Timberland relaunches Mountain Athletics brand with new approach

The year was 1998 and Timberland decided that in order not to confuse the consumer and to focus on its “tree” branding, the company needed to eliminate any brand except Timberland. That meant the company’s outdoor specialty-only footwear line, dubbed Mountain Athletics, was integrated into the broader Timberland offering. Mountain Athletics existed only in memory -- until this year.
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The year was 1998 and Timberland decided that in order not to confuse the consumer and to focus on its “tree” branding, the company needed to eliminate any brand except Timberland. That meant the company’s outdoor specialty-only footwear line, dubbed Mountain Athletics, was integrated into the broader Timberland offering. Mountain Athletics existed only in memory -- until this year.

“When we spoke 10 years ago about us shuttering Mountain Athletics, I explained that our motives were to invest in the Timberland brand, rather than spend time and energy trying to develop a series of sub-brands,” said Jay Steere, global senior director outdoor specialty for Timberland. “In my 21 years of being at Timberland, I feel very good right now because we are bringing Mountain Athletics back to strengthen our ‘tree’ and help us reassert our heritage in the outdoor space.”

Mountain Athletics is becoming part of what Steere referred to as the “brand diamond” of Timberland, with the tree (Timberland’s logo) in the middle and another business category important to the tree at each of the diamond’s four points.

“The Timberland brand is unique in that we have a New England heritage that is rooted in the yellow boot, the first real multipurpose shoe, used for work, as a winter boot for college, as a hiking boot, and, though we did not seek this branding out, as a stylized boot for hip hop,” Steere told SNEWS®. “So, at the top of the diamond, we have Timberland boots, reflecting New England aesthetic. We are proud of that. To the right, we have our industrial strength footwear from our pro side. At the bottom, we have Earthkeepers, which reflects our company’s environmental values that are symbolic of our efforts to provide sustainable products and a business model, and then that last point of the diamond we now have Mountain Athletic.”

Steere said at no point will the words “outdoor performance” or any other descriptive phrase appear anywhere on the company’s footwear, because, he stated, “If you make good product, it should be self-evident what it does. Porsche does not say ‘sports car’ anywhere on its cars.”

It is Timberland’s hope and expectation that its research into the “millennial” consumer (those born from about 1982 to 2001) will now start to pay off, both for it and its most important specialty customers – the retailers.

“Being outdoors with today’s millennial customer is more about ‘we’ and less about ‘me,’” said Steere. “This is the notion of the new outdoor that is perhaps the greatest challenge for us as an outdoor industry, because many of us cling to a very antiquated vision. Today’s millennial customer wants to have equipment, clothing and footwear that perform athletically and across multiple activity platforms and they want it to be made with the planet in mind – in other words, green.”

Steere also noted that none of the above riff matters unless the shoes also resonate with the customer because they look good – a point his team has been working very hard to address. “Green will be the exclamation point, but they have to work very well, feel very comfortable, and look very good,” stressed Steere.

The foundation of the green story that Timberland’s Mountain Athletics line is being built on is Green Rubber outsoles, made with 42 percent recycled tire rubber. According to Steere, Timberland has exclusive rights to use Green Rubber in footwear for 2009. The new soles will appear in all 2009 Timberland Mountain Athletics and Earthkeepers shoes and boots.

“Green Rubber employs a patented process called ‘DeLink’ which de-vulcanizes waste tires to create durable recycled rubber,” said Steere. “By using waste tires as a raw material, Green Rubber provides us with a cost-effective supply of rubber and also helps with the worldwide problem of rubber tire waste – most people don’t realize that tires take over 80 years to decompose and provide breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects.”

Within the Mountain Athletics collection, the line is being broken into two adrenaline-inspired segments and one more traditional segment: All Mountain, for on trail, off trail and day use all over the mountain; Route Racer, for single track trail running, fell running and fast ascending and descending the mountain; and Washington Summit Series, targeted at the more traditional consumer who wants a hiking boot that, as Steere described it, “they would expect Timberland to make.”

Below are two shoes in the line that SNEWS got to sneak peak prior to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market:

All-Mountain Inferno Low with Gore-Tex (MSRP $135)

Features

Breathable, waterproof Gore-Tex bootie construction

TPU external Stability Control Foot Frame tuned for aggressive trail use

Timberland_All_Mountain.jpg

Combination 70 percent recycled PET air mesh and synthetic materials

Padded gusseted tongue and padded scree collar with 50 percent recycled PET fabric

Speed 100 percent recycled PET oval laces with extended web anchor points for enhanced fit and security

Removable OrthoLite comfort insole with 5 percent recycled tire crumb foam

Box toe and counter materials made with at least 10 percent recycled PET fiber

Green Rubber outsoles made with 42 percent recycled tire rubber

Independent Suspension Network technology

Combination EVA upper midsole with TPU plate and lower midsole PU heel insert

Route Racer (Gore-Tex, MSRP $115; non-Gore-Tex, MSRP $100)

Features

TPU external Stability Control Foot Frame

Timberland_route_racer.jpg

Combination polyester air mesh and synthetic materials

Padded gusseted tongue and padded scree collar with 50 percent recycled PET fabric

Speed 100 percent recycled PET oval laces with extended web anchor points for enhanced fit and security

Removable OrthoLite comfort insole with 5 percent recycled tire crumb foam

Box toe and counter materials made with at least 10 percent recycled PET fiber

Green Rubber outsoles made with 42 percent recycled tire rubber

Independent Suspension Network technology

Combination EVA upper midsole with TPU plate and lower midsole PU heel insert

SNEWS® View: The above shoes caught our eye sufficiently that we’re saying they are both worth a closer look by retailers – they’re not like anything we’ve seen from Timberland recently, and that’s a good thing – sleek, light, seem to scream performance and no wasted material or overbuilding. If the company supports what Steere and team are doing – and this is a big IF considering the history of Timberland in the last few years – and the company allows Mountain Athletics to develop, we think Timberland might be on the right track for specialty retail acceptance. Only time will tell, of course. The shoes really are quite different, and our team can’t wait to try out the Route Racers on upcoming trail runs. Now, market success is not going to come overnight, or even in the next several years. Timberland has not exactly been a shining example of consistency and rock-solid commitment to the specialty retailer and the specialty market, so it better realize (and we know Steere realizes this) that for it to succeed, the company will have to prove itself worthy, over and over again. There are just too many good footwear companies out there who already have shelf space for Timberland to feel it can waltz in and earn a spot on the shoe wall. And just because Timberland says it is authentic does not make it so, at least at specialty. Maybe at big box, but that sector of the market has not exactly been moving the inventory lately, considering a couple of recent Ch. 11 filings and double-digit losses.

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