Sunday, 24 Oct 2021

EXCLUSIVE: Earth Shoes Owner Sells Majority Stake to Windsong, Hilco

The nostalgia train continues to chug along. A majority stake in Earth Origins, which owns the trademark for Earth Shoes, a staple of the ’70s, has been purchased by Windsong Global LLC and Hilco Brands.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Earth, which has a 50-year-plus history of manufacturing comfort footwear, is the latest investment made by Windsong’s current platform. In October 2020, the brand purchased the Swims brand and it also owns Daytona Apparel Group, a sock, underwear and loungewear brand; Lilah B, a beauty brand; the Robeez children’s brand, and others in the health and wellness sector. It is also rumored to be the stalking horse for the Aquatalia footwear brand owned by the struggling Global Brands Group.

Windsong’s investment in Earth Origins marks the end of the company’s long history of family ownership. The business started when Michel Meynard emigrated from France to the U.S. in 1965 and began selling machinery to shoe factories in New England. Five years later, he launched Michel Meynard, a private label footwear manufacturer, which was renamed Meynard Designs. In 2002, the company acquired the trademark for Earth footwear and renamed the company Earth Brands. Meynard’s son, Philippe, had served as head of Earth Origins after his father’s death in 2013.

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Mark Parsley, a footwear industry veteran who was recently elevated to chief executive officer of Earth, said the Meynard family was seeking to exit the brand and went through an exhaustive search to find the right partner to continue the business and help fuel future growth.

“We spoke with many PE investors and the Windsong team and their understanding of our business was what set them apart from all the rest,” Parsley said. “We knew it was a perfect fit for us and that we’d found a partner who believed in the same vision for the brand.”

According to William Sweedler, chairman and CEO of Windsong Global, “Earth has established itself as a leading and trusted brand in the comfort footwear sector and I believe significant expansion opportunities exist across new classifications and categories. I am humbled that the Meynard family has joined the Windsong portfolio and I’m excited to build upon their platform.”

Parsley said even before the deal closed this week, plans were in motion for a number of relaunches at Earth over the few seasons. That includes the original Earth Shoe, which is still being offered and will now be marketed under the Kalso by Earth name starting in the spring. The shoe, which was famous for its “negative heel,” or a sole that was thinner at the heel than at the forefoot, was invented in the late 1950s by Danish yoga instructor Anna Kalso. The shoes were introduced in the U.S. in 1970, right before the first Earth Day, and were quickly embraced by the counterculture before expanding to the mainstream.

The shoe’s popularity overwhelmed its manufacturer and the company closed down in 1977 and it remained dormant until it was purchased by Meynard.

Parsley said the plan is to relaunch a wholesale and e-commerce collection under the Kalso name for the upscale shoes that are made in Portugal and retail for $180 to $200. “We think there’s definitely an opportunity for us,” he said.

The company’s core Earth Origins women’s shoe line is sold primarily at QVC and is more moderately priced, selling for $70 to $80. For fall of this year, men’s shoes will also be offered under the Earth Origins name, Parsley said.

With all its shoes, the company’s mission is to offer “comfort, fit and value,” he said. It has more than 400,000 customers in its e-mail database and annual sales believed to be around $120 million.

In addition, he said the brand will launch Earth Elements with Dillard’s next year, a younger-skewed collection with sustainability features. And by spring 2022, the company will relaunch Earth, a 100 percent sustainable collection of footwear that can ultimately be extended into apparel, accessories and other categories.

Parsley said with sustainability so important to young customers, the plan is to “reposition the Earth business as a lifestyle brand.” Its tag line will be: Building a Better Earth.

Parsley said business at Earth Origins has been very good lately as the pandemic has spurred customers to seek comfortable footwear. “Women were home wearing slippers and tennis shoes,” Parsley said, “and now that they’re going back to work, they don’t want to sacrifice comfort and fit.”

Dechert LLP acted as legal adviser to Windsong along with Hilco Global, which was also an investor in the transaction and served as senior advisers.

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