On March 16, shoe retailer DSW launched a new collection of footwear inspired by Jennifer Lopez, in all of its more than 500 stores nationwide, and online. It featured plenty of glamor, with sparkling pumps, rhinestone-embellished stilettos with sky-high heels, strappy sandals, platforms and pointy-heel slingbacks.
“This was a substantial collaboration,” said Bill Jordan, chief growth officer at Designer Brands, which owns DSW. “We had been talking with Jennifer for six months or so about a partnership and then spent a lot of time developing the collection with Jennifer and her team.”
Most of the DSW stores had the new exclusive brand on the shelves, and windows displayed lifesize posters of J.Lo modeling the shoes.
Lopez had also hyped the collection repeatedly to her more than 200 million social media followers.
But on March 17, a development put the fate of the collection in limbo.
Then, the other shoe dropped.
As households went to a work-from-home mode and going out for entertainment came to a standstill, it completely changed consumers’ clothing needs. Women packed away their suits, work dresses and high heels and recalibrated the fashion code with a more casual flair.
Suddenly casual comfort was in and loungewear, slippers and sneakers became must-have essentials.
“By the end of March we recognized we needed to pivot the collection,” said Jordan.
That’s no easy task in the shoe industry.
“Changing direction with a collection in such a short period of time is very complicated, and it can be very expensive for a company that’s not well capitalized,” said Gary Chwatuk, an expert in footwear design and manufacturing and adjunct professor at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Chwatuk said shoe manufacturing involves several production stages and “a lot of engineering.”
“There are so many components to it —designing and manufacturing the upper of a shoe, then the inside of it, the sole,” he said. “Just designing and making the sole, especially for a sneaker can be the most difficult and costliest part of the process.”
Swapping stilettos for comfy sneakers
The original concept of the JLO Jennifer Lopez brand collaboration was to design footwear around the three cities — New York, Miami and Los Angeles — where the celebrity lives, Jordan said.
The shoes were meant to embody Lopez’s sexy, confident style which women could wear either to work or for going out, he said.
Both teams went back to the drawing board in April to reimagine and “accelerate the design timeline” for a collection for the fall and spring of 2021 that would now incorporate more comfort into it.
“Jennifer was personally involved,” said Jordan. “Our team would have sketches for her and her team to look over and add comments or changes.” (Lopez declined to comment for this story.)
Even the creative process felt the pandemic’s impact. “With the original collection we were all in person. But with the coronavirus, all of our sampling was virtual and we would have to send physical samples to her team,” send Jordan.
Designer Brands worked with suppliers to quickly source different materials like fur trim for booties or technical materials for more casual styles like sneakers to add to the collection.
“Typically it takes several months from design to production, but we had been developing the ability to add styles and producing them in shorter cycles,” said Jordan, adding that the new designs were produced in four months, less than half the time it would typically take.
“That ability coupled with strong relationships with sourcing and production partners allowed us to speed the process, even with pandemic impact,” he Jordan.
The first reworked collection, priced between $60 and $150, features sneakers, comfortable block heel booties and flat, lug-sole combat boots. It hit stores and online in mid-September. The spring lineup will again focus on casual and comfy looks.
Meanwhile, DSW had to cut prices on the original shoes that were produced. By summer, the inaugural JLO collection was already marked down.
In July, Lopez offered fans a 50% discount on her collection on her Instagram page. Some stilettos and slingbacks in the inaugural collection are still available online at 15% to 25% off the original price.
DSW is still hopeful that heels will sell well again.
“Even while we’ve pivoted to address people’s changing needs, we’ve found that during the weeks where people were on full quarantine, we were seeing [on] social channels like TikTok that they were still ‘playing dress up,” said Jordan.
“At some point we would like to see demand for dressy shoes come back,” he said.