Italian shoemaker moving into U.S.

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Italian shoe marketer Geox will take its first steps into the U.S. market later this year.

Nottington Italia, Geox's Venice-based parent, will begin selling the shoes through U.S. retailers this fall and plans to open a Geox flagship store in New York within the next couple of years.

Men's, women's and children's shoes will retail in department and specialty stores this fall for $100 to $150 a pair.

Executives of the Italian shoe company said they are meeting with several undisclosed U.S. agencies and expect to choose a shop later this month to handle a $3 million launch campaign.

Efforts will include promotions and print ads in trade and consumer magazines breaking in August or September issues.

The marketing efforts for Geox will be different than those for other Italian shoe brands, said Mario Moretti Polegato, president of Geox and inventor of the shoe design on which the company is based. Rather than stressing fashion and design, as with other Italian-made shoes, Geox's marketing efforts will focus on the shoes' technological features, Mr. Moretti Polegato said.

Geox shoes-touted in company literature as "The shoe that breathes"-have a patented sole designed to keep feet dry and comfortable. The shoes feature a perforated rubber sole that allows air to circulate around the foot and dry perspiration while a membrane insert inside the sole keeps water from passing through. Geox also produces shoes with waterproof leather soles and clothing featuring the same breathable design.

SINCE 1991

Geox-whose name combines Geo, from the Greek for earth, with an X to signify technology-began selling shoes in Italy in 1991. Since then, distribution has expanded to 56 countries worldwide and sales grew from $3.2 million in 1991 to $176 million in 1999. With the entry into the U.S., the company projects 2000 sales will reach $225 million.

Mr. Moretti Polegato was working in his family's winemaking business when he got the idea for the shoe design. While attending a winemakers' convention in the U.S., he found himself poking holes in his sneakers to ease his discomfort. After returning to Italy, he refined the idea with the waterproof membrane and tried to sell his patent to shoe companies. When he found no takers, he decided to launch the brand himself.

In the U.S., Geox subsidiary Nottington USA, in Bangor, Maine, will oversee the launch.

Once the shoe line reaches U.S. stores, Geox also plans to launch a clothing line, as early as next year, Mr. Moretti Polegato said.

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