As Hush Puppies marks its 50th birthday this year, the footwear brand is already planning its next half a century.
Although typically associated with comfort fashion footwear, Hush Puppies has an edgier past than many would believe. When it was founded in 1958, it radically changed the casual footwear landscape and Hush Puppies managing director David Rist, who also celebrates his 50th birthday this year, sees the brand as a trend trailblazer.
“Like a lot of great brands, when Hush Puppies started out there was an element of chance about it,” he says.
The brand was born out of a pig-hide tannery owned by footwear giant Wolverine, the company behind brands including Caterpillar and Sebago. It owes its unusual name to one of its first sales managers, who claimed the shoes were so comfortable they hushed “barking dogs”, an idiom for sore feet in the vernacular of the day.
Offering men an alternative to the stiff, welted shoes they were used to, Hush Puppies carved out a niche by becoming the first truly casual footwear brand in the US. Under the strap “the classic American brushed-suede shoes with the lightweight cr갥 sole”, the brand became instantly recognisable as a staple product of late 1950s. “At that time kids didn’t want shoes that their dads were wearing,” says Rist. “Hush
Puppies were trendy and casual, and became popular with teddy boys, rockabillies and mods.”
Launched in the UK at high street chains such as Saxone, they became a sell-out just a year after going on sale in the US. Rist says the two most popular styles were the Wayne, a men’s lace-up, and the Earl, a men’s slip-on.
In the 1990s the shoes were embraced by trendsetters including designer Paul Smith, who kick-started a resurgence of the brand. Hush Puppies carries similar styles to Wayne and Earl today, illustrating that however the footwear market changes, staples still persist.
As Hush Puppies ushers in its 50th year, growth plans are afoot. The brand has 363 standalone stores globally and a UK opening strategy is in the pipeline. If it gets the green light, the shops will sell the full Hush Puppies range, including clothing, currently only sold in the Pacific Rim, where it is manufactured. “There is no reason why Hush Puppies can’t be more than footwear,” says Rist.
To celebrate its birthday, the brand has collaborated with celebrity stylists Philip Block and Rachel Fanconi to produce a contemporary young fashion footwear offer as the brand tries to remain a step ahead of the troubled footwear market.
Hush Puppies has seen some of the biggest footwear retailers boom and bust over the past half a century and has weathered many an economic storm. However, a fresh blow came earlier this year with the collapse of key retail accounts Dolcis and Stead & Simpson.
But Rist says that after 50 years in the market, Hush Puppies can survive. “Today Hush Puppies has a different, broader appeal than it did 50 years ago,” he says. “It is a broad church and is a very inclusive brand.”
Hush Puppies 0116 281 4300 www.hushpuppies.co.uk
1958: Year the brand was founded
450: Number of UK accounts, against 1,500 doors globally
363: Hush Puppies own-brand stores worldwide