Standing in Someone Else’s Shoes

As retailers continue to increase brand-extension activity based on their proprietary IP—through licensing or other models—footwear has, not surprisingly, become a key category of interest for retail chains in the fashion and lifestyle spaces. Sometimes the licensed or collaborative shoes are sold primarily in the licensors’ own stores, but they often find distribution opportunities in non-competitive retail channels as well.

A few examples:

  • Gap is introducing a line of footwear for men, women, and children in spring/summer of this year. In March of 2022, Gap and its agent IMG announced a licensing agreement with Unlimited Footwear Group for Gap-branded shoes in Europe and the U.K. This is the latest of a number of agreements since Gap began licensing its brand in 2020, with its Walmart partnership for Gap Home among the most high-profile. UFG division The Heritage Footwear Company is overseeing Gap Footwear, which will be sold through wholesale and online channels, including at multi-brand fashion and sports retail locations. Gap has been closing its physical retail stores in Europe over the past few years, focusing instead on its online presence.
  • French Connection, a U.K.-based high street retailer, signed a year-long footwear license with Sante + Wade, a size-inclusive brand, last August. The spring/summer 2023 women’s collection is available now in the U.K. and Europe. French Connection describes the design of the products, which are constructed of vegan leather and are handmade in Portugal, as combining its classic silhouettes with Sante + Wade’s blend of personalization and comfort.
  • Last spring, Lululemon launched a women’s sneaker called the Blissfeel running shoe, marking the first time the brand had entered the footwear category. The products, in 10 colors, were launched in stores in North America, mainland China, and the U.K., as well as online. The shoes were designed based on data from more than a million women’s foot scans, in partnership with technology firm Volumental, and were subject to three rounds of wear testing to make sure they were tailored specifically to the needs of women’s feet. Subsequent styles included a Chargefeel cross-training shoe, a Restfeel post-workout slide, and a Strongfeel multidirectional training shoe. A Restfeel slide for men was subsequently released, with a broader men’s footwear collection planned. Lululemon oversees its footwear category expansion in-house.

Meanwhile, traditional fashion and lifestyle brands—which often have their own retail presence but maintain a wholesale business that is as or more robust than their direct-to-consumer retail footprint—naturally continue to forge deals in the footwear space as well, selling the shoes in both their wholesale and proprietary retail channels. Recent agreements on this front include Dutch label Scotch & Soda, which signed Bos Group late last year for men’s, women’s, and children’s footwear. The new partner replaced its previous licensee, HS Footwear GmbH, with which it had worked since 2018. Two collections per year are planned.

Similarly, Draper James, the lifestyle label founded by actress Reese Witherspoon, collaborated with Tretorn for a collection of three sneaker styles available on Draper James’ e-commerce site this spring; this is the second pairing of the two companies, with the last taking place a year ago. Draper James’ previous collaboration partners for footwear have included Keds and Jack Rogers. It also announced a licensing deal in March 2022 with Aldo Product Services for a collection of 37 styles of sandals, flats, espadrilles, and kitten heels, marking its first full footwear line, sold through its own Draper James stores and at Zappos and Nordstrom.

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