New England Footwear, a new company headed by Doug Clark, former vice president of Timberland's Invention Factory, has acquired the GoLite footwear intellectual property, tangible assets and remaining inventory from Timberland. Timberland is retaining the GoLite trademark and is licensing the rights to the GoLite name to Clark for all products below the ankle. The license for GoLite products above the ankle, including equipment, belongs to GoLite, a Boulder, Colo., company manufacturing technical outerwear as well as packs, tents and sleeping bags.
The call to SNEWS® to announce that GoLite footwear has been resurrected comes a little more than two months after we broke the story that Timberland was discontinuing the Mion and GoLite footwear brands (click here to read the SNEWS® story).
Doug Clark, whose last day at Timberland was May 15, told SNEWS®, "When Timberland made its decision to focus on the Timberland brand I could intellectually understand it, but I was disappointed that the decision affected the very projects I had worked on for five years. Thinking hard and long about what I wanted to do, I knew my passion and heart were in realizing the full potential of those seeds my team and I had planted in GoLite footwear in particular."
Clark told us he decided to focus on GoLite footwear for his first acquisition rather than Mion because he felt the GoLite brand had greater long-term potential to succeed and because the footwear was less seasonal in nature.
Also, GoLite footwear was a brand and project that was very near and dear to Clark while he was at Timberland, beginning with the development of a line of outdoor athletic shoes four years ago that Clark told SNEWS® was "athletically inspired but not built on traditional road or trail footwear technology." That idea became GoLite footwear.
For Clark, the acquisition of GoLite is just the beginning of a platform on which he plans to build a house of design doing what he loves -- innovation incubation.
"I am going to constrain what we do for the next six months, but GoLite is just the start of a business that will be built by both acquisition and incubation," Clark told us. "I am looking to take the concept that was the very core of the Invention Factory at Timberland, which is the idea that a small and focused group of diverse talents creates a more nurturing environment that can better incubate new business ideas, not just technology."
Clark is already looking at fitness and wellness as a distinct market opportunity, as well as other areas that may not be footwear-focused, despite the name of his company, New England Footwear.
What should retailers expect from GoLite footwear at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer Summer Market? More of the same in one respect, but a whole lot more in another, Clark said.
"We are focusing on the entire outdoor market with an athletic eye. I will show up with shoes that get folks to take a new look at hiking," said Clark. "The GoLite technology platform gives us a great tool to be able to show up with revolutionary products that translate into shoes for speed hiking, fastpacking, trekking and hiking."
What Clark will not be doing is chasing trends. "Every metric of our business should improve if we can have fewer SKU updates and instead solve needs that can be met forever. My mandate to our design team is to build shoes that will be just as relevant five years from now as today," he said.
One new line Clark seems particularly excited about is the GoLite answer to trekking. "The platform is revolutionary and a bit more shoe-like in appearance. In some ways, it is a little bit of a hybrid and is our adventure travel solution for folks who need a shoe that is good for shorter hikes and in the city."
Clark's goal is to position the GoLite brand in the $90- to $120-price range to make it accessible to more consumers.
"In the first year of the GoLite footwear brand at Timberland, the shoes were thought of more as a high-end specialty shoe, but we need to make it more accessible," Clark added.
One of the ways he plans to lower the cost is by taking as much of the production labor out of a shoe as possible. "I want to be producing a shoe that is 80-percent to 90-percent molded rather than using stitching lines. I am not abandoning this idea of molding shoes. Right now, in fairness, our molded shoes are little more than assembled shoes with molded components. If we can remove our reliance on factory labor, then the possibilities for sourcing and lowering costs open up."
When we asked Clark about the "other" GoLite owned by Kim and Demetri Coupounas, the founders of the GoLite brand and the ones that sold the GoLite trademark to Timberland in June 2006 (click here to read story), Clark said he has every intention to maintain a strong relationship with the apparel and equipment brand and its team.
"I was one of the advocates at Timberland for the GoLite acquisition and buy into Coup's reasons for why he launched the brand hook, line and sinker -- it is more fun to be outdoors with less weight," Clark told SNEWS®. "We will certainly expect to work closely with Coup to share seasonal directions, color palettes and merchandising strategies."
Coupounas, though, was not in the loop on the proceedings. When we called him for comment, he told SNEWS®, "I do not know what has happened. No one at GoLite does, and although we have heard rumors and have tried to find out the substance in those rumors, we were intentionally and purposefully kept in the dark, and we are not happy about that," he said.
Clark, while restricted from recruiting talent directly from Timberland, has managed to add some very key executives to his team. Tom Montgomery, formerly of StrideRite. Kenneth Cole and Timberland, will handle all sourcing. Matt King, a 13-year veteran of Peregrine Outfitters, will head the national sales effort. Steve Opie, ofo Opie Designs, has worked with such respected brands as StrideRite, Converse and Nike, and will now provide his direction as a designer for New England Footwear.
SNEWS® contacted Timberland seeking comment regarding the sale of the GoLite footwear brand and license of the trademark to Clark, but were told the company was working on an official release in tandem with Clark.
When we asked about the future of the Invention Factory, we received the following response by email: "We remain committed to footwear innovation through our dedicated advanced-concepts team -- ably led by John Healy, who is a veteran of the footwear industry and founding member of the Invention Factory."
To contact Clark, or to see what is going on at his new company, go to www.newenglandfootwear.com (which Clark told us would be live by June 16).
SNEWS® View: Timberland loses a talent in Clark, who was likely a bit frustrated with the shifts and changes that continued to plague the company as it battled with a changing economic climate. Change, for the right reasons, as we have said many times before, is good for everyone. Clark gets to continue his dreams of leading a design team that is unfettered by corporate politics, and can foster a design idea through all levels of the production process, from inception to production to actually marketing and selling. On the risk side, the buck now begins and stops with Clark. If a product bombs, it comes out of his company pocketbook and is on his watch, with only his face to see in the mirror. There is both an upside and a downside to entrepreneurship.
At Timberland, a new energy and team will likely emerge around the research and development side that is fully on board with the idea that the Timberland brand is the be all and end all of everything the company does.
For retailers who are GoLite footwear dealers, this is also good news. If you bought into the footwear concept from the start, you now have support for that -- and assurance your initial jump into the pool isn't going to leave you simply wet and cold, wondering where the sun just went. Clark has serious design and idea chops, and we would expect to see some very intriguing and exciting products hitting the market before too long. There are also likely going to be a few ideas that leave folks scratching their heads, but better that than eliciting a collective yawn. After all, you can't make a stellar omelet without breaking a few eggs -- sorry, that was a cliché we just could not pass up.