The brand's meteoric metamorphosis from stodgy to hip was proven when it won the 1995 Council of Fashion Designers of American Accessory Award earlier this year.
Jeff Lewis, marketing director, modestly cites serendipity. It seems that in late 1994, designer John Bartlett convinced the company to dye its classic suede loafers to match his fall collection.
The fashion press raved, so Hush Puppies decided to produce the shoes in funky new colors for the mass market. Several upscale retailers that never carried the brand jumped on board.
The company, with 150 different products, was ready to change with the market. Reacting to the casual workwear trend in February 1995, Hush Puppies launched the "We invented casual" print campaign from Bozell, Southfield, Mich. By fall last year, a new lifestyles campaign was ditched in favor of a simpler, more contemporary-looking blitz.
Sales of the hot-hued loafers rocketed by 700% in 1995 over 1994, says Mr. Lewis, 40. While he won't give specifics, he says the suede shoes now account for about 20% of the brand's total sales. According to the parent company's annual report, Hush Puppies sold 17 million pairs last year.
Perhaps more importantly, the brand is attracting younger buyers. About 60% of the customers are now under 40, with 25% in their 20s, Mr. Lewis says.
"We have attracted younger buyers, but we haven't alienated our older customers," says Mr. Lewis.