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The Drapers Interview: Havaianas branches out beyond the beach

“I’m obsessed with footwear. I’m always looking at people’s shoes,” says Havaianas UK and Ireland country manager Richard Shetliffe. “You might have a £10,000 suit on, but if you’ve got the wrong pair of shoes with it, it doesn’t work.”

Richard Shetliffe

Source: Anna Huix

Richard Shetliffe, Havaianas UK and Ireland country manager

This is not just talk. Shetliffe has spent most of his career in footwear. He started his career in 1994 as national sales manager at Dr Martens and was managing director at Browning Brands (part of the Dune Group) from 2003 to 2007 before taking the top job at the UK arm of Havaianas in 2008.

Founded in Brazil in 1962, Havaianas has become one of the country’s most famous exports, producing 240 million pairs of flip-flops every year. In fact, Shetliffe says, the brand is such a staple of Brazilian life that during hyperinflation in the 1980s, the prices of household essentials such as rice, bread and Havaianas were fixed. 

Brazil remains the brand’s biggest market. Despite the country suffering from one of its worst recessions in a century, Havaianas parent company Alpargatas reported a “robust” performance during the first quarter of 2016, growing net revenue by 7.6% to R$578.1m (£134.1m). However, Shetliffe stresses the growing importance of the UK for Havaianas. Net revenue in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region was up 16.2% year on year in the first quarter of 2016 and in June, Havaianas launched a 969 sq ft UK flagship store at Westfield London. It already has stores in Carnaby Street and Covent Garden, as well as concessions in Selfridges in London, Birmingham and Manchester, and is stocked by John Lewis, Office and Schuh. 

“If you’re in France, you say Paris is the centre of the universe. If you’re in Italy, it’s Milan but in general, I think global brands look to London. If you’re in London, you’ve arrived,” says Shetliffe.

There are nods to the brand’s Brazilian heritage throughout the Westfield store, which stocks espadrilles and collaborations with Liberty and Charlotte Olympia alongside the main line of flip-flops. Sand-covered walls bring a little piece of the Copacabana beach to west London and a parrot made of multicoloured Havaianas fills one window. Although Draper’s visit takes place on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, the shop is consistently busy.

havaianas westfield store  6

Opening a store at the shopping centre has been a long-term goal for Havaianas, Shetliffe says.

“To make a bit of statement, Westfield was always top of our list. The brand is at a crossroads when it comes to product development. We’re established enough to know that we’ll be successful with the flagship, but I think there are a lot of consumers who still think of us just as flip-flops, so there’s an opportunity for us to showcase the new products.”

Flip-flops might be how Havaianas made its name, but Shetliffe and the company are out to prove it has got more than one trick up its sleeve. It introduced espadrilles and wellingtons in 2010, followed by swimwear in Brazil for spring 15. The swimwear will launch for spring 17 in Spain, Portugal and Italy. Retail prices will start from €20 (£16.90) for bikinis and €40 (£33.70) for boardshorts, and Shetliffe expects beachwear to hit UK stores in 2018.

Bad weather is one of the nuances of retailing in the UK

“Brand extension is something we’re going to be concentrating on a lot on in the future,” he says. “Obviously, the flip-flops are king and the whole product development process is very long form, but in the last few years we’ve made leaps and bounds. I expect sandals to be a big part of our journey going forward. It’s about making sure consumers know there’s more than one occasion you can wear Havaianas.”

He adds: “We try to listen in to consumers’ conversations in store. People tend to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realise they did all these ranges.’ It’s encouraging but at the same time you think, ‘OK. That’s something we have to address.’”

High street competition

Innovation is necessary for a brand that faces competition from high street retailers, many of which make their own flip-flops at lower price points than Havaianas, which retail at £20 to £25.

“Anyone that does a flip-flop can be a competitor for us, from sports brands to surf brands, and there’s also competition on price,” says Shetliffe. “We have to make sure we engage with customers because a consumer buying a flip-flop from, say, New Look, would know our brand. We have to make Havaianas accessible and relevant to them. Even on flip-flops you have to evolve, whether it’s through new prints or through collaborations.”

havaianas westfield store  37

This drive to innovate in what could be a restrictive category is what has led Havaianas to be sold in 146,000 stores throughout Europe.  

David Spencer, buying and marketing director of Havaianas stockist Schuh, says: “Fashion trends haven’t always been in Havaianas’ favour, especially recently with the growth of pool sliders. They’ve continued to remain relevant, which isn’t always easy to do. Their range has evolved considerably over the years to offer much more variety, which helps us attract new customers to the brand. Back in the day, we only really bought the Brasil style and, although this remains our number one bestseller, its overall mix has reduced as other models have been introduced and become more popular.”

Flip-flops might be every day footwear in tropical Brazil, but the temperamental UK climate can be more of a problem for a brand focused on warmer-weather products. Shetliffe admits the washout summer has made this season challenging, but says strong brand awareness has helped Havaianas weather the storm.

“Bad weather is one of the nuances of retailing in the UK, whether you’re selling swimwear or T-shirts and shorts. Yes, there is a correlation between sales and the weather but we are a well-established brand and the UK consumer tends to be quite hardy. Even if it’s rainy, you’ll see people sitting outside wearing their summer products. Being based in places like Westfield London and Carnaby Street, having a great wholesale base and great franchise locations has helped protect the brand.”

Charlotte Olympia was a fantastic match for us. Her mother was Brazilian

The brand’s responsive approach to in-season market dynamics has helped both it and its stockists navigate fluctuating demands, adds Schuh’s Spencer.

And being associated with sunnier months can also be an advantage for Havaianas, Shetliffe argues: “I think first and foremost, people recognise us as the flip-flop brand, in the same way Converse is the trainers brand and Hunter is the wellies brand. We’re only at retail for six or seven months of the year, although obviously our stores are permanent, so when consumers see Havaianas products starting to be delivered, they think, ‘Right. Summer’s arrived.’ We have to make hay while the sun shines.”

Collaborating with designers has also been key in keeping customers excited. For spring/summer 16, Havaianas has worked with Charlotte Olympia on a range using the designer’s spider’s web and cat motifs, retailing from £40 to £80, and with Liberty on flip-flops, espadrilles and beach bags.

charlotte olympia x havaianas

Charlotte Olympia x Havaianas

“Charlotte Olympia was a fantastic match for us,” Shetliffe says. “Her mother was Brazilian, she’s well connected within fashion circles and her bright, colourful aesthetic has worked really well. The range has helped us re-establish our connections at the top of the fashion pyramid.”

Havaianas has worked with other high-profile designers, including Valentino, Missoni and Matthew Williamson.

We get asked by a lot of people, but we only look to collaborate where it can be a mutual partnership

Shetliffe stresses that collaborations have to be an equal partnership to be successful: “We get asked by a lot of people, but we only look to collaborate where it can be a mutual partnership. We’re definitely at the top end of pricing when you compare us with other flip-flop products, but with projects like the Charlotte Olympia collection, it enables consumers to buy into us and buy into her at a more affordable price. It brings a new audience to us, but it brings a new audience to her as well.”

Humble beginnings

The UK arm of Havaianas might be well established, but Shetliffe says when he joined in 2008, it felt more like a start-up than a retail giant: “When I started, I didn’t have an office, I didn’t have anything and that was part of the attraction. I like being able to take something that’s established in terms of product range and introduce it to a new market or retailer, and then nurture and grow it.”

We’re not going to try and ride the shirt tails of the Olympics. We’re not a sports brand

The brand’s energy and high-fashion connections are part of what has kept him in the role for almost 10 years, he adds.

“For Selfridges’ 100th birthday in 2009, we gave away 50 pairs of white flip-flops to the great and good of the fashion world, including Manolo Blahnik, Lulu Guinness and Matthew Williamson, asking them to design their own. The very first pair we got back was from Manolo Blahnik. How many brands can do that? I don’t think many could.”

Havaianas is releasing a small range of Rio-themed flip-flops to tie in with the Olympics and Paralympics, which start in Brazil this week. However, Shetliffe says he expects the games to give Havaianas some good PR, rather than create a surge in UK sales. 

“From a PR point of view and for our credentials as an authentic Brazilian brand, the Olympics will be a success for us, but we’re not going to try and ride the shirt tails of the Olympics. We’re not a sports brand.” 

Olympic lift or not, things are certainly looking sunny for Havaianas. 

Richard Shetliffe will be speaking at the Drapers Fashion Forum – the global debate on topics critical to the fashion retail sector – on October 4. This year’s theme is “Fit for the Future”, bringing you a board-level vision of what the future will hold for fashion retailing. To book tickets visit https://fashionforum.drapersonline.com/ or call Matteo Sulis on +44 (0)20 3033 2693.

 

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