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Payless to sell "green" shoe line

Kansas City_Payless ShoeSource is going green as it plans to sell a line of ecologically friendly shoes and handbags at low prices.

The Topeka, Kan.-based chain announced the new line Monday with the first eight to 12 styles of women's shoes being introduced in between 500 to 1,000 of its 4,500 stores and its online store early next year. The shoes will sell for an average of less than $30 a pair. They will be joined soon with styles for men and children, the chain said.

The new brand, which has yet to be named, will be made from materials with less effect on the environment, such as organic cotton and linen, hemp and recycled rubber outsoles, the company said. The shoes will be produced on special machines that use biodegradable glues and be shipped in boxes made of recycled materials.

But these will not be your father's Birkenstocks, either, continuing Payless' push in recent years to improve the fashion and design level of its products.

"At the end of the day, what you're trying to do is really democratize 'green' here," said Matt Rubel, chief executive of parent company Collective Brands Inc. "We want to bring it to the people in a way where it brings compelling value and compelling good things for the planet."

Payless is not the first company to get into the eco-friendly shoe business.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for research firm The NPD Group, said companies such as Patagonia, Timberland and Teva have pushed an environmentally aware message with their shoes for years. They've been joined by smaller brands, such as Keep, Keen and Terra Plana.

But the sector still represents less than 4 percent of the overall footwear market, Cohen said, reflecting both a huge opportunity for a retailer who can successfully appeal to consumers' desire to reduce their environmental footprint and a big challenge as some shoppers are skeptical after other "green" products failed to live up to the hype.

The typically inflated prices of eco-friendly products don't help, either.

"If you're going to play the green card, you'd better be sure that the product can stand up to the scrutiny that the consumer and the watchdogs are going to put on it," he said.

Rubel said Payless is able to keep its prices low by using its large market presence to get better deals on materials and, since it negotiates directly with its factories in Asia, can avoid some of the price markups other brands add on their way to the market.

The company is teaming up with Summer Rayne Oakes, a model and fashion/beauty expert for Discovery Network's Green Channel, who is serving as the new brand's "eco consultant."

Rubel said the decision to make "green" shoes came as part of an internal look at reducing the company's carbon footprint through use of more sustainable materials and practices.

"One of the things that came out of that was how can we lead by example," he said. "We make more shoes than anyone, so why don't we start there?"

___

On the Net:

http://www.payless.com

David Twiddy, AP Business Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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