoes, Aerosoles faced a challenge going into its third decade: how to assure its core customer that she could depend on them, while also inviting in younger fashionistas?
When the brand first emerged, a woman chose Aerosoles because, while she wanted to arrive at work with a healthy stride, she didn’t want to forfeit style by wearing sneakers from the subway to the office, says CEO Shawn Neville, who took on the role a little over a year ago.
Mission accomplished. But over the years, some of its stylish edge had worn a bit. And, with women now demanding both fashion and performance in all areas of their lives, it was time for Aerosoles to become more inspired.
Still, while Aerosoles isn’t embracing the “comfort” label, it’s not about “athleisure,” either, Neville says. The company, from design and product development to marketing, has found a sweet spot where fashion and performance co-exist, he told Vamp.
“We want to be a leader at the intersection of fashion and performance,” Neville said. “So we put more juice into the brand, created attitude and fun, and that’s how we came up with the creative, ‘Fashion that feels good.’ You have a tendency to age with your brand and forget the entry point. If you don’t keep your brand ageless, that keeps you from innovating.”
Aerosoles core customer is 50 to 55 years old, but Neville says that she, too — and not just women in their 20s and 30s — is demanding a more fashionable approach. In the U.S. in particular, women are more comfortable with fashion that is youthful, without “trying to be kids.” He describes it as “smarter, sexier, confident and inspired.”
That’s embodied in Aerosole’s brand ambassador “Jackie,” an energetic, ethnically ambiguous millennial (a term Neville doesn’t really favor — too limiting) is featured on the brand’s social media pages and in a series of videos. In them, Jackie walks around Los Angeles and New York — she and her friends effortlessly take stairs, walk along cobblestone streets and go dancing at night, touting the brand’s “Heel Rest technology” and the shoes’ beauty.
The company had a 100 percent changeover in its manufacturing base last year that caused some market disruption, but the changes have allowed a bump in quality and new styling that has allowed it to demand higher prices.
Core customers did balk at the price changes at first, Neville said, but they’re returning. “We did modestly raise the prices but stayed in the range so we’re not creating havoc,” he said. “Initially, as we raised some prices and reduced some of the promotion, we saw the traditional customer pull back a bit. She was waiting, and we saw some challenges there. We see her slowly coming back as we introduce better quality and as she sees it’s still within her budget.”