After the merger between E.Land World Limited (E.Land) and K-Swiss Inc, the brand is hardly working on its repositioning as a heritage American tennis brand. Here Barney Waters, CMO of K-Swiss, explains the main changes for product strategy, design, marketing, distribution and development. Interview by Melanie Gropler

In May 2013, K•Swiss appointed a new global management team for the brand on the heels of the completion of the merger between E.Land World Limited (E.Land) and K•Swiss Inc. How has the new executive leadership impacted the brand?
First and foremost we addressed the cost structure and brought it back in line with the size of the business.  The company is on much better footing now.  Organizationally we brought the structure up to date and installed a ‘bottom-up’ management philosophy to empower our people.  We’ve worked hard to begin building a new dynamic culture with accountability, and to bring in key new talent.  Most importantly we will have one global brand voice, consistent across all regions.  Our CEO, Larry Remington, is also using his expertise to rapidly expand our international distributors, where there is lots of opportunity.

You, Mr. Waters, are in charge of re-building the K-Swiss brand. What are the main changes for product strategy, design, marketing, distribution and development globally?
The K-Swiss brand is like a car that’s been re-sprayed 10 times over the years in 10 different colors.  We’re stripping back the layers of paint to get back to the original color.  What we found is a heritage American tennis brand, with a rich history, a deep product archive and global brand recognition.  We will specialize in tennis again, be true to our tennis history, and will use our American roots within the brand voice.  In the lifestyle footwear space, we’re the only heritage American tennis brand, so we have clear differentiation.  And with court coming back as a major trend, that positioning is timed perfectly for us.  We will reduce our product categories to be more focused on our core competencies, and have introduced a tiered distribution strategy, which is something the brand never had.

How is K•Swiss evolving its product line?
Focus is the key word.  Lead by industry veteran Eric Sarin, we’ll dial into three primary product categories.  Performance Tennis will be where we innovate and invest in technology, and will be the performance pinnacle of the brand.  We will also be in the training category, approaching it from a tennis perspective, so a focus on lateral movement, versus the heel-strike approach of all the running brands.  So we’ll have a unique, differentiated point of view in training.  Finally, we’ll be strong in the lifestyle space, with our Classic and court product, which will be our biggest category.  K-Swiss is known for court style.

Many competitors of K•Swiss in the market also bet on their Sports heritage. How does K•Swiss stand out from those competitors? Why exactly should retailers sell K•Swiss?
K-Swiss will stand out by being true to our roots as a heritage American tennis brand.  Nobody else can claim that.  The big sneaker brands will be doing battle over the World Cup in 2014, with court as an afterthought.  We’ll be living and breathing tennis and court style.  Everyone is talking about court style and clean, white shoes as the next big thing, and that’s what we do best.  That’s what we’re known for.  So if you believe that court-style is coming, which most retailers do, then you have to have K-Swiss in your mix. We’re the experts.

Read the whole interview with Barney Waters in our upcoming Sportswear International Magazine #257 due out January, 3, 2014.