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'We can disrupt the idea of dress footwear': Cole Haan's UK plans

Cole haan men's grandprø tennis sneaker woodbury handstain white blazer blue handstain rt

US heritage brand Cole Haan is focusing on UK growth and expansion as part of its plans to shake up the formal footwear market. 

Plenty has changed since Trafton Cole and Eddie Haan founded footwear brand Cole Haan in 1928. Established in Chicago as a specialist in men’s formal footwear, today the label creates easy-to-wear styles that can go from workout to commute to desk.

Sportswear giant Nike bought Cole Haan in 1988, and sold it to UK private equity firm Apax Partners in 2012. The brand operates in 60 countries and launched into the UK in March 2017. It now has 22 UK stockists, including Liberty London, Selfridges, Harrods and Soletrader. The brand will also launch online and in three John Lewis stores, including the retailer’s Oxford Street flagship, for autumn 19.

Wholesale prices range from £42 for slip-on loafers to £96 for Oxford shoes. Internationally, around 55% of trades comes from men’s footwear and 45% from women’s. Retail prices for its women’s footwear range start at £100 for tennis shoes and go up to £145 for Oxford shoes.

David maddocks cmo and gm, business development headshot rt

David Maddocks

Despite a tough climate for some footwear retailers and brands in the UK, chief marketing officer David Maddocks is positive about the brand’s future in the market: “One of our worries before launching was that there is an incredible tradition of fine footwear in the UK and in nearby European markets. Like any brand in a new market, there were concerns about whether the consumer would accept our design and differentiation. Now that they have, we don’t see anything but opportunity in the UK market.”

The brand has taken a “top-down” approach to its distribution in the UK, general manager for Europe Alex Souter explains, starting with luxury department stores: “We started with department store distribution, where we are the entry price point at somewhere like Selfridges and are adjacent to brands like Gucci and Paul Smith. As we’ve rolled out, we’ve expanded into doors such as Soletrader, which gives us mainstream access in a specialist footwear environment.”

Karen Stottrup-Thomsen, assistant buyer, men’s shoes at John Lewis & Partners, said: “We’re excited to be stocking Cole Haan’s Men’s range from September. Cole Haan’s great heritage story has consistently innovated and modernised. Their distinctive contemporary look, paired with impressive super-comfortable lightweight technology, is going to really appeal to our customers, and we look forward to introducing them to our stores and online in the autumn.”

Cole Haan does plan to open UK stores, although Maddocks says there are no concrete plans as yet. He predicts that the label will open a pop-up first to test the market before dipping its toe permanently into bricks-and-mortar.

More immediate are plans to revamp the Cole Haan digital offer – around 30% of the brand’s trade currently comes from online.

“We’re re-platforming out website to be mobile first later this year, and we will eventually be able to roll that out globally,” says Maddocks. “It’s really important that we think mobile first, as increasingly that’s how our customer is shopping.”

Cole haan zerøgrand all day trainer men's and women's optic white black

Maddocks says the brand is capitalising on the continuing trend of workwear becoming more casual: “We have the hypothesis that we can disrupt the idea of dress footwear. The brand has a reputation for craft and quality, but we’re also seeing the casualisation of the workplace. Technology means that young people aren’t behaving in their work lives in the way they once did. We have mobile devices and we are increasingly mobile ourselves. Sneakers were beginning to invade the traditional space owned by dress shoes and we thought who better to disrupt the market than a dress shoe company?”

The brand prides itself on taking an innovative approach to classic footwear, and says it creates “feather-light” styles that marry comfort and style. Its range of Zerogrand trainers (which retail at £180), launched earlier this year and are designed to give the support of a sneaker while being smart enough to be worn outside of the gym. 

A combination of brand heritage and innovation will help Cole Haan to prosper in the UK footwear market, Maddocks argues: “People know and trust the brand, and that has carried overseas. We’re engineering product that appeals to the young professional and we’re married to comfort and versatility. We’re also investing enough in product creation to bring about true innovation – and that’s how to appeal to the next generation.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • This is all very well but as a customer of Cole Haan for 17 years I can attest that the drop in quality and turn to deceptive marketing since the Apax takeover has ruined the brand for me. The shoes look nothing like they do on the online store and the way they calculate markdowns would be illegal in the UK. Mr Maddocks would do well to reflect on how successful brands treat their customers.

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