Starting next year, North American shoppers who want to buy a new pair of Hush Puppies in a store will only find them in one destination. The casual, comfort footwear brand known for its slip-ons and slides has signed an exclusive distribution partnership with DSW and its more than 600 stores across the U.S. and Canada.
Hush Puppies will continue to sell on its e-commerce site, as well as in stores internationally, but the brand will exit all other North American wholesale operations effective Jan. 1, 2022. The footwear brand, which also manufactures and sells flats, dress shoes, oxfords and loafers among others, presently has wholesale accounts across Amazon, Zappos, Nordstrom and smaller independent shoe stores.
“We are thrilled to launch this partnership and have our line of optimistic, colorful, and comfortable products exclusively available at DSW stores across the U.S. and Canada,” said Kate Pinkham, general manager and vice president of Hush Puppies in a statement. “DSW’s strong position as a footwear industry mainstay makes them the ideal retailer to reintroduce our iconic brand to the next generation of Hush Puppies consumers.”
Through the partnership, Hush Puppies and DSW will continue to build on what they say are similarities in both their consumer profiles and brand positioning. The footwear brand was founded in 1958 to deliver a mix of timeless style and dependable comfort, but the combination of those characteristics is as relevant as it has ever been due to the demand driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Hush Puppies is a wonderful brand for millennials who desire both style and comfort in their busy, on-the-go lifestyles,” said DSW’s chief merchandising officer Jim Weinberg in a statement. “We continue to deliver differentiated products to our customers, and this exciting new partnership between DSW and [Hush Puppies’ parent company] Wolverine Worldwide is a great opportunity to further build our robust assortment of brands that meet all our customers’ needs. DSW customers have enjoyed Hush Puppies for years, and we are delighted to become the sole physical destination for this iconic brand in North America.”
The exclusivity comes at a time when many top footwear brands are seeking more control of distribution. Wolverine Worldwide, which in addition to Hush Puppies owns popular brands like Wolverine, Saucony and Merrell, is one of them, last year establishing a goal to reach $500 million in total owned digital sales throughout 2021.
“You have to control your own destiny. Owning your brands in this environment is an advantage,” Mike Stornant, Wolverine Worldwide’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, previously told Sourcing Journal. “Having the direct relationship with the consumer and being able to react to the consumer’s needs and activities in a real time way is in advantage.”
Elsewhere in the sector, Nike’s direct-to-consumer sales are approaching 40 percent of the Nike Brand business today, but the athleticwear and footwear giant expects DTC to represent approximately 60 percent of the business in 2025. The company has made it a point to exit the wholesale doors of what it calls its “undifferentiated” partners. Nike expects wholesale revenue to remain roughly flat versus fiscal 2021. DSW was actually one of the these undifferentiated partners, as Nike will cease taking further orders from the retailer in September.
As part of its five-year “Own the Game” growth strategy, Adidas plans DTC to comprise 80 percent of its sales growth through 2025. By that same year, it anticipates DTC channels will account for approximately 50 percent of its total sales.
And Under Armour is in the middle of exiting 2,000 to 3,000 of the more than 12,000 wholesale doors it currently occupies by 2022. CEO Patrik Frisk said in a February earnings call that the partners all share a “‘win with the winners’ kind of mentality.”
With more than 500 stores in 44 U.S. states and 140 stores in Canada, DSW will provide a large enough network for Hush Puppies to operate in where it can maintain visibility and strong consumer awareness, without having to pivot strategies to multiple individual retailers.
In its last quarter, DSW owner Designer Brands returned to profitability for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Designer Brands itself has benefitted from pivoting to its owned exclusive brands, including Kelly and Katie shoes and sandals and Mix No. 6 boots and sandals. Fifteen of the company’s top 25 selling items were designed and sourced vertically by Designer Brands, according to CEO Roger Rawlins.
DSW saw a 56.3 percent comparable sales increase in the U.S. from the year-ago period, while the retailer saw a 10 percent jump in Canada, both markets being impacted by store closures in March and April 2020. Total net sales across U.S. and Canada jumped 62.7 percent to $661 million.
Stegmann brings clogs to J.Crew
Another heritage comfort brand is turning to a major specialty apparel retailer to expand its online audience with a new line. Stegmann Clogs, known for its handcrafted wool clogs and leather comfort shoes, has released a seasonal collection of men’s house shoes within J.Crew.
J.Crew is carrying three of Stegmann’s men’s shoes online. The EcoWool Clog is available in two natural wool colors, Stonesheep and Juraschaf. These sustainably sourced heritage wools are native to alpine regions near Stegmann’s carbon-neutral productional facility in Tyrol, Austria.
Paired with a renewable cork footbed, this footwear line is produced to be one of the most sustainable in the world, according to Stegmann. Its production financially supports heritage sheep breeds and their farmers as a part of the brand’s species preservation initiative, which is an effort between the brand’s Austrian and American branches designed to support sheep breeders in Tyrol and other parts of Europe who breed endangered sheep species.
The Stonesheep upper is a multi-tonal grey, made with wool from Tyrolean Stone Sheep of Austria.
The Juraschaf upper is a rich dark brown, made from the wool of Juraschaf Sheep of Switzerland.
The Original 108 in Graphite is also featured in the J.Crew lineup. The Original 108 Clog, which Stegmann says is its most popular men’s shoe, includes a merino wool felt that wraps the foot in comfort, while the anatomically shaped Stegmann Support Sole, made from a combination of latex and Portugal-sourced cork, provides support for both the feet and back.
The minimal modern aesthetic of the brand’s shoes is designed to blend with both classic and boho styles.
“If there’s anything the pandemic taught us, it’s that comfort and quality are crucial when it comes to what we wear at home and beyond,” Andy Jacobs, president of Stegmann USA, said in a statement. “We’re really excited to partner with J.Crew to introduce these styles to new customers as we head into fall.”