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Dr. Scholl’s Creative Director on Designer Lookalikes

Fast fashion retailers often get a bad wrap for knocking off high-end designer labels, but what happens when one of those designers, say Marc Jacobs, sends shoes down the runway with an uncanny likeliness of another brand’s classic style?

According to Dr. Scholl’s creative director, James Sowins, a lot of “very good” things happen. The footwear brand, known for its comfort, flexibility and famed classic exercise sandal—a simple one-strap slide made with a wood footbed that dates back to the ’60s—is reaping the benefits from what Sowins described as Marc Jacobs’ “homage” to the Dr. Scholl’s signature shoe. Jacobs reinterpreted the style for his Spring ’15 presentation, pairing mod meets military fashion with the single strap sandal, only his versions were swathed in velvet and crystal trimmings.

“Knowing what Marc Jacobs is about, I have to consider it an homage,” Sowins said. “And on a personal note, Marc Jacobs embodies what I try to do at Dr. Scholl’s—take heritage product and make it groovy and cool for today,” he explained.

But as Sowins noted, Dr. Scholl’s has been stretching its sartorial legs for a number of seasons now, including its men’s and women’s collaboration with American sportswear designer Steven Alan. For Spring ’13, the two brands joined forces to create Dr. Scholl’s first exercise sandal for men, as well as limited edition lacquered and chambray styles for women. Sowins said, “I think that collaboration might have started the traction.”

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Coined the “ugly footwear” trend by tastemakers and trendsetters, footwear brands with deep roots in the comfort market have seen a number of haute tributes come from the upper tiers of fashion. Céline triggered the phenomenon with fur-lined Birkentstock-inspired sandals for Spring ’13. Balenciaga followed up with a leather and gold studded take on Teva’s Original adjustable strap sandal. And then there is the influx of basic white sneakers, once a suburban dad staple, now wooing the fashion world. As a result, footwear brands far into their golden years are introducing the health benefits of their comfort footwear to a new generation of style conscious consumers.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that many of the tastemakers who turn to Marc Jacobs for style inspiration, will turn to Dr. Scholl’s for its lower sticker price. Dr. Scholl’s exercise sandals typically retail for under $80. The Steven Alan x Dr. Scholl’s capsule collection sold for between $100 to $145. Marc Jacobs’ sandals will likely retail for hundreds of dollars.

Sowins said Dr. Scholl’s is already finding success in Urban Outfitters where its nostalgic designs strike a cord with its heritage-obsessed Millennial consumers. Sowins added, “The Original sandal does well there because it’s the kids who also want a 1968 Volkswagen… So many historical great things are coming back.”

But don’t expect Dr. Scholl’s to rest on its laurels. Sowins said the renewed spotlight has given the company “an opportunity to take the shoe into a modern era.”

The Spring ’15 collection blends the bold yet minimal aesthetic of 1960s fashion with athlesiure-inspired slip-on sneakers, mesh uppers, sandals with bold flatform outsoles, leather wrapped buckle details and pops of crisp and cool white. A new range, called Meringue, builds on those comfort features with sculpted, soft-to-touch outsoles.

And Sowins brought the collection to life with a fresh and modern photo campaign with a Richard Avedon flavor—yet another homage. “We wanted to play on the wit from that era—that cute and simplistic vibe—but for a modern consumer,” he added.