Best of Both – Document Timberland
Timberland’s Ken Beaulieu explains to David Hellqvist what defines a great creative partnership and why the boots should be worn on the streets, not stuck in a box collecting dust.
The concept of collaboration is an excellent way for any brand, Timberland included, to produce pieces they would struggle with otherwise. Any good creative partnership marries the expertise and aesthetic of two different companies, allowing them to create a unique product. Timberland has, over the years, worked with countless brands, designers and musicians to create exciting boots and clothes. These days it’s Ken Beaulieu, Timberland’s senior director of men’s footwear, who’s in charge of finding and developing these partnerships. But even though Beaulieu is based in Stratham, New Hampshire, very little of the collaboration work is done there. “I always say you learn nothing in Stratham,” explains Beaulieu. “It’s all about places like Tokyo, that’s where a lot of fashion trends start! We travel to see new cultures and discover new markets because it’s important for us to stay relevant. Back in the New Hampshire office we have a clipboard where we collect feedback from consumers.
We strive to understand what products the consumer wants to buy.” The information picked up by Timberland’s global staff helps define the Timberland customer. “We have a broad consumer base, everyone from 16-year-old kids to 60-year-old men. Timberland is an outdoors lifestyle brand – that’s the best way to describe it. But we also need to be versatile. Timberland is as much about life on the Tube as life in the woods.”
In the past Timberland has teamed up with a wide array of partners, everyone from individuals like Pharrell Williams and Jeff Staple to brands such as Supreme, Stussy and Opening Ceremony. The list is a healthy mixture of bigger commercial entities and smaller brands, like Black Scale, Maiden Noir and Nom de Guerre. The process over at Timberland, both in terms of finding collaborators and the actual design development, has been slow and organic. “In 2008 we changed the way we collaborate with other brands,” Beaulieu says. “Before that we didn’t have an overall strategy.
For us it was important to re-establish the collaboration concept. Before that we’d only approached people in a very casual way. So, all of a sudden, we felt it was relevant to the brand, and important to decide who we worked with. It’s not like we’re looking for a prom date, brands come to us all the time… But I’m old school, I want meet them face to face as we need to click.”
Stussy, the California-based streetwear brand, is one of Timberland’s long-term partners. The surf brand’s aesthetic jelled with Timberland’s outdoors concept early on, and since then Nick Bower, Stussy’s head designer, and Beaulieu have collaborated on countless shoes and boots. “Yes, Stussy was the first proper collab in 2008, before that it was very circumstantial with few and far between. Now it’s very thought-through; we use our contacts in the industry and the people our sales reps have relationships with.” One reason this particular partnership worked out is the mutual respect the two brands share.
Beaulieu has certain criteria the brands need to meet: “The collaborative brand need to respect and understand Timberland because, for us, it’s about organic growth. It starts off with back and forth conversations and verbal ideas.”
Picking favourites is difficult, but Beaulieu knows who’s hit the jackpot. “The Supreme ones always do well, while Opening Ceremony think outside the box; its take on an old Timberland Aqua Sock from the 1980s is a good example of that,” he says. “Nick from Stussy always comes up to see us and goes through the archives like a kid in a candy store. I always find it interesting to see what they look for and like.” But Beaulieu has a strong point of view on the purpose of Timberland’s collaborations; for him the footwear isn’t meant to be collecting dust in someone’s wardrobe. “The best way of describing them is that we use old silhouettes and new technology and the main objective of the collaborations is to see them on the street, not in a collector’s box.”
Written for sister publishing agency DocumentStudios.com
Photography Pelle Crépin