European comfort brand Ecco is in the midst of a transformation. The company, founded by Karl Toosbuy over a half century ago in Denmark, is shaking off its conservative image and introducing more modern silhouettes. Part of this change is stylistic, but Ecco is also making changes to the way it makes its shoes.
A leader in polyurethane injection technology, the family-owned shoemaker is introducing an innovative new heel construction for Fall ’16 called Ecco Shape.
We recently chatted with Felix Zahn, product director for Ecco Americas, about Ecco Shape, and how the company is innovating to move into the future.
VAMP: Tell us about the Ecco shape. How is it constructed and how is it different from what Ecco has offered in the past?
Zahn: The Ecco Shape is a revolutionary concept and technology for Ecco as a company but also for the entire shoe industry. Ecco is the world-wide leader in PU-injection technology, having perfected that production skill over the past two decades. This technology from an aesthetic standpoint works perfectly for men’s shoes, all kind of casual shoes and sport footwear. The biggest obstacle however has always been dressier, feminine ladies product, especially higher heels. Our biggest mission in Ecco branding is to combine comfort and style. Now we finally found a solution to get both right. It was a journey over five years developing this technology. We are still using injected PU for the outsole, but are separately attaching the heel after injecting the outsole, providing a more sophisticated and feminine look. The PU injection still delivers the amazing Ecco fit features, full anatomy and especially a rounded heel area for a better fit and all-day comfort. So for the consumer the final product does not look like a comfort product anymore but it still feels like one. For now the Shape collection is women only.
VAMP: How important are new investments in design and technology to Ecco’s consistent growth as a company? In this regard, is the comfort category really any different from the athletic category?
Zahn: In Ecco we pride ourselves as being shoemakers. We are one of the very few shoe companies left owning and running their own production. We even start a step earlier with making our own leathers and owning several tanneries around the globe. As mentioned above our unique injection technology only used by a handful of other shoe companies sets us apart from our competition. We believe in innovation and never accept the status quo. That has been in our company DNA since our Karl Toosbuy founded our company more than 50 years ago in rural Denmark. Innovation in shoe making technology and following our Danish heritage and Scandinavian design principles led to our remarkable growth.
Though the borders between comfort and athletic are more fluent as of late, we still believe that there is a clear differentiation between the two. Sneakers and athletic lifestyle are obviously very hot at the moment, however there is still a very big classic and dress market out there we are participating in as well. In addition, the athletic category is largely using textile and synthetic materials. There is still a premium consumer out there appreciating the value of quality, handmade leather footwear.
VAMP: Do you see customers who previously wouldn’t have thought of purchasing a comfort shoe considering Ecco?
Zahn: Comfort is in our DNA. We started out as a classic, conservative European comfort brand in the U.S. more than 25 years ago. Over the past five to six years we drastically rejuvenated the brand though, attracting new consumers to Ecco and setting us up for the consumer segments of the future. Traditional, basic comfort has been on the decline for the past years. More modern looking silhouettes, especially sneakers have clearly cut into the traditional footwear business. Comfort shoes can look more modern and appealing these days, again coming back to our mission of combining comfort and style. There is no rule written anywhere that comfort shoes have to be boring.
VAMP: Ecco manages every aspect of its production, from leather and retail sales. Does doing everything in-house limit growth opportunities? Does it help ensure quality?
Zahn: Owning the entire supply chain has tremendous advantages, but adds a lot of complexity and dependencies also. Our biggest challenge is to adapt to consumer trends fast enough since we have to plan out our collections so far in advance. It definitely has value in controlling and ensuring quality and honestly it is a good feeling to know to be independent and family-owned.
VAMP: In addition to the Ecco Shape, what else is new from the company for Fall ’16?
Zahn: The Shape collection will see a big launch in August. Next to the Shape collection we will continue to grow our modern segments in the collection, especially on the casual lifestyle side. We do not foresee the sneaker trend to go away, so there will be many more new looks launching this fall. In men’s the highlights will be a new cupsole sneaker called Jack and an expansion of our bestselling sneaker, the Soft7. Also on the men’s side we are launching a new hybrid dress group called the Kenton that is targeting the same sneaker consumer but offering him a more premium, dress option. All our activities in ladies will be around the Shape collection, offering a collection of more than 50 SKUs with various heel heights and looks.