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Bob Infantino on Building The Rockport Group

It’s onward and upward for the newly formed The Rockport Group. Earlier this month, New Balance Holdings, Inc., the investment arm of New Balance, along with Boston-based investment firm Berkshire Partners completed the purchase of The Rockport Company from the Adidas Group.

As part of the transaction, New Balance affiliate, Drydock Footwear, home to the Cobb Hill, Aravon and Dunham brands, joined together with Rockport to form The Rockport Group. At the helm, is CEO Bob Infantino, who worked for Rockport more than 30 years ago as senior vice president of product development, branding and merchandising. Infantino’s career in footwear may have come full circle, but the industry veteran has no intention to follow the same playbook.

“For Rockport, we plan to create a new business division that will be dedicated to invention, innovation and imagination. Here, we’ll be identifying new technologies and delivering products that have the potential to shake up the footwear category,” he said. “Cobb Hill will become a collection under the Rockport brand, and we’ll continue to build Aravon and Dunham, which will have their own design team and focus.”

Vamp caught up with Infantino to learn how each brand will keep their own identity, where he sees the most growth opportunity for Rockport and what he predicts for Spring ’16 retail.

Vamp: What steps will The Rockport Group take to ensure that each brand has its own identity?
Infantino: Each of our brands caters to a specific audience and each has a very strong core consumer base and loyal following. Sameness isn’t a concern of ours since we’ll stay true to each brand’s essence, bringing consumers what they’ve come to expect and love.

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The Rockport brand will remain focused on innovations in comfort for both its men’s and women’s businesses, building upon successful collections like Total Motion, which offers women a variety of heel heights and silhouettes with built-in sports technology. Cobb Hill will, in time, become a collection under the Rockport brand, but will continue to have its recognizable European personality, while Aravon and Dunham will have their own design team and focus.

Aravon reaches a more mature customer; it’s a size and width business with shoes built for accepting foot beds. Dunham is also a size and width business, offering classic silhouettes in extreme sizes and widths. Under The Rockport Group, we’ll continue designing and developing each brand with its core customer in mind.

Rockport TruStride Collection

Vamp: Now that Rockport is under your direction, where do you see growth opportunities for the brand?
Infantino: I see our greatest opportunity in the casual and dress casual categories. Now that the well-established Rockport men’s business and Cobb Hill, a thriving women’s brand, are under one roof, we’re looking at a very exciting path for growth. The distribution channels for each business are very complementary, with Cobb Hill flourishing at independent retailers and Rockport succeeding in department stores and online.

We also do a big business in city to trail walking and will continue to grow our lifestyle collections that crossover into the athletic part of consumers’ lives. For example, our TruStride sneakers, out in Spring 2016, are one example of where you’ll see this broader style aesthetic, bringing a brown shoe interpretation to an athletic silhouette.

Vamp: What is your fondest memory of your time spent at Rockport the first time around?
Infantino: My fondest memory was my first trip through all of our factories in Europe and Eastern Europe, back in 1984. I was with one of the founders of Rockport, Bruce Katz, and the top designer at the time, Bill Bianchini, and it was incredible to see where we were making shoes and watching how it all came together. It was a three week tour of our factories; we went to Portugal, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Germany, among a few other countries.

Vamp: What’s in store for Spring ’16?
Infantino: For Spring ’16 we’re continuing to see consumers demanding more from their shoes. No longer are they satisfied with shoes that are simply for one wearing occasion; they want crossover product that can go from athletic to casual and offer more versatility. With this in mind, we’re seeing a lot of lightweight footwear options featuring a mix of both classic leathers, sporty stretch materials and bright/neutral color combinations. Since this is new territory for a lot of brands, retailers are more open than in the past to trying new styles as they get a feel for what consumers respond to in this category.