Over the course of 70 years, the brand has reached consumers in 120 countries, won over European customers with its handsewn constructions and has maintained a place on the deck of the U.S. sailing team’s fleet. The brand, part of the Heritage Brands group at Wolverine Worldwide Inc., continues to fit in nicely with New England’s aspirational lifestyle offering men and women classic and functional footwear, however, in 1946 Sebago was just one store owner’s solution to keep his five stores stocked.
Three New England natives, Daniel J. Wellehan Sr., William Beaudoin and Joseph Cordeau, founded the handsewn footwear factory that went on to become the Sebago Moc Company. Its first product was the Sebago Classic beefroll penny loafer, a silhouette that continues to anchor the brand’s collections as it celebrates its 70th anniversary.
Sebago General Manager and Vice President John Estes said the brand is marking the ‘big 7-0’ by “reflecting on what brought us to this day, and staying true to what the brand stands for…and by lifting a glass of champagne in celebration.”
This spring Sebago is celebrating its platinum milestone with a special collection of limited edition men’s and women’s Docksides with a platinum logo flag. The collection offers a bold mix of celebratory fashion colors spanning aqua green for women to orange, aqua and dark blue nubuck for men.
The celebrations are carried into Fall ’16 with archival designs reimagined for the modern consumer, including the men’s handsewn Heritage Penny, modern Heritage Tassel and stylish Heritage Bit. The brand’s Campsides, a range of inland casuals that date back to the 1970s, return for fall as Camp Sebago, a balanced collection of classic genuine leather welts and youthful natural crepe rubber sole chukkas, loafers, boots and more.
For women, Sebago is banking on menswear-inspired silhouettes with a sharp, New England look. Highlights include the Portuguese-made leather Laney hiker and mid-boot, the Jayne collection of mix material oxfords and boots, and the retro styled Hutton Zip boot.
Vamp caught up with Estes to find out what 70 years of business means to Sebago, how the company plans to keep momentum and why a good design can stand the test of time.
VAMP: What three words sum up Sebago?
Estes: Craftmanship. Timeless. Authentic.
VAMP: What is Sebago’s longest retail relationship?
Estes: Our partnership with Northeastern retailer, Lamey Wellehan, is our longest relationship. It dates back to when the brand was established, as one of the founding partners was a Wellehan. Sebago was created to fulfill a need for casual footwear in the postwar U.S. market.
VAMP: What has been the most successful, or longest-running shoe in the line?
Estes: Our first product, the handsewn Classic beefroll penny loafer, was the first style that we ever produced back in 1946. It’s a genuine handsewn product and at the time we made it with a patented welt construction. Our founding owners were pioneers and we aspire to continue what they started through innovations to the foundation. Though the Classic remains unchanged in construction, we have kept it relevant for today’s consumers through material innovations and collaborations.
VAMP: In what ways has your core consumer evolved? And how has the company kept up with their changing tastes?
Estes: Our global core consumer knows that the Sebago brand means quality and they know they are getting the best value with their purchase. In many parts of the world, owning a Sebago Docksides or Classic loafer is a status symbol and consumers take pride in the fact that they own Sebago. We continue to cater to that consumer and provide them with Sebago DNA in all of our collections.
VAMP: How has Sebago kept its tradition of craftsmanship intact, despite a push for footwear faster and cheaper?
Estes: It’s always made a priority in our briefing, design and commercialization processes. We know what our consumer expects, and what we stand for, and our goal is to deliver on craftsmanship with value. While some competitors may look to cut corners, we continue to use genuine handsewn moccasin construction and the finest materials.
VAMP: How has Sebago stayed relevant for 70 years without chasing trends?
Estes: Our consumers are always looking for beautifully handcrafted products, so while trends come and go, there’s always a market for timeless heritage products. Because we have those two iconic silhouettes in our portfolio, we are able to reinvent those classic styles using new materials and technologies. We always keep them fresh.
VAMP: What is on the company’s agenda for making 2016 a successful year?
Estes: It’s our 70th anniversary year so we’ll leverage that message to reconnect with consumers, and to appeal others who are looking to discover a new brand. We are planning a pop-up shop in New York in late spring and throughout the summer, and are excited to see where that takes us. We are also launching special anniversary Docksides through retail and exclusively on Sebago.com to commemorate our 70th year. The products features anniversary colors in nubuck and shine with a platinum Sebago flag.
VAMP: What’s next for Sebago?
Estes: Keeping up the continually evolving retail experiences [and] opportunities for consumers, and making sure that we are connecting with our key consumer segments in a meaningful way. We are also focused on engaging female consumers so that we can build and grow our women’s business. It hasn’t hurt to have Kate Middleton photographed wearing our Bala shoes over the last four years. We have been fortunate to enjoy some success and the opportunity to engage with new consumers worldwide.