The BROOKS HERITAGE collection brings back iconic key styles from their running shoe archives, working alongside respected retailers and utilising premium materials: it’s a strong strategy that has resulted in some fantastic footwear and a lot of interest from collectors across the globe.
When their Global Director, SHANE DOWNEY, arrived in the UK, we went to find out a little more about their blueprint for success and his personal visions for the brand…
TDD: Brooks wasn’t a brand that we ever saw that much of here in the UK, unless we were looking at specialist running magazines. It’s only been relatively recently that the heritage of the brand is being fully appreciated. As director of the Heritage division, do you work alongside the performance side of things – or is it more of an independent entity within Brooks?
Shane: “It’s an interesting set-up: I’ve worked in the industry for around fifteen years and when Brooks decided they wanted to enter the lifestyle and retro running market, they wanted someone who had worked across both product, sales and marketing. When they recruited me, they chose me as the only individual in the building – out of 200 people – to work on the heritage side. The reason that we wanted to bring it back was to debut a 100 year old collection that celebrates ‘the spirit of the run’. The best way to describe it is as a start-up within the organisation, similar to if a larger brand wanted to start up a new ‘sport’ category. Before then, all of Brooks was focused on the running market, with about 35% market share in the ‘States in the specialty running area.”
“With a deep history of product and a really rich past, the idea was to bring back iconic models from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and reintroduce those models to celebrate the history of the run. What drew me to Brooks was the fact that it was a clean market. Some brands have done lifestyle in the past and it hasn’t worked and there’s residual inventory, but with this there was the chance to really lay out a plan and have a clean marketplace to come into. It’s challenging, being the fresh brand in a market dominated by Nike, New Balance and Asics, but at the same time it’s fun to be an exploration brand and to set up a new identity, instead of simply relying on an established identity.”
The craftsmanship and choice of materials Brooks has used, especially on recent collaboration models, is something that is hard to convey through online images. It needs to be experienced in person, I think. What made you go down the route of premium focused releases, rather than opting for market saturation to familiarise people with the brand name?
“There are a few things that you try to do in the first 24 months. Primarily, you try to build a brand identity. Most of the consumers that buy into the brand, whether it’s in the US or the UK or Japan, most of them don’t know Brooks. For many of them, it’s a new brand and it’s a new customer experience. For some of us who’ve been around the industry or are maybe a bit older, we remember brands like Diadora and Etonic, but for a lot of people those are new brands.”
“We’re introducing a new history to the consumer and we’ve really tried to align a few key things to tell our story. First is authenticity. We wanted to bring stitch-for-stitch replicas back, which is what we’ve done. We built everything from the beginning, whether it was our 1976 Vanguard or one of our ’90s runners. We actually built them from photographs as we didn’t have original samples! Any brand can make a beautiful shoe, but not many brands can make a historical running shoe – and I think that’s a big point of difference for us.”
“So, we want to celebrate the history, but we want to celebrate the materials too. We wanted to focus on materials as a way to propel our brand. We wanted to utilise the best suedes we could find, the best pebble leathers we could find and the richest meshes we could find.”
“As well as that, we wanted to celebrate all of this through our retail collaborations too. Some brands do a lot of projects: our approach has been to do less projects, but with premium partners. We’ve wanted to focus on a list of twenty retailers around the world – whether you want to call them ‘tier zero’ or ‘gold accounts’, whatever anyone wants to call them, it’s always the same thing. We want to partner with retailers who want to work with us long-term – not just just short–term. Most of them are going to be multiple shoe partners and we’ll invest in those projects heavily. To ensure everything works, there has to be a mutually beneficial relationship because if every partner wants to work on the same silhouette, then that doesn’t really benefit our line. Now we have six styles in the line, we’re really starting to get the opportunity where different retailers can tell different stories across different silhouettes.”
How does the collaboration process work? Do you have your own internal plan that retailers have to work with?
“We’ll usually lay out a framework of what the expectations or objectives are and we’ll let the partners go off and design. Then everything will come back to me and I’ll look at it through a Brooks Heritage lens, as opposed to just the set retailer’s lens: any retailer is going to have their own perspective, but if it doesn’t make sense for the brand, then to me it just feels disjointed. With each retailer, there’s a different approach but the guidelines are roughly the same: the same number of pairs and the same process to get to market. If the final design doesn’t have a collab feel to it, then it’s just another colour that’s in the marketplace. There are a lot of brands that make such beautiful in-line product that they don’t really need collabs to support their business.”
“It’s interesting how some of the collabs work out: some people like to stay with the really classic vintage product, such as the Chariot, but we actually have collaboration projects planned on all of our heritage styles.”
Which models are in the collaboration schedule so far?
“We’ve really tried to focus on collaborations that will celebrate the Beast and the Regent – and then the Chariot and Fusion down the road – all of which will bring different stories to life with a top tier list of retailers. The Concepts Beast collaboration, as seen on the cover of the latest issue of Sneaker Freaker, will debut on October 11th and prepares us for the general release of the Beast in February 2016. The Beast really becomes the crown jewel of the family: it originally released in 1993 and will become a signature shoe for the brand.”
“The Chariot was a precursor to The Beast and was introduced in 1982 and went on to have a couple of different versions – the Chariot CC and a Chariot HFX – and that eventually morphed into the Beast. We think there’s an opportunity between the two stages of development to bring some new product out as well. There’s a lot of exploration here at Brooks that keeps everything exciting and interesting for both us and the consumer.”
Having seen some of the forthcoming BROOKS HERITAGE collection for ourselves and witnessed Shane’s infectious enthusiasm for the brand first-hand, we’re excited to see how things unfold over the next few months. Keep an eye on us here for all the latest updates as we follow the releases and collaboration projects.
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