Cole Haan - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

American footwear design house

Founded: in Chicago by Trafton Cole and Eddie Haan, 1928. Company History: Cole Haan sold to group of partners headed by George Denney, 1975; launched retail division, 1982; sold to Nike for $80 million, 1988; repositioned under Modern Artisan theme, late 1990s; redesigned retail stores, 2000; signed license with G-III for apparel, 2000; licensed Air technology from Nike for Cole Haan shoes, 2000. Company Address: 1 Cole Haan Drive, Yarmouth, ME 04096, USA. Company Website: .




"Alone by Design," in Forbes, 20 May 1996.

"Cole Haan Cuts Staff by 74, Prez Taylor Steps Down," in Footwear News, 6 April 1998.

Mullins, David Philip, "Stoking the Cole," in Footwear News, 8 November 1999.

"Cole Haan Licenses Apparel," in Footwear News, 21 February 2000.

LoRusso, Maryann, "New Cole Haan Lifestyle Line Injected with Nike Technology," in Footwear News, 6 March 2000.

Mui, Nelson, "Comfort is in the Air at Cole Haan," in DNR, 6 March 2000.

Brumback, Nancy, "Cole Haan Redesigns Flagship Stores in Line with the Brand's Updated Look," in Footwear News, 2 October 2000.


Cole Haan was formed in Chicago in 1928 by Trafton Cole and Eddie Haan, who built the company on a reputation of quality, craftsmanship, style, and service. Cole Haan—which began life as a men's footwear brand but expanded into women's and children's products as well—has sought to maintain this spirit throughout its more than 70-year history.

Cole Haan was sold to a group of partners headed by George Denney in 1975. These executives built upon the foundation established by Cole and Haan over the following decade, transforming the label into one of the leading U.S. footwear brands. They launched a retail division in 1982, which comprised 42 stores worldwide and cumulative annual sales of nearly $70 million by 1996.

Sports giant Nike purchased Cole Haan for $80 million in 1988, a move that represented Nike's first foray outside the athletic shoe business. Cole Haan's management—though based at the firm's international headquarters in Yarmouth, Maine, and its design headquarters in New York City—has continued to operate largely autonomously since the merger.

Many of Cole Haan's competitors have relied on licensed designer labels to increase their sales, but the company has preferred to focus on building its own brand. It has expanded the Cole Haan name into pumps, flats, sandals, and other casual and formal styles, and has since segued into leather accessories such as handbags, briefcases, belts, and wallets and into compatible products such as hosiery. During the mid-1990s Cole Haan worked to extend its presence internationally, especially in Europe. The company introduced a collection of driving shoes targeted at European customers in 1996; this style had long been one of Cole Haan's bestsellers on the Continent, but the relaunch made the line more fashion forward, with new colors, longer-lasting materials, and softer leathers. At the same time, as reported in Footwear News, Cole Haan introduced fashion leather and suede versions of its Anaconda chukka boots specifically for Europe. The company sold its European products through more than 300 retail doors in Italy alone.

The late 1990s represented a rough period for Cole Haan. Sales were lower than expected, which led to layoffs and the departure of the company president. Nike, too, was having financial and marketing problems at the same time, but Cole Haan's troubles were thought to be unrelated to those of its parent. Starting in 1998, several Nike executives began moving to the Cole Haan unit to help revitalize the brand. The next year Nike repositioned the Cole Haan label, introducing new footwear items with more modern styling while continuing to emphasize the high quality upon which the company was founded. The new positioning was referred to as "Modern Artisan" and supported by a lifestyle advertising campaign.

At the time of the repositioning, the company estimated that 60 to 80 percent of each year's product lines would be new styles, with the remainder comprised of carryovers of classic styles. The added items were intended to appeal to more market segments within the company's core target of affluent 30-to 50-year-olds. Cole Haan differentiated itself from its competitors by dividing its line into several unique lifestyle collections, each appealing to different customers and as well as different aspects of the customers' lives. Groupings have included Country, City, Studio, Resort, Evening, Home, and Bregano.

Cole Haan translated its new Modern Artisan positioning to stores starting in 2000, redesigning two prototypes, in Chicago and Boston, to be followed by others later in the year. Store designs reflected the company's new gray-green and red logo and afforded an opportunity to bring together all the Cole Haan-branded products under one lifestyle image. (The Chicago store is located next to the parent company's flagship Niketown outlet.) Additionally, Cole Haan also announced its intention to add more stores within its retail division.

At the front of each redesigned store, a new product line, Cole Haan with Nike Air Technology, was featured. This line formed the focal point of Nike's new Modern Artisan strategy, which included comfort among its primary attributes. Cole Haan licensed Nike's Air technology—made famous in its athletic footwear line endorsed by Michael Jordan—for use in several shoe stylings. The patented Air cushioning is integrated into the sole, with small windows on the bottom of each Cole Haan shoe show the technology at work.

Upon launch, Cole Haan executives explained that they expected this new line to ultimately account for 15 percent of the division's volume, which stood at $200 million in 2000. By devoting 25-percent of the Cole Haan advertising budget to the Air-branded products, the company intended to emphasize the technology itself rather than the Nike brand, though both companies' logos appear on the bottom of the shoes. Cole Haan also planned to eventually expand into other products, such as travel accessories, featuring Air technology. The company also expanded by granting its first license to an outside company, extending its brand further into the apparel category. G-III Apparel Group announced it would make leather and fabric outer-wear, as well as other clothing under the Cole Haan label, to be sold in Cole Haan stores and at other retailers (mostly upscale department stores) carrying Cole Haan footwear.

Although the new Nike Air technology represents the "modern" in Cole Haan's positioning, the company continues to stress the quality and craftsmanship suggested by the word "artisan." Company literature points out that a single craftsperson is responsible for each pair of shoes, overseeing its progress from beginning to end with said craftsperson putting the pair of completed shoes into the Cole Haan box himself or herself. This personal touch, combined with technological and stylistic innovation, is what Modern Artisan means to Cole Haan.


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