Few footwear companies can claim the kind of connection to consumers that Stride Rite has—the children’s brand has provided parents with well-fitting, quality products for close to a century. So Vida Shoes International, the brand’s new global licensee, has some big boots to fill, so to speak.
Wolverine Worldwide, which acquired the iconic brand in 2012, recently signed a multi-year licensing agreement with Vida to take over the design, development and marketing of kids’ products under the Stride Rite name from July.
The deal makes sense: Vida already oversees heritage brands OshKosh B’Gosh and Carter’s, while several of the company’s employees have strong ties to Stride Rite, including executive vice president and general manager Brian McManus, whose career began at the brand.
“When you think of kids’ shoes, you think Stride Rite,” McManus said. “It’s a 98-year-old brand that has a tremendous emotional connection to consumers, that’s been able to evolve and change over the years. It’s a testament to all the brand custodians over the years that they’ve kept the brand consistent.”
That’s something Vida will work hard to continue, to ensure that neither Stride Rite’s retail partners nor the end consumers feel a bump in the road during the transition.
“Vida will pick up right where Wolverine let off,” he stressed. “It’s our responsibility to continue to offer the very best product in the marketplace and deliver on Stride Rite’s promise of good shoes that are right for kids’ feet. We take that very seriously.”
Though Stride Rite is mainly known for making baby’s first walking shoes, the brand has expanded beyond its bread-and-butter products in recent years to introduce innovations such as the Phibian, an amphibious sneaker sandal, and the Snoot, a water-resistant winter boot that’s both lightweight and packable. McManus maintained that Vida will carry on investing in research and development to stay one step ahead of consumers’ ever-changing needs.
“That’s what moms and dads depend on,” he said, noting that even as technologies have changed and people have learned more, parents still look to great brands and great shoes to tell them what’s next. “They know that if something is happening in the marketplace, Stride Rite can bring it to them first.”
That’s where the brand’s retail partners come in. Now that Wolverine has closed the last of its company-owned Stride Rite outposts as part of its Way Forward plan, Vida intends to work with the existing client base to prioritize the brand in-store as well as explore new retail channels.
“Because the corporate stores aren’t out there anymore we think it opens up a lot of opportunity out in the marketplace,” McManus said, explaining how it also benefits Stride Rite’s 40 licensed stores. “These folks are the heart and soul of the brand. We want to embrace these stores, figure out how to grow Stride Rite branding in the marketplace, build on those great values that Stride Rite offers and hopefully encourage retailers to expand their business with us.”
It’s not hard to see why Vida has become a go-to business partner for some of the best-known children’s brands. In addition to Stride Rite, Carter’s and OshKosh B’Gosh, the company’s current portfolio includes Hanna Andersson, as well as its own proprietary brands Step & Stride, Jambu KD and M.A.P.
As McManus put it, “We understand that trust is important in the consumer-brand relationship. It’s more than a value story—it’s an expectation of quality and service. And we truly treat these brands as if they’re our own so they can last another 100 years.”