With Artsy Tie-In, Red Wing Reboots A Classic

Red Wing is readying its latest effort to modernize the 117-year-old boot brand. In a novel partnership with Juxtaposition, a local (North Minneapolis) teen arts group, it's handed over its 70-year-old Red Wing Classic Heritage Moc. A team of young apprentices redesigned the boot for a new capsule collection. Aaron Seymour-Anderson, head of brand and creative, explains the latest effort -- and how it relates to the company's 540-plus stores in North America.

Retail Insider: This is personal for you. I understand you came to this group when you were 16, right?

Aaron Seymour-Anderson: Yes, I was a graffiti artist in Minneapolis. Juxtaposition was talking to a lot of young people doing graffiti, helping them find more productive ways to channel that energy and paint murals that were legal. It focuses on commercial arts, too -- there's a textile lab, [and a focus on] graphic design and ceramics. I credit Juxtaposition for opening doors for me, so this is a nice full-circle moment 21 years later.

Retail Insider: Red Wing did very little brand advertising for many years. Then in the last few, there have been big campaigns, including "Out of Fashion" and "Labor Day On," which helped tradespeople find jobs. How does this fit in?

Seymour-Anderson: One of our challenges is creating marketing that doesn't annoy our customers. We're successful because we haven't been over-advertised. The mythology of the brand is that it is for trades workers and people who celebrate craft, not people who buy the latest fast fashion trend, right? And we make sure campaigns -- like this new one -- have action behind them. They show that we put our money where our mouth is. The connective tissue between this campaign and previous work is an appreciation of community, action and craft.

Retail Insider: Who is your core customer these days?

Seymour-Anderson: We've got a couple of personas. People who like Red Wing Heritage Line, which is different than our work line, appreciate things like salvaged denim and items made by hand in the U.S. We also have a younger, more contemporary audience. We're trying to connect them with this new collection and campaign. And then we have our work boots for everyone building the world around us.

Retail Insider: Who do you see as your primary competitors?

Seymour-Anderson: Probably Wolverine, Timberland and Danner.

Retail Insider: What's changing in your branding work as a retailer?

Seymour-Anderson: We've got a lot of layers to our business. We've got 540 stores just in North America, and we're in other stores. We own our own tannery. In many ways, we cover vertical integration from creating the materials, the product, distribution and our stores. And some are sold directly to consumers. They're all important to us. But our stores, which are doing well, are about 80% to 90% focused on work products.

Retail Insider: How often do you visit stores?

Seymour-Anderson: All the time. I live in Minneapolis, so I'm often in our flagship store in Red Wing, and then we've got a dozen or so others here. And we visit stores around the country quite often. Stores are the heart and soul of our business.

Retail Insider: What do you learn in stores that influences marketing and creative decisions?

Seymour-Anderson: We have a 3D scanning process called the Ultimate Fit Experience. It scans customers' feet so we can put together the right boot, the correct insole. It's why we don't sell work boots direct to consumers -- we want to make sure they're in the best fit possible for the work they do. Almost anytime we observe a worker going through the experience, they're surprised by the results. It's a reminder of the importance of getting it right with boots that get them through the day more efficiently, comfortably and safely.

Retail Insider: Let's come back to the Juxtaposition partnership. What are you hoping it accomplishes?

Seymour-Anderson: The boots cost $350 and are only being sold online and only on Juxtaposition's website. There are also some hooded sweatshirts. All the proceeds -- not just the profits, but all -- go right to the organization in addition to a financial donation we made.

Retail Insider: How will you know if this partnership has paid off?

Seymour-Anderson: It already has. We're supporting an organization in our backyard. We'll look at how much money we help them raise, engagement on social media, and how quickly it sells out. We're looking at what we got from giving these young apprentices real-world opportunities to design a product and create a marketing campaign. And they did it all–there are 200 steps to designing and manufacturing a boot by hand. And they were behind the camera, in front of the camera. We learned as much from them as they did from us.

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