While at Summer Market, SNEWSÂ® learned, and Steve Rendle, president of The North Face confirmed, that the company is pushing the growth of its footwear category by creating a new and separate footwear department in-house.
Its footwear division will act as a separate department within the research, design and development division of TNF, and will be led by a footwear-specific vice president who will report directly to Rendle. Interviews for that position were on-going, Rendle told us.
Footwear product directors will focus on three key product platforms: trail running, multi-sport/hiking and insulated footwear. The three product directors will each have a dedicated design and development team made up of two to three designers and a number of footwear developers reporting directly to them. These teams will begin work on the fall 2007 line immediately.
"In the last four years our footwear business has grown at a compounded annual growth rate of 53.5 percent, and that momentum continues in 2005. These investments are being made from a position of strength, to maximize the significant global growth potential we can achieve," Rendle told SNEWSÂ®
To complement the U.S.-based team and provide strong sourcing and production support, similar investments will be made in the VF Asia sourcing and technical services business structure. In Asia, a position of vice president of footwear production is being created along with dedicated merchandising staff and technical development teams. Â
TNF's footwear line is currently managed by One Step Ahead, a footwear design and development company located in Portland, Ore.
"This is by no means a reflection on the quality of work One Step Ahead has played in the success of our footwear business," Rendle told us. Â
The transition to an in-house team will take place over the next six months and culminate in the development of the fall 2007 product line.
Rendle added that One Step Ahead has the opportunity to become more involved in TNF's footwear development teams, although he recognizes it has a very successful business independent of TNF that the company may not want to give up.
SNEWSÂ® View: No surprises here. VF has already demonstrated that the company prefers to operate with in-house teams that can feed off the energy of other teams in the building. Already this approach has shown positive developments in the TNF designs for tents, technical apparel and more. And we would say that this makes sense for the footwear division, especially in light of TNF's goals to significantly grow its global footwear business over the next five years. Our estimates place TNF's current footwear business at $50 million globally for 2005, and by reading between the lines from information gathered during interviews over the last year, it would appear the company is expecting TNF footwear to generate nearly $200 million in sales within five years. Heady numbers, but certainly very possible.