Function plus style to boot

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 4, 2013

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Its Yellow Boot is highly recognisable, but how many people associate the outdoor brand Timberland as an epitome of style?

In recent years, the brand, known for its outdoor shoes, has embarked on a plan to introduce more style-oriented footwear and apparel that can take its customers from the wilderness into the city.

Mr Stewart Whitney (right), the Asia-Pacific vice-president and managing director of Timberland, says: "We did a lot of insight work and what we heard from consumers is that they love us for all the rugged elements but what they want more is a blend of ruggedness and style."

Based in Hong Kong, he was in town early last month to visit the Timberland stores in Singapore. The brand has four stand-alone stores here and is also sold at department stores Takashimaya and Isetan.

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Since 2009, the brand has introduced trendier items, including women's shoes with heels, such as the Earthkeepers Wingate Lace Oxford and the Earthkeepers Trenton Waterproof Ankle Boot (photo 2, $289).

It also introduced more stylish women's clothing such as jersey tunic dresses and cashmere-blend dresses.

Prior to that, the brand's women's apparel was more about performance than style.

"It is exciting for us and is going to give us the confidence to broaden this collection," says MrWhitney, an American who has been with the company for the last 14 years.


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He believes that the Yellow Boot will always be the cornerstone of Timberland.

Among its many features, the Yellow Boot (photo 3, $299) is made of strips of full-grain nubuck leather; the soles of the boots are made of a foam, moulded in a way that will prevent them from losing their cushioning; and the hex-shaped eyelets for laces are rustproof.

The brand, which was founded in 1973 by American shoemaker Sidney Swartz, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the boot with a crafts workshop and fashion show at VivoCity last Thursday.

Although the Yellow Boot was created to give workmen a rugged and waterproof footwear option, it gradually earned a cult following among American hip-hop artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Depp and DMX in the 1990s.

Today, stars such as Rihanna, Jay-Z and Kanye West have also been photographed in them.

Timberland has also worked with trendy retailers - such as French concept shop Colette, in 2009; and American concept shop Opening Ceremony this year - on limited-edition boots inspired by the Yellow Boot.

Says Mr Whitney of the iconic shoe: "I live above a mall in Hong Kong and I can't walk through the mall on the way home from work any night without seeing Yellow Boots on young people."

Despite the climate and lack of terrain for hiking in Singapore, the Yellow Boot is still the country's best-selling item.

Ms Eleanor Chin, marketing manager of Timberland in Singapore and Malaysia, says: "People buy them for travelling and we've seen women here styling the Yellow Boot with our apparel."


Mr Whitney says the brand is seeing growth across Asia, but did not give details.

The brand reported US$1.5 billion (S$1.9 billion) in global revenue for 2011.

In Singapore, its revenue is increasing by 20 per cent year-on-year.

He says this is due to strong demand for outdoor apparel as consumers in Asia have a keen interest to try new things and have a sense of adventure.

He adds that it also has to do with Timberland's sales strategy in the region.

Its products are sold mainly through its stand-alone stores in Asia. But in North America and Europe, its products are sold mostly through multi-label stores, where shoes and apparel are placed in different parts of the store.

"We're presenting a broader interpretation of our brand and a richer experience here in Asia," he says.

"This has helped us to grow and establish ourselves here."

According to Mr Whitney, there are about 500 Timberland stores in Asia - a mixture of stand-alone shops and counters - which the company plans on increasing.

There are also products made specifically for Asians, such as a vintage jersey tunic dress and a cotton denim tunic.

Within the footwear line, there is only a 30 per cent overlap in products between North America, Europe and Asia.

A new Timberland stand-alone shop will open at Westgate Mall in Jurong at the end of this year.

But Mr Whitney notes that profits and growth are not the only things driving the company.

"Profit is important because it allows us to sustain our vision, but we stand for more than that," he says of the brand's vision of giving back to the community and environment.

About 75 per cent of Timberland footwear contains recycled materials. Organic cotton is used for its cotton apparel and recycled PET bottles are used in some of the brand's outerwear.

"Timberland is an 'outdoor' company and without the outdoors, there's no need for a brand like us," he says.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 4, 2013

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