Rahat Kapur
Aug 24, 2023

New-stalgia: How 90s-founded Skechers is stepping into growth

As Skechers makes its debut foray on to the coveted Fortune 500 list, the brand's Southeast Asia managing director Zann Lee, shares the nuggets of insight, introspection and investments that got them there.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

There are few lists as coveted as Fortune’s 500, compiled annually to reflect the stature of the largest and most noteworthy businesses in the market. Obtain rank, and you can unlock the doors to a myriad of opportunities, reputational credit, enhanced revenues, and perhaps most importantly, influence the tone and cultural perception of your brand in the market.

The latter is something newly listed American footwear company, Skechers, is well-versed with. Founded in 1992 by Robert Greenberg, the brand has catapulted from skate shoes to becoming a pioneer in the fashion-meets-athletics intersectional space—the original ‘athleisure’ shoe if you will —to repositioning itself as a lifestyle and utility-based brand of choice in today’s market. Whilst giants such as Nike and Adidas have focused on expanding their lines and diversifying their product bases with performance-led athletics and excellence in mind, Skechers have honed their USP on three key elements to stand out: Culture, comfort, and catering to a multitude of both styles and lifestyles.

From the infamous 90’s campaign with Britney Spears (see below) that created a riot of demand amongst the now-millennial audiences, to their multi-collection collaborations with Snoop Dogg (featuring Snoop’s alter-ego Dr. Bombay, and including everything from slides and sneakers to newly announced NFTs), to a recent lifetime partnership with world-renowned striker Harry Kane (Bayern Munich football club and captain of England’s national team)—Skechers has in some ways, quietly transcended the line between shoe to shoe-in, when it comes to finessing the zeitgeist.

In a Campaign exclusive to mark their entry into the Fortune 500, the brand’s managing director for Southeast Asia, Zann Lee, shares eight key insights encompassing Skechers’ journey to the list, bottling and branding nostalgia, and how to market successfully in a region as diverse as ours.

Please note, these answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Skechers Southeast Asia MD, Zann Lee.
  1. A dynamic and strategic vision is key to cracking the coveted Fortune 500.

Securing a spot on the Fortune 500 list is indeed an accomplishment that reflects our team's dedication and strategic approach. For brands aiming to achieve similar recognition, I would emphasise the importance of a well-defined and dynamic vision—which not only encompasses your business goals, but also the impact you aim to create in the lives of your customers.

  1. Harness what you do best, be it new or nostalgic.

Nostalgia is a compelling emotion, and we've harnessed it thoughtfully to not only honour our heritage designs, but also to resonate with both our loyal fans and new audiences. Our approach to tapping into this familiarity while continually refreshing our designs for enduring relevance is best exemplified through our D’Lites shoes series. For those that remember us fondly, we first introduced the D’Lites collection, which was then fronted by the iconic Britney Spears, our very first international brand ambassador back in 2000. This collection marked the inception of the chunky dad sneaker trend, a style that remains trending today.

Photo: Pinterest via Buzzfeed.com

Since our first launch of D’Lites, we are constantly rejuvenating our sneaker designs through new colourways, material variations, and dynamic collaborations with popular IPs such as the Pokemon D’Lites 4 and Demon Slayer D’Lites 4. Such collaborations are not only successful with our loyal consumers, but also attracted a new audience from the IPs’ enthusiastic fanbase. By infusing nostalgia with contemporary appeal, we've managed to maintain relevance across diverse age groups and lifestyles.

  1. Collaborate where it counts.

Our collaboration strategy is underpinned by authenticity and alignment. Keeping in mind that Skechers is also a family-oriented brand, we carefully extend our collaborations with select IPs to encompass not only adults but also children when the chosen IP aligns with younger audiences.

The key to a successful collaboration lies in crafting products that seamlessly integrate the IP's essence, while enhancing core offerings. Much like our collaboration with Pokémon, We Bare Bears, and Demon Slayers, our recent launch for Skechers x Transformers: Rise of the Beast collection also introduced new sneaker styles, apparel, and Foamies sandals for adults and children. This approach ensures that the collaboration feels genuine and resonates with fans of both the IP and Skechers.

  1. You cannot be afraid to define and own your distinct brand positioning.

Our brand positioning revolves around three core pillars: Comfort, style, and innovation. We've carved a niche as a brand that seamlessly combines all three elements, offering a wide range of footwear, apparel, and accessories that resonate with modern lifestyles. Our unique selling proposition lies in our ability to prioritise comfort without compromising on style or performance. Additionally, our commitment to continuous innovation allows us to integrate cutting-edge comfort technologies that elevate the comfort and functionality of our products.

  1. You can’t beat digitisation, so join it.

The shift towards digital platforms and the reduced emphasis on physical stores can be inevitably influenced by various factors, including brand loyalty for Skechers. That said, it is crucial to underline that physical retail spaces still play a significant role in fostering brand affinity and loyalty among our consumers. We’ve demonstrated our commitment by continually investing in the opening of new retail outlets and presenting captivating store concepts that resonate with foot traffic.

Nevertheless, we firmly believe that the digital space complements the physical retail front. Recognising early on that a seamless omnichannel experience is key, we placed resources on multiple e-commerce platforms such as our local sites, Shopee, and Lazada, to build on a strong online presence and respond to the increasing shift of online shopping habits. Coupled with data analytics that allows us to understand customer preferences and fine-tune our offerings accordingly, these initiatives not only bolster our online footprint, but also cater to the evolving shopping preferences of consumers–both online and offline.

For other brands, I'd advise establishing an online presence while enhancing physical stores as experiential destinations. Listen to customer feedback, analyse data to personalise experiences, and explore immersive technologies to bridge the gap between digital and physical realms. It’s also worth highlighting that the online arena offers a unique space for real-time interactions, allowing brands to connect with their consumers across geographical boundaries.

  1. Prioritise authenticity and alignment when amplifying your brand.

Celebrity endorsements continue to be a valuable aspect of our marketing strategy, proving remarkably successful in personifying our brand identity and amplifying brand awareness, especially in growing markets like Thailand and Vietnam. However, the essence of authenticity is equally crucial as we select the right personalities to represent our brand. Extending beyond mere popularity, our approach also focuses on individuals who deeply align with our brand values and share a genuine affinity with our products. This approach is reflected in our diverse portfolio of celebrity brand ambassadors spanning global, regional, and local spheres.

For instance, we have appointed Korean sensation Cha Eun Woo as our regional brand ambassador, while Doja Cat is our first-ever global artist-in-residence.

Photo: Skechers

Our partnerships are grounded in a deep understanding of the celebrity's lifestyle and fashion preferences, as well as a true connection with our brand—ensuring that the collaboration feels natural. Notably, each celebrity brand ambassador is associated with specific product categories, with Doja Cat representing our fashion range and Cha Eun Woo reflecting our athleisure lifestyle and apparel range. By choosing endorsements that are mutually beneficial and genuine, we ensure that our collaborations are engaging, relatable, and impactful.

  1. Cultural knowledge is key to catering to a market as diverse as Southeast Asia.

Our approach to diverse markets in Southeast Asia centers on localisation and cultural sensitivity. We engage with each market on a deep level, working closely with local influencers and celebrities who resonate with the local audience such as popular actor, Lawrence Wong and FM 93.3 Dee Jay Hazelle Teo in Singapore, Malaysian singer and actress, Ayda Jebat, in Malaysia and Thai actor, singer-songwriter, Mew Suppasit in Thailand. This insight grants us an invaluable window into preferences, lifestyles, and cultural nuances, which serves as a compass guiding our product offerings, marketing initiatives, and customer engagement strategies.

Additionally, our brand has also always prided itself on offering a diverse range of product categories for our wide demographics and has launched trendy products to meet the needs of all our consumers. We’ve also successfully carved out a niche in the footwear market for the Skechers Kids range that caters to children aged zero to 12 years old, and we aim to continue building a younger demographic for the brand.

  1. There is no success today without sustainability.

Sustainability and ethical practices are integral to our brand philosophy. Since 2016, Skechers has strived to look for new ways and initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint, including reducing the amount of plastic in our footwear packaging. Today, about 99% of our packaging is fully recyclable, with 100% of our paper-based foot forms and tissue paper used inside our shoeboxes being fully recyclable. Sustainability also transcends our products as we have partnered and continue to look out for some of the best manufacturers and suppliers with a wide network of facilities around the world to produce comfortable shoes that do not harm our planet.

In addition to reducing our carbon footprint with recyclable packaging, we are also working with a non-profit environmental organisation, The Nature Conservancy, to help achieve its mission to protect our world’s lands and waters. As part of a global partnership, which was announced last year, we have contributed a minimum of $800,000 as well as participated in reforestation initiatives to reduce tree harvesting and emissions through packaging.

Campaign Asia

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