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Ron Owens, vice president and brand manager of Dingo

Moving Swiftly

Ron Owens, vice president and brand manager of Dingo, is repositioning the brand to ride a massive Americana lifestyle wave.

Ron Owens, vice president and brand manager of Dingo
Ron Owens, vice president and brand manager of Dingo

Back in 2019, Ron Owens was lured out of retirement to take the reins of Dingo, a division of Dan Post Boot Company, in part because there were only so many rounds of golf he could play. But there was a much bigger reason to return: opportunity. The one-time Wall Street trader, having looked deep into his personal crystal ball, sensed something really big was afoot. Specifically, trends were snowballing, the likes of which he’d never seen in nearly 50 years of working in the fashion footwear industry. A mélange of Western, boho, denim, and casualization was emerging in step with a mass migration to states where those aesthetics are everyday lifestyle choices. What’s more, these trends were—and are—being embraced by all ages, ethnicities, and demographics. If you require a North Star, think about the mass appeal of Taylor Swift. Owens found himself champing at the bit to return, and his instincts were right: Dingo sales have doubled annually since 2019, galloping right through the pandemic when many brands pulled up lame.

Fast forward to this year, and Owens will tell you he miscalculated. The macro-Americana lifestyle shift he envisioned is actually much bigger than he predicted, and it looks to grow even more in the years ahead.

“Taylor and Beyoncé alone, the two largest stars on the planet…it’s phenomenal what’s happening within this whole lifestyle movement,” Owens says, noting that country music recently had the top three songs on Billboard’s pop charts and Tracy Chapman is the first Black woman ever to have a number one hit on the country charts. “It went from being a strictly redneck venue to the most inclusive of all music genres.” Owens believes country music’s universal appeal reflects the macro-Americana lifestyle movement, which, he says, is no passing fad. “Not only have those factors gotten stronger, Western fashion has become more mainstream and inclusive,” he says. “Hollywood, the music industry, and leading designers are all embracing this lifestyle even more.” Further proof of the aesthetic’s universal appeal: Owens reports that for the first time in Dingo’s history, one of its styles recently ranked No. 1 across its boutique, western, and farm accounts at the same time. “I’ve never seen the inclusivity that we’re witnessing today,” he says.

The way Owens sees it, Dingo has mass appeal potential. Its brand DNA aligns perfectly with the lifestyle shift underway in America. Thus, his top priority now is repositioning Dingo to meet rapidly growing demand. That effort includes marketing, sourcing, and products, which will soon be head to toe. The overriding goal is to position Dingo as a lifestyle fashion brand with a hint of Western. “Our plan is to continue to be at the front of the fashion window, or at least a close second,” Owens says. “Dingo is quickly becoming a marketing company that just happens to make fashion products.”

Take this fall’s debut of Dingo’s upscale Royale collection, for example. Designed for women who want an authentic welted Western boot construction, the upscale collection (SRP: $220 to $250) features extravagant detailing and exotic prints available in multiple colorways. Such looks have been trending strongly in the accessories market of late, particularly among younger consumers. It’s further evidence of Western’s crossover fashion appeal. “It’s amazed me how well the collection has been received across the board,” Owens reports. “Almost everybody has added an element of Royale to their regular buys.”

Dingo DNA

From game day colors to biker classics to fashion Western, Dingo is firing on all cylinders.
From game day colors to biker classics to fashion Western, Dingo is firing on all cylinders.

None of this growth potential would be possible without Dingo’s unique DNA, which blends traits of Western, biker, and fashion. Those roots go back 50-plus years. In the ’70s and ’80s, Dingo made a name for itself as one of the first lifestyle boot brands, particularly in men’s with the likes of Joe Namath and Joe Montana as endorsers. The brand rose to such heights that it became a boot eponym, especially for harness styles, as Kleenex is for tissues.

This rich history, Owens believes, is key to Dingo’s recent success and bodes well for future growth. “Heritage brands, in general, grow at a much faster rate than newer ones,” he says, noting that the vintage category currently represents some of the fastest-growing brands in-store and online. “Consumers just naturally trust legacy brands. They find them stronger and more credible, reliable, and stable.” Owens adds, “We connect on a much deeper level; thus heritage brands hold more value than being just product.”

Another brand trait contributing to Dingo’s broader appeal: It’s not strictly a “cowboy” brand. It isn’t pigeonholed. “We see ourselves as a fashion brand with a Western hint, but with a much larger degree of authenticity than other fashion companies are capable of understanding,” Owens explains. That fashion credibility gives Dingo the elasticity to expand beyond Western, which already includes wood bottom clogs, sandals, sneakers, and, this fall, rain boots. Soon, it will also include license deals for hats, belts, handbags, denim, and select ready-to-wear items. “We’ll complete their wardrobes, as we envision Dingo as a true lifestyle brand,” he says.

Envisioning brand extensions is entirely different from actually creating them, of course. But this isn’t Owens’ first lifestyle brand rodeo. He was along for the explosive runs of Candie’s and Sam & Libby. He knows how to build a brand, and he knows the pitfalls to avoid. It starts with choosing the right partners—ones with similar retail distribution and that align in terms of quality. “You need to choose partners who already understand your consumer,” Owens says. “You also don’t want to get too spread out.” Accessories are a relatively easy hop, whereas having continuity and synergy with a clothing brand requires more of a jump. Whatever you do, he advises, don’t get greedy. “Grabbing money from wherever is a mistake; it waters the brand down and confuses your consumer,” he says. “Licensing done correctly can extend your brand. It’s pure bottom-line profits that really add up.”

Dingo’s brand extensions are currently in the conversation phase. Within the next six months to a year, Owens expects to roll out a few categories, beginning with hats, which are trending strongly, thanks in part to Beyoncé’s Grammy Awards fashion statement. “We haven’t been in a rush. We’re in the process of completing a state-of-the-art website and have just hired a couple of people for our marketing department who have extensive backgrounds in country music and have worked with a lot of celebrities,” he says. “We want to get that all solidified before we start moving into licensing.”

Swifties and Beyond

Dingo is targeting primarily Gen Z and young Millennials, who now make up 40 percent of global consumers. But the brand’s customer base is diverse. There’s the Taylor Swift fan base, which spans all ages and is massively influential. (The total economic impact of Swift’s Eras tour in the U.S. could exceed $10 billion, according to the U.S. Travel Association.) Customers also include “Coastal Cowgirls,” which leans more sophisticated; the sorority/game day crowd seeking styles in school colors; bridal and bachelorette parties; music festival fans; vacationers making pilgrimages to Nashville, a.k.a. Dingo’s home base, the capital of country music, and one of the country’s hottest destinations; and a rapidly growing Latino population nationwide. It’s a massive base with tons of sales potential.

Take the game day crowd, for example. Owens first pooh-poohed the potential until the sales kept pouring in. Green boots around Baylor University, red for Oklahoma University, burgundy for Texas A&M, orange for the University of Tennessee…the list of school colors keeps growing, as do Dingo’s sales. “It’s huge,” he reports, noting one boutique did a TikTok video promoting a color and sold 600 pairs in three days. “It also spans about five styles. It’s incredible the amount of pairs this is generating.”

The bridal party trend is equally impressive. Again, Owens didn’t see that one coming, but Dingo will soon feature a separate Bridal section on its new website. “I snickered at first, thinking people don’t buy boots just for weddings, but it’s a real trend,” he says. “White is the primary color, but they buy across the board on styles that often feature hand-tooled work and lots of ornamentation.” Owens cites Anthropologie’s wedding division, in particular, for driving sales. “Being in Nashville you can see how big this wedding business is. Most of the many bachelorette parties are all wearing boots.”

The Latino sales potential is game day and bridal party trends to the nth degree. It’s the trend Owens expects to impact Dingo’s business more than any other over the next couple of seasons, given that Hispanic consumers’ annual U.S. spending prowess is in the billions and Latin culture spans approximately 20 countries. The trend is currently led by Mexican culture–focused pieces, such as flowy dresses and skirts featuring leather juxtaposed with chiffons, linens, and similar light fabrics, and accented with a chunky silver belt and jewelry—all paired with cowboy boots, Owens reports. Dior’s latest collection, inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, is an example. Black and red are key colors; Owens says TikTok reported an increase of 108 percent over the past year in searches for “red cowboy boots.”

These trends plus others (see sidebar: p. 24.) have Owens wide-eyed about Dingo’s prospects. “I continue to be amazed every day by our growth potential,” he says. “We’ve only just begun to grow our business. It’s easy to envision Western boots becoming like sneakers in that no closet will ever be without a pair, especially now that consumers realize sneakers and boots are interchangeable for many occasions.” In fact, he believes Western boots have an advantage over sneakers because they’re more acceptable for certain occasions and, unlike dress shoes, they’re comfortable. “People aren’t going to wear dress shoes to the degree they once did,” he offers. “It goes back to the comfort aspects and the overall casual fashion shift. It’s just not part of our lifestyle. Like in Europe, we don’t have as much seasonality in what we wear. This all represents a shift in lifestyle; it’s not a fashion trend.”

Comfort is key, especially with younger generations who grew up wearing sneakers, flip-flops, and Crocs. “If they aren’t comfortable, the consumer won’t wear them,” Owens says. “We’ve invested heavily in incorporating comfort aspects that put our shoes on a par with sneakers.”

Mexican Connection

The Latino influence in Western style is huge.
The Latino influence in Western style is huge.

Dingo currently makes its shoes in Mexico, and Owens doesn’t foresee any reason to look elsewhere. For starters, Mexico’s turnaround times can’t be beat. “We’ve decreased what was traditionally a 90-day window to anywhere from a worst-case scenario of 45 to 60 days to 20 to 30 days on items that we need quickly,” he reports. “China, Vietnam, Cambodia, India…that’s a six-month lead time usually, and the fashion world just can’t work that way.”

As usual, Owens has done the research to know why Mexico is the way to go, especially with seasonality being superseded by speed to market. For example, if Owens’ team believes it has a potential hit, manufacturing in Mexico enables them to run a test on its website, as well as a few strategic partner sites. If it verifies, Dingo can reorder quickly, rather than be out of stock for 45 days. That isn’t possible with sourcing in most countries. Plus, Mexico’s smaller minimums help in the speed-to-market strategy. “When you have 60 percent of your business based off ecommerce, it’s critical to order smaller quantities on select styles as opposed to sourcing out of another country where you’d never buy those large quantities,” Owens explains. “It also enables you to be more flexible. We’re pre-buying a lot more materials, so we’re able to get back much faster into styles that are selling well.”

Another big advantage of sourcing in Mexico is more bang for the buck. Owens says about half of the Asian sourcing costs involve duty, tariffs, freight, etc. Those costs are all lower or non-existent in Mexico, which enables the savings to be invested in the product. “We put so much more into the product instead of into freight, tariff, and duties,” he says. “The quality difference is amazing.”

Now it’s about making sure Dingo’s Mexican factory partners can keep pace with growing demand. To that end, parent company Dan Post Boot Company is adding new factories and has increased its position in existing ones. It helps to be a partner in good standing. “Dan Post has such a great reputation in terms of how we work with people, payments, etc., which is why we’re working with all the better factories, and they’ve made investments in more equipment to give us much more production,” Owens says.

Greener Pastures

Owens has no regrets about putting his retirement on hold. Golf can wait. He’s having too much fun managing a high-flying fashion brand. “Working with talented young people on building a great brand…that’s what’s important to me now. We’re all having a great time. Dingo is becoming a big business.”

What does Owens’ crystal ball predict for Dingo three years down the road? “We’ll probably double in size, or slightly higher, but we don’t want to blow up so much that it can’t be sustained,” he says. “We want solid, steady growth.” He adds, “Our ultimate goal is to be one of the most-recognized brands in the fashion industry.”

Owens is grateful for the team helping Dingo work toward those ambitious goals. Their dedication and hard work are paying dividends. What’s more, they’re growing and learning, and their fulfilling dreams. At this stage of Owens’ career, that’s as rewarding as sales growth. Dingo is indeed a dream job in Owens’ golden years. “This is not only my last ride, it’s my best ride,” he says.

Looky Here

Ron Owens sounds off on key fashion and consumer trends on Dingo’s radar.

Festival Fashion: The growing popularity of music festivals worldwide—like Stagecoach and Coachella in the U.S., Glastonbury in the U.K., and Rock in Rio in Brazil—is fueling a resurgence of the cowboy look, particularly among younger audiences. The look blends traditional elements with contemporary touches, creating a nostalgic and fresh style.

Jeans Therapy: There are rules governing the wearing of denim, such as matching denim on denim (a.k.a. double denim) or contrasting completely. Double denim is all about the silhouette: workwear-styled outlines, neat midi skirts, or cropped jackets with baggy jeans. If it’s denim shorts, pair it with distressed with cowboy boots. The hit series Daisy Jones & the Six featured a retro/boho style of flared denim trousers. Nothing accentuates the cowboy look better than denim. It’s rugged, a bit dangerous, and yet comfortable. Denim is also a staple in mainstream urban fashion, so it’s country and city at the same time.

Coastal Cowgirls: The look blends a TikTok aesthetic with cowgirl energy. It’s all about combining different textures and styles—wearing denim with leather, topped with a crocheted dress, and suede cowboy boots, for example. The only rule here is there are no rules. It’s cowgirl boots paired with as many outfits as possible. The aesthetic lives for boots, neutrals, and lightweight fabrics to achieve a breezy, easy Western feel.

Let it Rain: Western boots are functional and versatile by design, like rain boots. Chanel, Dior, Prada, and Burberry, to name just a few, now offer rain boots. Western rain boots are a growing trend. Women are pairing them with trench coats, mini-skirts, cargo pants, and even tailored pantsuits.

Motorcycle Diaries: Fall ’24 fashion is embracing all things motorcycle, like leather jackets, edgy leather pants, and harness boots. The latter is right in Dingo’s wheelhouse. The style is also in line with grunge trends that began with platforms. There’s something eternal about moto boots with their classic toe, wide shaft, and buckle detail. The style is strong and bold. It says you’re not here to mess around, nor shall anyone mess with you. Yet the style works well with delicate, Coastal Cowgirl looks, giving the boot even more versatility. 

Green Scene: Sustainability is a significant trend that may shape the future of cowboy attire, emphasizing eco-friendly materials and production methods. Technological advancements could lead to new materials and designs, adding further versatility and comfort. West Desperado, an Instagram fashion influencer, believes Western fashion will see a focus on sustainability and ethical fashion. She predicts more designers will use eco-friendly materials like organic cotton and recycled denim to create one-of-a-kind pieces that are both stylish and sustainable.

Gen Z Traits: For starters, they’re just as apt to shop in a Tractor Supply as a Boot Barn, Altar’d State, or Buckle. Many are located in strip centers or are freestanding, as those stores became easier to shop during the pandemic. Gone also are the days of running ads in fashion magazines and hoping somebody might see them. It’s all about curated marketing across a range of venues and outlets, including music festivals, influencers, and social media platforms, especially TikTok. What you say requires tact. You want to be as apolitical as you can and make sure your statements align with their values. Top concerns include climate change, racism, gun violence, and police brutality. Not exactly old-school Western values, but that reflects the greater inclusivity of this generation.

The July 2024 Issue

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