Timberland re-launches outdoor, promises women’s needs top-of-mind

You may say, wait, again? But Timberland says it’s back and it’s very serious about its commitment to outdoor specialty and core product, with a particular emphasis on women’s footwear. SNEWS gets an early peek prior to the company’s launch at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011.
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Going back and forth for years with its commitment to core outdoor-focused product, Timberland is ready at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011 to swing open its doors on a totally realigned lineup to prove it is back (again) -- and it is serious -- when it comes to outdoor specialty globally.

“It’s really coming back to who we are,” said Mark Bryden, general manager, Timberland North America. “I’m pretty confident we’re going to get this.”

Certainly known as a strong outdoor brand over the years, Timberland had, however, in the last decade drifted into high-fashion and hip-hop. As Bryden shared with SNEWS® at an exclusive early showing of its line at its December 2010 sales meetings, the company had “let (high-fashion and hip-hop) influence our style too much.”

In the works since August 2010, the totally revamped line -- with a strong emphasis on the environment and functional looks for women -- means the company has now reset its inner workings, pulled back past products, and tweaked its messages and images.

In fact, the entire company worldwide is now circling the wagons around the new initiative, Bryden said. Although knuckling down over the last five months to get the new fall/winter line out the door, this won’t be the end of the process. It will take two to three years, Bryden said, until he will be ready to sit back, nod his head and say, “OK, we got this.” Of course, it’s not as if the company ever really decided to say it wasn’t getting it and was leaving outdoor.

“We never said, ‘we’re in and now we’re out,” said Brian Moore, vice president of men’s footwear, Timberland Global. “We just made product and it didn’t deliver.”

Despite the promises of a commitment this round, Bryden acknowledged that Timberland (NYSE: TBL), parent of SmartWool, will need to convince some specialty retailers the company really means it. And he wants the industry to keep its eye on the company.

“The market should be watching that everything we do points to this end,” Bryden said.

Part of the process was totally rebuilding its North American leadership team. Bryden himself started about a year and a half ago, coming over from SmartWool, where he was president. Also new in the last two years to the team are: Mike Noonan, vice president of sales NA; Anne Cavassa, senior director of merchandising NA; Maile Buker, senior director of marketing NA; and Greg Duffy, senior director of performance footwear global.

“We’re infusing ourselves with talent that understands the consumer and the product,” Bryden said.

Women’s market

Of particular note was what the company felt was a real gap in the product it had for women, who Bryden noted control or influence 70 percent of the buying decisions. Timberland realized it needed to get women to like and want to wear the company’s product, too.

TBL-Beautiful-PerformanceSM.jpg

According to Deb Esola, women’s sales manager, and Deb Merril, senior merchandising manager, women were telling them they wanted beautiful products that were performance-oriented, stuck to an outdoor ethos and had green roots. So out the window was the company’s old way of down-sizing men’s products. In, was product just for women, with a hard look at color and style trends, partly with the help of the company’s in-house expert, Layla Shell.

Of note is, for example, the Earthkeepers Crystal Mountain Tall Lace Waterproof Boot (MSRP $180) with waterproof full-grain leather and a nylon upper to keep feet dry, and a lace-up style for better fit of all calf sizes. It also uses 30-percent PET fleece lining from recycled plastic bottles and a durable “Green Rubber” that is 42-percent recycled.

Also in the line is a widespread use of “Crazy Horse leather” that is reminiscent of the ‘80s styling. For example, the Earthkeepers Mount Holly All-Leather Tall Lace Boot (MSRP $180; photo - right) has full-grain waterproof leather and a suede upper, a lace-up shaft for best fit, and the same recycled lining and lugged outsole.

Men not being ignored

Despite the focus on women’s products, Timberland is taking a harder look at its materials and putting an emphasis on lightness. The Lite Trace Mid Waterproof (MSRP $155; photo - below left) weights just 12.4 ounces and has a three-ply waterproof membrane where the upper is the membrane to help cut out extra weight and materials. It is also welded and taped to eliminate thick overlays.

Moore called it a “more robust” approach to building footwear, while still remaining minimal and lightweight. “It took so much more effort to make a simple shoe,” he added.

Another lace-up shoe is the Radler Trail Camp Moc (MSRP $60; photo - below right), which folds in half and zips closed for easy packing. Unisex sizing for now, it has a removable fleece footbed, DWR finish and a full traction outsole -- so you don’t slip on your fanny on those treks to the creek after your pack is off in camp. The intent is a lightweight, compact shoe that is easily packable -- a concept that Moore said came to the team on a hike in August 2010.

The company has also instituted new standards for stating a shoe is waterproof: It must be fully waterproof to 60 percent of its height to be given that description.

In the end, the effort may not be totally new. As Moore said, “We’re actually building around things that have worked for us already.”

--Therese Iknoian

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