Retailer Cole Haan is deftly blurring the line between modern and classic footwear. Founded in 1928 in Chicago, the now-global brand is rooted in a deep tradition of craftsmanship; its shoemakers have an average of 30 years of experience. That commitment to quality continues, though now its Global Innovation Centre is pushing the boundaries of traditional shoemaking by using expertise in industrial design, biomechanics, materials science and engineering. It’s this combination of time-honoured tradition and forward thinking that makes Cole Haan a go-to brand today.
To stay relevant and maintain its feverishly fast production pace, Cole Haan needed a tool that could rise to the occasion. “Slack seemed tailor-made for exactly what we wanted,” Chief Marketing Officer David Maddocks says. While the company started with a handful of users, “We now have people all over the world using Slack,” he says. “We communicate in multiple languages and virtually every time zone.” This is especially important as the brand scales up to meet the needs of its international customers.
“Every generation has their Cole Haan moment,” Maddocks says, referring to milestone events for which only high-quality footwear will do. And millennial consumers present a unique challenge. They’re “not willing to sacrifice comfort or style. They want products that move with them during their day, through side hustles [side jobs], into their evenings and everywhere in between,” Maddocks explains. This led to the recent, successful launch of the Generation ZERØGRAND trainer: a light, breathable shoe that blends functional elements with an iconic look.
By staying on the cutting edge of both its processes and products, Cole Haan has transitioned into a new era of innovation. “It’s about our speed and accuracy,” says Caroline Yi, the Brand Design team’s director of creative operations. “Nothing is impossible, but to do the amount of work we’re doing in the time we’re given, it’s near impossible to not have Slack.”
“We’re about innovation, we’re about changing and growing. So having something like Slack that enables that is just more power to everybody.”
Streamlining workflows to create high-impact products
Cole Haan has a 15-month go-to-market process for new products and multiple product cycles run concurrently. “We’re always looking for ways to compress and expand certain parts of that timeline,” Maddocks says. Whether they’re focusing on the creative campaign or shoe design, there are always hundreds of people around the world involved – and communication is critically important. “It’s all happening over Slack, which has proven to really make it a seamless process,” he says.
With Slack, the company has dramatically increased its output while keeping employee costs steady, largely by freeing people up for creative, high-value work. The less the team have to think about the actual process, “the less we have friction in that 15-month cycle,” Maddocks says. By using Slack for quick discussions and status updates, they’ve cut down on time-consuming meetings. “Every interaction we have is more efficient and meaningful because we’ve all been part of the conversation throughout the process,” he says.
As a Senior Product Developer for Advanced Concepts, Christopher Newsome oversees ideas from conception to reality. His team requires up-to-date information in real time. “We move a product from a 2D design on a piece of paper to real life with information – and Slack helps facilitate that,” he explains. To keep on top of everything, Newsome uses Slack’s Outlook integration to pull his calendar notifications into Slack. “Having one central hub allows me to have a clear view of my day and utilise information at a much faster pace than having to split [time] between two different apps,” he says.
Each stage of product development generates new files that need to be shared. “Whereas traditional email has limits and caps, Slack allows us to quickly upload large files without having to resize them,” Newsome says.
The company also uses Slack channels to seamlessly share files with vendors. Vice President of Brand Design Andrew Coulter Enright says that several years ago, sharing design files with a print vendor would have required a time-consuming, four-step process. ‘Now that can happen basically automatically, and in a fraction of the time,’ he says. ‘Those details allow us to move faster.’
Cole Haan’s teams also use integrations to reclaim time in their day. For instance, when employees need to look up a product status, they simply type /merchinfo or /sid (shorthand for stock ID) and input the product ID. The Merch bot pulls up a product dossier, including the name, available colours and when it’s expected to go to market. Previously, gathering that information required multiple people and systems. “But now, you put in the ID and immediately get everything you need to know,” Enright says. Those small efficiencies add up to more time for big ideas.
“We do four times as much work as we did a couple of years ago. And that would not be possible without Slack.”
Improving transparency across the company with channels
Teams previously relied on emails to collaborate, which created information silos and confusion. For Marsha Kublall, Vice President of Corporate Strategic Planning and Investor Relations, this proved problematic, particularly when she was pulling together company information for investors. “It was a lot of email traffic flying all over the place – and you just had to try and catch it all,” she says.
She switched to Slack channels to streamline the process. “It’s been a breakthrough,” Kublall says. “Slack eliminates a lot of wasted time trying to find information.” Now if her team are working on an investor slideshow, everyone collaborates in one channel where they track the latest draft, progress on action items and any missing information. “It’s really made it easier for me to just stay on top of where we are in the process of getting to that final product,” she says.
That sort of visibility is especially important for Cole Haan’s Brand Design and Product Design teams. The two groups work hand-in-hand to develop the seasonal stories they want to tell and the products that complement those narratives. They use channels such as #campaign_autumn to share information. “Because we’re constantly passing the baton, we need a lot of coordination and communication is a critical element. Slack really addresses that,” Enright says.
Beyond collaboration, Enright’s team also use Slack channels as a reference point for new creative work. The team keep seasonal channels, such as #campaign_spring, active year-on-year to easily reference past ideas. “So when we pick up spring, for example, we’ll pick up right where we left off last spring,” he says. “Looking back at how we’ve worked just gives us a lot of information that we can leverage as we begin to repeat certain cycles.”
“I can drop into any channel and see what’s happening. I don’t have to interrupt anyone or call a meeting to get updated. It’s all happening in real time, which means we’re all just that much more efficient.”
Going global by staying connected
Alongside its push to modernise footwear, Cole Haan has grown its footprint from the US to the Middle East, Europe and Asia. As the retailer expands, preserving the integrity of the brand is a top priority. “It’s important that the strategy we craft for the brand every season is getting executed from a global perspective across the world,” Kublall says.
Slack keeps everyone connected so they can ensure that the Cole Haan experience stays consistent as the company scales up. “Even though we’re on different time zones, travel internationally and have partners all over the globe, Slack allows us to reach out at any time when we need fast information,” Newsome explains. “Ultimately, it makes my job a lot easier and drives our product home at a faster pace.”
For more than 90 years, Cole Haan has crafted the shoes people wear for job interviews, first dates and life’s big moments. Now, with a little help from Slack, the retailer has expanded and accelerated that process to create functional, fashionable footwear for the modern age.