Introduction: Brand Strategy is a US-based company founded in 2005 that markets, distributes, and manages a diverse portfolio of branded products within specialised retail channels, specifically Amazon, wholesale clubs and, more recently, travel retail.

It recently strengthened its focus on the latter with the appointment of Ellyn Porpora as Vice President Travel Retail. Porpora has previously spent 13 years as Regional Sales Director, The Americas Travel Retail for US beauty house Revlon. Martin Moodie met up with her and Brand Strategy President and Founder Kenneth Papile to discuss the brands they represent and the company’s growing travel retail focus.

Fashion forward: Ellyn Porpora and Kenneth Papile are intent on introducing new and exciting fashion brands to travel retail.

Martin Moodie: How did your new role at Brand Strategy come about Ellyn?

Ellyn PorporaKen found me through a headhunting firm; we’ve been working together for a few months now. I’m really excited about the role, as travel retail is a great industry and I know it well. Not only do I get to do what I love to do, building my relationships, but I also get to work directly with a variety of brands now.

I’m trying to find the right brands to bring into travel retail that aren’t in this space yet. Ken and I have had a lot of meetings in the past few weeks, and we’ve got some really big brands that we’re hoping to announce as new clients of Brand Strategy very shortly.

Kenneth Papile: We’re in contact with a lot of good brands that we can’t really talk about yet but we’re very excited about the new prospects we have, and potentially helping them break into travel retail.

Tell me about the development of Brand Strategy as a business so far. 

Kenneth Papile: “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg. We’re getting brands that don’t know much about travel retail and smoothing their path into the market.”

KP: It started about 13 years ago. The company was built on a model that we’ve now brought into travel retail.

My background was in fashion, working for apparel companies such as Calvin Klein Jeans [where he was Director of Speciality Stores from 1995 to 1999] and Perry Ellis. I approached a lot of brands and started representing them with wholesale clubs. By wholesale clubs, I mean selling into Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s and so on. We did all the fulfilment and it was a very successful model.

I then looked for new specialised markets using the same model; of course, wholesale clubs aren’t right for every brand. This eventually led to the establishment of two other divisions, one helping brands sell through Amazon and another focusing on representing brands in the travel retail market. So we’re building another side of a brand’s business, side-revenue streams, be they wholesale, Amazon or travel retail.

How are things working out in travel retail so far?

KP: We’re just at the tip of the iceberg. We’re getting brands that don’t really know much about travel retail and smoothing their path into the market. We work on their behalf with the operators, who are looking for more and more brands, and ensure the brands are doing everything the right way.

Different brands have different needs in travel retail. We feel we’re going to be the company that’s able to lay out that path to travel retail success.

Which brands are you working with in travel retail that you can tell us about?

KP: We are working with some globally-recognised brands over a lot of different categories. Everything from apparel and footwear to accessories and fragrance brands. A few of the big brands I can mention in our travel retail client base are Cole Haan, Nautica, Adidas Golf and Parlux.

Parlux is an interesting client. What are you doing for them?

KP: We cover all of their brands in travel retail, globally. Obviously everything’s got to be approved by the brand. So we take the opportunities back to them and they choose which to pursue. Sigma is another beauty brand we’ve been working with for quite some time. They’re best known for their makeup brushes but they are also in the makeup market.

EP: The brand has had some great publicity recently through its association with Meghan Markle [wife of Prince Harry in the UK]. Her make-up artist talked in a magazine article about her wedding day make-up and mentioned that he used the Sigma F64 Soft Blend Concealer Brush. That’s great publicity.

Wow, what happened to sales after that?

EP: It sold out! The product is currently listed with 250 retailers in 70 countries. But it’s not in travel retail yet and we are working to introduce it.

Tell me more about your work with Cole Haan.

KP: We’re launching the brand into travel retail. We’ve entered some bids in places such as Changi and Hong Kong.

Ellyn Porpora: “We’re on the verge of announcing some great new clients, some pretty big brands.”

EP: Cole Haan is an iconic American lifestyle accessories brand and retailer of premium men’s and women’s footwear, handbags, leather accessories, outerwear and eyewear. The brand is centred around footwear. They introduced a pair of shoes called the Zerogrand a few years ago, it was a revolution in footwear. They took traditional men’s shoes – which can be uncomfortable and you can’t wait to get them off your feet – and made them soft and comfortable and feeling like sneakers.

In the Fall of 2019 Cole Haan built upon its iconic Zerogrand franchise with the introduction of 3.Zerøgrand – a breakthrough in comfort, fit and versatility.

They do that by using materials used in manufacturing sneakers, taking classic shoes and making them so much lighter, so much more comfortable.

KP: They’re really cool, a great combination of style and comfort. One of the Zerogrand brands is Stitchlite and over 2.8 million pairs of these have been sold so far. Their shop concepts are amazing. So, we’re looking to introduce a Zerogrand shop concept and possible pop-up installations.

3.Zerøgrand – “A breakthrough in comfort, fit and versatility.” (Photo: colehaan.com)

EP: The ownership of Cole Haan changed about three years ago. Since then, they’ve been very aggressive in terms of reinventing the company. Their footprint is growing across the world in places like China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Istanbul and Mexico City.

I understand you’re also doing some work with the Psycho Bunny brand.

KP: Yes, we’re finally up and running with them. It’s a high-end brand, found in stores such as Dillard’s and Nordstrom. They’ve also got stores in Japan.

That looks like a strong prospect for travel retail. Great logo, great name.

EP: The logo is what does it. The story behind it is that they plated this logo, and they hadn’t named the company at that stage. They were showing it to a buyer somewhere, and the buyer said: “Oh my God, that looks like a psycho bunny!” And they said: “That’s it!” And they named the company Psycho Bunny.

Nautica is another interesting proposition.

KP: Nautica was recently bought by Authentic Brands, and we were representing Nautica in the Americas and have listings for them on cruise ships, for example. Authentic Brands said to us, “Listen, we like what you’re doing. Can you do it somewhere else? Bring us some opportunities.” And we’re doing that, targeting business in airports such as Changi.

Nautica: Coming to a travel retail store near you. (Photo: Nautica.com)

What happens next, as far as your travel retail plans are concerned?

EP: We have a lot of things in the pipeline just now and we’re on the verge of announcing some great new clients, some pretty big brands. It’s just a case of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s at the moment. We’ll have some big announcements soon.

Like any entrepreneurial company each success matters. You seem to be in a good place as a company but I’m sure it’s not been an easy road.

KP: You’re right, it’s been pretty tough at times, but it’s also been fun. I think we’re at the point, as a company, where we’re doing really exciting things. What I’ve learned about travel retail in the past few years is exciting. It’s a great industry to be in.