Most consumers around the world probably own a pair of Havaianas flip-flops. The Brazilian footwear brand produces over 250 million pairs of flip flops each year, and unsurprisingly the majority of them are sold in its home market. The 54-year old brand first took the world by storm when it rose to fame globally in the mid-2000s with its zori inspired, colourful flip-flops, and Havaianas shows no signs of slowing more than a decade later. Now, the brand aims to win over even more shoppers with its carioca lifestyle products as it expands it offering to include more footwear designs, apparel and even eyewear. In order to properly showcase its transformation into a fully-fledged brand, Havaianas is opening a series of own-branded stores, with the latest opening its doors in Westfield London. In order to learn more about Havaianas plans for the future, FashionUnited took a moment to speak to Hervé Pinot, General Manager of Havaianas Benelux and Merel Werners, Marketing Director EMEA Havaianas.
FashionUnited: Why do you think Havaianas has become so popular over the years?
Hervé Pinot: “Consumers love Havaianas. We are so lucky because usually brands have to work so hard to speak to their consumers, but for us it’s totally different. Especially during the first four decades of the brand’s inception - it really was the consumers which pushed the brand forward and upwards across the globe.”
“Havaianas is part of the Brazilian culture and way of life. It is like coca-cola in the US. But there are several different reasons Havaianas is so popular as well - there is a very strong affection between Brazil and Europe, a large majority of the population love's Brazil. To them it means vacation, beautiful weather, sunshine, nice men and women. Brazil is very colourful and joyful and it's exactly the same for Havaianas - a lot of the country’s values are reflected in the brand...Jean Paul Gaultier also used them in his fashion shows in New York and Paris in 1999 which really changed how people saw them. Havaianas was not necessarily an unknown flip-flop brand then but it became an object of desire after that.”
How has Havaianas grown over the years in your opinion?
Merel Werners: “We have grown to become not just a brand that is worn by the poorer population in Brazil, but a brand which is worn by the cool kids and hip people of Sao Paulo. Later the celebrities embraced us. We rose slowly to the top of the social pyramid, to the Jude Laws and David Beckhams and Kate Moss. But we work to ensure that our roots, linked with the poorer population of the ‘favelas’, our biggest buyers are never forgotten or left behind.”
“We want to make sure that we always have products for these consumers, at a price that they can pay. Approximately 200 million pairs of our shoes are sold in Brazil to these people and approximately everyone between the age of 1 and 99 buys at least one pair per year. The balance between people is very important to us, as we are a democratic brand. Half over the company’s total turnover comes from Havaianas, which is close to 1 billion euros. The other half comes from a number of licenses, such a Timberland in Latin America.”
Havaianas partnered with the Rio Olympic Games 2016. How did the partnership come about and what does the brand hope to achieve through this partnership?
Pinot: “It was an obvious partnership for us because Rio means Havaianas, the locals love them. It was a natural connection. But we do not want to push the distribution and sale of the Olympic flip-flop, as it is a selective story. We will only be offering them in certain stores throughout Europe for one reason in particular: Havaianas is not a sportswear brand. It’s a lifestyle brand and we do not want to be perceived as an opportunistic brand. We are a real, authentic lifestyle brand, but it so happened that the next Olympic Games were taking place in Rio - otherwise we would have never collaborated with them. But we hope our brand presence will be lifted through the partnership. It’s a pure marketing investment for us.”
Havaianas recently launched designer collections with Liberty and Charlotte Olympia - do you think these collections have changed consumers opinion of the brand?
Pinot: “Probably. I feel like these collaborations have positively changed the consumers mind and continue to elevate the brand. By offering a wide range of products, you are able to speak to a wider range of consumers, which is why we are always trying to develop different types and levels of products. Even if we say Havaianas is a democratic brand, it is important to appeal and make that connection with the high-end consumers and trendsetters. It is one way to keep the conversation going with them. But the priority of Havaianas is to be an inclusive brand, which is sometimes difficult to achieve. It is a balancing act, so we have to be careful of what message we are communicating to consumers and what type of collaborations we take on.”
Werners: “We always try to find a balance with our collaborations and let them come to us. We say no to many brands who look to work with us, as we want to make sure it always is the right fit for the brand. We do not want to have too many designer collections, as we want to make sure the brand is accessible to everyone. But at the same time these collaborations help reinforce the top of pyramid.”
What is one of the bigger challenges Havaianas faces at the moment?
Werners: “One of our biggest challenges remains the seasonality of our products. If we are lucky, we have three months out of the year of nice weather in Europe. We say that we are the ice cream of footwear: when the weather is nice we sell like crazy, but when the weather is poor we do not sell. So we are trying to spread that risk through new styles. Of course we will never produce winter jackets, fleece sweaters and ski boots because that is not part of the Brazilian summer spirit. But what we are trying to do in incorporate innovation into our product and offer consumers more usage occasions, so that people do not just wear Havaianas when they go to the beach, but also when they go into the city. That is why we are expanding our sandal range with the city sandal and launched new colours for our espadrilla for example. In the future we hope sandals will account for 25 percent of our total turnover. The city sandal has become our focus for summer.”
What are some other new products Havaianas plans to launch in Europe?
Pinot: “In 2014 we launched our apparel collection in Brazil and the plan is to launch the collection in Europe in 2017. But we will only offer the collection in a few, countries at first, because we need to be cautious. Obviously we are very ambitious when it comes to this new opportunity, but we need to properly manage they way we are going to launch it. ‘You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression’ as they say, so step by step. Apparel is another industry, it is not the same as footwear so we need to learn and be humble as it is a real competitive market. ”
Werners: ”We aim to launch the apparel line in Portugal, Spain and Italy first, as consumers fashion sense is closer to Brazil in those countries. Our aim is to dress consumers from top to toe. At the same time we are not trying to compete with the likes of H&M. In the future we may extend the clothing line so it more appealing for consumers in Northern Europe by adding long sleeves shirts or pants, but the core summer pieces will always be the heart of our apparel collection. We also signed a licensing deal with Safilo to launch eyewear in Brazil next summer. The collection consists of colourful and fun summer pieces which are in line with Havaianas brand DNA. They are designed to be suitable for everyone, and the price is accessible for most consumers. “
Havaianas is also busy opening up its own branded stores in Europe - why now?
Werners: “Well, part of the reason we are rolling out our own retail stores is so we can have the space to accommodate all the new categories. If we offered them all in a department store, they would hang the swimwear on one floor and shoes on another - we rather have control of how the brand story is translated to our customers and make the best use of the space we have. So Havaianas apparel line will be sold in our own stores at first, as it is very important to us to give consumers the full in store experience. In addition, this lets us protect our brand DNA while testing the waters.”
“We hope to have opened 7 flagship stores in Europe by the end of the year, which will offer the full product range.”