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What’s In a Name? Brown Shoe Co CEO Diane Sullivan on Rebranding

Since announcing the rebranding of the 137-year-old Brown Shoe Company at the fall company meeting earlier this month, Brown Shoe Company CEO, president and chairman Diane Sullivan said spirits are flying high as the footwear institution prepares for its new image and name, Caleres.

“There’s a totally renewed energy,” Sullivan said, noting that it is more than just a name change. “We went back in our archives and we pull out the star-five-star symbol about our history. We looked at our values. We looked at our mission. We looked at everything to reposition us.”

Sullivan was on hand at the 2015 AAFA American Image Awards Monday night in New York City to accept Brown Shoe’s “Company of the Year” award. The ceremony, which also feted “Designer of the Year” honoree Cynthia Rowley, “Retailer Brand of the Year” Holt Renfrew and “Fashion Maverick” honoree Kelly Osbourne, benefited Mercy Ships, a fleet of hospital ships that provide free medical care to the poorest parts of the world. “Anytime you are recognized by people in the industry for the good work that you are trying to do and on top of it raise money for Mercy Ships is an honor,” Sullivan said.

The fashionable evening also served as a reminder on why the company is eager to refresh its image. Sullivan revealed that if Brown Shoe Company’s name had not been so literal and didn’t conjure up a “certain image” the company might not be undergoing an overhaul. “Frankly, we love Brown Shoe Company, right, but when you hear the name, what do you think? It doesn’t reflect who we are today and what are aspirations are.” She added, “We compete with really progressive companies and we wanted our name to reflect the kind of company that we are,” she explained. “We’re Sam Edelman, Vince and others, and Brown Shoe doesn’t reflect that.”

It’s a bold step, Sullivan admitted, especially in a category where brands tend to cling to their heritage, but she said it is one that has been in the works for a year and a half. “It was all about making sure that we were focused on the substantive things,” she said.

The company tapped Lexicon, a branding firm based in Sausalito, Calif. and the creative geniuses behind the brand names Blackberry and Sonos, to assist with its renaming. “They basically get an understanding of your company mission and vision, and then they create a name that sort of encapsulates that,” Sullivan explained. “It can be literal, around shoes, or it can be more aspirational like the way we did it with Caleres.”

The moniker, which is derived from the Latin word ‘calere’ which means ‘passionate, to glow,’ is a theme Sullivan said is found throughout the company’s history, confirmed by a recent dig through its archives. In addition to working with Lexicon, the footwear manufacturer worked with researchers who uncovered Brown Shoe’s story, key traits and core values throughout its history. “You add all those pieces together. You take your history and figure what’s important about it, and that fuels the future of the company,” Sullivan said.

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