Camper, the Footwear News 2007 fashion brand of the year, has become nothing short of a brand phenomenon. It’s an out-of-the-ordinary shoe company from the Spanish island of Majorca.
What’s different about Camper shoes? A lot of things. In some styles, left and right shoes are intentionally mismatched. Other styles have sayings printed on the soles.
Camper means “peasant” in Catalan, the significance of which is not lost on the consumer. Buy a pair of Camper shoes and you also get a printed story of the company’s value system. Camper shoes are based on the culture and traditions of the Mediterranean isle it calls home. The shoes themselves derive from people who farmed the land. The tradition, says the company, dates back to an 1877 shoemaker, Antonio Fluxa. His grandson Lorenzo created the Camper brand ninety-eight years later.
In an article about Camper that appeared in FAST COMPANY in December 2007, Lorenzo Fluxa says: “When people call us a ‘fashion brand’ it offends me. We don’t like the fashion world at all. We’re trying not to take ourselves too seriously.”
The folks at Camper may not take themselves seriously, but apparently the shoe-buying public does: According to FAST COMPANY, Camper has sold more than any other casual shoe brand in Spain for ten years, ringing up over US $120 million in sales in 2006. Camper has now gone well beyond its Spanish home base and sells globally via some 250 stores throughout Europe, North and South America, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa.
Campers aren’t really stylish. Nor chic. Nor elegant. Many of them look, well, quite pedestrian. But Campers are authentic and down-to-earth. And they are trendy enough for the celebrities that have been spotted wearing them.
Camper talks a lot about its heritage, culture, and philosophy—not something you’d necessarily expect from a shoe company. Still, those are just words. The most impressive thing about Camper is the way the brand transcends the basic shoe.
“Camper Together” stores are living evidence of the company’s unconventional mindset. These select boutiques have been created in collaboration with designers, artists, and architects to offer the consumer far more than a venue for selling shoes. For example, in Barcelona, Spain, the Camper Together store is inspired by Jaime Hayon, an edgy Spanish graphic artist who also designs furniture and toys. Glossy and bold, the store is as much a Hayon gallery as it is a shoe store. It’s fun and offbeat, like Camper itself.
The new “Walk in Progress” store, the fourth store to open in Paris, in March 2008, also breaks the mold. Camper calls the concept “provisional,” because it opens a store “before the definitive design and decoration have been developed.” This store is interactive as well—visitors can draw whatever they want with the provided felt-tip pens, so it is “a place where the clients become the artists themselves.”
Camper is unafraid to venture beyond shoes in an effort to stretch its brand. The company recently unveiled both a hotel and a restaurant in Barcelona. Why? Camper explains: “We wanted to open new frontiers for our brand. To share with others an idea we believe in: luxury is in simplicity; we can interact with our environment in a more authentic and natural way.”
“Casa Camper” is a 25-room hotel in the heart of Barcelona. It has such typical services as free wi-fi and a free business center. But it features some unexpected surprises, such as bicycles, a vertical garden, a free round-the-clock self-service snack room, and a recycling center. Casa Camper uses solar panels and has a gray water recycling system, reportedly unique in the hotel business.
Camper’s Barcelona restaurant, “FoodBALL,” is essentially a vegetarian cafeteria. Customers pick up stuffed “foodballs,” rice combined with macrobiotic goodies, at a food counter. Then they sit on straw cushions in an eclectic area with a television that shows calming images. Soup, juice, and beer are also available.
While most shoe companies couldn’t, in their wildest dreams, justify such seemingly unrelated diversification, hotels and restaurants are simply ways Camper can express its confidence in its brand.
And getting back to Camper’s core business—shoes—some time spent exploring the Camper website will reveal why its advertising slogan, “Imagination walks,” is spot on. The site is rich in fanciful multimedia content. While it showcases the company’s product inventory, Camper.com is much more than a repository of shoes. In one section, for example, a visitor can interactively “take a walk” down a Barcelona street, passing a Camper Together store, Casa Camper, and the FoodBALL restaurant along the way.
Camper is a brand that has a lot of fun with itself, finding a wide variety of amusing and shrewd ways to engage its audience. While rooted in a century-old cultural tradition that it never forgets, Camper is a vibrant, contemporary brand that innovates and works hard at delighting its customers. Camper is a brand that is not afraid to reach high—and that’s one reason it is likely to stay several steps ahead of its competition.