The next time you're at the airport, and you see a tall, middle-aged gentleman with brown hair wearing a white t-shirt with a black leather jacket and jeans, accompanied by a similarly-clad group of 20-something-year-olds, chances are you haven't stumbled upon a band's front man and his back-up singers, but, rather, you may be in the presence of footwear royalty.
Let me explain.
For some 30 years, Sam Edelman has been designing women's footwear, and he attests he's never at a loss for inspiration.
- Surround yourself with a team that's representative of your target market;
- Don the "uniform" noted above;
- Travel to Europe several times per year with a plan to research the latest trends in fashion, music, hair, makeup, etc.;
- Abort original plan upon arrival at first destination;
-Instead, identify a fashionable traveler who possesses all the characteristics of the Sam Edelman brand;
- Learn everything about the unsuspecting muse - her likes, dislikes, where she shops, what she buys and why;
- Travel to next destination; and
So, how does the James Dean-like uniform play a part in the formula? It's simple. Literally. The simplicity of the outfit eliminates distractions and better positions his team to focus on the task at hand: Finding inspiration.
The outcome: Footwear News has twice named Sam Edelman "Brand of the Year."
His current success, however, hasn't come without its own unique challenges. In 1987, Sam and his wife, Libby, launched the brand, Sam & Libby, and only a year later, they sold more than 1.5 million pairs of their iconic ballet flats. In 1996, the couple sold the brand to Maxwell Shoe Company, and, for the next several years, Edelman bought and sold competitive show horses until a serious horseback riding injury landed him in hospitals where, for the next two years, he found himself simply hoping to walk again.
It was during that time, the gentleman who thinks of himself as a contemporary stylist who happens to be a shoe designer, decided to return to fashion. His return, however, was met with a great deal of opposition. In fact, not only did he struggle to get appointments with buyers, he was, at times, completely overlooked. It seems many didn't believe his past success was an indication of his future success. Luckily, he believed, and he persevered.
Fast forward about 10 years, and today, the $100 million brand is in the midst of expanding its already wildly-successful product offering. In addition to women's footwear, you can now see the Sam Edelman name on apparel, handbags, small leather goods and jewelry, which can be found in upscale to moderate department stores, online and in the brand's newly-opened flagship store in The Big Apple.
His goal is to move the Sam Edelman brand from its primary focus on footwear to a more comprehensive 'lifestyle' brand by providing the 'Sam girl' everything she needs - from head to toe. Further, last year, he and his wife re-launched the brand that put them on the map - Sam & Libby - with an exclusive partnership with Target.
What's next? Well, Edelman says he chose to begin his career in women's footwear because 'girls like shoes and boys like baseball.' But, after he dresses and accessorizes the 'Sam girl' from head to toe, the industry icon may have to see if boys will give up a bit of America's Favorite Pastime in the name of fashion.