Steve Madden CEO on Why Black Lives Matter Is Not Negotiable, and the Most Practical Business Solution For Leading in Uncertain Times

Sheena Butler-Young
·4 mins read

In a time of unprecedented business disruption, Steve Madden CEO Ed Rosenfeld said the company is listening — to customers, partners and employees — like never before.

Rosenfeld joined Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, for a one-on-one conversation today as part of the first-ever FN Virtual Summit, a two-day event sponsored by Klarna and held in partnership with FFANY, FDRA and Two Ten.

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“The footwear business has not been for the faint at heart in the last couple years — we’ve had a lot thrown at us,” explained Rosenfeld.

Madden’s chief said he’s found a viable solution to navigating through seas of uncertainty and finding a positive outcome on the other side: “All of us in the industry need to continue to sharpen our focus on our consumer and listen to what consumers are telling us about what kinds of product they want, about how they want to shop for [those products] and how they want companies like us to conduct ourselves in a socially responsible manner with purpose and guided by values.”

Like scores of shoe firms, Steve Madden entered the COVID-19 era having only recently navigated the challenges of the United States’ protracted trade war with China, a dispute that had resulted in new tariffs for footwear companies, which were already among the most-highly-taxed businesses.

Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic — which forced sweeping (but mostly temporary) store closures throughout March and April — and rising racial tensions in recent months and Rosenfeld the company has had to lean into its signature playbook for agility.

“You have to be flexible, have an open mind and be willing to change course,” said Rosenfeld, noting that the company recently made the decision to close one of its offices, which would result in layoffs — although he did not elaborate further. “We’re highly focused on digital and positioning ourselves for a business where e-commerce makes up a much bigger percentage of the overall pie.”

When Steve Madden reported Q2 earnings last month, it logged 88% revenue growth on SteveMadden.com alone, gains that Rosenfeld said are only accelerating in Q3.

Of late, the company has also gotten more aggressive about corporate social responsibility, with eponymous founder and design chief Steve Madden revealing to FN this month his plans to close all the firm’s corporate offices in the U.S. on Election Day — giving employees the chance to head to the polls.

“There is a lot happening in the world right now and it is important that we empower everyone — especially the younger generations — to take a stance, let their voices be heard and allow them to shape their futures by voting,” he said.

Madden noted that his company began working with Voto Latino advocacy organization in the 2018 midterm elections and has extended the collaboration into this year.

Rosenfeld today doubled down on the company’s goals to get out the vote adding that he and Madden don’t aim to push a political agenda but instead want to encourage young people to exercise their rights.

Still, the company isn’t shying away from other social causes like its support of Black Lives Matter: “There are some values and principles that are non-negotiable so we will stand up on behalf of ourselves and the company and say ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Rosenfeld said. “That’s not a political statement — that’s a statement affirming basic human rights and decency. That’s a statement we feel comfortable being straight forward about.”

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A MESSAGE FROM STEVE #blacklivesmatter

A post shared by Steve Madden (@stevemadden) on Jun 1, 2020 at 2:18pm PDT

Madden said the company set up a corporate social responsibility department last year as well as a CSR committee for its board of directors.

“They’re charged with creating a framework to deal with the issues that are important to our employees and consumers and D&I has been on the top of the list from the beginning and its only gained importance since the killing of George Floyd,” Rosenfeld said.

In addition to the Steve Madden brand, Steven Madden Ltd. owns Dolce Vita, Brian Atwood, Betsey Johnson and several other apparel, footwear and accessories labels.

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