10 Minutes with… Steve Madden

Steve Madden

Steve Madden–the man and the brand–have had quite a journey these past two decades.

Celebrating 20 years in business, Steve Madden Ltd. has gone from a humble shoe manufacturer to retailer to licensor to partner with some hefty celebrity names (Mary-Kate and Ashley! Madonna!) and hot accessories companies (Big Buddha!). Yes there were some bumps along the way, such as a widely publicized jail term in 2002, but the brand emerged unscathed. In fact, the company recorded a sales boost to $475.2 million in 2005 upon Madden’s release and even won “Company of the Year” by an industry magazine the following year. Fiscal 2009 sales clocked in at $503.6 million, a 10.2% increase over 2008, and the publicly-traded company projects an 11% to 13% increase in 2010. Madden truly wears many hats— although you’ll usually find him in a baseball one—and he spoke with Accessories about Steve Madden’s current acquisition mode and his dreams of being a record producer.

Your beginnings are legendary: starting your shoe company with $1,100 in the bank. Now you’re celebrating 20 years and Steve Madden is an international name with sights on future acquisitions. Did you ever think it would come this far?

I’m in a constant state of suspended disbelief. At the beginning, I was mostly trying to pay my rent and never thought too far ahead. At the end of the day, I focus on making good, trendy shoes—that’s what I do. I’ve hired people over the years who do all the other stuff. I’m fortunate to ‘know what I don’t know.’and listen to them. We’re adding handbags for holiday, but mostly we’re doing footwear. It’s a higher pricepoint [$200 to $450]. We sell Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf, Saks. We also do their juniors line Olsenboye for JCPenney.
And soon you can say Madonna has walked in your shoes!

Yes, we’re doing the footwear for Madonna’s new line—Material Girl, which is at Macy’s. We ship the first shoes this Fall. It will be all kinds of footwear—different suedes, leathers, new synthetics, canvas. It’s going to be great because of her partnership with Iconix.

You also just announced the acquisition of Big Buddha Handbags. Where will you take that brand?

Big Buddha is on fire. Just look at how packed their booth is at any show—of course half the women there are flirting with Jeremy [owner Jeremy Bassan] (laughs). I try to stay away from his booth—I don’t want to encourage him (laughs). We plan to add other accessories categories to Big Buddha and develop it further. It’s very exciting.

You license eyewear/sunwear to Colors in Optics; fashion accessories and cold weather to Cejon; among others. What about other classifications?

Fashion jewelry is new. We entered into a licensing agreement with Lucas Design in January for a line of fashion jewelry. Retails range from $39.99 to $69.99. Our bedding license is also hot and a hit with college girls for their dorms. We have footwear partnerships too, such as UES (Upper Echelon Shoes) with metallic studs and chains, but we’re keeping UES as its own entity. Our apparel is also doing great. We’re also planning a Steve Madden jeans line.

Is the higher-end Steven by Steve Madden growing?

You know, we’re growing in every division. Lower, higher, international…it’s all exploding.

You have 85 retail stores now domestically and about 60 internationally. How do you see the retail landscape changing in the next five years?

We opened our first store in 1993.

Edgy bangles from the new jewelry license Obviously the Internet has changed everything and there’s a big digital component, and that’s why Stevemadden.com is so successful. But people still like to shop in the stores. Now it’s about better locations, better rents. Our international stores are franchises and leased departments. We have stores or plans for stores everywhere from Europe to Asia to Russia to Israel to Dubai.

With so many brand collaborations, will you change the merchandise mix at your stores? Or keep it tight?

Locally, stores carry only the Steve Madden licensed products, but none of the various collaborations and partnerships.

With your young(ish) demographic, how has social media shaped the Steve Madden brand?

As a brand, we Twitter, we’re on Facebook. We need to do it because we need to do it, although I’m not sure it’s shaped the brand. I think the brand was already shaped.

Have you Twittered?

I’ve tried it but I don’t like it. You really need a feel for Twitter. No one cares what I had for lunch. We try to keep it all related to the brand—we talk about events, when I’m appearing in stores, that sort of thing. A customer of ours in Alabama looking for a great pair of shoes won’t care what I think about health care reform.

Although if you sit me down at lunch, you’ll get an earful.

I bet! Well I guess you can always tweet about your

We created Steve Madden Music a few years ago. I always wanted to get into the pop-music music business—I always said, if pop stars could go into fashion, I could go into records. The problem? It’s tough to monetize. It’s all online and digital now. Until it sorts itself out, I can’t be in the business of producing, but I partner with artists and record companies to do cross-branding.

You’ve had some really big names in music perform at your Lower East Side store in New York. Will this concept expand nationally?

It might. But it’s not a selling event. Bands perform after hours at our store—we’ve had Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, among others. It’s been amazing. I’d like to have a record label—to find, discover and promote artists—and to have them wear my shoes, of course.

So what’s next for Steve Madden— the man and the brand?

Music is a big push. And being a dad to my two-year-old twins. And making cool shoes.

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Lauren Parker, Accessories Magazine

Lauren Parker, Editor-in-Chief, Accessories Magazine
As Editor-in-Chief of Accessories Magazine for the past 12 years, Lauren Parker has covered accessories both from a retail business perspective and a fashion point of view. In previous full-time magazine jobs and freelance gigs, she’s written about practically every angle of fashion lifestyle living, including women's fashion accessories, fine jewelry, Caribbean travel, private jets, Hampton’s real estate, the New York art scene, the bridal industry, men’s lifestyle and being a mom. She loves meeting designers and seeing how their latest offerings capture the current zeitgeist and fit into the entire cultural and social picture.