Allen Edmonds expands offerings with new men’s clothing line

Allen Edmonds expands offerings with new men’s clothing line

Allen Edmonds Shoe Corp., long known for its American-made high-end shoes for men, now wants to clothe its customers from the ground up.

Port Washington-based Allen Edmonds has started to sell a new line of men’s clothing and leather goods at some of its retail stores and on its website.

Most of the Allen Edmonds apparel — from a $495 wool sportcoat to $115 dress shirts to $195 dress pants to a $22 pair of socks — is made in the U.S., the company said.

“Apparel is definitely a big step for us and a very important one,” said Paul Grangaard, who came in as chief executive in 2008 to help turn around Allen Edmonds after it fell into financial trouble.

Allen Edmonds, whose shoes have been worn by a series of U.S. presidents as well regular businessmen over the decades, has sold some clothing items over the years. But the apparel wasn’t necessarily made in America and wasn’t Allen Edmonds’ own brand.

“We just decided that when we got back into apparel — because we had taken those items out of stores at different times in 2008 and 2009 — we would do it under our own brand and American styling that fit with our shoes so much better,” Grangaard said Tuesday.

With that goal in mind, Allen Edmonds hired a fashion designer in the last year and contacted U.S. garment makers capable of manufacturing its apparel products.

While most of the apparel will have a “Handcrafted in USA” label, some products will be made overseas for authenticity, the company said. For example, alpaca sweaters will be made in Peru because that’s considered the best source of alpaca yarn that provides warmth without bulk.

The company said it also plans to export its new clothing — along with shoes — to China, where they will be sold in a new Shanghai store and three Allen Edmonds stores it expects to open in Shanghai and Beijing later this year.

Production of the new line of American-styled men’s apparel has helped sustain or create more than 200 jobs with garment, leather goods and accessories manufacturers in 11 states, including Wisconsin, the company said. In Wisconsin, Sheboygan-based socks-maker Wigwam Mills Inc. acquired a special finer-weaving loom to make dress socks for the Allen Edmonds brand, Grangaard said.

Allen Edmonds, founded in 1922, is changing its logo and branding to coincide with the introduction of its new men’s apparel. The slogan, “The Great American Shoe Company,” is giving way to “An American Original” — a line reflecting its transition from a shoe-focused niche to a broader lifestyle brand.

Bill Thorburn, CEO of the Minneapolis branding and design agency The Thorburn Group, said Allen Edmonds has a strong brand that should serve its clothing line well.

“The American-made thing is a trump card for them,” Thorburn said.

The move likely puts them in competition with the Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers brands, he said.

Although the new Allen Edmonds line of clothes may seem expensive to some, Grangaard asserted the line consists of luxury products without luxury pricing.

“For instance, our sportcoats. The sportcoat is less than $600. If you were to get that sport coat from a custom suit-maker, which is what a lot of our customers do, or if you were to get it just off the rack in a finer men’s clothing establishment, that’s an $800 sportcoat and could even be $900 in terms of the quality of materials and the workmanship, craftsmanship in it,” Grangaard said.

The company has 46 of its own stores in the U.S., but not all of them will feature the line of clothing. It is officially launching marketing of the apparel on Wednesday, and none of the Milwaukee-area stores currently carries it.

Allen Edmonds has about 1,000 employees, more than half of them in Port Washington, Grangaard said. He said the company topped $100 million revenue for the first time in 2011, followed by $120 million in 2012.

“We are really focused on American styling, and as much as possible, American production,” Grangaard said. “We want to be unique in the marketplace as an American original.”