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Cole Haan strengthens market presence in the region under FJ Benjamin distributorship

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 7 min read
Cole Haan strengthens market presence in the region under FJ Benjamin distributorship
Cole Haan latest launch is the 5.Zerøgrand Wrk Sneaker – a street-inspired work sneaker, featuring mixed media uppers and an iconic diamond-punch sole
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For close to a century, New York-based footwear brand Cole Haan has been quietly but steadily strengthened its street cred from being a men’s-only shoe line to a thriving unisex footwear and leather goods company that operates in 90 countries with close to 400 outlets worldwide.

Its legacy is built on time-honoured craftsmanship and modern innovation to create comfortable lasting footwear that customers can wear from work to workout, to the weekend. Through its Grand 360 Design and Engineering, the goal is to design a revolutionary collection that provides uncompromised fit, feel, flexibility, and cushioning — it will change the way you think about comfort.

Its presence in Singapore has been quiet all these years under the distributorship of Seager Inc, which owns The Wallet Shop and The Planet Traveller. But things have started to shake up this year since a recent takeover by FJ Benjamin — a public-listed retailer and distributor of luxury and lifestyle brands worldwide — which inked a deal in June 2022 to retail and distribute Cole Haan in Singapore and Malaysia. The multi-year partnership covers wholesale and brand site distribution, store expansion, as well as digital sites, which are operating in both countries.

The first order of business was the opening of Cole Haan’s first physical store at VivoCity last November.

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“We are truly excited to connect with a high calibre partner that is operating in Southeast Asia. One of the things we like to focus on is finding a partner that has the local expertise on the ground expertise to drive the brand in exponential ways.”

In an exclusive interview with Options, Adrian Santos, international senior vice president at Cole Haan, shares how the partnership with FJ Benjamin happened and innovating for a younger audience.

This partnership with FJ Benjamin is a long time coming. How did that conversation start?

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We had a dormant partner that was managing the Singapore market who was not really doing much for the brand. I knew that we needed to enter the Singapore market in the right way, but this partner did not have the capacity to invest further, so we were looking for a change.

I got to know the FJ Benjamin Group during my days at The Gap (which was previously managing the group). They have successfully launched many of the brands that I was associated with in the past, including Guess, and I felt like there couldn't be a better partner for us to engage in a long-term relationship with. I began conversations with Nash and Douglas Benjamin about venturing into Singapore and they were very excited about the opportunity, so we moved forward.

As Cole Haan reaches its 100 years, do you find it easier or harder to sell to consumers of today?

There's a stewardship that is part of our brand heritage which is vital to maintain but that does not hamper our ability to stay up to date with current trends and innovations. Just as important as it is to cater to our long-term customers, it is also necessary to offer products to meet the stylistic preferences of our younger demographic.

Today, the historical dress shoe is not the one driving the business anymore. I think the biggest shift, one where Cole Haan has had to pivot, is the casualisation of the workplace. Our consumers are active, they're mobile, they travel the world. The lens we take now when developing products is that a pair of shoes must always take a person from work to weekend to work out.

For nearly a century, Cole Haan has consistently delivered products that provide consumers with a unique alchemy of style, comfort, and versatility. Never have these three attributes been more important to society than this moment in time, when the brand is rewriting the rules of office sartorial etiquette alongside its consumers.

For more lifestyle, arts and fashion trends, click here for Options Section

Who makes up the bulk of your customers?

Cole Haan is a dual gender global lifestyle performance brand. We serve the always-connected, active professionals who seek versatility, comfort and style in their everyday lives, and at the same time appreciate quality and highly functional products with aesthetic sensibilities that can easily transition from day to night.

Our international business splits roughly 50-50 men and women. However, our Japan market over indexes in women's versus men's, with 60% of sales occurring for women and 40% of sales occurring for men. We have strategies in place to replicate that same level of women's penetration success throughout the remainder of our distributor-run markets around the world.

How has footwear technology evolved?

Cole Haan defied convention 10 years ago by pioneering a hybrid silhouette that combined a traditional dress upper and athletic outsole and that was held together by a unique leather weld. Inspired by the weightless movement that astronauts achieved in space, the original brand signified a giant leap in ingenuity in craftsmanship and design. Today, this design continues to be a cornerstone for the brand.

Last spring, Cole Haan entered the field of play for the first time when we launched our performance golf and tennis products right after we launched our running line in the summer of 2020. We will continue to rewrite the rules for what a performance lifestyle brand — known for its heritage and craftsmanship - can do and can be.

Do you have any personal favourite models?

My favourite is the GrandPrø Topspin — a beautiful simple shoe with highly crafted leathers and a moulded footbed. I arrived in Singapore yesterday from JFK on an 18-hour flight and landed at 6am. I threw on my Top Spins and walked around Singapore for almost nine miles and I felt great. This model is extremely comfortable, extremely fashionable, a great shoe to wear at any point in time whether you’re in a pair of jeans or a pair of shorts.

The two others are the ØriginalGrand — the style that really put us on the map — followed by the Zerøgrand, both of which are significant drivers of our business today.

Cole Haan takes sustainability very seriously. What have been some of your key initiatives?

Last February, Cole Haan launched Generation Zerøgrand II- the inaugural product of Cole Haan’s new Change Forward initiative for Sustainable Innovation and Natural Design. Change Forward represents the company's intention to better themselves in the world around them by actively seeking naturally derived or recycled materials for many of our product components.

This initiative also, formally, extends work the Company has undertaken over the past several years to reduce waste throughout its supply chain, such as introducing recycled materials in packaging and shipping cartons. Going forward, all Cole Haan products labelled “sustainable” will include a minimum of 25% naturally derived or recycled content by weight.

Cole Haan is actively seeking environmentally conscious, naturally derived or recycled materials for many of our product components. And, for leather components, we are prioritising responsible leather sourcing. Additionally, we work with our factory partners to ensure adherence to our Code of Conduct through internal and external audits, focusing on management systems as well as through collaboration with other brands, and as informed by our partnership with Social Accountability International, a global non-governmental organisation advancing human rights at work.

We know we are not a sustainable brand, nor can we name ourselves as such. But we're working on it. We have been working on it for the past few years, with much more to come.

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