In my study of menswear, the ability to compare and contrast items is generally considered a test of our understanding and of insight into them. It is a test which curious consumers almost invariably ask brand representatives to meet or challenge. To fully understand product comparison and contrast one must understand what is involved in the process of making the items that are being compared by organizing a logical test.
Confronted with a typical assignment to compare work-boots, I first sought out to look for purpose and significance in brands out on the market today. Often I begin my research by doing what is undoubtedly essential for this exercise- listing similarities and differences and place them all under reasonable headings for consumers, such as strength, comfort, waterproof and most importantly style. We must keep in mind that the process of comparison and contrast is not merely that of noting similarities and differences, but one of which that notation must lead to a significant and purposeful conclusion. With that said, let's delve into a brief history of the boot. More importantly, work-boots.
Up the broad flight of shallow steps, I proclaim proudly to you that the USA has played a significant role traditionally in the development of the work-boot. What distinguishes the brand masters with a comparative advantage of modern times is, in almost every case, a unique blending of a personal with a collective national vision. The journey of their own brand significance together with a discovery of the products place in the environment. It is tantalizing, nonetheless, that we are witnessing a consumer-centric focus that has been yearning for heritage while demanding modern standards.
Simply stated, a boot is a type of footwear. For the most part, boots mainly cover the foot and the ankle. Boots can extend up the leg, sometimes as far as the knee and even the hip. As fashion forward as we would like to be, it is important to remember that boots are worn both for their functionality and for providing additional ankle support for strenuous activities. In the beginning, boots consisted of separate leggings, soles, and uppers worn together to provide greater ankle protection than sandals or shoes -with little or no support. About 1000 years before Jesus Christ of Nazareth had walked the earth, various components were permanently joined to form a single unit that covered the feet and lower leg, often up to the knee. Even the Nomads, had famously worn a soft leather ankle boot around AD 1200 to about 1500. The workwear and militant style was subsequently passed on to Russia and China. And if you think about the natives of Alaska, I reckon that you wouldn't blink an eye knowing that they had developed traditional winter boots made of caribou skin or sealskin featuring decorative touches of seal intestine and dog hair allowing them to look more appealing. I could only imagine the person who had the discipline of placing seal intestine as a decorative embellishment; yuk.
But it wasn't until the early Dutch Masters who were amongst the first to define the boot in Europe. Most historians agree, that the first codified definition of the boot was entered into law by royal decree during the Hundred Years' War, by the Duke of Wales. As many menswear items, European boots were influenced by military styles, featuring thick soles and turnover tops that were originally designed to protect horse mounted soldiers. And on this side of the pond, in the 1700s), distinctive, thigh-high boots worn by Hessian soldiers fighting in the American Revolutionary War (that's the one with George Washington) influenced the beginning stages of the infamous heeled cowboy boots worn by cattlemen in the American wild wild west.
Steel toe work boots, although traditionally made of steel, the reinforcement can also be made of a composite material, are very important in the construction industry and in many industrial settings. Occupational safety and health legislation or even insurance companies may require the use of such boots in some settings, and many times mandate certification of such boots and the display of such certification directly on the boots. Footwear for use in chemical processing or semiconductor manufacturing can also be rated to dissipate static electricity while still protecting the wearer from electric shock and harm. In a word, A steel-toe boot (also known as a safety boot, steel-capped boot or safety shoe) is a durable boot that has a protective reinforcement in the toe which protects the foot from falling objects or compression, usually combined with a mid sole plate to protect against punctures from below or on the sides. A rougher and more off-key attempt to set some brands of steel-toe footwear to become fashionable within subcultures such as hip-hop and even country music. Correspondence for any style situation covers diverse groups and develops independently from subcultures encountering the product in social settings. It is essentially an invitation for a culture to jump on board.
Thus, every theme of comparison and contrast which deals which menswear must have relevant intention and purpose which will serve to focus and limit discussion of competition which is fundamentally directed toward a brand leader.
By and large, a superior brand leader in the work-boot category is Timberland. With corporate headquarters in Statham, New Hampshire, Timberland LLC is an American manufacturer and retailer of outdoors wear, with a focus on footwear. Timberland footwear is marketed towards people intending outdoor use but has most certainly become a fashion leader as well.
Timberland is a global leader in the design, manufacturing and marketing of premium footwear, apparel and accessories for the urban outdoor lifestyle. It is part of VF Corporation. Best known for its original yellow boot introduced in 1973, Timberland today outfits consumers from toe-to-head (pun intended), with versatile collections that reflect the brand’s rich heritage of utility, craftsmanship and style. Timberland markets lifestyle products under the Timberland® and Timberland Boot Company® brands, and industrial footwear and workwear under the Timberland PRO® brand. The brand's dedication to making quality products is matched by an unwavering commitment to environmental and social responsibility – to make it better with respect to responsible products, protecting and restoring the outdoors, and supporting communities around the globe.
I recently had the privilege to speak with Jim Pisani, Global President, Timberland about the famous yellow boot, the brands social component and about the creative and technical design behind the FW 19 collection.
Joseph DeAcetis: It’s been said before that “Timberland is not just a boot company.” Tell us what that means and how it separates the brand from the competition?
Jim Pisani: While we certainly started as a boot company, Timberland has always been driven by a greater purpose. Back in 1973, we didn’t just create a waterproof leather boot… we equipped outdoor workers to get things done in the harsh New England environment. We even branded that boot “The Timberland,” something that was unheard of at the time. In 1992, we started our Path of Service program, which gives employees paid time to volunteer… again, pretty rare back then.
Today, we define our purpose as a commitment to equip and inspire the world to step outside, work together and make it better. Whether that comes to life as reducing the impact of our products, creating green spaces in cities, or supporting communities around the globe, this underlying purpose will guide us into the future. And it’s not just us doing this on our own; we will focus on engaging our consumers in the journey, and truly building a community around the notion of making it better. In the end, when consumers pull on a pair of our boots – or jacket or backpack – they can feel good about what they’re wearing. As global leader of the Timberland brand, nothing makes me prouder.
JD: Your iconic “Yellow Boot” was introduced in 1973 - what has kept its significance in the modern era?
JP: We’re incredibly fortunate to have a product is loved around the world -- from cities to small outdoor towns, men and women, young and old. I think what has fueled the staying power of the yellow boot is its authenticity. It was born to do one thing: to equip workers for the harsh New England winters. It was waterproof, made with beautiful premium leathers, and built to last for years… and we’ve never wavered from that promise, even as we became a “fashion” staple in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Today, we constantly seek to innovate and keep our icon fresh – whether it’s new colors, comfort technologies, or collaborations with other brands – but we always stay true to the authentic heritage that started it all. It’s never about fast fashion; it’s about standing the tests of time. And our loyal consumers around the globe recognize and appreciate that.
JD: Talk to us about the brand’s social good component, namely in underserved cities throughout the nation?
One big piece of our commitment to “make it better” is supporting underserved communities – not just here in the U.S. but around the world. I’ve mentioned that Timberland employees get paid time to volunteer (and we’ve served more than one million hours to date, and counting). This often comes to life through service projects in city neighborhoods that need it most. Over the past few years, we’ve restored a community park in the Bronx, created green space at the new Rail Park in Philadelphia, created an urban community garden in Los Angeles to provide access to healthy food, and hosted “shoe fairs” at inner city elementary schools to equip kids with boots and backpacks.
Beyond supporting and strengthening communities, our commitment to service has also proven good for business, in terms of creating a highly engaged and passionate culture. We hear time and again that our culture of service is what often attracts people to join – and stay with – the Timberland brand. In fact, the average tenure at our global corporate headquarters in New Hampshire is 10 years, and we largely attribute this retention rate to the culture we have created through service.
JD: How exactly did the TIMBERLAND x CHRISTOPHER RÆBURN collaboration begin and come to fruition?
JP:The partnership between Timberland and Christopher Raeburn came about quite organically. Chris had done some work with other VF brands, and caught our attention given his focus on responsible design and innovation. From his side, Christopher has been following Timberland since 2007, when we introduced the original Earthkeepers Boot. We decided to take a meeting, and from there it was history. We introduced our first collaboration capsule in Fall 2018, and shortly thereafter announced that Christopher would be taking on the role of global creative director for the Timberland brand.
Christopher Raeburn is recognized worldwide for his responsible design ethos. He also heralds craftsmanship, innovation and utility as central to his design philosophy, again creating a natural and authentic connection to Timberland.
As we look to build the Timberland brand of the future, we will do so through the lens of elevated design, and a Creative Vision that harnesses the power of nature and the energy of fashion. Leveraging this idea, in partnership with Chris, I think we can really push the boundaries of where Timberland can go as a brand, in a very ownable way. I’m incredibly excited at what this will lead to.
JP:Today’s generation is highly engaged in their world. They are not sitting back and waiting for things to happen; they want to be part of the solution. And they expect companies and brands to do the same. For a fashion brand to continue be relevant in today’s marketplace, responsible design and manufacturing is not a nice-to-have… it’s a must. Fortunately for Timberland, we’ve been at this for a long time -- and we’re only getting stronger in our conviction.
Sustainable fashion is also a must from an environmental perspective. Day after day, we witness the depletion our natural resources, the negative effects of climate change and the overall degradation of our environment. It’s incumbent upon those of us who make things, who contribute to some of these environmental challenges, to work hard to innovate, collaborate and tackle the issues head-on. We owe that to ourselves, to our community, and to future generations.
There are two collections we can talk about for FW19 – the core Timberland brand, and our Timberland x Raeburn collection.
When it comes to the core Timberland brand, one big area of focus for fall ’19 is boots. This is our bread and butter, and we constantly need to innovate here. For fall, you’ll see us expanding our boot collection to address a range of wearing occasions – not just workboots but casual boots, more refined styles, sport-influenced silhouettes, across both men’s and women’s. And waterproof is always big for fall, so you’ll see lots of our TimberDry technology.
We’re also significantly expanding the use of our proprietary ReBotl material, which contains at least 40% recycled PET (the stuff plastic bottles are made of). And finally, we’ll introduce new innovations in apparel, including a modern take on insulation made from green materials. In particular, we’re excited about the Ecoriginal Collection of outerwear and sweatshirts, made with 100% recycled fabrics.
For the Timberland x Raeburn collaboration, this fall we’ll expand beyond apparel to also include footwear and accessories. Christopher’s REMADE philosophy began with his fascination for military materials and utilitarian clothing. The fall collab takes inspiration from decommissioned military parachutes that he’s remade into completely new products. Everything in the collection is replicated from these original pieces and made with organic and recycled materials. Chris showed the looks on the runway in London last month, and response was terrific… we’re excited to see how consumers respond come fall.
JP: One key advantage: authenticity. When we introduced our first yellow waterproof boot back in 1973, it literally changed the category overnight. And we’ve remained true to that heritage and craftsmanship ever since. You just can’t replicate that.
Another key factor: innovation. When it comes to the work boot category, we benefit greatly from our industrial Timberland PRO brand. We have a direct connection to the workers who use our boots, day in day out, to get their job done. And we are constantly innovating to meet their needs, whether it’s comfort technologies, slip resistance or waterproof protection – all things that can translate to the core Timberland brand. At the same time, our parent company VF’s footwear innovation center happens to be just up the road from our New Hampshire headquarters, and we have a team there focused on what’s next for Timberland.
I’d say those two things alone – authenticity and innovation – give Timberland a significant edge in the workboot market.
JD: How do you foresee the Timberland brand developing in 5 years with respect to advanced technology?
JP: In five years, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Timberland brand, so whatever we do, you can expect it to be big!
I believe most of what you’ll see will come to life through responsible materials and innovation. What are those innovative materials that can help us minimize our footprint while still delivering on our consumers’ expectations for quality craftsmanship and style? Do these materials exist already, or do we need to invent them? Boots and shoes have been made in the same fundamental way for hundreds of years… perhaps we re-think everything in pursuit of more responsible design. Better yet, instead of just reducing our footprint… let’s think bigger and strive to make a positive impact on the environment.
JD: With high-concentration of the social influencers + market and brand voice on social media, how is the brand addressing these changes to stay relevant and ahead of the curve?
We live in a digital age. Whether you’re in fashion or publishing or medicine, everything is now through the lens of digital. And social media sits at the hub of it all.
When we look at social media for Timberland, we go back to what has given our brand staying power through the years: authenticity. And through that lens, we develop our social and influencer strategies. Are we being true to our brand and purpose? Is there an opportunity for us to effect change, and bring our social community along with us on the journey? How can we connect more meaningfully with our consumers? Of course, sometimes a post will simply be a great new boot or jacket to check out for fall… but we will increasingly seek to build our social campaigns and communications to reflect our greater brand purpose and vision.
JP:Timberland is a global brand focused on growth across three regions: the Americas, Asia Pacific, and EMEA. Our long-range growth plan is grounded in a few core strategies.
First, we need to diversify our business. This means growing categories like men’s casual footwear, women’s and work… but not at the expense of our icons. A critical piece of this diversification strategy is continuing to energize our classics, and make them relevant for a new generation of consumers.
The second strategy – and this is not just for Timberland, but for our parent company VF, is to win in direct to consumer, with a focus on digital. Our owned stores and ecomm sites are a powerful opportunity to present our full brand portfolio and story, and engage directly with our consumers. This past fall, we opened a concept store at Fifth Avenue in New York that had everything from living green walls to a digital rain room. We will continue to push for retail innovation so we can create experiences like this and connect with our consumers like never before.
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Sitting above all of this – or better yet, at its foundation -- is our brand building framework. Over the past two years we underwent an in-depth, multi-stakeholder project to clearly define and articulate our brand purpose and positioning, creative vision, consumer segments and product architecture. I’ve talked a bit already about our purpose and creative vision, which rise to the top as the beacons that will guide us into the future.
When you take the passion Timberland has for nature, and combine it with the energy of fashion, you end up with something really powerful, and unique in the global marketplace. I think this presents an incredible opportunity for the Timberland brand as we look to the future.
Acclaimed American Journalist and International Editor. My interest lies in the pace and direction of trend adoption in luxury fashion and lifestyle, access to real-tim...
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