The SNEWS team flew to Scottsdale, Ariz., in December 2003, to get a first glimpse of what the Timberland team would be unveiling for the company's fall 2004 Outdoor Performance footwear line.
Early last year, under the direction of new Worldwide Outdoor Category Director Jay Steere, members of the design team traveled the country and around Europe, visiting with retailers and footwear experts, even making a stop at SNEWS® headquarters in Grass Valley, Calif., to lay the foundation for a radical change in the way the company approached the specialty outdoor footwear market.
The mandate for the company in the outdoor category became clear: reassert the heritage of the brand as a New England-based company with strong ties to modern Yankee innovation.
"We realized that strategically and competitively, we were losing our place," Steere told SNEWS during the Scottsdale visit. "It became very clear that we need to reinforce Timberland's leadership position as a product that delivers superior value with functional, end-use driven performance."
Steere's team decided that delivering value and end-use driven performance wouldn't have a leg to stand on if the shoe didn't fit, and members also realized that their shoes were being made on far too many lasts, resulting in a wide range of fit characteristics that were not consistent from style to style. So, they trimmed the number of different lasts from 12 down to just two.
The company also determined that its outdoor category footwear must serve consumers well from the summit to the sea, so Timberland has established three distinct product groupings: Hiking, with products for hikers in all climates and terrain; Sport Utility, featuring footwear targeted for activities such as approach, trail running and more while still remaining versatile; and Water Sport with amphibious footwear from shoes to sandals.
All of the shoes in the hiking and sport utility groupings feature a design set the company dubs the "Agile IQ system." The bottom of each shoe relies on an outsole that while designed with subtle differences depending on the shoe, essentially offers the same performance criteria -- brake, support, flex and propel. On top of the outsole is a cushioned lower midsole, topped off with a plastic plate with unique cuts and notches strategically placed to improve cushioning, flex and support. The footbed then gets topped with an upper midsole for full-length cushioning. All-in-all, although we've yet to take the footwear for a test-run or trial-hike, the system looks quite promising in terms of performance attributes and comfort.
It is, in our view, the first cohesive and coherent outdoor footwear offering that Timberland has offered in a number of years -- hats off to Steere for guiding the team in this direction.
While a number of the shoes remain quite traditional, it is clear Timberland designers have been allowed to get edgy with colors and silhouettes, and that's a very, very good thing. Yankee heritage is fine, but you can only take pot roast and boiled potatoes for so long before you begin craving a little spice! Timberland has finally delivered some spice.
Here are a few of the shoes that caught our attention:
Mont Cham (hiking group) -- Thanks to a sleek suede leather upper that mimics the leather found on climbing shoes, coupled with a "lace-to-toe" highly adjustable lacing system and a low-profile sole, the shoe is stylish while still offering performance features such as sticky rubber.
Fastpacker Expedite (sport utility group) -- We'll be honest here -- the banana yellow fabric mesh combined with tan colored leather and black accents for the upper turned our heads. The shoe screams performance, but we bet it will find its way onto feet that don't have any intention of stepping near a muddy trail.
Front Country Outdoor (sport utility group) -- With a low profile, Euro-look, this shoe would be ideal for around town, on the plane, on a groomed trail -- and even on the trade show floor.