Men’s designer John Varvatos kicked off the 2011 Footwear News CEO Summit on Wednesday night with a message of innovation.

As he recounted his childhood in Detroit and rise at Ralph Lauren — first in sales and later in design — Varvatos said he decided to be a designer at 29. After a stint at Cole Haan, a longer run at Calvin Klein and a return to Ralph Lauren, he started his label in 2000 with a focus on originality.

“[Back then] there was a lot of sameness,” he said. “And I thought, ‘This is the time for someone to do something different.’ I wanted to create a lifestyle brand, something with personality.”

And Varvatos said innovation continues to be important. “Our mantra is to create new designs and never copy,” he said.

The designer said 2010 was a record year for the company in revenue and profits. He just renewed his contract five more years for his collaboration with Converse.

And the company is looking at new ways to market, including streaming new music on its website and offering tickets to concerts before they are available anywhere else.

“We are hell bent on creating an experience,” he said. “In our 11th year, we kind of feel like we are just getting started.”

Posted by Footwear News, Editorial Staff