How Sanuk is Expanding its Gender-Neutral Footwear Strategy

"We don’t want to tout a different message based on gender. Inclusivity is paramount."

Sanuk is a company that wants to lead the charge in our space when it comes to gender equality.

With the release of Lauren Hill’s short film, “Pear Shaped,” which explored the unbalanced pressures placed on female surfers, Sanuk is now making a big shift to its footwear design, moving to a more streamlined, gender-neutral offering.

Spring 2018 marks Sanuk’s first real push into this new strategy, explains General Manager Magnus Wedhammar.

sanuk gender neutral

A peek inside the ‘journey to your happy place’ from Sanuk’s Spring 18 lookbook. Photo: Sanuk

“As a general philosophy, we believe that good design is genderless,” Wedhammar told TransWorld Business. “At the same time, we are speaking directly to our consumers by fulfilling an ask of theirs. The ‘pink it and shrink it’ approach is dated, and it never really worked in the first place.”

Indeed, most brands in the adventure sports space have realized that all products – both men’s and women’s – need to be given more thought when it comes to design, fit, overall aesthetic and functionality. More so than ever, men’s styles and boyfriend fits are trending in the women’s market, blurring the lines between designs, with an eye to new generations who participate in multi-faceted lifestyles. This has created what is perhaps the perfect timing for gender-neutral product to come into its own.

“We are trying to solve the problem for both genders,” Wedhammar explains. “Since these are shoes and sandals ‘made for the journey to your happy place,’ a unisex design is the right solution.”

sanuk gender neutral

Sanuk General Manager Magnus Wedhammar and actress Jessica Szhor at the Chiba Quest launch party in Los Angeles. Photo: Sanuk

The Spring ’18 collection is led by The Chiba Quest, a new unisex style that Sanuk is touting as “the ultimate expression” of that journey, regardless of gender.

We caught up with Wedhammar to hear more about the brand’s strategy for genderless footwear, and how this path diverges from Sanuk’s past efforts.

Will we see more styles like this in the future?

Unisex styles will definitely be more prevalent as we head into future seasons. Spring ’18 was our first real push into this space, and we are excited to continue to strengthen the presence of these unisex styles in 2018 and beyond.

Can you discuss any similar products you have in the works at the moment for next season?

We have multiple projects in our product pipeline that emphasize the unisex approach. In Fall ’18, we are launching a winterized Sidewalk Surfer called "Puff N' Chill." It's a "Sanukified" boot with 100 percent of our brand DNA specifically made for chilling hard.

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The Chiba Quest, set loose in the outdoors. Photo: Sanuk

What is the significance of speaking to an audience that is accepting and embracing this gender neutral style? 

We don't want to tout a different message based on gender. The most important thing for us is to be clear on who we are and what we stand for as a brand -- for everyone. Inclusivity is paramount. Our brand mission is to be the "Outfitter for the Journey to your Happy Place." That mission remains essential to every piece of communication and product that we produce and distribute in the marketplace. We believe our mission will help define the position we want to occupy in the minds of consumers, regardless of gender.

What does this shift say about the future consumer?

We think the future consumer is much more concerned about picking their favorite brands. You want a brand that aligns with your personal values. These days, consumers expect more transparency than ever before. Brands do not have to be perfect, but they do need to align with a handful of core beliefs in order to resonate.

sanuk gender neutral

The Chiba Quest is the next evolution of Sanuk’s beacj-classic Sidewalk surfer. Photo: Sanuk

Can you explain what makes the Chiba Quest updated / different than the Sidewalk Surfer?

The Chiba Quest is our evolution of the Sidewalk Surfer. The original Sidewalk Surfer heavily targeted those living the surf lifestyle, but this more fashion-forward design allows us to introduce the company to new audiences. These include travelers and athletes. The Chiba Quest supports the expression of our brand mission.

What type of materials and colorways will we see, and what else is unique / sets these apart?

You will see a mix of solid and multi prints. We're staying true to the Sanuk signature style, while also offering an option that is easy to match with any outfit. The knit material offers breathability and premium comfort in addition to making these easy to slip on and off. 

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Designed to just slip on and hit the road, wherever the day is taking you. Photo: Sanuk

From a company standpoint, how is Sanuk looking to position itself for the next 6 to 12 months? 

We've been busy over the last twelve months writing "Chapter 2" of the Sanuk saga. A key part of this chapter was to update our brand vision. Our new vision is to become a global "cult brand" in the next five years. When I say "cult brand," I'm speaking of engendering the kind of enthusiasm rabid fans of a cult movie or band will exhibit.

Such a phenomenon happens when a band, movie, or brand makes audiences feel as if they are a part of something special that ultimately contributes to who they are.

Simultaneously, we want to maximize the opportunity to connect worldwide. We're in the process of identifying key partners who will augment growth internationally. The goal is to work together with key partners in order to create a global cult brand.

Sanuk is special. We've always aimed to differentiate ourselves. We've organically attracted a very passionate fan base and want to offer them something they can only get from us.

Our website, which has undergone significant updates, allows us to seamlessly integrate product, marketing, ambassadors, and our voice under one umbrella. We can communicate the overarching vision clearer than ever before as a result.

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There’s lots in store for Sanuk’s “next chapter.” Photo: Sanuk

What direction are you taking footwear in the future?

When we wrote "Chapter 2," another critical imperative was to evolve our product strategy.

That product strategy is comprised of three pillars.

1. Franchise Management - Maximize our icons such as "Sidewalk Surfers" and "Yoga Mat" through innovation and progression in order to truly become indispensable for not only the "Sanuk" faithful, but newcomers as well.

2. Diversify Our Portfolio  – We're diversifying with a more surgical approach to "Sanukified" sneakers, sandals, and boots reflective of the message and identity.

3. Segment Our Product Offering - We want to segment across our distribution network in order to optimize opportunities and avoid price compression and matching on key styles. As a result, we'll give more consumers access to our brand.

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