Bruce Katz, Co-Founder of Pioneering Footwear Company Rockport – obituary

Bruce Katz, who died at the age of 75, co-founded Rockport, the world’s first company to use athletic technologies in casual shoes.

His family’s involvement in shoemaking dates back to 1930, when his grandfather Samuel Katz established the Hubbard Shoe Company in Rochester, New Hampshire. The business flourished during the war, making military boots, and in 1945 Bruce’s father, Saul, took over the business. Post-war, however, it found itself struggling with competition from cheap imports and closed in 1970.

Cornell engineering physics graduate Bruce Katz and his brother Roger both had trust funds and, to help their father, each gave him £20,000 to start a new business importing moccasins from Brazil.

Bruce, however, had no intention of joining his father in the business – or any business. “My dreams were more the life of Ken Kesey than Andrew Carnegie,” he recalls: “My dreams were to become an artist or a craftsman, an adventurer and a lover, a traveler and a discoverer.”

To that end, he set his sights on building a sailboat, and in order to raise funds, he accepted his father’s suggestion that he try to sell a shipment of moccasins that had been stuck in a warehouse after being arrived too late for Saul’s customers. .

“So I started roaming the countryside peddling the moccasins and eventually sold the lot,” Bruce recalled. Moccasins proved extremely popular with hippies of the time.

“I went into the business to make some money and then I left,” he said. But he was surprised to find that he liked it very much.

He and his father founded Rockport in 1971 and, looking for opportunities, Bruce set out to harness the potential of the nascent walking fitness movement.

Walking shoes of the time tended to be sturdy, lumpy, and leather-soled. Katz set out to design shoes that looked more or less traditional but incorporated features that gave them the lightness, comfort, and internal structure of sports shoes that were gaining popularity as all-around shoes, including rubber soles. and padded insoles.

The company’s advertisements emphasized that “feet have feelings too.” Stating that Rockport aimed to be to walking “what Jane Fonda was to aerobics”, Katz sought to increase sales with campaigns to promote walking as exercise, including sponsoring long walks and walking clubs. , and funding research into the health benefits of walking – even giving away Sony walkmans to customers to promote “Rockport Walk Week” in 1984.

Its Rocsports line of comfort shoes was the first to gain official endorsement from the American Podiatry Association, and by 1985 Rockport had sales of $65 million in 60 countries.

The following year, the Katzes sold the company to British sports shoe giant Reebok for $118.5 million.

Bruce Richard Katz was born on February 17, 1947 in Newton, Massachusetts. After leaving Cornell and before starting his shoe business, he imported English double-decker buses and taxis into the United States and bought and sold steel.

After Rockport was sold to Reebok, Katz moved from the Greater Boston area to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he became involved in both business and philanthropic endeavors, from bicycles to solar panels and internet conferencing. retail tea. He also, finally, built his boat – a 143-foot yacht that he sailed around the world.

In 2014, however, he returned to the shoe business by starting the Samuel Hubbard Shoe Co, the idea being to incorporate the type of features he had introduced at Rockport into more formal “dress” shoes using luxurious European leathers.

In 2016, Bill Clinton was reportedly spotted walking around Manhattan in blue Hubbards.

Meanwhile, after being sold twice more, in 2017 Rockport filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Katz is survived by his wife Dasa and a daughter.

Bruce Katz, born February 17, 1947, died June 26, 2022

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