Globe Editorial

Timberland: New England’s unflashy offspring

June 29, 2011

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After years of declining sales, Timberland Co. regained its standing by recasting itself as America’s leading eco-friendly, preppy-yet-rugged designer of shoes and boots. In a way, the company best known for outfitting construction workers and hip-hop artists was just letting its New England roots show through.

If the North Carolina-based VF Corp. purchases the company for $2 billion, it promises to keep Timberland’s headquarters in New England. What’s less certain is whether VF, the world’s largest apparel manufacturer, will manage to keep the New England in Timberland.

Timberland was founded in the early 1950s when Bay Stater Nathan Swartz purchased the Abington Shoe Company, based in the town of the same name. Swartz and his sons opened their first storefront in Newport, R.I., in 1986, and eventually moved the company’s headquarters to New Hampshire. But the company’s ties to the region run deeper than geography: Timberland’s mix of rugged work boots and preppy boat shoes were born out of New England’s ties to the outdoors, and its embrace of function married with style. The company’s commitment to environmentally sound manufacturing practices is a natural outgrowth of its New England roots.

If VF’s bid is successful, it will seek to increase Timberland’s annual revenue by 10 percent. Hopefully, the emphasis on profits won’t drive Timberland to push aside its sustainability practices. It would be a shame if the very characteristics that have propelled Timberland back into popularity — the reason VF is interested in paying such a hefty sum for the company in the first place — get lost after it’s gulped up by a larger corporation.