Vasque Footwear is undergoing a major brand overhaul as the company follows the trend of making lighter, faster hiking shoes and boots.
Revenue for the Minnesota-based brand, which is owned by Red Wing Shoes, has been flat for the past three years, said Bryce Wernsman, president of Vasque, as the brand has exited unproductive styles and focused on new product.
Wernsman was hired as president of Vasque in 2020 to help the company with the brand reset.
Since then, he has set a new course for the company, which started in 1964. “Roughly 65% of Vasque’s product is new for 2024,” Wernsman said. “When you look at the remaining product, only 10 or 15 of our styles will have existed prior to 2020. We think 2024 is going to be a turning point for the brand.”
The Daily spoke with Wernsman about how this overhaul is progressing, footwear trends, and overall business in the industry.
Here and Now
Over the past couple of years, Vasque brought all its design and development in-house to build out and refine its new products.
Vasque has made several key hires and created new positions, including a new product designer, a product merchant to lead merchandising strategy, and a North American sales manager.
The product line signifying the overhaul for the nearly 60-year-old brand is its new Re:connect Collection.
The focus for the new category is lighter footwear that’s designed with sustainable materials. The company’s Here shoes are made with a recycled polyester upper mesh and built on an anatomical last. They also feature “aggressive” outsole lugs for better traction. The idea is they can be worn for both urban trekking and an activity like an after-work hike.
“The category blurs the line between outdoor performance and outdoor lifestyle,” Wernsman said.
Wernsman added that the new line sits at a price point, $130-$150, that will help attract new customers to the brand.
The company’s less technical Now shoes are designed for comfort and stability with a wider heel and forefoot design with an internal fit sleeve.
Appealing to New Consumers
One of the main goals in reformulating this product line is to make shoes and boots that appeal to new entrants to the market, Wernsman said.
“It’s light, it’s fast, it’s premium,” he added. “It’s what consumers are looking for.”
Not only is Vasque releasing new, more contemporary styles, but it’s also taken the classic leather hiking boot and mixed in meshes and synthetic materials to make it more modern.
The goal is to provide footwear that looks good with, for example, athleisure apparel. A customer can hike in Vasque shoes or walk the dog around the neighborhood, Wernsman said.
“It’s multipurpose, very versatile footwear,” he added. “We’re going to spend the rest of this year and into 2024 building that out.”
As the product pipeline is built out, the company plans to start its marketing push. One of the key marketing initiatives is branding the Re:connect products as Trail to Town, Town to Trail.
“It’s this idea that you don’t need shoes that scream heavy duty equipment to be able to get outside and have a good time,” Wernsman said. “Most people are looking to go on a 2-hour hike then get coffee or breakfast or lunch afterward. We want to make shoes that look good in those scenarios.”
With the return to travel, Vasque is also hoping its customers will see the Re:connect shoes as the only pair they need to take with them. “People are looking for something that can do a couple of things really well,” he added. “Our point of view is we’re not going to sacrifice the performance aspects of the footwear.”
No different than other brands in the outdoor industry, Vasque is experiencing the macroeconomic headwinds of inflation and softer consumer demand, Wernsman said. Global sales have been tough, he added. At the same time, the brand is still growing its customer base, adding more than 400 new wholesale accounts this year.
“We’re adding customers and growing our distribution, adding regions across Europe,” Wernsman said. “But those new additions don’t necessarily make up for the retailers who are just sitting on tons of inventory and trying to get through the industry conditions we’re all facing.”
In response to the supply chain and market conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2022, Vasque shut down its direct-to-consumer, e-commerce channel for about a year to service its wholesale consumers. They only recently went back to selling online.
“We wanted to support that branded channel,” Wernsman said. “That’s paying off for us right now because we have an engaged and healthy wholesale business.”
Unfortunately, its retail partners are still working through a lot of inventory and Vasque isn’t shipping as much as it had planned this year, but Wernsman said its customers are more engaged now than in the past couple of years.
Earlier this year, Vasque launched a marketing campaign to spread the word about its products, presenting getting outside as an antidote to screen time and technology use.
On March 18, as part of its Log Outside event, the company gave away hundreds of pairs of boots at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado, for anyone who spent an hour enjoying the outdoors without their devices.
According to Vasque, the company enabled people to spend more than 300 hours disconnected from technology.
Wernsman said Vasque plans to hold more of these events in the future.
The idea behind it is to tell stories to the company’s core consumers as well as to communicate the brand to customers who aren’t as familiar with the outdoors. “This idea of Log Outside is what are we going to stand for as a brand?” Wernsman said. “And why should people care about Vasque?”