The first of a series, In Their Footsteps takes a look at people in the footwear industry. Our first profile is Leslie Gallin, UBM Fashion, President, Footwear, who talks about why consumers are buying boots in the summer and what attendees can expect at the upcoming footwear shoes.
First, a bit about you. How long have you been in footwear market and in trade shows?
I was introduced to both footwear and trade shows simultaneously. At the time, WSA (World Shoe Association) was moving from a non-profit to a for profit business and a dear friend thought I would be the right person to help merchandise their event. From the moment I stepped out of the apparel fashion side into footwear, I was hooked. I have been working in footwear now over 16 years.
How have you seen the market change in recent years?
Distribution channels and retail reorganization have been the largest disruptors. Years ago you had “carriage trade retailers” – be that department stores or specialty retailing. Each store had its own unique identity, even those part of a “chain” were regionally different. You also had buyers on the selling floor actually hearing what the customer had to say. But then homogenization took over. There was a glut of products which all looked the same and price wars began, and as a result, there became limited retail shelf space for new and perhaps product that would really sell.
And how was the consumer reacted to that?
It feels like the consumer is now pushing back. They want the brand experience and or the store’s DNA experience – to touch and feel and develop those personal relationships with the sales staff and loyalty to both the brand and the retailer. Consumers also want to be able to get their “fix” 24/7. Online provides this, enabling the consumer to see the full range of product. The consumer is now looking for quality and style. Price is important, but not at the cost of inferior craftsmanship and brand identity.
Footwear@Coterie is making its debut during the Feb NY Market (Feb 27-March 1). How did this come to be and what does it mean for exhibitors and retailers hitting the show?
UBM (our parent company) acquired BJI (Business Journal Show) about a year ago. This move enabled us to look at our entire portfolio. We recognized some synergies and some overlaps. Sole Commerce has always been the jewel in the crown of our NY fashion events. We were wall bound with the show. Coterie, needed more space. With the acquisition, it enables us to address what’s happening in the market. Elevating our assortment i.e., Footwear@Coterie and at the same time move Sole Commerce to sit alongside the BJI shows (Edit, Stitch and Moda). With the advent of a broader assortment of product types and additional space for the show, this enabled us to open up the criteria for entry into Sole Commerce. For years we had to turn away companies who wanted to show with us in NY, but due to lack of space and high threshold for entry, many were unable to be accepted. Footwear@Coterie will represent an elevated assortment of footwear and Sole Commerce will now offer a wider range of product.
Do designer brands that have footwear choose to show all in one booth, or do they still break out the footwear in the Sole Commerce or Footwear at Coterie section?
Footwear at our NY shows (unlike at FN PLATFORM) is treated differently. We view footwear during our NY show as an accessory. Each of our shows have a different target audience. Which is why attending all of our events becomes important. As I was saying, New York, based on the timing of the show, is the last event in the cycle for footwear. Our show offers the opportunity to pull paper from footwear retailers they may have previously seen and more importantly offers the entry to apparel retailers who want to buy footwear with a heavy concentration on the Eastern seaboard region. And more boutiques. We find that the buyers are the ones telling us how they want to shop. They want to see product categorized by like type products and price points, which is why we will have two sections for footwear within our NY show. We find when an apparel brand also had footwear they do better when they have a separate location for the footwear. It makes the brand stand out and feel important.
What trends are you seeing in footwear for F/W 17? Are you highlighting these at the show in any trend vignettes or anything like that?
In NY we always have a curated installation of footwear on display. This season we are finding sneakers embellished with artistic touches fresh. Slides/Mules, Booties (with the cropped pant trend, booties are the must-have accessories). We are also seeing all-weather boots strong.
Do you feel footwear trends are leading changes in ready to wear or the other way around? For example, trendy sneakers and trendy athleisure/streetwear. Is this a chicken and egg thing?
It appears with the trend fast to market, we are seeing footwear setting trends. But truthfully, I see people buying shoes and then figuring out what to wear with them.
Do you feel footwear has gotten more seasonless? Like boots/booties in summer, fur slides, etc.
Everyone travels now… big city living and those who live in the West are finding boots to be a seasonless accessory.
What are some new footwear brands that will be showing at the shows this February?
Angela Mitchell Milan, Kennel & Schmenger and Katy Perry area all new for Footwear@Coterie and for Sole Commerce Coolway (Spain), Creative Rec and Gola Classics are all new.
Accessories recently did a story called Yes the Shoe Fits: Why You Should Add Shoes to Your Store. Do you see more fashion boutiques adding footwear as an accessory for their customer, even if it’s not the focus of their store?
They should. People are not dressing up…jeans and a great jacket go everywhere. It’s the accessories which are driving the freshness. Bags and shoes. And retailers need to make sure they have the assortment to provide to their customers.