Cole Haan is almost a century old but you would never know that by looking at its innovative footwear. For a company with such a long heritage, Cole Haan is refreshingly forward-looking. We chatted with Gregory Dinges (pictured below), executive VP and general manager for Cole Haan International, about current footwear trends, the brand’s design philosophy, and its interesting take on marrying style and innovation.

How do you anticipate the footwear business landscape changing in the next decade?

Global retail is changing at a rapid pace. The biggest change, of course, is driven by the Internet and the digital marketplace. There will always be the great stores of Orchard Road and elsewhere, but consumers are shopping online more and comparing the competition there as well. The footwear business is no different. We need to be flexible and support our legacy go-to-market channels while developing new 21st century ones as well. For Cole Haan, part of our secret to success is bringing on board the best local talent and tapping into their network of resources and relationships.

Talking about business, numerous fashion brands are realigning their strategy by holding the fashion show and letting consumers buy the products instantly.

Cole Haan is not a “fashion show” kind of brand. We like the product to be the star, not the models. We do like telling our innovation story though. We do this best in our stores, where we can demonstrate product quality first hand and let the consumer test and feel the difference between our products and the competition. We also tell our stories online and though great PR events and activities. We strive to have newness in our stores every month.

Tell me more about this innovation story.

Our design and innovation philosophy is straight-forward and, we think, quite unique within the footwear category. We call it ‘Elegant Innovation’. Many footwear brands deliver on elegance – think of the many famous European designer labels. A few footwear brands deliver on true innovation – think of Nike in the athletic footwear space. But very few brands, maybe no other brand, delivers on both at the same time.

Our shoes are truly world-class in terms of the innovations they contain. They are the lightest and most flexible, not to mention most comfortable, shoes on the market. On top of that, they’re fashionable and stylish. We make great shoes for both men and women and for all occasions, in what we like to call ‘From Manhattan to Maine’. We draw on heritage locations for our company in its history, Manhattan and Maine.

What’s the next big innovation we can expect from Cole Haan?

We have a lot in our innovation pipeline. We feel that we must constantly be innovating as well as keeping up with style trends. Our latest innovation is what we call Grand Revolution. Grand Revolution dress shoes for men and women look like traditional dress shoes – classic oxfords for men or high heeled pumps for women. But hidden inside and totally invisible to the eye is amazing technology that makes them significantly lighter more flexible and more comfortable than traditional shoes. When I wear my Grand Revolution Washington Grand Laser Wingtip Oxfords (in classic British Tan), they’re so incredibly comfortable that I forget I’m not wearing high-end Nike or Adidas athletic shoes until I look down and see how classically adorned and stylish my feet actually are!

Why is Singapore an important market for Cole Haan?

Singapore is on top of all the global trends and is a truly first world city in every sense. Its retail and brand development are first rate. While the population is somewhat limited, it is a worldly population. Singaporeans are world travelers and trendsetters in many fields. We wouldn’t be a truly global brand without a solid presence in the Lion City.

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