James Appleby has spent the past two years reclaiming the soul of etnies, one of five labels under Sole Technology Inc.’s umbrella.
“As brands get old, they do lose their way, and etnies was the first one out of the house,” said Appleby, the global brand director for the Lake Forest-based apparel and footwear company, which launched the inaugural label in 1986. “Every time a new brand would come out (of Sole Tech), it would take away a little bit of etnies, so you’d lose a little bit of energy of what it stood for. It became a lifestyle brand sold at big-box retailers with massive distribution, and it lost its heart, its soul. So my job over the last two years has been putting it back.”
Sole Technology, aside from etnies, also owns athletic shoe brands éS and Emerica and two clothing lines—art-inspired Altamont and snowboarding-inspired ThirtyTwo. It has annual sales of about $150 million and employs 107 in Orange County and 194 companywide.
Its competitors include Cypress-based Vans Inc. and Quiksilver Inc.’s DC Shoes in Huntington Beach.
Appleby returned etnies to its skate roots and reorganized it into four distinct divisions—he kept two of its best performers, the Marana and Jameson divisions, and added two more, Future Heritage and Point A to E. The fall 2015 collection, encompassing products from all four for the first time, will hit the marketplace this summer.
The Marana and Jameson “bloodlines” dominate the new offering.
“Both are highly driven and innovative performance skate footwear (styles), but each one is catering to a slightly different consumer,” Appleby said. “Marana is much more flamboyant, has large logos, wants to tell people proudly who they’re associated with, and the Jameson bloodline is a little bit more subdued, a bit more subtler in style, but both have the same expectation of performance.”
Marana is etnies’ bestseller, but if it was left to retailers, it may never have seen the light of day.
“A lot of our product was based off what our retailers asked for, so we listened to our retailers, and we still do, but maybe we didn’t know what we wanted ourselves,” Appleby said. “And it’s very easy for a retailer to go by what we used to sell, and therefore no change is ever going to come if you always look at what you used to do.
“We decided to make a classic skate shoe, which started with Marana OG, and it was a success. … We managed to turn business around—we had very little core focus on shoes, and now it’s 50% of our business. That’s a really big step for us.”
It also allowed the brand to sell more “lifestyle product off [its] back,” since it then had “an authentic reason for existence,” Appleby said.
“If we are known for quality, comfortable, durable skate shoes that are well designed and innovative and that keep changing, and if we keep tapping into new technologies to make skate shoes better, that brand, that feel, and that essence will allow us to go to a wider market and sell to people that don’t want to skateboard but say, ‘I know what they stand for, and I love the quality of their shoes, and they’re super comfortable, and they look radical,’ ” he said.
Future Heritage Collection
That’s what Appleby and his design team had in mind when they set out to create the Future Heritage Collection last year and Point A to E that debuted this year.
Future Heritage “allows us to look at the last 30 years of our shoes, kind of be inspired by our past but build for the future,” he said. “Our old shoes were very large, bulky, and now the same shoe is very slim, but it’s got some nostalgia, where it came from.”
Point A to E is a collection of footwear “focused on light weight, comfort, and waterproofing” and is worn by etnies’ pro team during down time—a selling point for the brand.
“We are able to authentically connect these back to our team,” Appleby said. “This is stuff they actually wear when they are on tour, when they are traveling, such as surfers in a really cold climate or our skateboarders in Finland.”
The four footwear divisions are matched with their own apparel lines “to make sense to those four different consumers.” The apparel lines collectively make up about 25% of etnies’ business, he said.