Silvio Campara likes to wax lyrical about Golden Goose, the Italian label known for its £440 distressed and star-encrusted trainers. Campara has held senior roles at the company since 2013, first as commercial director and then, from 2018, as chief executive. “Golden Goose is not fashion. It’s an icon,” he tells me on Zoom from the company’s head office in Milan, speaking from a conference room with white walls and what looks like a line of washing machines. “We walk together with a Chanel bag, a Hermès bag, a Gucci bag.”
The 44-year-old executive, who joined the brand when Italian private equity fund DGPA took a 75 per cent stake in the label a decade ago, is credited with having transformed Golden Goose from a niche €29mn-revenue Italian label known for West Coast-inspired apparel and footwear into a global fashion brand grossing more than €500mn annually. Sales in the first nine months of the year increased 19 per cent to €421mn compared with the same period last year.
It is on the back of this fast-paced growth that Campara and Golden Goose private equity owner Permira (which bought the brand in 2020) are laying the groundwork for an initial public offering in Milan that could happen as early as the first half of next year, valuing the company at around €3bn, according to FT sources. Campara declined to comment on the company’s IPO plans.
Golden Goose was founded in 2000 by designer couple Francesca Rinaldo and Alessandro Gallo in Marghera, an industrial town facing Venice, as a mid- to premium-level ready-to-wear and accessories label. The couple designed their first products with a distressed effect, a look that helped the label stand out in the crowded aspirational luxury space.
They launched sneakers in 2007 with the Super-Star model, which features a signature five-point star on the side and has been worn by celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Reese Witherspoon. The style, which is priced from £390 a pair, continues to be the brand’s best seller and is now offered in myriad colour combinations and materials.
It was a timely launch, pre-empting the sneaker and streetwear boom of the 2010s, when sportswear and casual clothing became everyday wear. Soon luxury brands moved into the space: Alexander McQueen launched its Oversized sneaker for spring/summer 2015, Balenciaga debuted its chunky Triple S style in 2017 and Louis Vuitton unveiled the ultra arched-soled Archlight in 2018. Today these models have largely fallen out of fashion, lacking the lasting appeal of classic sneakers such as Nike’s Air Jordan and Converse’s Chuck Taylor.
But Golden Goose’s sneakers appear to have more staying power. Karmen Berentsen, owner of multi-brand boutique A Line in Denver, Colorado, which has been stocking Golden Goose for 11 years, had thought sales of the brand’s sneakers would eventually slow down, but she is still struggling to keep up with demand.
“A couple of years ago, before the pandemic, I was like, OK we have sold so many pairs, everyone has so many pairs, we need to find the next best thing. And yet, they are still going strong,” she says. “We don’t have one pair of 37 or 38 in stock — and we buy deep.” She points out that each pair has an insole higher at the heel that “makes your calf look great”.
In the UK, Heather Gramston, senior head of buying at London boutique Browns, says the brand has had an overall “long positive trend” in terms of sales and commends its products for staying outside trend cycles. “The primary Golden Goose customers are women who are looking for a more subtle status symbol, that’s luxury yet comfortable for everyday leisure,” she says.
But can Golden Goose do more than a single distressed white sneaker? Trainers account for 90 per cent of its sales, with ready-to-wear, handbags, other footwear styles and accessories making up the remaining 10 per cent. Should its Super-Star model become outmoded, the company can bet on other ranges, such as running shoes, “dad” sneakers and high-top styles, but these are less recognisable than its hero product. (In August the label was sued by New Balance, which alleges the Dad-Star sneaker launched in 2020 uses “a design that is confusingly similar” to its 990 shoe and that Golden Goose is “a serial copyist . . . free riding on the creative work and goodwill of others”. Golden Goose filed a motion to dismiss the case in November, but declined to comment further.)
Golden Goose has cast a wide net with its ready-to-wear offering, which includes a mix of sportswear, such as leggings and hoodies, alongside more formal options, such as blazers, wool coats and shirt dresses. Prices range from £110 to more than £2,600. Non-sneaker footwear includes cowboy boots, loafers and flat sandals. Styles and pricing fall in line with contemporary labels such as Sandro and The Kooples, and lack the design distinctiveness that have made the Super-Star a bestseller.
According to Gramston, ready-to-wear has been “well received” at Browns, but at A Line it didn’t perform as well as other brands the boutique stocks, such as Ami and Ba&sh. “It wasn’t as approachable,” says Berentsen. “The thing that works so well with Golden Goose is that it’s casually chic, while the ready-to-wear is fussy.”
Golden Goose’s dependence on sneakers could become an issue as the fashion industry moves on from the streetwear trend. But Bernstein analyst Luca Solca believes sneakers are here to stay. “I don’t see a move away from casualisation and a return of formal wear and accessories on the horizon,” he says.
Mario Ortelli, who advises luxury groups on strategy and mergers and acquisitions, points to Moncler as a possible blueprint for Golden Goose’s development: another specialist maker — in its case, of puffer jackets — that has been able to evolve into a broader lifestyle brand. “[Golden Goose] is a company that has an excellent growth track record and still has huge white spaces for development possibilities, both at a geographical level and at a category and product level, so I think it is a growth story that the market can appreciate,” he says.
When asked about the trend cycle of high-end fashion sneakers, Campara assures me that Golden Goose, as an “iconic” brand, is not at the mercy of changing trends. “No matter how old you are, you are always wearing your Levi’s or your Ray-Bans. So this is where we are hoping to land,” he says.
Should Golden Goose IPO go through next year, it will follow a mixed bag of listings from footwear companies. Shares in London-based boot brand Dr Martens, which was also owned by Permira, have lost almost 80 per cent of their value since debuting on the London Stock Exchange in 2021. Merino-wool shoe company Allbirds, which also went to market in 2021, is trading 96 per cent below its opening price, with declining profits, margins and revenue. Shares in German sandal-maker Birkenstock, which debuted in New York in October, dropped just after its IPO, but are now 21 per cent above their opening price.
Retail is another priority for Campara. In 2015, when Belgian buyout fund Ergon Capital Partners III acquired a majority stake in the brand, Golden Goose had more than 600 wholesale accounts and seven flagship stores. Today it has 200 mono-brand stores in 62 countries and around 75 per cent of its turnover is from direct sales, of which 80 per cent are from bricks-and-mortar stores.
All of them offer a “co-creation” service to shoppers, with at least one artisan available every day to customise sneakers, accessories and ready-to-wear. A repair service is also available at selected locations.
According to Giulio Lombardi, senior Emea director at credit rating provider Fitch Ratings, the retail strategy has worked particularly well in the US, where department stores have been suffering amid declining footfall and heavy debt. “They have a selected distribution, well controlled, which supports the concept of exclusivity and non-mass market,” he says. In 2022, the Americas were Golden Goose’s largest market, growing 55 per cent year on year.
The company recently acquired two of its factories, including its largest supplier in Puglia, southern Italy. The acquisitions were made to ensure “we are improving quality, to increase and improve margins, and especially to make sure to have the production allocation in order to sustain our growth”, says Campara, adding that he is not planning additional acquisitions.
For the company to continue on its growth trajectory, Campara is eyeing south-east Asia, as well as the Middle East and South America, for further expansion, with the majority of the 25 or so store openings it has planned for 2024 in those markets.
China is not a priority. “Today, the real future is not China [but] what we used to call the rest of Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia,” says Campara. “There is a lot to be done there, where the population is 22 years old on average, not 39.” He says Golden Goose’s customers are largely young people and that 80 per cent could be defined as Gen Z or millennial.
One thing Campara won’t do to grow the top line, he says, is increase prices. “It’s not by being expensive that you are luxury, it’s by being meaningful and relevant,” he says. “Luxury positioning would be a point of weakness in terms of pricing. But when it comes to experience, luxury positioning is a point of strength. Thank god we are in the second position.”