When I think of Frye footwear, I picture Bono belting I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for on stage in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania circa 1988. His engineer boots are scuffed but sturdy.
Whether or not this memory is precisely true—I definitely attended the concert, not sure I could make out his footwear brand—that’s the mood Frye boots evokes for me: a rebelliousness combined with optimism that was itching to rise to the surface in the flashy ’80s. My own engineer boots were thrifted and a half-size too large, but they remained in regular rotation well into the ’90s when they settled in nicely with my flannels, bodysuits and ripped jeans.
What I didn’t realize until I wrote this article is that Frye is the oldest shoe brand in the United States. In 1863, John A. Frye opened the first Frye store on Elm Street in Marlboro, Massachusetts, creating one of America’s original heritage brands.
Much has changed for Frye—conglomerate Jimlar acquired the company in 1998, and it has changed hands several times until just last week Authentic Brands Group bought a 51% majority stake. The licensing company, which also owns Juicy Couture, Hickey Freeman, Judith Leiber and many others, now owns Frye in partnership with Global Brands Group Holding Limited.
Yet somehow Frye remains a go-to for independent spirits, which is testament to a skillful leadership. So I reached out to Adrienne Lazarus, who became Frye’s CEO in 2015, to find out how this 154-year-old heritage brand remains true to its roots while still appealing to those demanding millennials. Scroll on for the full interview!
1. How does FRYE look towards the future while honoring and highlighting the heritage of the brand?
“As the original craftsmen of American footwear we continue to evolve and engage, while staying true to the brand’s DNA. In Fall ’16 we launched the Modern Icons collection, our iconic originals redesigned with present-day inspirations. This year we followed up with the reissue of iconic western designs from our archive, reimagined with the authenticity of originals. Both collections are an embodiment of timeless American style that has outlasted trends.
The design of our stores celebrate Frye enduring artisan heritage, by incorporating materials that highlight the craft of old-school shoemaking, while creating a modern feel, using minimal fixtures and light wood detailing. We have received design awards for each generation of our retail stores; most recently the Denver location won Store of the Year at the Shop! Association Design Awards.”
2. How do you speak to both the older and younger Frye customer?
“By creating this inherent connection between the customer and the brand. Their mother or grandmother has worn Frye, and many of them are passed down. There is a visceral and tangible association between our iconic products and life experiences. Customers find a sincere and emotional connection with our story and are eager to invest in something that is long lasting.
Our younger customer connects through storytelling on social media, through our site and through in-store experiences. We create ties to the community, specifically to the younger members through partnerships with craftsmen, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and musicians. We recently launched FRYEDAYS at our Nashville location, a bi-monthly series of live acoustic performances by emerging and established local musicians.
Our Feeding America partnership opens doors to shared values with the socially conscious and the younger audience, beyond transactions. Through this program they have the opportunity to donate, volunteer and shop for a cause that is authentically meaningful to the brand.”