For the past year, Kerry Hartman has been hard at work conceptualizing new comfort-enhancing technologies and elevating style at Hush Puppies. Judging by the sneak preview of upcoming designs (including ultra-light mesh knit sneakers that could potentially be a big hit), the brand is getting closer than ever to combining the best of style and comfort in footwear.
The Vice President of Global Product was in town recently and spoke to us about her direction for Hush Puppies and how the landscape has changed from when she first started to step foot in the industry.
You started out at Footlocker (back then known as Woolworth Corporation) before moving over to J.Crew but mostly stayed in the footwear arena. Is there a particular reason for that?
I’ve actually done apparel as well. When I was at American Eagle Outfitters, I did footwear, outerwear and swimwear. But I’ve always handled primarily footwear and additional categories. It’s because footwear is such a specialised manufacturing process that once you become specialised in that field, you tend to stay in it. And people want you for that specifically because not everyone knows how to do it.
Hush Puppies has been around since 1958. What do you think attributes to its longevity in the market?
I think there are a multitude of things. We invented casual, we’re an authentic brand, we’ve always stood for comfort and we’re good quality. So I think all of those hallmarks really bode well to brands that have longevity and we’re one of those.
Do you think the Hush Puppies customer has changed over the years?
I think they have definitely evolved just as the globe as evolved. As I said, we invented casual and now, the whole global environment is becoming more casual. People are also more active later in life – being sixty now is like being in your forties, twenty years ago. And it’s up to us to satisfy the needs of the changing lifestyles.
In that aspect, is it less of a challenge for Hush Puppies to stay relevant because fashion has evolved into where the line between formal and casual is blurred?
It’s always a challenge. As soon as you become complacent in what you’re doing, you’ll fail. I think that in order to be relatively relevant, there’s a need for the innovation of more and better technologies as well as style. It is incumbent upon us to deliver the hottest, latest and greatest. Although Hush Puppies might not come to mind as leaders in technology and footwear, we actually have some proprietary stuff that’s coming up that will really change the face of what we’re doing. Since I’ve come on board, I’ve enforced that it should start with a great shoe and then it’s the “wow” experience of comfort when you put it on.
Just like style, comfort is also pretty subjective. How do you ensure that you manage to get the right balance of both?
I think first and foremost, fashion is subjective. We have a well-developed product line and a casual component to our footwear. There is also a focus on being authentic with our materials so we use the best nubucks, suedes and leathers. Our footwear is effortless to wear so it’s not like you have to think about: what am I going to wear this with and how am I going to wear it. There is an ageless appeal but although we have a target we design for, it will appeal up and down from that focus. So everything for us filters through those lanes to ensure that we have brand integrity. We do shop Europe four to five times a year and there are some trends that are never going to be appropriate for Hush Puppies. My job is to be in tuned with what we believe will or not be appropriate for the brand and push us forward.
Which is a challenge because you want to be current but at the same time not to veer away from being true to the brand.
You don’t but then there’s also a moment where you need to attract people who might not have considered Hush Puppies before. And so if you stick with the same old same old, you’re going to have the same repeat customers and remain just there.
Within your short year, has there been any risks taken in respect to design?
We’ve taken a lot of risks actually. Why I’m having such a good day today is because we’ve put things that haven’t hit the market yet up on the display behind us so that anyone could come in; they don’t know it’s not for sale. I’m delighted that they were disappointed when they find out that they couldn’t get any of those today. It’s really affirming when the response to the time and effort spent into curating a really innovative and forward-looking line is so positive.
I’ve heard that you’re going to be pulling forward the release of the spring/summer 2017 collection to this season?
We are! I’ve taken a lot of this newness on the road and the response has been so positive that the regions want to pull it forward, in some cases to this November. It’s a manufacturing challenge but we’re working on it.
Hush Puppies is available at these locations.