Monday, July 19, 2010

Since about 1983, I’ve always traveled more than I’d like as part of my work. Despite the delayed flights, stiff knees and time away from home, I know there’s nothing like travel for interesting conversations and observations about what’s really going on. Travel’s value seems even higher now that we live in the proverbial “interesting times.”

I’ve had a chance to be in several diverse places in the past few weeks: Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Florence (Italy), Houston, New Orleans and New York. I’ve connected with old friends and new acquaintances in the process, and I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned, from macro to micro…

On the Economy: The consensus on three continents is that the worst is behind us. However, there is definitely now an enduring “new normal”, which consists of a flight to quality in all things and also of value-focused individual consumption. Consumers fear getting back into too much debt and there’s general risk-aversion in all economic life everywhere. Somebody told me that last year almost everybody was scared and paralyzed, but now two-thirds of the U.S. working populace knows their jobs are pretty secure and they’re comfortable coming back to shopping (but at the “new normal” rate). The other third is nervous and very reluctant to spend. A distinguished, private-sector economist I heard speak in LA laid out a convincing case for optimism about the economy, though. He said the housing crisis is gradually being resolved with home prices moving up, houses selling again and mortgage defaults in major decline; manufacturing employment and productivity are growing; financial institutions are safer again; and the international economy is improved, not much in Japan or as much in Europe as in the USA, but improved (a view substantiated by our shoe manufacturing partners in Italy). So, this economist posits that the likelihood of a double dip recession is very low. The financial crisis in Greece and the Gulf oil spill, while serious problems, are not the threats to our economic livelihood that we may perceive.

On Fashion Styles: Having had the lucky privilege of living in Europe in the mid-1980s, when you could often tell people’s home country just by their shoes , it is now amazing to me how much more homogenized fashions have become across Europe and the U.S. The good news for us at Allen Edmonds is that international styles have swung definitively toward authentic American classics. That trend was even more obvious in Florence this summer than my last visit there in January. Tokyo also looked like any large U.S. city in terms of clothing, store windows and shoes. After 20+ years of European (particularly Italian) styling dominating the global palette, it’s now the Europeans who are following America again, perhaps at a level not seen since the 1960s, with round-toed brogue wingtips a part of every company’s new collections … for men and for women.

On Leathers and Soles: Suede is all the rage this summer from Florence to Beverly Hills. Elvis’s blue suede shoes are everywhere. Lighter-colored calfskins and distinctive burnishings are also much more prevalent. It’s no longer a choice between black and dark brown for dress attire, not at all. Newly designed unit soles that stake their own fashion claim are also big.

On Colors:
Last year I came back from Florence’s major fashion trade show and joked about purple fabrics adorning every mannequin in every booth there. Well, purple seems to be “so last year.” Various bright colors of blue (not so much navy, but brighter) have taken purple’s place. Orange is out there, too. And I can’t believe the number of yellow cars I’ve seen lately. Maybe the brighter economic outlook and bright colors -- the creeping new optimism and the light blues, orange and yellows – go together somehow. So, what am I supposed to do now with the purple shirts I’ve only worn once or twice?

Other Things I Learned: (1) Refs in the World Cup are as error-prone as major league umpires and NFL officials. The crisis in confidence in leaders’ judgment has obviously spread to the sports world. (2) Large groups of American high-schoolers on a two week tour of countries with no drinking age are crazy. (3) We have a growing group of international representatives in several (for us) new countries; American classic dress is spanning the globe. And (3), every place I went I met devoted Allen Edmonds fans eager to tell me how much they love our shoes and our company. (The impressive economist in L.A. was wearing black calf Randolphs, by the way, but he asked me to bring out the Delray in suede….Even the economists are getting hipper these days.)

Interesting times, for sure.

Warm regards,

Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO
Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation