As the Vice President, Global Product Creative Director for Timberland, Chris Pawlus is responsible for leading and executing the creative direction of footwear and apparel design for each season globally. He’s a man who has grown since his position in 1997 as a footwear designer with the brand and has helped shape it into one that is both respected from a design point of view as well as recognized for its business model. Here, he talks about taking the brand into a new direction.
Life+Times: What exactly does your position entail?
Chris Pawlus: For me, this is really a dream job. The Timberland brand is one of the most iconic around the world and to move into this capacity, I am very fortunate. As Global Product Creative Director, my role is to drive one creative product vision across our product line and to align with our consumer in a toe-to-head capacity. My team and I are constantly looking into the future to understand and identify trends coming our way. That being said, we don’t chase all trends, not all of them fit Timberland. We find what styles, colors, materials and textures work for us and incorporate those into our designs in a way that make sense for the brand.
L+T: How do you define the Timberland customer? Who is he? What are his interests?
CP: The Timberland consumer is very diverse. They are men and women who want to look stylish in the outdoors – no matter what their outdoors happens to be; a park in Singapore, subway platform in Brooklyn, or the coast of Italy. Every day I hear a new story about someone who loves their Timberland boots. I’ve even heard of people who want to be buried in their boots. It is amazing to think someone can love a brand that much and I believe we can learn from that passion as a brand. But one thing they all have in common is their affinity for authentic brands who provide style, quality craftsmanship with an eco-conscious mindset. They share an active and spontaneous lifestyle. They are passionate, imaginative, true individuals. They are the makers who shape the future, change thinking. They are the artists, directors, and the poets of our time. They are specialized, but not protected. They are social, sharing and collaborative.
L+T: The brand has changed overtime. Since your involvement, what changes, in terms of design, have you implemented?
CP: Times change and we need to connect with the consumers changing needs. First and foremost the product must be stylish, then it has to perform well and done with green elements wherever possible. That is something you will continue to see throughout our line of footwear and apparel. While doing this we have to understand our past and how we take that to the next level. I don’t think there is a better way to explain it than through our campaign tagline “Best Then. Better Now.” It was in fall 2013 that we took a deep look back at our heritage and the classic styles consumers loved us for. We took those styles and made them for today − like our new Hazel Highway collection that launched on October 1. The Hazel Highway collection was inspired by the original Super Boot that debuted in 1979. We took the features like the Krymp Oxide leather, the best leather on the market at the time, and romanced the love for that boot into a new collection that fits for our consumer today. The boot is stylish, yet rugged, and can take you on any spontaneous adventure.
L+T: Where do you want to take the brand under your direction? Where do you see it going?
CP: As a brand we have the goal of becoming the largest, most sustainable outdoor lifestyle brand on Earth. To do that, we are telling more of a collection approach. It is an approach from toe-to-head that speaks to how a wardrobe comes together. It’s no longer just footwear or one specific item, we develop pieces that are versatile and can be paired with anything in your closet.
L+T: You joined the team in 1997 as a Footwear Designer and since then, you’ve climbed the ranks. What do you attribute to your success?
CP: I have to attribute my success to my mentors. I have been lucky enough to encounter so many people in my career that inspired me and gave me the ability to learn from them. I also have to give credit to Timberland. It is also a special place here in the way that it is a very empowering environment. From the top down, employees are encouraged and pushed to grow both personally and professionally. I think it is those characteristics that have allowed so many here to grow through the ranks and become leaders at this company.
L+T: You recently spearheaded the “Rugged to Refined” initiative. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
CP: For Timberland, rugged to refined represents a style expression for the brand. Over the last two years we have taken the time to understand what it means to be a brand with a global reach and how we meet the needs of each region around the world with their own style demands. Rugged to refined is a realization of our past and future, our outdoor performance side sitting next to our more refined pieces, it is our heritage mixed with new style. This was our creative opportunity to move us forward as a brand while staying true to whom we are.
LT+: Since 1997, how has the Timberland customer changed and evolved?
CP: What hasn’t changed since 1997! We all have evolved, we all move forward. It is our job as a brand to adapt and continue to have that meaningful conversation in a toe-to-head manner with customers of today.
L+T: What are you currently working on now?
CP: Right now we are currently working on spring 2016. But coming up before that in 2015 you will see an amazing relationship with color. In the spring we used bolder and brighter colors that offer consumers a Timberland they’ve never seen before. Throughout the year you will see product inspired by the colors of New England, the spirit of escape in the outdoors and the ability to truly live in the moment.