By Thomas J. Ryan
Last September, Vasque Footwear, part of the Red Wing Shoe Company, appointed Allison Gettings as VP and general manager of the 55-year old, iconic outdoor footwear brand.
George Curleigh, who has served as VP and general manager for Vasque and Red Wing Heritage for two years, pivoted to focus exclusively on the global growth of Red Wing Heritage.
Gettings, the daughter of Red Wing Chairman and retired CEO Bill Sweasy, started her career at Red Wing Shoe Company in product development, where she gained vast experience working in the factories and sourcing materials. Most recently, she served as the director of product creation for Red Wing Heritage, where she developed brand positioning, product, marketing and distribution strategies for men’s and women’s heritage products.
Here, SGB Executive talks to Gettings about her aspirations for the Vasque brand, key product initiatives for the brand and the brand’s quiet approach to advocacy.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? My grandfather started Vasque in 1964 when he was CEO of Red Wing Shoe Company, and so I grew up with a lot of respect and reverence for footwear and our company’s culture. I started working at Red Wing Shoe Company a year after I graduated from college working on both a casual line and the Vasque brand doing product management. After a few years I decided to strike out on my own launch a line of women’s shoes. Running my own footwear business was an incredible learning experience, which was pivotal in my ability to successfully launch Red Wing’s Women’s Heritage collection in 2016. After heading up product for our Heritage collection for a couple of years, I recently took over as president of Vasque. It has been a profoundly humbling experience to work on these brands that have been so meaningful to people for so many years.
How is the Vasque brand doing these days? Our Vasque business is in a great period of transformation as we carefully build upon the work of the previous generation to position ourselves for success for future generations. Some of the most engaging and rewarding moments of my entire career have happened in the past few months as we dig deep into the heart and soul of our brand so that we can clearly share our vision and purpose with the rest of the world. Our heritage, our obsessive commitment to quality and purpose, our values, and the experience and talent within Red Wing Shoe Company puts us in a unique position to steward this brand into a great future.
What have you learned about the Vasque brand as well as outdoor industry since taking over leadership last fall? Vasque has had such brand loyalty for so many decades. As one of the founders of the outdoor industry in the United States, we have never had to put much emphasis behind marketing our brand. Today, the entire industry has changed, and some great competitors have grown up around us. I believe our biggest opportunity today is in reconnecting with the good people who are wearing our products outside to make sure that we are meeting their needs, and letting them know that we are here for them beyond the transaction.
What’s exciting on the product side from Vasque? Luckily I stepped into this organization in the midst of some phenomenal new product. This season we are overhauling around 75 percent of our entire line, and the response to it so far has been massively positive. We will continue to expand on the success of the Breeze LT, which won Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year this year, and has received some of the best consumer feedback I have ever seen. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s not to miss.
Can you update us on Vasque’s advocacy efforts? We haven’t waved our advocacy flag at Red Wing Shoe Company much because we have the philosophy that we will do the right thing not because we will get press for it, but because it’s the right thing to do. That said, as part of Red Wing Shoe Company, community and philanthropy are core to who we are. We have been supporting non-profits that help get people outside since the beginning of Vasque in 1964, including our local Environmental Learning Center, The Conservation Alliance, Big City Mountaineers, The Continental Divide Trail, and many others. Our ability to help keep the outside wild, and to get kids to experience the transformative power of the outdoors, is a huge part of why I love coming to work each day.
What are some long-term goals for Vasque? My dad, Bill Sweasy, who has been a huge supporter of the Outdoor Industry, passed on advice this advice, “Make a brand that you would be proud to pass onto the next generation.” I can’t think of a more inspiring, or difficult challenge. I want my kid’s generation to look up to this brand, not because of how big we are, but because of how great our products are, and how much of a difference we’ve been able to make in people’s lives. So every day, at every decision point, we have to ask ourselves, “Will this help us build the brand for the next 50 years?” and “Would I be proud to explain this decision to my children?”
Photo courtesy Vasque Footwear