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Fashion CEO INTERVIEW

Havaianas: Dressing you from ‘toe to head’

By Vivian Hendriksz

Jun 28, 2017

"A friend of mine once asked me to bring them a pair of Havaianas and I remembering going ‘What? You want me to bring you a pair of plastic sandals from Brazil? But moving there made me realise how far away I was from the reality of the brand’s influence,” says Guillaume Prou, President and CEO of Havaianas EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) with a laugh when he remembers his previous opinion of the brand. Nevertheless, Havaianas certainly has come a long way since the launch of its first flip-flop in Brazil, over 55 years ago.

Since then the brand has grown into an internationally renowned brand, which is iconic for its celebration of the carioca lifestyle. Best known for it brightly coloured footwear, Havaianas recently expanded its product categories to include apparel, swimwear, and accessories and is currently in the midst of rolling out its own retail locations across Europe. As the brand turns its focus to strengthening its presence in Europe and product innovation, FashionUnited takes a moment to speak to Prou on the brand’s global expansion and its aim to dress everyone from ‘toe to head.’

“There is plenty of consumer appetite for having more from Havaianas”

Guillaume Prou, President, and CEO of Havaianas EMEA

“We say toe to head and not the other way around because we started out with the simple flip-flop,” says Prou, looking very much at home in the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. But he recalls a time when it wasn’t as widely accepted to wear Havaianas flip-flops in such a conservative setting. “I have a nice story concerning Brazilians view on Havaianas. I was working for L’Oreal in Brazil during the country’s boom years, between 2004 and 2009. I remember one day I was having lunch with my Brazilian colleagues in the office’s cafeteria and they were making fun of a girl, saying have you seen her attire today? Who wears this to work? So I took a look and the girl had come in wearing a pair of white flip-flops - Havaianas.”

Fast-forward to this Easter when he went to visit his former colleagues at the same office and it became clear to him how consumers view of the brand had changed. “I swear, I saw at least 5 girls wearing Havaianas Luna sandals and flip-flops and no one said a thing. Twelve years later and the Brazilians look at the brand differently now.” But it’s not just Brazilians who have changed their view of the brand. Across the globe more and more consumers embracing the brand’s shift towards a fully-fledged lifestyle brand, a move which was also driven by consumer demand. “Consumers have been walking into our stores and asking if they can buy the sales assistants t-shirts,” says Prou. “I think that there is plenty of consumer appetite for having more from Havaianas. Having a look which is complete, from your flip-flops to your board shorts and shirt is what consumers want.”

After testing the waters with its apparel collections in its home market, Havaianas has launched its apparel collections in 5 selected stand-alone stores in Portugal and Italy for the first time, with the aim of rolling it out to additional stores across Europe next year. “At the moment we are launching apparel in Europe as a test, and using these stores as a window to see how Havaianas can further develop as a lifestyle brand for summer.” Prou believes that the current clothing collection compliments Havaianas existing footwear and accessories very well in stores, but is acutely aware that seasonality remains an issue - especially in Europe where they make the most of their sales in summer. “We do still need to work a little bit on the collection, as we aren’t 100 percent satisfied,” admits Prou. “We want to work on the fit and make sure it is adapted to our European customers' needs.” But if all goes well, Havaianas is set to roll out the collection to all its stores in 2018 and introduce apparel to its wholesale and distributors by 2019 - a big move for the brand. “We want to go bigger.”

“You need to keep feeding your market with proper innovation, surprise your consumer with newness”

Guillaume Prou, President, and CEO of Havaianas EMEA

But in order to go ‘big’, Havaianas needs to ensure it is able to keep on enticing consumers. Which is why the Brazilian brand is investing in product and retail innovation, a move which includes new products and opening their own retail locations to manage how and where their products are sold. “You need to keep feeding your market with proper innovation, surprise your consumer with newness and keep your brand relevant with new offerings,” pointed out Prou. For example, Havaianas partnered with eyewear specialist Safilo to develop its first eyewear and sunglass collection. “I feel like Safilo really captured the brand’s DNA, which is seen in the product details,” he continues. A pair of classic sunglasses on the table feature Havaianas rubber touch, similar to the rubber used for its soles, as well as its raised logo and flag in vivid summer colours. The collection was launched in Havaianas stores and franchise locations around the globe this spring and has been doing well. “People are surprised, they like it.”

Another way Havaianas aims to continue surprising consumers is through its footwear innovation, although for a 55-year old brand which specializes in one of the most simplistic shoe styles, innovation isn’t always very easy. “In terms of product innovation, we have looked to reinvent other types of footwear, like the espadrille.” Havaianas remade this traditional style using their rubber sole instead of rope and the reinvented shoe was received very well. Havaianas has also launched a number of new sandal styles as well, such as the Luna, Freedom, and Allure, which have a looped closure linking the front of the sandal to the back and feature different materials such as eco-leather. “I like the combination of the very traditional shape with our rubber sole, which is very distinctive of Havaianas. This way you create a product which is unique and comfortable, as well as functional.”

However retail location is just as important to Havaianas as product innovation. “EMEA is the home of most of the leading fashion weeks in the world and a huge concentration of cultural capitals such as London, Paris, Rome, Berlin…these are areas of influence globally and for the brand, or any brand, it is so important to be here and work here,” says Prou. Havaianas currently operates its own stand-alone stores in London, Paris, and Rome and is set to open its first store in Berlin, Germany next month. “We are really happy to be opening in Germany. It’s really part of our game plan, strategy. If you want to show the consumer and market what you can really do, then a store is the best option. It’s where you can display your rainbow of colour, display all your prints, show the proper product segments.”

“The UK is our second largest market in EMEA, which wouldn’t be anyone first bet looking at the weather”

Guillaume Prou, President and CEO of Havaianas EMEA

Havaianas aims to increase its own store footprint and franchise number over the next few years to count at least 200 stores in key cities across Europe and the Middle East. The brand’s main markets in Europe remain Portugal, Italy, and Spain due to their strong customer base and the geographical location of summer hot spots. But the UK is also a key market for Havaianas. “Surprisingly the UK is our second largest market in EMEA, which wouldn’t be anyone first bet looking at the weather,” says Prou with a laugh. He attributes the brand’s UK success to customer loyalty as well as their strong distribution system. “When you team up with the big players like Office, Shuh, JD, you immediately get the exposure and coverage that you need to really show the brand.” Other key markets for Havaianas in include Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East, with the latter being a central market for the brand. “You just have to walk the streets of Tel Aviv to understand how big we are there. On average you probably have to walk 50 meters to find a pair of Havaianas for sale in the store. Which is my dream for the rest of Europe,” adds Prou with a smile.

Over in Africa, the brand is still growing steadily, but Prou is aware that Havaianas presence is limited by the growth and positioning of the local markets. “Africa is not a virgin territory for us, but it's still fairly new.” In addition, the lifestyle brand is also working out its market position in the continent as Prou wants to ensure Havaianas remains accessible to all consumers and not just a small percentage, which entails a lower entry price point. On the other hand, Havaianas also needs to retain a part of its fashionable allure, as the African market is also no stranger to summer footwear and apparel brands. “It's a big piece of our puzzle, but we need to properly organize ourselves before growing.” In the meantime, Prou aims to focus on Havaianas EU locations and how to grow stronger in its leading markets.

“One of our key challenges in Europe remains retail location”

Guillaume Prou, President and CEO of Havaianas EMEA

“One of our key challenges in Europe remains retail location. We are mainly a summer brand known for our flip-flops, an item which is often an impulsive or last minute purchase, so for us, it is critical to be in the right place at the right time. This means we really need to be where the consumer is, preferably knowing where they are ahead of time. So now we are trying to surprise our consumers by being there when they least expected, like train stations.” For some train stations may be the last place they would shop for flip-flops, but in Italy stations are seen as real retail destinations and the brand has noted significant success with its pop-up stores in cities like Venice. “From a commercial point of view, it's working very well for us.”

But Havaianas is aware that the pattern of consumption differs in each of its European markets. When they tried launching pop-up stores in other train stations in different countries it did not work at all, notes Prou. “But when you nail it when you find the right moment at the right time, then we sell like ice cream. You do not necessarily plan your ice-cream purchase but when it’s hot and you see the ice-cream man, you buy one. And that’s what we want with our flip-flops, we want to make it easy for our consumers to buy them.”

Photos: Courtesy of Havaianas