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  • Timberland believed, for some reason or another, that they

  • didn't sell boots in the hood.

  • But the kids were buying Timberlands the same way they were

  • buying Jordans. The Timberland company's

  • classic, yellow boot is cemented in the memories of hip-hop

  • fans and outdoorsmen alike.

  • While Timberland's profits increased dramatically at the

  • height of its popularity in the '90s, the brand seemed to

  • struggle with just how big of an impact the hip-hop

  • community had on its bottom line.

  • You know, it started to get really popular in the streets

  • of New York and all up and down the East Coast.

  • Listen, I would wear Timberland's with a bathing suit,

  • literally. And I'm not joking.

  • Here's how the Timberland boot became a hip-hop icon.

  • This is Suddenly Obsessed.

  • The Abington Shoe Company was founded in 1933, supplying

  • unbranded shoes to distributors across the U.S..

  • In 1973, the company decided to create a waterproof,

  • nubuck leather boot that could withstand the harsh New

  • England elements. They called it the Timberland boot.

  • It was for people who worked in factories or construction in

  • New England, and that was their self-image and that's who

  • they were selling to. The Timberland boot became so

  • popular, that in 1978, the Abington Shoe Company was

  • renamed the Timberland Company.

  • And for reasons unknown to the brand at the time, the

  • appeal of the Timberland boot reached far beyond hardhat

  • workers and outdoorsman.

  • In 1980, the Timberland boot made its international debut in

  • Italy. When Italian tourists visit New York, they

  • buy shoes. Never mind the elegant, premium leather shoes

  • made in their own country.

  • They want the rugged, outdoor American look.

  • By the mid 1980s,

  • The New York Times reported that teenagers were robbing

  • people for their Timberlands in Italy's fashion capital,

  • Milan. Italian flight attendants were reportedly buying up

  • to 50 pairs of Timberland boots on trips to the U.S.

  • to sell for double the price in Italy.

  • The embrace of Timberland is a high-end, made in the United

  • States brand catapulted the yellow boot to a

  • once-inconceivable status.

  • By 1993, Timberland was the top selling boot in Italy.

  • Think about that. In the late '80s, Timberland opened a

  • U.S. flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York City, and

  • almost immediately the iconic yellow boot started popping

  • up in New York neighborhoods like Harlem, Brooklyn and the

  • Bronx. With its new status as a fashion must-have,

  • Americans on the cutting edge of style now coveted

  • Timberland as a prestigious brand.

  • They really came from the initial people in the neighborhood

  • who probably, unfortunately, were probably hustlers in some

  • sense. They had enough money to go uptown or downtown and

  • look at the more prestigious brands.

  • The legend goes that hustlers liked the boot because they

  • were incredibly well-made and able to withstand long nights

  • in harsh weather conditions.

  • I had stories from people who grew up in, let's say, the

  • '80s in Harlem and would talk about how, "Yeah, the thing

  • to do was to go to Midtown (because there were no

  • Timberland stores in Harlem)," and go to these stores that

  • were just not designed for that consumer at all.

  • But they didn't care about that.

  • They were interested in the quality and the sort of

  • signifier value in the context that they were in.

  • And it sort of transferred from there into a broader style

  • thing that kind of came up with hip-hop.

  • In the early '90s, New York hip-hop artists adopted the

  • Timberland style wholeheartedly.

  • I think when kids wanted to associate with specific brands,

  • they had to first see it on somebody that they valued.

  • In '94, Queens-born rapper Nas dropped a line in one of his

  • top singles "The World Is Yours," where he pays homage

  • saying, "Suede Timbs on my feet makes my cipher complete."

  • In '95, rap duo Mobb Deep released their most iconic album,

  • 'The Infamous,' with a cover image of Havok wearing Timbs.

  • And in'96, Biggie Smalls frequently celebrated

  • Timbs in his style and music, dropping the famous line,

  • "Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn." Other iconic rappers

  • like Wu-Tang Clan and DMX were also seen rocking the

  • classic, yellow boot.

  • But Busta Rhymes took it to another level.

  • He would customize his Timbs for major red carpet events.

  • Between 1991 and 2000, Timberland's sales skyrocketed.

  • Gross profits grew from roughly $80 million to over $500

  • million. That same year, the company reported record

  • revenue topping one billion dollars.

  • But Timberland's growth was not without controversy.

  • Hip-hop was still a new concept in the early '90s, and

  • some brands like Timberland didn't seem to comprehend the

  • genre's influence or staying power.

  • Timberland was focusing on servicing a market with the

  • highest quality boot in the world, but if you're selling

  • the highest quality boot in the world, then how often do

  • you need to buy a new boot if you're a construction worker?

  • But the kids now are buying Timberland, and I'm buying two

  • or maybe one new pair a month because of the fashion sense,

  • and you called me a drug dealer.

  • In 1992, marketers across the U.S.

  • were following Bill Clinton's campaign calls for racial

  • harmony after the brutal beating of Rodney King and the

  • riots that followed.

  • The following year, Timberland created its "Give Racism the

  • Boot" campaign, which the company ran internationally.

  • At the time, then-Executive Vice President Jeff Swartz

  • said, "This is not about selling boots.

  • It's about making a strong statement." But in November of

  • 1993, Swartz gave an infamous interview to The New York

  • Times that would test the limits of all of the goodwill

  • Timberland had built up with the Black community, which now

  • represented a sizable portion of its customer base.

  • The phrases were something like "Well, the consumers money

  • spends good. But, you know, we're still a brand for

  • hardworking people." It seems Swartz didn't quite

  • comprehend how important Timberland had become to the Black

  • community when he said, "If you hear that hip-hop kids are

  • wearing Timberland boots...that's coin in current dollars.

  • But how in the world is that sustainable?"

  • Which obviously was not well-received.

  • And part of this was that it was an explanation for why

  • Timberland was not advertising in magazines like Vibe.

  • There was open sort of complaint and talk about we should

  • boycott Timberland and things like this.

  • I'm not throwing away seven years at Timberland into my

  • closet. Are you kidding me?

  • Especially if I was a guy or girl from the hood, and I've

  • invested damn near 50% of my entire salary.

  • What am I going to do? Following the interview, Swartz

  • spoke openly about the criticism Timberland faced, saying

  • their stock price took a hit as a result.

  • Customers began asking, "Why Timberland doesn't want to

  • sell to Black people?" But the conversation was bigger than

  • that. In the '90s, marketers were just starting to pay

  • attention to Black spending power in the U.S.

  • As of 1993, studies showed that Black Americans spent 50%

  • more on shoes and four percent more on clothing than

  • non-Blacks. For a group that was historically marginalized,

  • this was a significant shift.

  • With Blacks accounting for more and more consumer spending,

  • this presented a challenge for brands like Timberland, who

  • were bound by traditional ideas of wealth and influence.

  • But young, Black entrepreneurs saw Timberland's misstep as

  • a major opportunity.

  • When you said that we don't sell our boots to drug dealers,

  • a little young man at Red Lobster who was working extremely

  • hard, I felt pissed off.

  • I said, "Who's ever going to love and value the people that

  • they make and sell their boots to?" So I went home and came

  • up with a brand, FUBU, "For Us, By Us." A lot of people

  • would interpret it only as a color, but I wasn't going to

  • be a bigot the same way that Timberland was.

  • It was about a culture, those who loved and valued hip-hop.

  • Timberland learned that when young, Black consumers start a

  • trend, affluent suburbanites were likely to follow them, a

  • pattern that still exists today.

  • Over time, Timberland's reaction, let's say, evolved.

  • In fact, it went 180 degrees.

  • Timberland came to realize this was not a fad.

  • It was not a problem.

  • It was an opportunity, and it was the future.

  • Timberland had a long-standing history of giving back.

  • But in 1999, Timberland really put their money where their

  • boots were. The brand designed a limited edition red boot

  • in partnership with City Year, which was meant to appeal to

  • the Black consumers' appetites for customization while

  • embodying Timberland's socially conscious ethos.

  • In 2007, the company launched the Borough's Project, which

  • called on designers from New York City's five boroughs to

  • design custom Timbs.

  • Basically, they started following that consumer, and that

  • was when they started designing products such as pink work

  • boots that had no relevance to its supposed core

  • demographic of the factory worker or the outdoor

  • construction worker and had 100% relevance to the street

  • fashion person, who by that point wasn't just the

  • "urban consumer", the hip hop star, and things like that.

  • It was a very wide spread.

  • So it had leached out into the suburbs because it was just

  • the bomb to have to have Timbs as they came to be called.

  • After seeing major spikes in profits throughout the '90s

  • and early 2000s,

  • Timberland's growth fell stagnant between 2005 and 2010.

  • Following its multigenerational expansion under the

  • direction of the Swartz family, in 2011 Timberland was sold

  • for $2.3 billion dollars to VF Corp., a fashion

  • conglomerate that owns brands like The North Face and Vans.

  • It seems VF Corp.

  • is embracing the different types of Timberland consumers

  • from the outdoor enthusiasts to its trendy clientele.

  • While Timberland has been working on its sustainability

  • efforts, it has also created fashion-forward styles like

  • the four-inch heeled boot.

  • And the brand hearkened back to the '90s by launching a

  • special legends collection with one of its early,

  • unofficial hip-hop ambassadors, NAS.

  • And in recent years, the brand leaned into hype culture,

  • creating collectors boot drops with brands like Supreme and

  • Off-White. While the Timberland company might not see an

  • expansion like it did in the early '90s, they succeeded in

  • retaining a diverse and loyal consumer base.

  • Timberland does not have the same kind of edge that it had

  • in 2000, 2005.

  • But that's kind of inevitable.

  • So brands have to weather the storm of crossing over from

  • being the new thing to being the old thing, and if

  • you can be the old thing and still be acceptable, you're

  • not in a bad position.

Timberland believed, for some reason or another, that they

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How Hip-Hop Made Timberland a Billion Dollar Brand

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/27
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