And with one boss like move, vice presidential hopeful and California Senator Kamala Harris may have brought V.F. Corp.-owned Timberland a long overdue sales boost this fall/winter season.
Harris has lit up social media feeds (see below) this week for exiting her plane to visit wildfire devastation in Fresco, Calif. in a pair of classic yellow Timberland boots, or ‘Timbs’ as the sneakerheads would say. After touring the aftermath, Harris left the Timbs on to attend a community roundtable event to chat about the impact of the pandemic on Latino households in Las Vegas.
What better validation of Timberland ruggedness — mixed with comfort — than Harris’ entire day in them. And what better signal to shoppers that Timbs could be cool again — maybe not early ‘90s cool — but cool now that Harris is wearing a sneaker-like version of the iconic footwear.
All of this hoopla is probably music to the ears of executives over at V.F. Corp.
“It [the attention from Kamala] could provide some boost. We’ve seen that already from her wearing her Converse Chuck Taylors, and that’s evident in the Google Trends search data. I haven’t seen the same Google Trends lift on “Timberland” yet but it’s still early,” Pivotal Research Group senior research analyst Mitch Kummetz told Yahoo Finance.
Under then CEO Eric Wiseman, V.F. Corp. purchased Timberland for $2 billion in 2011. Performance has been spotty for the brand through the years despite initiatives to clean up excess inventory found at off-price stores and modernize the offerings. A true brand rebound has been stunted by the strong shift to fashion sneakers, athletic sneakers and the closure of department stores.
The COVID-19 pandemic — which has led to cautious inventory ordering by major retailers — hasn’t helped a key supplier such as Timberland either.
Global sales for Timberland fell 8% year-over-year in fiscal year 2020 (they fell 1% in fiscal year 2019). In the fourth fiscal quarter alone, global sales dropped 23% due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sales decline caused V.F. Corp. to take a $323.2 million impairment charge on Timberland exiting the quarter.
Pressure on sales due to the pandemic persisted into the three-months ended June 30 (V.F.’s first fiscal quarter), with global sales falling 43%.
But those heading for a visit to Timberland’s website following the Harris attention will find a completely different brand than they remember. Under current V.F. Corp. CEO Steve Rendle, Timberland has been taken to the next level. Timberland has a new partnership on a collection with luxury brand Jimmy Choo. Offerings in men’s and women’s are far more versatile — meaning the boots could be worn from a job-site to a socially distanced backyard Halloween party without one looking out of place.
Rendle has also vastly upgraded Timberland’s apparel aesthetic. Gone are the drab shirts and jackets for boomers, in is a $128 recycled camo men’s fleece.
“In general, I would say it's important for brands to have "key influencers" wear their product in authentic ways that is also congruent with the brand's strategy,” UBS footwear industry analyst Jay Sole says of the Harris Timberland sighting.
The road ahead for all apparel brands this fall is uncertain as retailers continue to go out of business and consumers stay cautious ahead of the election. So at this point, a win is a win for apparel companies. And it looks to be a win for Timberland by route of Kamala Harris.