Hunter Looks Beyond the Rubber Rain Boot to a Wide World of Style

LONDON — To everything there is a season, but not to Hunter.

The British brand known for its rubber rain boots is aiming to become an all-season, all-weather brand, as suitable for the rain as it is for the snow, or a sunny urban street.

More from WWD

Under chief executive officer Paolo Porta, Hunter is on a long-term growth and diversification drive that has already seen it burst into new categories; gain traction in markets where, until recently, it was relatively unknown, and behave like a luxury brand — but with accessible price points.

Porta calls Hunter’s new approach “style for the world outside,” even it that means life outside your front door.

Under Porta, Hunter wants to become an all-purpose brand, offering boots for dog-walking on drizzly spring days; sustainably made sandals, clogs and slides for summer, and snow boots that can withstand temperatures of minus 25 degrees Centigrade.

“Our vision is much bigger than rain boots. As a brand we want to remain immersed in nature and in the outside, but what if it’s not raining? What if it’s snowing, or boiling hot? How do we make sure that Hunter offers protection from the elements, not just for your feet, but for your entire body, and your entire family?” he said during an exclusive interview.

Hunter’s recent high-profile collaborations reflect the brand’s wide appeal and aspirations. Past partners have ranged from “Killing Eve” to Mickey Mouse, and Porta said there are more to come.

“We are looking more at cultural moments. Sometimes our collaborations will be linked to charity, sometimes they’ll be linked to art. But they will always be tied to what’s happening out there in the world. We want to be part of the conversation,” Porta said.

The brand plans to remain faithful to fashion: Just a few days ago, Noir Kei Ninomiya worked Hunter footwear into his mystical Paris show, adding straps, rings, studs and flowers to the British brand’s tall rubber boots.

Noir Kei Ninomiya RTW Spring 2023
Noir Kei Ninomiya, spring 2023

Porta hasn’t gone as radical as Kei Ninomiya with his approach to the classic vulcanized rubber boot, which still represents 60 percent of the business. Instead his goal has been to broaden its profile from muddy country gear to urban, all-day wear.

He also wants the focus to be less on the technical attributes of the boots and more about the style.

To wit, Hunter has launched a style called Play aimed at Gen Z. It has a slightly lower price point than the brand’s original tall boot and features colorblocking on the soles, metallic finishes and materials such as neoprene.

Then there is the Refined collection of classic boots for officewear, some of which have an equestrian twist.

“Hunter is a very well-loved brand and it’s also perceived as a luxury brand. We are one of the best Wellington boot makers in the market. I think that operating and behaving like a luxury player is very important because we need to drive that aspiration,” he said, noting that the product does not have a luxury price tag.

Indeed, he likes the fact that Hunter can operate at a variety of price points.

The Women’s Play Short Wellington boots start at 90 pounds and come in colors including Easter egg pink, green and cream.

The Women’s Original Tall Wellington boots carry a price tag of 125 pounds, while the new City Explorer Tall Neoprene boots cost 215 pounds. The Killing Eve Chasing boots are 295 pounds.

Other Killing Eve styles also cost up to 295 pounds, and Porta believes “people are parting with that kind of cash for a reason.” He said it’s up to Hunter to be able to satisfy all of those customer demographics and still conjure the luxury dream.

The brand sells in the U.K. at Harrods, Selfridges John Lewis and a host of sports and outdoor stores, while in the U.S. stockists include Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

A look from Hunter’s fall 2022 campaign.
A look from Hunter’s fall 2022 campaign.

Porta joined Hunter as interim CEO in 2020 and was originally brought in to reposition it as “the leading iconic British outdoor lifestyle brand,” with a focus on all-weather gear and sustainability.

He was confirmed as CEO in March 2021, having steered Hunter through the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdown, he pumped up the e-commerce business and made sure that when lockdown shoppers saw the rain pounding outside, their first thought was “Hunter.”

Porta had previously worked at Jimmy Choo, where he served as senior vice president of merchandising and licensing.

He has been in luxury fashion for more than 20 years, serving in roles across merchandising, retail, wholesale distribution, brand development and licensing at brands including Christian Dior, Stella McCartney and Burberry.

It’s clear he’s bringing that commercial experience — and luxury approach — to bear on his current job. He has a clear long-term growth plan for Hunter, and doesn’t shy away from the numbers. He’s also made some key hires since he began work there.

Among them are Sandra Romboli, global design director, who had worked previously at Decathlon, Reebok and Adidas, and Claudia Plant, Hunter’s chief marketing officer. Plant previously worked at Burberry and spent much of her career at Net-a-porter.

Going forward, Porta said the geographic mix at the brand will be different, too. While more than 80 percent of the brand’s sales have traditionally come from the U.S. and the U.K., he believes there is enormous potential in markets such as China, Japan and Germany.

Already, he said, China has been notching double-digit growth year-on-year and by fiscal 2024 it will represent just under 10 percent of the future business, with 17 million to 20 million pounds in sales.

While the U.S. and the U.K. will continue to grow, Hunter’s goal is for them to represent around 50 percent of the market by 2025.

From a product point of view, Hunter’s winter category, where boots have a trekking sole and a puffer upper made from recycled nylon, will represent 10 percent of sales by fiscal 2023.

Revenue in 2021 was 108 million pounds and by fiscal 2022 Porta is expecting the brand to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. He said growth has been “relatively soft” so far this year, but he’s staying the course with his strategy.

“We are playing for the longer term,” he said, adding that with supply chain and inflationary costs coming down, he expects to return to double-digit growth in the second half of 2023.

A look from Hunter’s fall 2022 campaign.
A look from Hunter’s fall 2022 campaign.

The brand is also making strides on the sustainability front.

Under the Hunter Protect program, the company has been using a variety of recycled materials, is moving away from chemicals, and is employing water-based glues.

The summer shoes are made partly from excess algae bloom harvested from Lake Michigan, while the brand’s puffer jackets are lined with vegan shearling.

Hunter also donates unused products to charity and recycles its rubber footwear through its Hunter ReBoot initiative.

Hunter is privately owned. In 2020, it went through a series of investor and management changes, with the company opting for a recapitalization rather than an outright sale.

The recapitalization saw an existing shareholder, Pall Mall Legacy, become the majority owner. Other investors include Searchlight Capital and Pentland.

Click here to read the full article.